Arama They Didn't

1:49 pm - 01/20/2013

7 services that don’t make sense to foreigners in Japan

Japanese website Netallica recently conducted a survey of foreigners, asking them to name services and jobs in Japan that leave them in a state of bewilderment.

Take a look at the top seven services that make foreigners in Japan pause and exclaim, “What the heck?!”

Human Traffic Sign

Even though there are plenty of flashing signs to warn drivers that late-night construction is taking place, there is always a worker directing traffic and doing the exact same job as the sign. It’s a completely pointless expense. (France/Female/Late-20s)

Elevator Lady

The department store elevator lady… even if she wasn’t there, I can get to my desired floor without any problems. (China/Male/Late-20s)

Shopping Escorts

When shopping, it doesn’t matter what you bought, the cashier will walk you all the way to the front door. I’m not lost; there’s no need to take me to the exit. Even if I didn’t pay a lot of money, the cashiers will occasionally see me off. (USA/Female/Late-20s)


I think store employees say “Irasshaimase” (welcome) way too much. It often happens that employees aren’t even looking at the customers, but still “welcome” them to the store. I think “irasshaimase” is a word that should be said wholeheartedly or not at all. (Uzbekistan/Male/Late-20s)

Tissue Advertisements

The people whose job it is to stand outside train stations and hand out tissues with little flyers in them. I feel like I can never get away from advertisements… but I still take the tissues every time, lol. (Argentina/Male/Late-20s)


Residents of Japan are made to pay a fee to watch NHK (Japan’s national broadcasting station), but anyone can turn on the TV and watch NHK channels whether they’re paying the fees or not. (Thailand/Female/Early 30s)

I’ve heard dozens of stories from people who have tried to get out of paying the NHK man (and there are plenty more online), but they’re always entertaining, so if you have one of your own by all means let us know in the comments section below. Is it right that representatives should go from door-to-door asking residents to pay for the national broadcasting station? Surely there’s a better way?

Ground-Breaking Ceremony

“Jichinsai,” or ground-breaking ceremony, is “a Shinto ritual intended to calm the kami (god) of the earth whenever a new building or other construction begins.&rdquo

I get that it’s religious, but it costs a lot of money and nothing really comes out of the ceremony… there’s no result. (UK/Male/Early 40s)

Amidst all the service-bashing, however, one woman emerged with an entirely different point of view:

I like all of the services available in Japan. There aren’t any services that don’t serve a purpose. (Sweden/Female/Early 40s)

A very bold statement. But what do you think? Can you think of any other services or jobs in Japan that seem a little superfluous? 

Source: Netallica, japantoday

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inachan89 20th-Jan-2013 09:26 pm (UTC)
I've watched some kind of report of a guy going for the first time to Japan on tv,and he was shocked by the amount of "human traffic signs". He filmed a man signaling cars to turn right when they could actually only go right or go straight into a wall lol
xxpeopleerrorxx 20th-Jan-2013 09:37 pm (UTC)
Useless or not. It still creates jobs for high schoolers or other part-timers.
tsukino_aki 20th-Jan-2013 09:38 pm (UTC)
Elevator lady is for the elders, children and disabled people. Tissue ad is cute - do you prefer to be handed a mere flyer which is a huge waste of paper when most people throw them into trash bin a second later w/o reading? "Shopping Escort" is just one of the ways to show their gratitude towards customers. etc.
"There aren’t any services that don’t serve a purpose."
In Japan they serve all your needs.

I find the NHK thing hillarious though.
exdream1999 20th-Jan-2013 09:55 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've noticed that elevators that don't have the lower wheelchair level panels tend to be the ones to have elevator ladies; also ones that are always going to be packed with people and you wouldn't be able to push the button.
hyphensaregreat 20th-Jan-2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
You can have your NHK fee paid automatically (I think part of my rent goes to that actually), but there are still people who would prefer to do it manually (old people), and they're used to the NHK guy coming around since it's been like that for decades.

I heard a story of someone I know staring down the NHK guy through the mail slot in his door though. I guess that's kind of funny.
exdream1999 20th-Jan-2013 09:54 pm (UTC)
My doesn't come out of my rent, but I did sign up to have my paid automatically when I moved into this current apartment.

The only thing that makes me peeved is that this apartment isn't set up for the BS channels, so I can't watch a lot of the NHK stuff that actually interests me.
xanithofdragons 20th-Jan-2013 09:45 pm (UTC)
I've read in a book about gift-giving in Japan that the ground-breaking ceremony can be important for gift-giving, and therefore, important for human/business relationships.

