Cultural Differences When Visiting Tokyo Disney Resort


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Well, okay… maybe not letters.  But comments, tweets, Facebook posts are among the ways you loyal readers have sent along queries to us about various different topics.  So, we thought we’d answer some of them starting with this post.

Let’s get started…

One of my biggest concerns is cultural differences between North America and Japan when visiting Tokyo Disney Resort.  (I know some, but more tips would be helpful!)  Any advice?

The upside is that at Tokyo Disney Resort, customer service is amazing – so even if you do happen to make a cultural faux pas, there’s a good chance you’ll be politely corrected.

But, because a trip to Japan won’t likely be solely to visit Tokyo Disney Resort, getting a handle on local customs is a good thing to do.  For the purposes of this post, here are five key cultural differences that you should be mindful of at the Resort, and in Japan in general.

Paying For Items

When we go shopping in North America or Europe, we tend to hand over our money in to the hands of the person behind the cash register.  That’s not the case in Japan.

When you go to pay for a meal or an item, you’ll see there is a small dish next to/in front of cash registers.  When the cashier tells you how much is due, you are to put your money (or – if you use one – your credit card) on to the tray.  The cashier then takes the tray and processes the payment.

If you’re paying cash, the cashier will count your money twice – don’t be offended, it’s just how things are done.  Coins are typically fed in to a hole in the register where they are automatically counted.

It’s easy to forget this the first few times you go shopping, but you’ll get used to it!

Crowds may test your patience, but remember to take a deep breath, smile, and enjoy the experience.

Crowds may test your patience, but remember to take a deep breath, smile, and enjoy the experience.

Smaller Sizes

This is a big one for North Americans.  Typically, you’ll find only one or two beverage sizes at a restaurant.  Like our European friends, the Japanese prefer smaller portions (especially with sugary beverages.)  The “regular” sized soft drink at many fast food restaurants will be similar to the “small” size you’d find in North America.

It doesn’t end with food and drink.  If you’re thinking of bringing home a souvenir t-shirt from the resort for a Disney fan in your life, remember that most clothing in Japan about one size smaller than in North America.  So, if they wear a small, get a medium.  If they wear a medium, get a large.

High Level of Politeness

The hospitality extended by the Japanese to visitors is legendary.  They are eager to welcome you to their country, and are incredibly gracious hosts.  The entire country is like taking a vacation at a Disney Park – everyone just wants you to be happy.  To be honest, it’s enough to make a guy blush.  But, there are ways you can repay the kindness.

"A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down..."

“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down…”

Learn how to say thank you (“ah-ree-gah-toe, go-zy-mass”), and say it often.  Smile.  While many young Japanese people speak English to some extent, anticipate breakdowns in communication and have patience.  Smile.  Display gratitude.  Did I mention you should smile?

A little kindness goes a long way.

Silence is Golden

You’ll notice a lot of places are quiet in Japan.  The train. (There are designated quiet zones on most Tokyo-area rail lines.)  The mall. (Aside from cashiers yelling out the day’s specials, it’s uncommon to be loud and boisterous in a shopping space.)  Space Mountain.  (Yes, it’s one of the most surreal experiences you’ll have while at Tokyo Disney Resort – a roller coaster where no one screams!)

Quiet Zone on Trains in Japan

You’ll get used to the relative quiet – but if you’re taking children with you, you’ll want to have the conversation about using inside voices and that it’s impolite to be loud.  Being loud in the wrong space will net you disapproving scowls.

When in Doubt, Follow the Crowd

Japan has a very homogenous, disciplined culture.  There is a generally accepted way to do pretty much everything – whether it be going for coffee at Starbucks (get a seat before you place your order), or going through the turnstiles at the train station (put your train pass in a small wallet or case that can easily be taken out, tapped, and replaced – all without stopping.)  Watch other people.  See how they do things.  And then do as they do.  There’s a good chance you won’t be wrong.

When in doubt, follow the crowd!

When in doubt, follow the crowd!

If you’re really paranoid about cultural differences and having the right etiquette, I highly recommend Japan Guide’s online etiquette guide.  I spent a little time reading through it before my trip to Tokyo, and I felt much more prepared for the trip (and impressed Japanese friends who didn’t have to explain the “rules” to me) as a result!

Have questions you want answered?  Ask them in the comments below!