41 Fascinating Facts A US Expat Wants You To Know About Japan

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I’m not Japanese but was lucky enough to live, work and study there on and off for over ten years. I’ve been married to a Japanese woman for 28 years, and we raised two kids in Japan, both bilingual-ish. I love the country, and so am happy to share with you 41 facts I believe a Japanese person would want you to know about Japan.

1. Japan is One of the Safest Places on Earth

Mt. Fuji with fall colors in japan.

Image Source: Japanese Ammo

You almost have to go looking for crime in Japan, at least, crime that might affect you (they do have the famous Yakuza, more on them below.) Shopkeepers won’t cheat you, robbers won’t rob you, and in most instances anyone can walk anywhere at any hour of the day and not be bothered. Travelers regularly come home with tales of lost wallets being returned to them.

There are only two areas of Tokyo you need to be cautious in — Roppongi, and Kabuki-cho in Shinjuku. Roppongi is the center of bars and nightclubs that cater to foreigners, and Kabuki-cho is the epicenter of the sex trade. You’ll not be surprised to learn that organized crime controls both zones.

Related Content: Stay Safe in Japan!

2. Japan is One of the Cleanest Places on Earth


Osaka, Japan-Image Source: Sirart Sir

Japanese people don’t drop litter; if there is no trash can, they will carry a wrapper or scrap of paper home to throw it away. Smokers take care of their butts. Japan has also been recycling longer than you have known the word; look outside any large apartment house and you’ll see bins not just for paper and plastics, but for cans, bottles, batteries, light bulbs, small appliances, newspapers, magazines, white paper, brown paper, styrofoam and maybe more by this time.

3. Japanese People are Some of the Cleanest People on Earth

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People are neat. The streets are swept. Things that are supposed to be painted and shiny are painted and shiny. And there is bathing. Taking a bath (ofuro) in Japan is a mix of getting squeaky clean, fetishizing over getting squeaky clean, enjoying a social event and just plain relaxing. In most cases, a bath is all of the above. But like a lot of things in Japan, there are very specific rules and very codified etiquette. Don’t just jump in.

See Also: Understanding the Pleasure of the Japanese Bath (Part I)

4. Some Japanese People Go to Professional Ear Cleaners

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Like the bath, getting one’s ears cleaned is part practical hygiene, part fetish. Some folks, especially men, prefer to go to a pro for the waxy work. Most of the professional ear cleaners follow the same regime as moms do for their children, which to many Japanese is a very warm and comforting feeling. Kind of like being pampered in an American spa, if it was your mom doing the pampering.

Related Content: Only In Japan: Professional Ear Cleaning

5. Religion in Japan is Kind of Complicated


Kinkaku-Ji temple, Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan-Image Source: Courtesy of Fung Swee Space

One survey found that the number of people who belong to religious groups in Japan was almost twice the population of Japan. People obviously saw themselves affiliated with more than one faith. However, when a subsequent poll asked about atheism, it discovered that 31 percent of Japanese people also saw themselves as “convinced atheists.” If the phrase “religiously unaffiliated” was used instead of “atheist,” the yes-result moved up to 57 percent.

Understanding all this takes a little background on Japan’s two most common religions. The old saying tells that a Japanese person is born into Shinto, marries with Christian rites, and passes away with Buddhism. Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples are everywhere in Japan, and almost every temple welcomes visitors.

Related Content: So Exactly What Religion Are Most Japanese?

6. Young Japanese People Love Being Photographed, But…


Image Source: Kawaii Kanae

Young Japanese love to be photographed (less so for older folks.) In fact, go to nearly any gathering place in Japan, and you’ll see groups taking photos. The problem is that Japanese people don’t seem to be too keen on candid shots. In fact, 9 times out of 10, they’ll make funny faces, and most certainly flash the peace sign. No one is quite sure where the peace sign thing came from, but you will see more of it than you ever wanted to.

7. Until Recently, You Couldn’t Use Your ATM Card at Most Banks

Japanese comedian Sugichan poses with 500 million yen (5 million USD) for the Summer Jumbo Lottery as the the first tickets went on sale in Tokyo on July 10, 2013. Thousands of punters queued up for tickets in the hope of becoming a millionaire. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)

Image Source: Yoshikazu Tsuno

Japan was, and in many ways still is, a cash-based society. Part of the reason is that a checking system never developed. Furthermore, the country is so safe that walking around with hundreds or even thousands of dollars is not a problem. When I bought my first car in Japan, I showed up with a grocery bag of cash. To be fair, for such large purchases back in the day, many Japanese used electronic bank transfers instead.

