Sure, a trip to the movies is a universal hobby, an escape from the everyday life. Japan is no different, and theatres can be found aplenty, with the three biggest companies being Toho, Cineplex, and Aeon Cinema (Warner Bros).
Here are a few differences in both the theatres and the culture of watching movies in Japan to keep you in the cultural loop.
The Japanese don’t make a lot of it to begin with, but the movie theatres are downright creepy if you are used to those of the west. Few people laugh at jokes, no one ever screams at actors to run or hide, and with exception of special sing-along screenings, no one sings the tunes.
The typical Rocky Horror movie goer would be most shocked to see everyone politely taking it all in, without costumes or crazy shouting.
Many Japanese, especially older folks, don’t eat in the theatre. That’s right, no popcorn. Nothing to drink. They just focus on the film and don’t want any distractions. You can often see elderly guests buying popcorn to enjoy after the movie, rather than before.
That being said, younger Japanese have embraced a lot of western habits, including munching on popcorn or candy while sipping a coke. Generally the food is eaten quietly, and of course neatly. Menus usually offer the standard fare of popcorn, caramel popcorn and drinks, as well as more modern choices like bulk candy and taco chips. A lot of theatres even serve beer!
Still, almost no flavoured popcorn though… Don’t sneak food or drinks in either, not even children do that in Japan.
Everyone takes it with them! You will very, very rarely find a seat with popcorn spilled under it or drink cups left behind. In fact, you will find helpful and happy staff waiting by the exit monitoring garbage bins, and even helping you throw away your trash! Be kind to them, it must be hard to watch all that popcorn go to waste.
Everyone stays until the END. The real end… Of the CREDITS. A lot of people tend to bolt to the bathroom when the credits start to roll, but not so in Japan. Viewers usually watch until the very end and wait for the lights to come on before departing. Maybe it is safer to see. Maybe there will be a hidden surprise at the end. Maybe it is just a cultural difference – no one will yell at you for leaving early, but you may get some surprised looks, especially if you have to squeeze out past determined viewers.