Rules that are okay to break in Japan

shinjuku gyoen.jpg
Shinjuku Gyoen, where alcohol is prohibited, but actually not.

Break a rule?! But doesn’t that go against everything Japanese society is built upon? Nah, like, well, anywhere, there are plenty of rules (laws, even) that are socially acceptable to break.

I was reminded of one today. I had a play date with friends at Shinjuku Gyoen, which in my opinion is the best major park in Tokyo. That probably has a lot to do with it being the most easily accessible for us. Park rules state that alcohol is not permitted on the premises. This is the only park I know of in Japan that has such a rule, and during sakura season it was enforced strictly. I had to wait 10 minutes in a line around the block just to enter because they were searching everyone’s bags. But, on a bright sunny day like today, with the peak of sakura season having passed, no one seemed bothered to respect the rule and park officers were not enforcing it. No complaints from me. Kanpai! But it reminded me very much of sneaking alcohol in public in the US and the majority of people not batting an eye at it.

By and large, personal property is respected here. Except umbrellas. Just last week we had a particularly dreary day. I took the sidekick out for some muddy puddle jumping and we stopped for ice cream at the convenience store. We were not there more than 2 minutes, but damnit, someone stole my umbrella from the rack outside. A plea to our favorite convenience store lady and she magicked up an umbrella from the back room for us. If you are at all attached to your umbrella never, ever leave it in the drying rack outside. Hide it in the bushes or behind the vending machines (but don’t take it inside, because then the floors get all slippery and that’s not considerate of fellow patrons).

Smoking while walking. There is a fine for smoking and walking, and I pass numerous street stickers warning of this. I don’t know anyone who has received one, but, then again, I hope I don’t know anyone who walks and smokes too. I think this is less socially acceptable, but one of the rules that is ignored by officers. I’ve seen cops chatting it up with people as they are smoking in the middle of the street, no threat of a penalty whatsoever. With any luck, the new proposed restrictions on smoking in public spaces will help spur Japan into a smokeless mecca. Please, please, please. I’m tired of entering a restaurant and having to turn right back around because of the stench.

The last is my number one Tokyo pet peeve: bicycles on sidewalks. The rules state that bicycles are only allowed on sidewalks “in unavoidable circumstances due to roadway conditions or traffic” or if you’re under 13, over 70, or disabled. BUT EVERYONE RIDES ON THE SIDEWALK (in my neighborhood). As an avid walker with a stroller I’ve been sideswiped twice and had way too many close calls. We’re talkin’ double digits here people. It makes me pine for the wide sidewalks of Bunkyo-ku. ❤

As I tend to do at the end of a blog post, I wonder about India. I know there is similar rule-breaking, and I know I will learn to live with it–maybe even break a few myself? (Confession time: I’ve stolen an umbrella from a drying rack outside a store before. Please don’t turn me in.)


6 thoughts on “Rules that are okay to break in Japan

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  1. We’re baffled by the bikes on pavements – they go so fast. It’s also our number 1 pet peeve about Tokyo. (followed by waiting in line, and smoking in restaurants!) In India I remember that it was possible to get alcohol in ‘dry’ places – you just asked the waiter and it would arrive in a suitable ‘disguise’. Once I poured beer from a teapot!


  2. Ahahaha how many times have I thought KILL ALL THE BICYCLES (usually after being scared out of my panties by a cha-ching right behind me and not knowing which way to jump aieeeeee) And although I’ve never actually swiped an umbrella when rain inexplicably starts bucketing down, I have definitely abandoned a broken umbrella (OK, maybe more than one) in a conbini rack, because the garbage rules here make them so damn hard to throw away (><;;) #gaijinconfession


    1. Yes, garbage rules! That could easily be added to this post. I don’t know anyone, myself included, who follows all the rules perfectly. Thanks for the comment.


  3. Someone stole my umbrella at Immigration (of all places). I did take an umbrella once but then I left it for someone else to use. (In my defense it was near a garbage area which either means it was trash or someone was trying to hide it.)


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