Celebrate the Differences: What’s a Japanese Movie Theater Like?

By Donald Ash | Articles

Living in Japan can really be a lot of fun. I know it’s been great for me so far. When I lived in the United States, one of my favorite things to do was to go to the movies. I didn’t care if nobody wanted to go, (yes, I am one of the odd people who would go to movies by themselves). I just liked the movie experience…period. So I was so curious to find out what going to movies was like in Japan.

I think the first movie I saw in Japan was Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, back in 2008. I am a pretty big fan of Indiana Jones, and my coworkers and I would often debate about which of the movies in the franchise was best. I said it was the Temple of Doom and, of course, nobody agreed (but it was the first Indy movie I saw as a kid). So six of us foreigners decided to see where the latest movie fell in the rankings. Off to the Cineplex* we went…

**The Cineplex is a one of the popular movie theaters in Tsukuba, Japan. The other one opened in 2009 and is a lot closer to me…Movix at IIAS shopping center.**

The first thing I noticed about the theater was the concession stand. As usual foods and drinks were overpriced, but there was a far more limited selection of items than what I was used to. They had popcorn, nachos (I think), Churritos (a baked, breaded snack sprinkled with the flavor of your choice: cinnamon, caramel, etc.), and a few other snacks. I don’t know if the Cineplex had this, but I have been to a couple of theaters in Tokyo that actually offer beer. Pretty neat, right? Beer’s all fine and good, but where were the M&Ms? The Goobers? The Milk Duds? All of those delicious, cavity-inducing candies! Sigh…I was so surprised (and a little disappointed to be honest). But what the theater lacked in food/drink choices, it more than made up for it with courteous staff and clean facilities. The inside of the theater itself was immaculately clean. The bathrooms, too…completely spotless. You know when you go to the movies in the U.S. sometimes, the floors may be sticky from where someone spilled soda or candy? None of that. Staff members looked like they actually wanted to be there, and they were quite accommodating. My initial impression was that this movie theater was well-run and well maintained.

So we made it to our seats and the previews began, just like any other movie theater. Does it ever seem like the same man does all of talking for the previews? Well, it’s the same in Japan. No big differences except there were Japanese subtitles on everything. Some previews were in English, some in Japanese. There was also this ad showing a break-dancing, camera mascot (encouraging people to stop copying movies illegally) that all of us foreigners thought was hilarious. We all laughed out loud, but we noticed that no one else was laughing…

During the previews, and even during the movie, I was amazed at how different a Japanese audience is from an American one. When we see something funny, we laugh out loud. When we see something scary, we scream. In Japan, audiences are dead silent…always (even during the funny stuff). I don’t know if the silence comes from the language barrier problem, or if it’s just a custom to be quiet in a theater. But I wasn’t used to it. I’m still not used to it now.

After watching the Indiana Jones movie, there was a general consensus that it was the worst in the franchise (HOORAY! No more ridicule for the Temple of Doom!). Overall, the Japanese movie-watching experience wasn’t as fun as it was back home, but it didn’t matter to me so much. I had a great time being with some great friends, talking about just how bad latest Indy Jones movie was. It’s a memory I’ll keep forever, because it was the first time I went to the movies in Japan.

Donald Ash


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

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  • American says:

    I was really curious about movie theaters in Japan so I googled it and your page came up. Very interesting article. Japanese life is so different.

    • Donald Ash says:

      Yeah, they’re really different from the US with the assigned seats and the super quiet/semi-creepy ambiance. But I’ve gotta have my movies!

  • Roni the Explorer says:

    So true. We were watching Rurouni Kenshin way back 2012 in Tokyo and all of us in our group were, whuuut? No one was laughin, there were no oohs and aahs, just the sound from the movies. I was actually worried that im making a lot of noise opening my bag of chips. S there, that was my first movie experience in japan. I agree with you that it was kinda odd.

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