Japan, as a relatively isolated nation (at least in its own mind) never saw the need to tie into the global ATM network until recently. The good news is that once Japan gets started on something, the place goes all-in quickly. You can now use your foreign ATM card in most places, including the Post Office and convenience stores in rural areas.

Related Content: Only In Japan: ATMs Won’t Take Your Foreign Bank Card?

8. Japan Isn’t as Expensive as You Think

October 2004, Kansai, Japan --- Mount Fuji and Kawaguchi Lake, with cherry blossom branch --- Image by © Michele Falzone/JAI/Corbis

Image Source: Carpe Diem Haiku

You can spend a lot of money in Japan; laying down several hundred dollars for an exquisite sushi dinner, or double that for a special ryokan (more below) is not hard to do. But times have changed.

Driven by decades of economic downturns, and helped currently by favorable exchange rates, Japan has become a reasonable cost destination. It is not Laos, or even Thailand, where dollars a day lets you live well. But with some good advice and a willingness to eat and sleep like the locals (which is more fun anyway), you can see Japan without breaking into a bank. The lower costs are good news for the Japanese as well, though most complain about planned increases in the hated sales tax.

Related Content: Visit Japan Like A Local So You Don’t Spend A Fortune (Part 1)

9. AirBnB is Not So Popular (Yet) in Japan


Image Source: Yoichi Nagano

For travelers used to booking a room via AirBnB, Japan may not be the best place for you. For a number of practical and cultural reasons, not the least of which is the language barrier, AirBnB has just not caught on.

While more and more places are coming onto the market, many travelers find them small, and located far away from the things they want to see and do. Japanese workers think nothing of a 90-minute train ride to and from home to the city center, but many travelers are less than impressed. With the Tokyo Olympics scheduled for 2020, AirBnB will likely be making moves to expand its pool of rentals, so stay tuned.

See Also: Why AirBnB is Doomed for Failure in Japan

10. But Never Mind AirBnB, You Want a Ryokan


Image Source: International Traveller

There is no more authentic and moving experience to be had in Japan than staying in a real traditional inn, a ryokan. Located mostly in the Kyoto area, many of these inns have been open on the same premises for decades, some for hundreds of years. Prices range from pretty decent for a nice room and a serviceable breakfast, to skies-the-limit experiences involving five-star cuisine, private outdoor baths, and the unique Japanese style of unobtrusive service.

One place in Kyoto, where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie always stay, charges thousands per night, if you can even get a reservation. I’ve seen it (from the outside only), but will never tell the exact location, as I’m still hoping for Angelina to invite me in for dinner once. But don’t expect foreign neighbors; staying at a ryokan is something most Japanese cherish, especially on their own holidays in Kyoto.

See Also: Tips For Staying At A Japanese Ryokan: The Most Authentic Way To Visit Japan

11. You Can’t Miss Akihabara

Akihabara at Night

Image Source: Women write about comics

Akihabara is Tokyo’s Tokyo, the hyper center of what everyone, including the Japanese, believe is modern Japan. A district in Tokyo that got its start in the post-WW II years as a black market, Akihabara today is where Japan’s pop culture is born. You can find hundreds of electronics stores selling all the entertainment and gaming devices you know, and many that are still only available in Japan.

Down some of the smaller Akihabara’s streets are tiny shops jammed floor-to-ceiling with manga of all types. Nearby will be an Idol Store, where posters and memorabilia of Japan’s latest hot girl band are for sale. Every weekend, throngs of teenage boys pour into the area to buy, trade and exchange information on their favorite bits of pop culture, especially those girl bands that dominate their dreams!

See Also: Japanese Manga influenced the Naming of the Delicious Snack

12. Unfortunately, Some of that Girl Band Stuff is Not So Nice


Image Source: Tokyo Girls Update

Girl bands in Japan are created and promoted by some sleazy characters, often rumored to be connected to the Yakuza. Unfortunately, what is being sold is sex more than music. Japan is clearly a culture that sexualizes younger and younger girls (there is evidence that some commercial gay sex involves younger boys, though the industry is much further below the radar and nowhere near as pervasive as its heterosexual side.)

Pick up any manga, watch any popular anime or even commercial TV cartoons (Sailor Moon) and you will see underage female characters presented in sexy clothing and often with exaggerated sexual features.

