goo Ranking recently published an interesting survey into arigata meiwaku, unwelcome helpfulness, when other people read your mind wrongly.

My pet niggle is when convenience store staff put a fork in with my salad instead of the usual chopstick without asking me what I actually want.

I posed this question to a Japan expat forum on reddit and got a bunch of rather interesting replies from longer-term foreign residents of Japan. The most voted-for answer was having people jump in to help if you show even the slightest hesitation around railway ticket machines, which I must say I’ve only experienced once. Next is getting people ask you “Can you eat Japanese food?” and otherwise helping out with the “correct” way to fully enjoy the meal; I do get that too and it is very irritating! What have my readers experienced?

Here’s an example of number 6 – some people are saying that there is social pressure to refold the toilet paper back into a triangle after use!

Kawaii TP

Ranking result

Q: What do you frankly find to be unwelcome helpfulness? (Sample size=2,300)

Rank   Votes
1 Being seen out to the door after buying clothes 210
2 Shop staff deciding you don’t need the till receipt 191
3 People reorganising a booze up you excused yourself from 159
4 Your hairdresser being chatty 152
5 People being concerned that you aren’t married, haven’t had children yet 146
6= The end of the toilet paper being folded into a triangle 142
6= Someone getting food for everyone at a buffet 142
8 Your mother-in-law buying children clothes 106
9 New Year greetings card from someone you haven’t interacted with for a while 104
10 Next door neighbours accepting a parcel for you when you’re out 92
11 Continued obligatory exchange of birthday presents 80
12 Convenience store staff checking if you have a point card 70
13= Being introduced by an ex (presumably to a new potential partner) 69
13= Your hopeless at housework husband doing the housework 69
15 Hairdressing staff seeing you out the door 65
16= Getting a present of handmade sweets 64
16= People coming to talk about formal introductions to potential marriage partners 64
18 People dishing out the food from shared plates 60
19= Mobile phone’s word completion prediction feature 51
19= Summer gifts and winter gifts (Ochugen and Oseibo) 51
21 People who often bring me souvenirs 48
22 People who take charge of the hot-pot cooking and serving 46
23 People who share out their home-grown vegetables 44
24 Birthday surprises 41
25 People who take charge of the barbeque grill 32


Between the 21st of December 2015 and the 4th of January 2016 2,300 visitors to the goo Ranking site completed an internet-based questionnaire. No further demographics were provided.


Janne · May 9, 2016 at 07:55

Putting shopping items in a plastic bag at the cash register, when the items are already packed up, I obviously already have a bag for my shopping, and I ask them to please not add a bag. If there is no line I sometimes stay there and unpack the bag, put the items into my own shoping bag, then return the empty plastic bag to the cashier before leaving.

At least some chains (Kouyou for instance) have gotten better lately, and even ask for a symbolic sum for plastic bags.

    andrew in ezo · May 19, 2016 at 14:06

    Supermarkets in Sapporo have a little tag hanging by the register you must wilfully put in your shopping basket, should you need a plastic bag, and the charge for said bag is several yen. By *default* no plastic bag is provided. So the issue may be municipal regulations varying city to city. If you are still getting a bag after requesting you don’t need one, it’s a language communication issue.

      Janne · May 19, 2016 at 18:25

      A couple of supermarket chains (Kouyo, Life) are helpfully doing this tag thing – except the other way around, so you add a tag to your shopping basket when you don’t want a bag. The department stores and convenience stores mostly do not. I doubt it is a language problem as my native speaker wife has the same issue when trying to not get a bag and avoid the extra garbage.

        andrew in ezo · May 22, 2016 at 13:01

        Well then, if it really bothers you, or the cashiers are moronic, then ask for the store manager, (i.e. Just like you would do back in your native country) and emphatically say that you don’t want the cashier to give you a bag. Unless you speak up, a store policy will continue as before. As for convenience stores or department stores, just tell them you have an eco bag, and that you dont need a plastic bag. I find they always are obliging. In the case of the convenience store, they will just place a sticker on the purchase item if it’s a single purchase.

Carson · June 3, 2016 at 16:09

Thanks for the great info, it really is useful.

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