Somewhere along the way, we came under the impression that in Japan, eating in public is unacceptable, though this isn’t necessarily the case.
This idea was supported by our own observations on the ground– there are vending machines everywhere, yet we never saw anybody drink. There are convenience stores everywhere, but we never saw anybody eat. There were also enough restrooms and trash cans in abundance to defy any excuse for disposing of waste in the streets.
We did see enough people eating in parks and on benches to convince us it wasn’t outright illegal, just that it was a rare sight indeed.
One time, after a routine Family Mart raid, we ate in a back alley behind the shop. We weren’t sure which was worse– the eating in public or the trespassing.
I have since heard from locals that the stigma is not so much against eating in public, rather, it is looked down upon to eat in public while walking. So in retrospect, our scarfing down curry buns and sausage rolls behind a dumpster like we’d just stolen them wasn’t saving us any face. Which means it was probably the trespassing that earned us those scowls that day.
This explains why, on the few occasions where we did see people eating/drinking in public, they did so while standing at the machine they purchased the drink from (the machines all have recycling bins built into them) or hovering near trash cans (in the case of food). At no point did we see people eating or drinking on the trains or near shrines, so we’re pretty convinced that remains a universal taboo.
It’s also legal to consume alcohol in public. The novelty wore off after one beer. I don’t know how the Japanese view it, but it struck me that drinking in public was something uncouth tourists probably do all the time.