Don’t be a bogan in Japan this winter

Bogan, n. An unfashionable, uncouth, or unsophisticated person, esp. regarded as being of low social status (Oxford English Dictionary).

Ok, so maybe ‘bogan’ is a bit strong. But with increasing levels of ill-feeling toward Australians abroad, and a noticeable increase in the Aussie ‘bogan’ element in some of the Japanese ski fields, we thought we’d do our civil service and offer a few tips on how to conduct your self when visiting Japan.

As much as overseas travel is exciting, manners and decorum are just like your passport – don’t leave home without them.

Of all the places to ride in the world, few offer conditions like Japan: deep powder, beautiful mountains, amazing culture and scrumptious local cuisine. However, Japan is not like other international ski resorts. While drunken shenanigans and loud obnoxious behaviour is tolerated in some overseas resorts, the resorts of Japan are certainly not in that group. Best then that we offer a few tips to avoid personal embarrassment, and worse still, further national embarrassment.

1. Don’t look like this

This goes without saying really. If you get to this stage then its all over – You’ve already failed. Remember to cover up that southern cross tattoo and dress appropriately. Australian flags are not considered clothing. Pull your pants up. Don’t urinate in public and leave your drugs at home. Getting caught with a single joint in Japan can land you in jail for up to five years. Seriously!

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2. Take your shoes off

While shoes are acceptable inside most restaurants and retail outlets (especially in Niseko), it is customary to remove your shoes especially when entering someone’s home, onsens and some high-end restaurants (especially those with tatami mats). While you are unlikely to be admonished for such behaviour, you can bet your bottom dollar your Japanese host will be two-steps behind you with a mop and bucket. If this happens, apologise (Shitsureishimashita) and offer to clean it up. Always take you shoes off! If in doubt, look around you. It will soon be apparent what the expected behaviour is.

3. Try the local cuisine

The food is amazing in Japan! Why eat pizza and Mexican just because it’s available. Get out there and sample the local cuisine. This extends to not only the foods you are more familiar with, sushi, ramens, tempura etc., but the even the not so familiar: pickled veggies and savoury egg custards. Having said this, Niseko is home to an eclectic collection of restaurants and food vans. If you have to stray, the food vans provide an excellent assortment of choices from Indian curries to American style hot-dogs. They are worth it for the ‘quirky’ factor alone, just not all the time 🙂

4. Learn the local lingo

Ok, so we are all a bit time poor. But just for fun, try learning just a few local words. It goes a long way and the locals will really appreciate the effort. A few key words and phrases:

arigatou (thanks);
arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much);
sumimasen (exuse me);
ohayougozaimasu (good morning);
konnichiwa (good afternoon);
Or for the single folk: Anata nashidewa ikite ikanai (I cant live without you)

red-ski-house

5. Always wash before entering the onsen

Cleanliness is tantamount to holiness in Japan. This is especially important. Enter the change room. Undress (completely) and deposit clothes in a locker. Take small modesty towel and enter the bathing area. Go to the shower and wash vigorously. Vigorously! Enter the hot tub slowly (no bombs or horsies!). Never dip your hand towel in the bath; place it on your head if necessary. Smile and nod. Don’t fart, and if you do, pretend you didn’t. If you have tattoos, best that you don’t flaunt them, cover them up (if you can), or choose a more liberal onsen where they are tolerated. Many sentō and onsen ban customers with tattoos. Tattoos are traditionally taboo, because they are linked with the Japanese mafia (yakuza).

6. Refrain from taking or making calls on the train

This is true of anywhere but particularly the case in Japan. No one likes a loud foreigner. It’s obnoxious. Texting (SMSing) or browsing internet while on the train is acceptable however. Don’t smoke on the train either – this is a big no no.

7. Avoid public displays of affection

Ok, so you’re young, you’re in love, or perhaps you just cant keep your hands of each other. While that’s fine at the local blue light disco, its not ok in Japan (well at least in public!). Icha Icha is a Japanese term used to describe anything from light flirting to sex. It includes things like ‘necking’ and ‘making out’, but also holding hands or even just entwining pinky fingers. Drawing close and giving long meaningful looks is also included in the realm of icha icha. Although more young Japanese people these days hold hands, kissing in public is still quite taboo, and anything beyond that, is…well..really taboo. Don’t try it. Anyway, this is a snow related blog. Best restrict these activities to your room, where at least it’s warm 🙂

8. Don’t stick your chopsticks into your food, especially rice

Chopsticks are tricky at the best of time for us fork wielding philistines. Some rules to remember when dining with chopsticks in Japan are as follows:

  • Hold your chopsticks towards their end, not in the middle or the front third.
  • When you are not using your chopsticks, or have finished eating, lay them down in front of you with the tips to left.
  • Do not stick chopsticks into your food, especially not into rice. This is only done at funerals with rice that is put onto the altar.
  • Do not pass food directly from your set of chopsticks to another’s. Again, this is a funeral tradition that involves the bones of a cremated body.
  • Do not spear food with your chopsticks.
  • Do not point with your chopsticks.
  • Do not wave your chopsticks around in the air or play with them.
  • Do not move plates or bowls around with your chopsticks.

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