If you were invited to a casual get-together party at your friends’ house in your home country at 6 p.m., what time would you show up to their place? If the party was in Japan, the Japanese people would probably show up at 6 p.m. on the dot, or even earlier. This is how the Japanese keep their “promises”.
Once you make a plan with a Japanese friend, most of the time, it will become a promise. They will mark their calendar and won’t change their plans unless it’s necessary. If they are not sure if they schedule a day or time, they most likely won’t make a plan – instead, they would just say “I don’t know”. Once you make a “promise”, and if you want to keep a good relationship with your Japanese friend, my advice is that you should keep your promise and show up on time.
In the Japanese education system, especially in the elementary school time, all Japanese are trained to be on time. Many teachers ask to their students to be ready for the next activities 5 minutes before, so that they can start their activities on time. If some one is late, she or he is considered as a slacker. Japanese are in general forgiving and nice, so if you show up late a couple of times, they would say it’s ok. But in their mind, they are not 100% happy with you being late. If you showed up late every single time, they eventually might not ask you out anymore.
Japanese like being ahead of time. Especially after finishing university, their day-offs from work are very limited. So when they want to meet up with their friends, sometimes even with their boyfriends/girlfriends, they like to make “promises” way ahead of time. Some of my Japanese friends asked me many times when is a good time to meet up for a dinner a month in advance, and when we know what day is good for the both of us, we mark our calendars. Many times, one of us will decide the restaurant to go and make a reservation (予約) in advance.
In case you are late!
Well, nobody is perfect. What should we do when we are late? The key is “in advance”. If you are meeting your Japanese friends at 5 p.m., and you are running late, give them a heads-up before 5 p.m. so that they can expect how long they have to wait for. Make sure to give them a call or text BEFORE the meeting time.
Japanese are in general very nice to their foreign friends and they try to understand cultural differences. They would probably forgive you even you are very late. Although, if you want to do it in the Japanese way, be on time or early! This way you can keep your friendships with your Japanese friends smooth and happy. That’s one of the first steps to act like the Japanese – respecting time and “promises”.