See Also: Japanese Sexualized School Girl Culture: Leading to Prostitution and Child Trafficking

13. Can You Really Buy Panties from a Vending Machine?


Image Source: Rich Hillen

Among the most persistent myths across the width and breadth of Japan’s odd approach to sexuality is this one: visitors have claimed you could buy used schoolgirls’ panties from public vending machines, though few admit to having seen such a thing themselves.

The typical story involves a friend, or the guy next to the guy in the bunk across the hall in the hostel, who had seen such a vending machine in the wild. But do they really exist? Probably not, and the story likely belongs more in a volume of urban myths than a guide book. But…

Related Content: What’s The Real Story Behind Japans Used Underwear Vending Machines?

14. You Can Buy Nearly Anything Else from a Vending Machine


Image Source: Courtesy of Sanchome

Japanese vending machines are amazing things. Known somewhat uncreatively just as jidohanbaiki (automatic selling machines), they are in fact a wonderland of products. In addition to nearly every soft drink known on planet earth, you can also buy canned coffee, hot or cold, whole meals, crepes, fresh flowers, beer, and whiskey.

You can also purchase socks and a necktie, deodorant and shaving tackle, 24/7, at a vending machine. And there are a lot of chances to buy. The country has the highest ratio of vending machines to landmass in the entire world, for a total of some 5.52 million machines. Japan’s low crime rate means they are rarely vandalized. Some take credit cards.

15. There are Also Those Maid Cafes


Image Source: Youtube

On a slightly happier note, Akihabara is home to the maid cafes. If you haven’t heard, these cafes are small snack shops that sell sodas, coffee, and sweets.

The big attraction is that you will be served by young Japanese women dressed as fluffy French maids. Though there are sexual overtones, the emphasis is on pampering. The maids will cut your food for you, spoon feed you pudding, and fuss over your napkin. It’s kind of goofy and kind of silly and very, very Japanese. You can also find a few Butler Cafes, with male servants doing much of the same act, but these are not as prevalent.

16. Yes, There are Love Hotels


Image Source: Max Hodges

No discussion about naughty Japan is complete without a few words concerning the love hotels. Love hotels offer rooms for a couple of hours to couples in need of a little privacy, for, well, coupling. The hotels are everywhere in Japan, in clumps around train stations, in special love hotel districts in Tokyo and other big cities, and strewn along the major highways in rural Japan. But unlike “no tell motels” in the U.S., Japan’s love hotels are not sleazy crack houses no decent person would dare touch anything in. Quite the opposite. In fact, the majority of customers are either husband and wife, or two young lovers.

Japanese homes are small, often with only paper sliding screens between rooms. Real estate prices are high, and so it is not unusual for married adults to live with older parents, and for kids to live at home until they marry. For many singles, roommates are a fact of life. There just is no privacy for some of nature’s more private acts. A consumer need is filled by a business, hence the love hotel.

Related Content: What Is The Real Deal With Japan’s Love Hotels?

17. You Can’t Miss Sumo


Image Source: Kanpai France

Sumo is Japan’s national sport. Matches are held in different cities throughout the year, with schedules available online. While tickets for the main bouts can be crazy expensive, prices for junior matches and preliminaries are reasonable and are often available on the same day. The matches are a very only-in-Japan thing (though more and more wrestlers, or rikishi, are from other countries, including the U.S.) and well-worth even a quick look.

You already know the basic rules — two fat guys pushing each other! If there are no matches scheduled during your stay, Tokyo has a great sumo museum, and (limited) opportunities to watch wrestlers train. Most men will stop everything when the key bouts come on TV, and it is fully accepted office etiquette to leave the TV on all day during sumo season.

Image Source: Experiencing The Japanese Sport And Culture Of Sumo Wrestling

18. You Can’t Miss the Cherry Blossoms


Image Source: Turbo rootfl

Once a year heaven comes to earth in Japan in the form of cherry blossoms. Anytime between late March and about mid-April, you are in for a once-a-year treat: viewing Japan’s cherry blossoms. More than just a beautiful sight to behold (though it is!) cherry blossom viewing is both an exercise in a unique bit of Japanese culture and a great excuse to party. What could be better?

It’s called hanami, literally flower viewing, but the term only applies to cherry blossoms. A hanami party is something to be experienced. Groups from a school, club or office will stake out prime viewing sites, sometimes days in advance. The unwritten rule is to claim a space, you must first spread a blue plastic or another colorful tarp on the ground and — this is critical — have at least one person physically occupy it until needed, as poaching is not unheard of. The guard job is assigned to the least-senior member of the group, and is enjoyed (by most…) as a kind of right of passage.

The cherry blossom is a reminder that while life is almost overwhelmingly beautiful, it is also tragically short. So when Japanese people marvel at the beauty of cherry blossoms, there is a larger meaning behind.

See Also: What Is The Cultural Significance Of Japans Cherry Blossoms?

19. You Can Eat Vegetarian in Japan, But…


Image Source: Rincon Vacations

…it can be harder than you might imagine. In a nation where Buddhism is one of the major religions, you would think that eating vegetarian, or even vegan, would be easy. It can be done, but not as easily as you think.

In fact, Buddhism itself does not require vegetarianism, and the Buddha himself ate meat. The First Precept of Buddhism does not allow for the direct taking of life, and many Buddhists interpret that to disallow killing animals to eat, while others believe unless you slaughter the animal yourself, you are only indirectly responsible for the loss of life.

Either way, you don’t find many strict vegetarians in Japan. The point for us here is not to get wrapped in arguments of Buddhist philosophy, only practicality: simply assuming you’ll find food in Japan in line with your vegetarian, vegan or other beliefs is not necessarily a simple matter. Add in variations, such as “I eat eggs but not chicken,” and things get complicated quickly. Luckily, there are good guides to help you sort things out. It helps a lot if you, like most Japanese, eat fish several times a day.

Related Content: Eating Vegetarian In Japan: Not As Easy As You’d Think

20. Sushi, Sushi, Sushi, Sushi


Image Source: Courtesy of photographer Susan Shain

Japanese people love seafood in general (it’s an island nation after all) but they especially love sushi. The great thing about eating sushi in Japan is that you can find extremely high-quality sushi, and sashimi, nearly anywhere at nearly any price point.

You can pop into a supermarket and pick up a plastic takeout tray of sushi for a few dollars. You can go to a sushi restaurant where the fishy morsels move around you on a conveyor belt for you to choose from. You can stumble into a hole-in-the-wall place and end up friends with the chef. And you can dress up and spend a month’s pay on the freshest, best tasting raw fish on the plant. Go watch the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and get your appetite ready.

Related Content: Eating Sushi In Japan: Kaiten Sushi, An Authentic Fast Food Sushi Experience

21. You Can Sample Most Japanese Foods for Free


Image Source: David Connor

Every major department store has a massive grocery-foodcourt-deli taking up the entire basement. There are prepared foods, raw ingredients, and packaged dry goods. Wander around and nibble on the plentiful samples laid out. Don’t be a pig at any one counter, but if you keep smiling and keep moving, you can almost make a meal out of it all; many Japanese do.

Free dinner apart, visiting the department store basement is a great way to inspect a wide range of unfamiliar foods. Time of day is important — late afternoon to dinner time is the best selection, though you may get trampled by a hungry grandma built like a football player. Prices drop quickly after about 7 pm on fresh things, as the store doesn’t want to throw anything away. Don’t miss the sweets, either.

22. Godzilla is Officially a Japanese Citizen!


Image Source: La revista de Internet

Godzilla, Japan’s most famous monster and a 61-year-resident of Monster Island, Japan, was recently made a citizen of the country where he has spent the majority of his career. The rubber monster was awarded his honorary citizenship by Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward. “Godzilla is a character that is the pride of Japan,” Shinjuku Mayor Kenichi Yoshizumi said at a special ceremony. The mayor also mentioned his own belief that any location destroyed in a Godzilla film will actually prosper in real life.

Godzilla also has a new job: tourism ambassador. Official duties include “promoting the entertainment of and watching over the Kabuki-cho neighborhood and drawing visitors from around the globe in the form of the Godzilla head built atop the Shinjuku Toho Building.” You can visit him there.

Related Content: Godzilla Is Now Officially A Japanese Citizen!

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23. Watch Your Wallet in Kabuki-Cho


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This area of Tokyo is great fun during the day (and borders a nearby Korean area with great food many younger Japanese can’t get enough of), and quite a show at night. The neighborhood is home to Japan’s, um, “entertainment” industry, and beneath the neon and flash some naughty things take place.

Kabuki-cho is also ground zero for Japan’s famous hostess (and host) clubs, where people spend hundreds of dollars on drinks while chatting, singing karaoke and being teased by the attractive staff. Most places are off-limits to foreigners anyway, but if you somehow end up inside, don’t expect to order a drink and leave; high minimums and add on charges will ruin your vacation. Japanese businessmen, however, especially when equipped with lavish expensive accounts, enjoy themselves nightly in the area.

24. There Are Plenty of Great Places to Drink In Japan


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Japanese people love to drink. Some say it is because of their natural reticence, alcohol is embraced for its social enabling functions. For an authentic experience, look for, or ask the location of, the small stall-like bars that usually cluster near train stations. Most have only a few seats, and some will shoo you away as a foreigner. But if you find one where you can settle in, you’ll enjoy some great beer, whiskey or sake.

Watch your neighbors — it is very rude to pour your own drinks out of a bottle, and very polite to pour a drink for someone out of a bottle. Oh, and those bottles. Because drinking is a social sport for most in Japan, beer and other beverages often arrive in bottles large enough that they are meant to be shared. Japanese people, lacking a certain pigment in their skin, also tend to turn bright red even after a modest amount of alcohol.

25. Sake is Japan’s National Drink


Image Source: Sake Institute

Though people typically refer to sake as “rice wine,” it is, in fact, a brewed drink, more like beer in the making than wine. The finest sakes are made from just four ingredients: Rice, yeast, water and koji (a mold known technically as aspergillus oryzae). The magic is in the quality of the items and how they are brought together.

Sadly, some cheap sakes add extra alcohol, and some modern brewers’ add flavorings to include fruit and even chocolate. You should not concern yourself with such pretenders. Find that hole in the wall bar, or pull up a stool in a decent hotel, and ask the barman to select something for you. Sake is best drunk warm, and on a cool night, there is nothing better. Not surprisingly, sake pairs well with Japanese food, so try it in restaurants as well.

Related Content: Everything You Have Ever Wanted To Know About Sake

26. Japan is Very LGBTQ Friendly

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There are significant dollops of “don’t ask, don’t tell” surrounding LGBTQ people in Japan, but then again there are significant dollops of “don’t ask, don’t tell” surrounding most things in Japan.

Japan is one of the most LGBTQ-tolerant countries in the world, with no history of violence towards LGBTQ people, no laws outlawing “sodomy,” no crudely rich vocabulary of slurs, no religious traditions concerned about who sleeps with whom (Shinto is silent on the matter and Buddhism, when not endorsing abstinence in general, seems not to care) and gender changes on official documents are cumbersome but legally permitted.

While everything is more conservative in the countryside, in any of Japan’s major cities one can find bars and clubs catering to all the letters of LGBTQ; almost every form of entertainment establishment casts a pleasantly-bored eye on LGBTQ customers; a traveler is more likely to run into discrimination because s/he is a foreigner than over sexual preference.

Indeed, the Shinjuku 2-chome area of Tokyo is believed to contain the world’s highest concentration of bars catering to LGBTQ people, with an emphasis on places aimed at gay, queer and bi- men. That said, few LGBTQ people are out, and while accepting, most families do not overtly acknowledge an LGBTQ child. And one still finds older “confirmed bachelors” in Japan, guys who “just haven’t found the right woman.”

Related Content: What Is It Like For The LBGTQ Community In Japan?

27. There are Real Yakuza


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A popular joke is that Japan has the world’s most organized crime, funny until you realize it is true: almost everything criminal in Japan is controlled by the yakuza, Japan’s version of the mafia.

As a visitor, or even as a resident, you are unlikely to ever see a real gangster. And unless you are into drugs, prostitution, illegal gambling or defaulting on loan sharks, you will certainly never interact with anyone from the yakuza. You will, however, read about their true-crime adventures in the newspapers, and see TV drama after drama about their fictional world. And while it is less common than in the past, yes, some yakuza do cut off the tip of a finger.

See Also: Why Do The Yakuza Cut Off The Tips Of Their Little Fingers?

28. There Really Were Ninjas


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Japanese people love their history, and hold actors such as the semi-mythical ninjas dear to their hearts. Ninjas in Japan were real, and did indeed do some of the SEAL Team meets superhero stuff you’ve heard about, but, like many things we know mostly from movies and TV shows, there is a gap between the myth and the reality. Except, in this case, the reality is also pretty cool. Japanese children play ninja, and the masked commandos remain an important cultural icon for most people.

See Also: What Is The Real Story Behind Japans Famous Ninjas?

29. The Samurai are Idolized and Revered in Japan


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Even more so than the ninjas, the samurai are idolized and revered in Japan. Because of the strong ties between samurai virtues, especially those of loyalty, sacrifice and perseverance, and modern Japanese people’s image of themselves holding to those same ideals, the samurai are as real in the minds of many today as they were hundreds of years ago.

Samurai virtues were pulled into the Shinto faith during WWII, and are taught via bushido, the warrior’s code, as part of most martial arts in Japan today. From the high-brow classic films of Kurosawa, to the cheesiest late night TV dramas, the samurai are very visible across the media spectrum in Japan. Museums are full of samurai armor and swords, and are very popular school trip destinations. Give kids in a park two sticks, and they’ll start swinging at one another in a heartbeat.

See Also: Five Things You Probably Don’t Know About The Samurai

30. Japan’s Biggest Holiday is New Year’s


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Japanese people celebrate the New Year on January 1; it is their most significant holiday. But unlike in the west, where New Year’s is mostly an excuse for the party of the year, in Japan the holiday combines some spiritual and religious elements, a lot of tradition and sentimentality, and sure, some drinking. It is very much a family holiday, unlike Christmas in Japan. On the other hand, the biggest foreigner holiday of the year is Halloween, which has been growing bigger and bigger every year.

Related Content: What is New Years Eve Like In Japan?

31. When in Doubt, Go to a Convenience Store


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The average American 7-11 is late-night purgatory, a place to go when there isn’t anywhere else open. Get in, buy some awful coffee or a stale snack, and get out before the creepy clerk appears in your nightmares. Hopefully, nothing will stick to your shoes.

In Japan, convenience stores are magical wonderlands, clean and stocked with, well, everything. Need a full meal, maybe some sushi, or fried pork with rice, at 3 am? They have it. Not only will it be fresh, but even the exact time it was packaged is stamped on the wrapper. You can browse magazines, pick up a pair of underwear or socks, and score one of a thousand varieties of potato chips, dried squid or boiled egg snacks.

Most stores are open 24/7, and are so brightly lit you can spot them from miles away. Popular brands are Lawson’s, SunKis, and even 7-11. It is a rare day when a Japanese person does not find him or herself needing something from the nearest convenience store.

32. Nobody Beats Japan’s Public Transportation System


Image Source: Courtesy of photographer: Tomas C. Patlan

The bullet trains run on a frighteningly obsessive schedule – a 6:03 departure means just that, not 6:04. Even small towns have efficient bus service, and large cities have subways or trains that go everywhere. Everything is super clean and neat, staff are always present to help, and absent the occasional late night drunk, passengers behave themselves.

Keep in mind that most Japanese remain completely silent on trains, speaking only in whispers. Prices are reasonable, weekly passes are available, and most subways and some trains have English maps available. Bus routes, however, can be complex, but whisk aficionados all around the parts of town not serviced otherwise.

See Also: Train Lines From the Past, Present and Future, and How They Changed Our World

33. Japan’s Taxis are Great and Expensive


Japanese driver and his taxi-Image Source: KPC International

The Japanese love their taxis. And why not — the drivers wear white gloves, are unfailingly polite, and usually know their way around the tiniest streets and back alleys of their cities. And that is no small task (talking to you, London black cab drivers with The Knowledge) because most streets in Japan have no names.

Japanese taxis are ridiculously clean, and the door even opens automatically for you to enter. The bad news is cost; the flag drop is about $6.30, and Japan’s infamous traffic jams can make even a short drive quite expensive.

34. Gaijin, What Does it Mean? 


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For visitors to Japan, one of the first Japanese words they learn is gaijin. Gaijin (literally, outside person) refers to any non-Japanese. Japanese people separate the world into concentric circles, and place everyone they encounter inside one or the other. The smallest circle is one’s family. The largest circle is all of the Japanese people everywhere on earth. Those without a circle, foreigners, are the gaijin.

See Also: The Gaijin Tribes of Japan

35. Young Japanese Often Take Bowing Lessons


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Japanese people bow. They love to bow. They have so many different kinds of bows that they are like the Eskimos, with their multiple words for snow.

There is the nod, often made even on the phone when saying thank you. There is the shopkeeper to customer bow, the junior to senior bow, the boss to his staff bow, the deep apology bow and, for special occasions, religious ceremonies and martial artists, the kneel on the floor and touch your forehead to the ground bow. Young Japanese on their way to a first grown-up job often take lessons so as to impress their new co-workers.

36. Nobody Likes to Talk About WW II, Except Maybe in Hiroshima


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Among the most sensitive topics in Japan is that of World War II. It is rarely mentioned except inside the family, and even history classes tend to gloss over the details. Many younger Japanese know every little about the war, and have no interest in learning.

About the only event that is discussed widely is the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the deaths of over 140,000 people on August 6, 1945. The event is commemorated in Japan as a day of mourning, on a national scale. The most significant event is the solemn ceremony held in the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park, beginning at 8 am, allowing for a minute of silence at 8:15, the time the bomb was actually dropped.

The Hiroshima Museum is the only place in Japan where ordinary Japanese will interact with the few remaining survivors, many of whom serve there as docents.

See Also: August 6th, Hiroshima’s 70 Year Anniversary: How Do The Japanese Commemorate The Day?

37. Most of Japan is Rural


The Historic Villages of Shirakawa-gō-Image Source: Wikimedia

While the majority of the people in Japan live in megacities, the land mass is largely rural and mountainous. Most visitors rarely get out of the urban centers, but Japanese people know what lies beyond that last subway stop.

Even decades after a family has uprooted to the bright lights of the big city, there remains an affectionate spot for that rural past. Japan’s slower paced agrarian villages are celebrated in songs and movies, and the ones sung about one’s “hometown” (furusato) at new year’s never fail to bring an audience to tears. The sake might also help.

38. Everyone Should Climb Mt. Fuji — But Only Once


A view from Mountain Fuji-Image Source: Flickr

Mt. Fuji, or Fuji-san as the Japanese refer to it, is Japan’s tallest mountain and a sacred spot in the Shinto religion. It is also a popular tourist site, both to look at and to climb. Looking is easy, and on any day, rain or shine, you’ll find bus loads of Japanese doing just that.

Climbing Fuji is an experience. The path is well-worn, and no gear is needed other than warm clothing and stout walking stick. However, doing it in a day, and getting back down, is near impossible. So most people start in mid-morning, climb most of the way, sleep in cabins near the summit at night, and then finish the climb the next morning to watch the sunrise from the peak. They’ll then spend a good part of that second day getting back down. There’s an old saying in Japanese, that “a wise man will climb Fuji-san, but only a fool will do it twice.”

39. The Tokyo Olympics Will Be Held in 2020


A stadium design-Image Source: Fast Company

Though the Olympics in Tokyo are four years away, and though we have to get through the one in Rio first, you’d be forgiven for not thinking the games were beginning next week in Japan. The country is Olympic-crazy. New construction dots Tokyo, and English-language signage is going up. Despite the fact that as of now Japan has no viable main stadium design, and every other project is behind schedule and over budget, everyone expects things to work out just fine. Alongside regular sports and the weather, people everywhere are talking about 2020.

See Also: The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games: History, Progress and a Huge Stadium Drama

40. Everyone Sort of Might Speak English a Little


Image Source: Bill Cooney

Japan is fairly unique linguistically in Asia, in that the entire nation speaks a single language; there are dialects and accents, but everyone everywhere speaks Japanese (Korea is similar, but China is certainly not.)

The other linguistic thing of note in Japan is that nearly everyone under about the age of 50 who graduated high school has had five to seven years of English classes. If they went to university, throw in another four years. Japanese TV features daily English lessons, and bookstores are well-stocked with How-to-Learn English books. The problem is that most of those years of English focused on memorization and written texts.

Most Japanese people have never spoken much English out loud, and will often pretend they know none to avoid the embarrassment of embarrassing themselves. So many travelers have found it helpful to write down their questions; “where is the train station?” on a notepad will often get you a point in the right direction.

See Also: Five Words In Japanese I Wish We Had in English

41. Japan is Getting Old


Image Source: Fujimini island

Japan’s population is one of the most rapidly aging in the world, with birth rates falling simultaneously, leading to the now-famous situation where more adult diapers are sold in the nation than baby ones. For a variety of economic and social reasons, Japanese people are just not having babies. Coupled with a declining workforce and a stubborn resistance to importing labor from abroad to serve as nurses and caretakers, Japan is facing one of the most significant social crises in its history.

Related Content: Kodokushi: The Lonely Deaths Of Japanese Elderly

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