Experiencing Everyday Life in Japan with Emeline 2: Shopping in Japan Part 1: France and Japan are Really That Different?!


Hello! It’s Emeline, from France!

When you go to a foreign country, whether it is for a trip, for work or for studying, you need to go shopping, at least for groceries. The way you shop can differ from one country to another, so you might encounter surprising things. When I first came to Japan, I encountered a lot of them, and I would like to share my experience in this article.  

Opening Days and Hours

The first thing that surprised me was the shops’ opening days. In Japan, a lot of stores are open every day but in France, everything is usually closed on Sundays. It is forbidden by law to work on Sundays (Recently, this is starting to change. There are some exceptions, and a lot of shops are opened on Sundays in touristy areas).

The reason behind the creation of such a law can be explained by the influence of Christianity. I do not know a lot about religion, but I will try to explain it simply. Christians believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected on the day after Sabbath.

Sabbath is originally a sacred day in Judaism. It is said that when God started creating the universe, God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. That’s why humans are supposed to rest on the seventh day of the week, which corresponds to Saturdays in Judaism.

Since Jesus Christ was resurrected on a Sunday, this day became a sort of Sabbath in Christianity. France is originally a Christian country, so a lot of people started to think of Sundays as a day when you can go to church and rest.

In the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Constantine I (Constantine the Great) created a law acknowledging Sundays as a rest day. At that time, France was part of the Roman Empire and this law was applied there too. This law was revoked in the past but it was re-established in 1906. Sundays have been a day when you can rest, do sports, go to cultural institutions (like museums for example, which are open on Sundays) or meet with your family ever since.

Resting on Sunday is strongly rooted in French culture and a lot of people are against the government trying to revise the law. Nevertheless, recently, more and more stores are starting to open on Sundays. Before, stores could only open on Sundays around Christmas but now, it is not rare to find stores opened during other periods.

My explanations may seem a little bit long, but I think this is an important part of French culture. For that reason, discovering that stores were open on Sundays in Japan took me by surprise. Even if you are busy on other days, you can still go shopping for groceries or for anything you need, and even get your parcels delivered on Sundays. This is so convenient!

Some places are also open until late at night, or better yet, 24 hours a day! In France, it is usually forbidden for stores to be opened after midnight (except for bars, clubs, cafés, or restaurants) so this was also surprising for me! In Japan, even if some supermarkets are closed in the middle of the night, you can still go to the convenience store, which is quite handy.

When You Enter a Store…

When I first came to Japan, I was on a family trip. My family did not know a lot about Japan, but they seemed to enjoy it. We went to a lot of famous places and ate a lot of new things. Every day, after coming back to our hotel, I would ask them how today was, what they liked and if they found some things interesting or weird. One day, after we went shopping the whole day, I asked them these questions and my sister answer me like this:

“I’m so happy, I bought so many cute things! But…why are they shouting so loudly when we enter their shop? They scared me so much!”

That was something that surprised me too. I knew that when you enter a store, the employees greet you by saying “irasshaimase!” (いらっしゃいませ!), but I was not expecting them to be so loud. I explained her that this means “welcome to our store!”. She laughed and told me that it was quite an aggressive way of welcoming people.

Without a doubt, this is different from the way employees greet customers in France. When you enter a store, employees also say “hello” or “welcome”, but they rarely raise their voices. I think this is because customers need to answer back these greetings. Because of that, employees use a more conversational tone instead of shouting.

In France, not greeting the employees is very rude. When you enter the store, you need to say “Bonjour” (Hello), and when you leave, “Merci” (Thank you), “Au revoir” (Goodbye) or “Bonne journée (à vous aussi)” (Have a nice day).

Once, I was talking with a Japanese friend who just travelled to France and she told me that stores employees were very rude. I explained her that if she was the one who did not greet them in the first place, it was normal that their behavior became colder. They thought that she was a rude customer. So, if you are planning on going to France someday, please do not forget to greet employees in stores!

I know that in Japan, things are different. When you enter a store, you do not have to greet the employees, but that was very disturbing for me. In fact, it is still weird for me and every time a store employee greets me, I automatically want to say something back.

Payment Options

I was also surprised by the payment options available. In Japan, a lot of people still use cash. There are a lot of places where you cannot use credit cards, so it is better not to rely on them too much.

In France, it is quite the opposite. Almost everyone above the age of 18 (the age of majority) has a credit card. A lot of people use credit cards for most purchases, and they are quite easy to get in France. You just need to go to the bank, fill in a couple of forms and you can receive it without going through a strict examination of your application (at least, in my case it was like that). I got a credit card right after I turned 18, even though I was a student without any income. Since I received the card, I stopped using cash almost entirely, so it was quite difficult to get used to paying by cash again when I came to Japan.

Of course, there are still a lot of places in Japan where you can use a credit card, but it is slightly different from France anyway. For example, there are times you can pay just by inserting your credit card in the card reader, without entering your PIN code. In France, we often use contactless cards (where you just touch the card reader with your credit card to pay). This is not that different from what happens in Japan, but still, I was surprised the first time.

The other thing that surprised me was that, sometimes, they ask you to sign when you pay with a credit card. In France, this never happened to me, even though I was using my credit card all the time. I talked about it with an American friend and she told me it was normal to sign in the US, so maybe France is the exception here.

Recently, more and more people started using cashless payment options in Japan. Electronic payment seems to be more popular than credit cards, which I found quite curious knowing that it is the opposite in France.

Would You Like a Plastic Bag?

The last thing that shocked me when I came to Japan was that you could get plastic bags at the register for free. I came to Japan in September 2019 and at that time, this was still normal. However, in July 2020, plastic bags stopped being free and started being sold for 2 to 5 yen each, depending on the size.

In France, we stopped using plastic bags quite a long time ago. In July 2016, plastic bags at the register became illegal, and in January 2017, they banned single-use plastics bags that were not biodegradable in other sections of stores (like for example, in the fruit and vegetable sections). However, I feel like people stopped using them long before this law came out. My parents started using reusable bags around ten years ago and stopped using plastic bags entirely.

Environmental problems like global warming and ocean pollution are big global concerns. Because of that, I thought that in other countries too, the use of plastic bags would have stopped long ago. That is why I was so shocked seeing that in Japan, not only you could still get plastic bags everywhere, but also for free. Since then, they stopped being free and I thought it is a very good thing, and I hope that in the future, Japan will be able to cut their plastic consumption even more!

Since coming to Japan, I have not only learned a lot about this country, but also about France. It may sound weird to say that I learned about my own culture and habits after I went abroad, but in fact, there are a lot of things that you cannot notice about yourself without experiencing a foreign culture. I used this experience to write this article.

There were a lot of other things that surprised me, but they were all because of experiencing the Japanese concept of “omotenashi” (おもてなし). In the next article, I will try to explain this concept, barely known overseas, and explain why it was so unsettling. Feel free to come read the next part!!!

Part Two:↓↓
Experiencing Everyday Life in Japan with Emeline 2: Shopping in Japan Part 2: Japanese “Omotenashi”

This article is written by:



Hey! I’m Emeline, from France. I’m often told that my name is hard to remember so feel free to call me Em!

I came to Japan in September 2019 as an exchange student to finish my research for my master thesis. I was studying at Keio University in Tokyo but I lived in Kashiwa since the first day I came to Japan!
I come from a small city in the South of France so Kashiwa seemed more comfortable for me than the capital. I still don’t know a lot about Kashiwa, but since I started working at kamon, I’m learning new things every day and enjoying the city more and more!!