5 Culture Shocks foreign gardeners face in Japan

>>Following my blog about how to become a gardener in Japan.<<

I am a gardener from Germany, so the following might not apply to all.. The experiences are based on my personal feelings when I first came to Japan to work in a normal gardening company near Tokyo.

The first thing my new comrades told me, was, if an earthquake happens, I should get a good grip on the next tree.
That was a joke…

And it wasn’t a culture shock, but already showed me how things can be in Japan. Very easy and funny if there is no hard time schedule.

However, the first strange experience I had to deal with happend at lunch time.
In Germany I had a lunch break of 30 minutes + a breakfast of 15 minutes. Those 15 minutes were a present by the company..
In Japan I had a 30min break at 10am, a 60min break at 12 and a 30min break at 3pm. At least during the summer.
1 hour break!
And what did my comrades do? They slept. And it didn’t matter where we worked..
In private gardens they slept on the lawn, in parks on the benches, in the temple in the temple garden.
Sleeping during lunch break is quite normal in Japan, but for me it was something totally new!
In Germany I left early from work and maybe went to the park to lay down there. But sleeping on a bench in the park? No way!!!
If you see something like this in Japan, you can be sure that it is just a normal worker and no homeless!

Next I wanted to show my experience by naming all the plants we worked with.
My comrades couldn’t speak English, and I never spoke English before. So no need to know English plant names. And who cares? The universial way to talk about plants around the globe is by using their botanical names, right?
“Boo”! Wrong! Not in Japan!
In Japan almost no one knows botanical names except the Japanese name and the botanical name is the same.
Calling a Camellia Camellia in Japan? Almost no one will understand you! I had to learn every name anew.
But no problem.. I always learned plant names very fast. And today it is totally normal for me to call a Camellia Tsubaki or Sazanka.

Trees at a university. The first time I was allowed to participate in this work. Can you guess which one I cut? No! Not all!

When I cut my first Camellia, it also was a shock!
Of course, in Germany we also cut trees. We remove dead branches, branches that cross with other branches or going in the middle of the tree and not outside.
If a branch becomes to long and interfears with a neigbouring tree, we cut the branch a little bit.
But what are you doing in Japan? Using a motor hedge trimmer on shrubs and reducing half of the leaves afterwards…
And trees? Don’t be too shy! Just cut away almost all leaves and your cutting style is perfectly fine!
No.. Of course it is not like this.. There are special techniques for every kind of tree, but when I first came here and experienced the pruning methods, I really was shocked how much the gardeners in Japan cut away.

And how they cut! For Keyaki (Zelkova serrata) they often need a chainsaw, because they remove whole treetops.
In Germany a gardener who wants to use chainsaws during work has to take a test. You have to learn how to handle a chainsaw properly and what kind of protective clothes you have to wear.
There are special shoes, special trousers and if you like special jackets. And of course you are wearing a helmet, protective glasses and protect your ears.
In Japan you just use it with your normal wear and without even knowing how to handle it.
That there are so few injuries due to chainsaws is quite interesting..
Although I just saw in my Instagram feed today that one gardener cut into his leg..
To make it clear.. My comrades climbed 7m and higher trees, stood on very thin branches, grabbed the tree trunk with one hand and cut all the branches around them with the chainsaw in the other hand during taiphoon season.
Who else want? Please go ahead!

Broom Lover
40°C, cutting the grass along a river and cleaning with a bamboo broom.

When trees are pruned, there needs to be someone to clean afterwards. During my first month in Japan I did nothing else, which is quite normal.
In traditional gardens we usually don’t have perennials under the trees and shrubs. Only blank earth. And we don’t want to have dead leaves between, because it doesn’t look nice for the customers eyes!
So how to clean?
In Germany we used a rake or a leaf blower to remove leaves.
And in Japan? You can use a leaf blower too or.. and this was the biggest shock among all for me, a broom! A bamboo broom…
In Germany we use brooms to clean plastered pathways, but we would never use it on soil!
And we use a different shape of brooms.
At first I was not really able to do a good job with bamboo brooms, however today I can not think of any other way to clean the space between trees and shrubs (except for leaf blower but I do not like to use it because it is loud and heavy..).
I love my bamboo brooms and would never want to change it against German brooms again!
Please give them a try!

Have you ever worked in a foreign country and experienced culture shocks in your job?


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3 thoughts on “5 Culture Shocks foreign gardeners face in Japan

  1. Japanese gardeners tend to grow shrubby plants like roses in much smaller pots than we would in England. I visited Japan a couple of times and was lucky to meet several very passionate gardeners. An experience I’ll never forget.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience!
      Japanese not only grow shrubby plants in very small pots, they also plant trees in much smaller spaces than we would in Germany.
      There are many rules, how much open space have to be there for the roots at roadside-planting in Germany. Totally different than here in Japan!

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