Living in Japan is comparable to living in other places in the world. Everyone is simply living their lives as best they can. With that being said, there can be some predetermined conceptions about Japanese neighbors. Some things you may hear can be common everyday mannerisms you’ll find everywhere else. Others will require a little understanding of Japan. Try your best to not try to impose your home countries idea of living to your new place and get to know the customs of the country. It always making general living more enjoyable.
The fact that you are a foreigner will automatically make interacting with seem like a scary prospect to most native Japanese. Even though Japan has seen an increase in their foreign population in recent years, it is still not something that most of them are used to experiencing on a regular basis. Most actively want to speak to foreign residents, but don’t have enough foreign language skill to clearly articulate their thoughts. They can also be shy even though they have enough skill because they feel they will make mistakes with their new acquaintance. Because of this, interactions are usually kept to a minimum. This doesn’t mean that they don’t like you, just that it isn’t something they fully comfortable with or used to doing. You can help these situations out by being friendly, trying to use whatever Japanese you can, or offering help or even small treats from time to time.
Typical city life in Japan’s major cities is what you would expect of any major metropolitan area. A large amount of people living in small areas requires people to live in smaller spaces and close quarters. That being said, the way the apartments are made are built add few more things to think about.
The average apartment has thin walls and can lead to you hearing entire conversations throughout the day. It doesn’t take much to be too loud in the tight living settings. Most neighbors aren’t bothered by this as long as it is kept to a minimal volume and doesn’t happen too late or too early. The volumes of televisions and music are a big thing to consider when trying to keep from bothering anyone nearby. If you let your noise levels get too high, they will go directly to the landlord first. At most you will receive a notice or letter of some sort that will tell you about a complaint that had been lodged against you. Sometimes it will be a building wide letter to try to remind everyone of the noise rules.
The only way your neighbors will talk to you directly is if you become friendly with them. It can be tricky as most people don’t speak English past some very basic phrases, and find the idea to be either scary or too tiring to try. Easy ways to avoid being too loud are keeping your voice at an acceptable level, wearing headphones when watching television or listening to music, and going outside on your patio for phone conversations.
It is good to be extra careful at late night and early morning. If you are too loud you may find an angry neighbor banging on you door to get you to stop being so loud. After that you will get a warning from the landlord as well. In those instances it is best to just a apologize as best you can and try to calm the situation down. It may not do much in the moment, but it can help in later instances if you end up having another interaction with them. You can also contact the landlord if it becomes a larger altercation, or if you have the same noise problem with one of your neighbors.
Even though they know that you aren’t from Japan their patience isn’t infinite. They will be lenient about mistakes and simple miss ques on Japanese living for a while, but will eventually begin to tire of having to keep correcting your mistakes. Eventually actions will be taken for not adhering to the countries norms. They will either confront you directly, or passively to solve the issue. An example of this would be for when you separate trash for pick up. Some residents will separate it properly the first few times to show you how it should be done. Eventually they will see that you are not trying to do it correctly, and some people have had instance where the residence would put the trash back in front of their door. Things like this are a typical way of them trying to handle a situation.
The reason for this behavior is that direct confrontation is not a common way in which to resolves things there. Most of the situations are handled by subtle hints in conversation, or doing it through other impersonal ways. Even English speaking Japanese will have these tendencies when using English as it is ingrained in their culture. Many want to be more direct, don’t have to do it in their normal lives, so they don’t. This takes some understanding from foreigners as it is not your home country. Once you realize this, it becomes easier to understand and not to get offended when these situations tend to happen.
Aside from being passive aggressive most people met in Japan are general nice and kind. Though it comes from a culture that rewards this attitude, it is mostly a case of honne and tatemai. The concept of honne and tatemai is that everyone has a mask that we show to everyone that is not close to us, and our true selves that is reserved for only those who are very close. You will encounter far more tatemai than honne situations, and it takes a considerable amount of time and effort to break that wall down. Try to understand how this has shaped the culture and you may find you interactions to be more pleasant. You may find more friends this way, and even make some close relationships. Don’t try to rush anything, and be mindful; of their situations as well. Remember that you will be the example that they will base their views of every other foreigner on. It is best to make the best experience possible for the new people you meet.