I just figure all of these have some use or importance in at least some situations.
pdat 21st-Jan-2013 05:01 am (UTC)
totally agree with you!
exdream1999 20th-Jan-2013 09:57 pm (UTC)
I, as a bicycle rider, for one are glad we have the human traffic signs, especially when construction is going on, or in and out of busy parking lots, because a lot of drivers are assholes and I would get run over otherwise.

Also, tissue advertising started out back when not all public toilets had toilet paper in them, so if you didn't have tissues with you, you'd be really be up shit creek, so businesses started handing them out because they knew people would take them.
shiny_lights 20th-Jan-2013 10:07 pm (UTC)
"back when"?? I STILL run into toilets without toilet paper occasionally, it's a nightmare! And I'm not talking about super rural areas either. Those tissue packs are a godsend.
crumplelush 20th-Jan-2013 09:59 pm (UTC)
I think saying irrashaimase is just being polite. Don't see the problem with it. It's like the Americans saying "have a nice day".

Tissue advertisements. I think this is a genius idea and can't believe that no one outside of Japan does it. If I ran a business then I totally would. Fliers get thrown in the bin. Tissues are useful so they stay in your pocket for a bit longer.</p>

Regarding the NHK thing, I live in the UK where you have to have a TV license in order to watch live TV (even through your computer) or listen to radio. This money is what funds the BBC and why the BBC doesn't have advertisements. So I don't see anything wrong with a fee for a station.

placetohide 21st-Jan-2013 06:38 am (UTC)
I'm going to assume you haven't been to Japan because I have a hard time believing anyone could put up with someone screaming "IRRAISHAMASEEEEEEEE" every five seconds without finding it annoying.

Do you tell someone have a nice day as loud as you can, in the most annoying voice you can? 10+ times? That's the difference!
yuma_daisuki 20th-Jan-2013 10:02 pm (UTC)
I think some of them creates more job opportunities~~
randomtasks 20th-Jan-2013 10:25 pm (UTC)
I prefer a simple "irrashaimase~" over the "MAY I HELP YOU?!" and proceeds to tell you EVERYTHING that's on sale in the store (rather loudly) that goes on in US stores.
soundczech 21st-Jan-2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
that's not exclusive to US stores, it is common in huge electronics stores like bic camera and yodobashi, only instead of one on one it's just screamed loudly by like ten different guys on the same floor.
crsg 20th-Jan-2013 10:30 pm (UTC)
I didn't pay the NHK man last time I saw him - I'm a foreigner and could pretend not to know what the guy at my door wanted. Because I don't watch TV at all here, I don't feel too guilty about that.
exdream1999 20th-Jan-2013 11:39 pm (UTC)
If they come around again, you should do what my friend did, because the NHK does have pamphlets in different languages to ensure people who don't know Japanese will stay pay.

He kept his TV in the closet and escorted the man in to show him that he doesn't watch TV at all, which got him out of paying.
dramajewels 20th-Jan-2013 10:55 pm (UTC)
I also don't think any of those services are pointless. They might not make sense to some foreigners but in a service driven society they make sense.
arashiislove 20th-Jan-2013 11:00 pm (UTC)
we have ground breaking ceremonies here in hawaii too
raatkerani 20th-Jan-2013 11:06 pm (UTC)
I met the persistent NHK man, and I challenged him to search my house for TV or internet with TV or TV tuner or phone with TV. He backed away after that, but looking at me in disbelief as if there's no way someone has no TV at all.

I have tons of advertisement tissue. It's good because I don't need to buy them. Just stroll around the city center, and you'll definitely get at least one.
sergel02 20th-Jan-2013 11:09 pm (UTC)
I don't really get the NHK thing.

"Residents of Japan are made to pay a fee to watch NHK (Japan’s national broadcasting station), but anyone can turn on the TV and watch NHK channels whether they’re paying the fees or not."

I know if you don't pay your cable or something here you get cut off, but that's not the case for NHK in Japan?

I kinda agree with the Irasshaimase and saying it wholeheartedly. I've been to places where it seems like it's painful for the server to say it. Then again, i think it might just be to be polite, like saying welcome here, so eh.
myharu 20th-Jan-2013 11:36 pm (UTC)
I don't find any of these services weird because America itself have/had similar services especially in certain areas it really depends on where you live or go.

and I think NHK is just a more aggressive version of PBS because they come knocking for donations, you're not forced to pay them but they try to guilt you if you dont (well they used to anyway)
uledy 20th-Jan-2013 11:48 pm (UTC)
I don't think any of these services are strange at all. In fact, many of them are available in my country. They all have a purpose. Some, such as the tissues, become quite obvious once you live there.

