Neighbors support the local shrine and temple. They participate in local festivals.
If someone falls seriously ill — the neighbors bring over small gifts (omimai). When someone dies neighbors all show up to the funeral to show their support for the family.
As nice as all this sounds — close knit communities do have their drawbacks.
Japan's Neighborhood EyesIn Japan, neighbors tend to gossip. This isn't exactly a uniquely Japanese phenomena. However, in Japan the desire to be a respected member of the community can be extremely strong. Many people live in fear of seken no me (neighborhood eyes).
Neighborhood Eyes: An ExampleLet's say a married women returns to her home town without her husband to visit her parents. A visit of a few days is fine. However, if she stays a week she might worry the neighborhoods will wonder if she's had a spat with her husband.
Her husband is on a long business trip. She'd like to visit her parents for a week but she'd prefer to avoid any potential gossip.
Neighborhood Eyes And DivorceJapan has a fairly low divorce rate (27%). A little more than 1 in 4 marriages ends in divorce. In the US, more than half of married couples eventually divorce.
This doesn't necessarily mean that Japanese couples are more happy. Within Japan, fear of neighborhood gossip is considered a major factor in the low divorce rate. Many couples are willing to stay in a bad marriage to keep up appearances.
The Concrete JungleNeighborhood eyes are on the decline.
In 1962, more than 40% of Japanese people were farmers who lived in small communities. Today, only 2.5% of Japanese people are farmers. Japan has urbanized more quickly than any other country in history.
Japanese cities such as Tokyo are spread urban environments. Many Tokyoites live in houses and have close relationships with neighbors. However, in recent years manshons (condominiums) are increasingly common.
People who live in manshons often don't maintain close relationships with neighbors.
Highly urbanized people contribute to major shrines that have countless patrons (such as Meiji shrine in Tokyo). They attend massive festivals where you'd be unlikely to see anyone you know. When a neighbor in your building dies — you might not even be informed (or notice).
Many urban dwellers in Japan are free of neighborhood eyes.