Anyone remember Youtuber Logan Paul’s horrifying antics while visiting the beautiful country of Japan? Well, if you were unaware, there’s a way you should and shouldn’t act when you’re visiting unfamiliar places. The Japanese have known these rules for hundreds of years.
Photo by Balazs Szanto.
Back in 1810, Yasumi Roan penned the ultimate guide book for Japanese travellers: Ryoko Yojinshu. It was filled with tips, tricks, and advice that had been gathered over the years from other travellers and various writings from the past. It was such a big hit, the book is still being published today, including an English version called Afoot In Japan, translated by William Scott Wilson. Roan knew the rules of the road, as well as how one should act when being a guest in places away from home.
You should not idly reach out your hands for fruits like Japanese pears, persimmons, citrons and mandarin oranges being grown at houses or gardens by the side of the road, now matter how ripe and plentiful they are. And of course, you should not mistakenly step on grains inside a village or garden that are being laid out to dry. If people complain about your actions in an area not your own, you will not come out on the best side of the argument, be you right or wrong.
It may seem obvious that you shouldn’t take or destroy other people’s food, but the lesson here isn’t really about fruit and grain. Note the last line. You have to be extra careful to avoid offending others when you travel. Whether you think you’re right or wrong, you will not look good if the locals dislike your actions. So maybe don’t run around and stick dead fish and octopus parts in people’s faces for kicks and views.
When you encounter young ladies, female grass cutters, or women in a group that is crossing your path in the mountains or on a path across the fields, it is best to offer a simple greeting but not to follow up with any more useless talk. Also, you should not thoughtlessly laugh at the countrified expressions of someone you may meet [on the road]. Be aware that trouble may begin from trivialities.
Again, the real lesson here isn’t about how you should treat women (very different times and culture), it’s about knowing where the line is. Be careful of what you say and what you laugh at, especially if it’s because something is different. Don’t overstay your welcome, ask rude questions, utter judgmental statements, or point and laugh at people who are different (or doing something differently) than you.
When anyone goes to an area unfamiliar to him, [he will find that] various ways of speaking and customs will be different. As the words are different from the place where he lives, he will be accustomed to hearing them, and unaccustomed to seeing what is around him. Though he will think these things to be strange, it is certain that the people of [this unfamiliar area] will think the same of him. It is a mistake to be unaware of this and to laugh at the customs and language of another place. To laugh at and distain another’s words or phrasing can be the source of an altercation.
You might think some unfamiliar food or custom is weird, or think the people of the country you’re visiting are weird, but they most certainly think the same of you. Laughing or looking down upon customs and people in a foreign land is a quick way to cause trouble for yourself. And when you do cause such trouble, you make everyone else like you look bad. Remember, when you travel, you’re an unofficial emissary of your homeland.
Things that you should not stop to look at while on the road: fights, arguments, gambling, games of go or shogi, village dances, village sumo matches, a person accidentally killed, or the place where someone was killed. By and large, you should not stop and gaze at places where many people have gathered together.
I can’t believe people need to be told this (looking at you Logan), but gawking at (or recording) accidents, fights, arguments, or dead bodies is rude and disrespectful wherever you are, but especially when you’re a guest. Whatever is going on that’s drawing a crowd doesn’t concern you. Not only were you not involved in the incident, you’re not even a citizen who has the right to be concerned. Inform authorities if need be, but otherwise move along. Now, Roan also lists games, dances, and sumo matches here as things you shouldn’t stare at, but since these types of things are largely considered tourist attractions anymore, you can go ahead and look at those. Just use your head.
If you feel awkward or unsure watching something unfold, don’t linger, and for pity’s sake don’t film it. And don’t do any of this: