How do People in Japan Spend their Free Time?

What do people actually do with their free time? While this is all just from my personal opinion and experience, I thought I’d offer my take on the matter at hand. If you believe online commentors than people in Japan have to work from 8:00 to 22:00, and when they finally make it home, they only have time to gulp down a can of beer and then fall onto their futon, completely exhausted. On the weekend, they will spend their time lethargically in front of the TV, taking anything in, questioning nothing. Or so the story goes. Anyone who has actually met any Japanese people or spend any significant amount of time in the country will be able to tell you that the reality is often quite different. Japanese people can be quite dedicated to their hobbies, with many people, especially younger ones, frequently stating that they only work so they can sustain their hobby. 

Hobbies are very varied, but from my observation, it seems like Japanese often have one hobby that they are then very serious about, instead of pursuing multiple hobbies at the same time. For example, if someone’s hobby is golf, they will practice their swing religiously and go golfing as many times as they can during a month. But due to their dedication to Golf, they will most likely not be able to pursue any other hobbies for a meaningful amount of time. Others might dedicate their time to Videogames, Reading or other such things, but the general pattern of only having one true hobby mostly holds in my experience. 

One rather Japan-exclusive hobby, that’s especially popular with middle-aged men, is “Pachinko”, a sort of slot-machine and one of the few forms of gambling that is common in Japan. A Pachinko parlour can usually be identified by the music, that’s often played out front, as well by the suffocating smell of old tobacco smoke and the roar of the air-conditioning unit, that is working overtime trying to remove said smell. The game itself is a game of chance, sometimes referred to as “vertical pinball”, where the player has to get one or more balls into holes on the gaming board to score points. Gambling for money is illegal in Japan, with laws being so stringent that often not even Videogame tournaments (with Videogames often being based on skill, not luck) are unable to award cash prizes to winners. Pachinko parlours get around this by providing no actual cash prizes in the parlour itself. Instead, if you win big you will receive tokens (specifically the balls that you play the game with) which you can then exchange for prizes such as perfume bottles or similar items. You then take that perfume bottle to another location, often conveniently located right outside the parlour, where you then exchange that perfume bottle for a set amount of money. This second location might try to invoke the impression that it is not connected to the parlour at all, but it is obviously connected to the business and often owned by the owner of the Pachinko parlour. Be that as it may, prices are a lot lower than at casinos, for example, so you are less likely to win or lose big sums of cash.

Social drinking is still very popular

Another popular pastime is obviously spending time with friends or co-workers. Be it at the fabled forced drinking parties with your colleagues after work, which often ends up not being very forceful at all, or just going out with friends, visiting a restaurant, eating food and drinking copious amounts of booze are no less popular than they are in other countries. Rating websites for restaurants are very popular and customers take ratings very seriously, with star ratings over 3.5 being considered reasonably high, and some people make it their hobby to visit as many different restaurants as possible and then write reviews about them online. This activity is called 食べ歩き(tabearuki), which translate to something like “walking and eating”, so people go to a neighbourhood, walk around and try the food at different restaurants. Another interpretation of the activity is when people walk around the area literally eating while walking, so usually, this involves smaller snack-like dishes. This is popular with young couples as well, especially at the earlier stages of a relationship where sitting across from another in a restaurant might sometimes still feel awkward.

Be it playing games, eating, drinking, spending time at parks with friends and/or pets, socializing, you name it if there is a given activity than there will probably be someone that has made that activity his or her hobby, just like in any other country. I am by no means an expert on the subject, and today’s article feels a bit “rambly” to me, but I still hope you enjoyed what I had to say. Thanks for reading.


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