When I decided to live in Japan and marry my husband, there were a few things I did not realize were big differences. Here’s my lists of cultural surprises:
1.) Curtains Come In 3 Colors: beige, white, and grey
After we bought a house, it was time to fill it with furniture. Little did I know that my choice of pastels would be quite deviant. What a rebel I was.
I picked out pale greens, blues, and a shade of red. My husband liked the colors as well. However, he later explained that our house would stand out. Confused, I asked why.
“Japanese almost never choose any shades, but beige, white, or grey for their curtains.”
I didn’t believe him at first, so I started looking at the windows of houses over the next few days. Sure enough, where ever we go it’s almost always those three colors. I get excited when I see a window with a “rebellious” color of curtain.
2.) Decorating the Tatami Room
Our house was western-designed, but my husband had a tatami room (rice paper mats) put in. As a westerner, I wasn’t really sure how to decorate it. You’re not supposed to put furniture. There was a little space for a prayer shrine. It’s kind of a minimalists dream, but I’m not a minimalist.
It finally became a place for the Kotatsu (Heating Table).
3.) Forget Central Heating
Most Japanese houses do not have central heating units built inside. I knew one Japanese who had that installed, but it’s super pricey and few housing companies know how to do it.
You’ll have single room units bolted to the top of the wall. They work well, but I miss central heating. In the winter certain rooms will be popular (the heated ones).
This will also affect certain design choices of any home. Since you want to stay in the heated rooms, certain things must always be kept in those rooms.
4.) Stairs Are Death Traps
When Japanese put stairs in homes, they seem to be trying to see if they can kill you. They are itty bitty things and the wood gets slippery in the winter. Ours had a railing installed for a reason and I took them slow. We also had to install a series of curtains to keep the heat in the living room from escaping up the stairs.
5.) Putting Pictures Up Is Costly
You can hang pictures if you like, but those holes will have to be fixed if you ever rent out the house. When his company transferred him and we had to rent out our house, we had to fix up the walls (also damaged by a large earthquake a few months before).
It is not cheap to do. So before you hammer that nail in, choose carefully the walls and how cheap they are to fix.
There are a lot of options in Japanese for hanging up pictures without causing too much damage to the walls.