A Gaijin’s Timely Travels (Part One): A Three-Part Series of a Watch Aficionado’s Travel to Japan

Don Camacho in Japan

As we bring you to something special, we at Gracious Watch bring you a multi-part piece of traveling tidbit when it comes to watches. We go to one of the most timely countries in the world: Japan.

Here we explore the culture when it comes to time and the importance of it, how wristwatches are treated in both the new and used market around Japan and an exclusive tour of a storied and legendary Japanese watchmaker factory.

As a gaijin or – ‘foreigner’- in Japan, you will experience the excitement and sometimes intimidating Japanese life. If tardiness bugs you a lot, this is nirvana. So join us on a magical ride to the Land of the Rising Sun and enjoy.

Ichi: Punctuality and the Japanese Way of Life

Life in Japan is very fast-paced and hectic (to say the least). For the North American lifestyle, the word ‘ish’ is built in our vocabulary:

“I’ll be there at 8-ish” “Is 4-ish okay?”

The approximation of time or estimations of your departure and arrival are not part of the Japanese nomenclature. In a land where it was brought up through industrialist ties, timeliness is ingrained in their behavior and culture. You will notice this the moment you land, and you notice two things:

  • Taxis are very expensive to hire from either Haneda or Narita International Airport to central Tokyo
  • Train schedules arrive at random times (ex. 10:46, 22:18, 13:42, etc.)

Timely Mannerisms

A Japanese Mini in its Wild Habitat

Those two things go hand-in-hand and we’ll first start with the first part. Taxis are expensive to hire because owning a vehicle is very costly in Japan.

First of all, your car is subject to ‘shaken’, or a full car inspection every two years before registering for legal usage. These inspection fees are ~$1,200USD and up, depending on the age of your car, and you haven’t even registered it yet!

On top of that, parking is very costly due to the limited space available in Japan (it is an island, of course). When you start adding these things up (gas + insurance on top of that as well), North Americans have it lucky when it comes to car ownership. If you’re just a regular middle-class citizen, you’re forced to use public transit.

No Excuse for Tardiness

Japanese ShinkansenIn comes the Japanese public transit. Because many people depend on public transit to have a livelihood, all types of public transportation must arrive on-time, as stated in the timetable; no ‘close enough’, or ‘ish’ around here.

What is stated on the board is what time it will arrive at and it won’t leave a minute earlier or later.

Punctuality is very much part of Japanese identity that the bullet train lines that go city-to-city, connecting millions of Japanese people and tourists throughout Japan, are considered late if it didn’t arrive one minute after the scheduled arrival. Think about that: one minute.

In North America, chances are you have shown up to minutes maybe five minutes late and no one would bat an eye. In Japan, be prepared to explain yourself. Punctuality is a way of life here and with a vast network of trains to bring you anywhere, you really have no excuses to be late. In fact, the train companies give you a note if the train is ever late, so don’t blame the train for your tardiness!

Because of this, every station has a clock plastered right on the schedule, all running in synchronicity. Scheduling synchronization is another vital reason why timeliness and punctuality are big factors in the Japanese way of life: several train companies own specific train lines and have to work together in harmony to provide passengers the expected quality of service and must provide travel that is efficient and on-time.

Every conductor, attendant, and transit worker all wear wristwatches, and will always be aware of the time and the upcoming schedule.

Here, Wristwatches Are a Necessity

Tokyo Subway Map

Not only transit workers are aware of time, but every passenger is aware as well. An interesting part of Japanese culture is that majority of people don’t speak English (obviously) and train schedules rely on numbers and time to dictate distance and station designation.

Knowing the time also helps you plan out your commute if you’re going to a destination that’s not your usual route. North Americans have the luxury of taking their car and traffic aside, can assume a rough time of arrival. Japanese commute is a little bit tricky. Just look at the metro Tokyo map.

Wristwatches are not a luxury, but a necessity. Blue and white-collared workers must wear wristwatches to keep track of their daily commute, and are always there, with their business suit or business-casual blazer. Many brands are present in Japan and we’ll explore one brand specifically later on but for now, we hope you enjoyed a little piece of Japanese culture.