It must suck to be those human traffic signs, though. Waving those flags all day must be exhausting.
mellowmetallica 21st-Jan-2013 12:40 am (UTC)
This seems like a lot of needless whining. Most of these jobs do serve a purpose and at least here in California we have things just like this. And even if they were ~pointless, what's wrong with creating more jobs?
nira_chan 21st-Jan-2013 01:45 am (UTC)
From what some of my Japanese friends have told me, a lot of Japanese people don't and will never pay NHK fees. You don't have to pay but the NHK guys come to your door and harrass you until you pay. They came into my guesthouse building door to door and they'd put their foot in the way so you couldn't close the door and yell at people. We went to the police office to tell them because people aren't supossed to go through the main door of that building without calling the landlord.
1_noshi 21st-Jan-2013 01:58 am (UTC)
Haha I remember the first time I was escorted to the exit of the shop. I had no idea what was going on and they stayed at the door even when I still wanted to check something out on my way out, so they could finally say goodbye when I left xD
They also do so when the shop doesn't have an actual exit, they go as far as guiding you till the edge of their part of the department?
It's really nice though, I really appreciate it.

Also the Irasshaimase is weird when you're just strolling by an employee who's just saying/yelling it along with the occasional daily offer, randomly at himself while restocking shelves or walking around. I've seen it in China as well and that drives you nuts, they're like repetitive soundtracks.

The NHK thing is weird. I wonder if it isn't even illegal? Couldn't any guy just ring the bell with an NHK badge or something claiming for money neither they or NHK even deserve? If you want extra money from your viewers, find other ways to get that.

Edited at 2013-01-21 02:01 am (UTC)
monotuned 21st-Jan-2013 08:45 am (UTC)
Also the Irasshaimase is weird when you're just strolling by an employee who's just saying/yelling it along with the occasional daily offer, randomly at himself while restocking shelves or walking around

I always found it funny when the staff of the Japanese or Korean shops in my country say "Welcome!" when they are doing other tasks and generally not looking your direction. Having the first few people greeting is more than enough lol.
akillarian 21st-Jan-2013 03:11 am (UTC)
Here in Canada, the CBC is funded by the government so technically the taxpayers pay for the channel through their taxes.

I would love to get free tissues. FREEEE.

And I agree with an above user, I would prefer having to say Irasshaimase instead of forcing to say lengthy greeting and promotions as in the case at my workplace.
lyra1227 21st-Jan-2013 04:01 am (UTC)
Lol, oh the NHK guy. I inherited a ghetto tv in my jp apartment, you had to stick a guitar pick into the power button or it wouldn't stay on. When the guy came around, he blatantly saw the tv in my 1room, but I told him that it was broken (and demo'ed, sans guitar pick) and it was too heavy for me to carry down the stairs to dispose of. He gave me a weird look, but in the end he bought it.

Also have had the Asahi Shinbun guy come around, a Jehovah's witness (that was awkward bc he def. didn't speak English, but opened to the English part of his little pamphlet and kept pointing at it and saying, "good? good?").
botanbutton 21st-Jan-2013 05:50 am (UTC)
lol Japanese Jehovah's witness?!
ajas874 21st-Jan-2013 04:29 am (UTC)
I thought ground-breaking is normal. We have it too in our country.
And I love tissue ads. I would rather have tissue+unwanted flyer compare to only the unwanted flyer.
botanbutton 21st-Jan-2013 05:49 am (UTC)
The tissue......all those poor trees though. :(
I say if you're gonna blow your nose you might as well use toilet paper than trying to be luxurious with tissue paper for your nose.
But that's just me. :P
exdream1999 21st-Jan-2013 01:06 pm (UTC)
Well, the tissues started because Japan didn't use to have toilet paper in public toilets, so if you didn't have the tissues you couldn't blow your nose or do your business!
placetohide 21st-Jan-2013 06:44 am (UTC)
Human traffic sign--with all the super old people driving around in Japan, I'll take any extra safety precautions I can get...

Elevator lady--this is usually in classy department stores, so I figured it was just an upscale sort of "going above and beyond" customer service type of thing.

tissue ads--these are awesome. Who doesn't like free tissues?

NHK--when they come to the door I usually pretend I don't speak Japanese or English particularly well and just chant "NO TV! no watch TV" and sloooowly shut the door, haha.

irraishamase-- this word is the bane of my existence. Every supermarket I see appears to hire employees based on (if they're ladies) how ear-piercing and high-pitched their voices are or (if they're dudes) how loud they can scream at customers. I am desperate to walk into a store and be greeted with sweet, sweet silence instead of people screaming at me endlessly. Sometimes I wonder if they really like shouting at people or if they don't like it either but have to keep it up to look like they're enthusiastic about their job.
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