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1) Mindfulness: Being mindful of others is the way of life in Japan. You have to remain quiet in public transportation, you always have to queue up in the right lane for the train, buses and shopping. They often have arrows on the floor showing you the right way to do it. You will almost never see anyone eating and walking at the same time, its considered impolite and no one really does it. There is also no rubbish bins around and even though there is no bins, the streets are always very clean and tidy. Littering is a no-no and most of the time I carried my trash home.
2) Safety: I always felt safe in Japan. Walking alone at night wasn’t scary either. Japan has one of the lowest crime rates in the world and you feel very safe. There were times where my friends lost their wallets but it was always returned with all the cards, ID and money inside! So you can be at ease and leave you bags and phone and expect it to be there when you return because no one will touch it. Even when going out clubbing, you can leave your umbrella in a stand with many others and still manage to walk out of the club with your umbrella.
3) Individuality: You see individuality being taught at a very young age. Kindergarteners and elementary kids walked to school by themselves and they had backpacks that showed they were were young and warned us to be mindful of them. Very young kindergarteners were taken around in small carts as they still don’t know how to cross the roads. You will also see them taking the bus and train by themselves. Since Japan is a very safe country, the parents feel safe enough to let their young kids travel by themselves and learn to be independent from an early age. They often also raise animals in their schools to learn about responsibility which is nice, but, since my dorm was right next to a kindergarten that raised a rooster… it always crowed at ungodly hours of the night and day.
4) Politeness: When it comes to being polite to others, Japan is extra polite — this all boils down to the philosophy of being mindful of others. And being polite comes hand in hand with mindfulness. Where usually you hear “welcome” and “thank you” when being served — in Japan, you will hear it at least 3 times or more when you enter the store and when you leave the store… all with a bow.
5) Recycling: Recycling is very complex. You have to separate your recycling into many sections: combustable, non-combustable, glass, plastic, electronics, food and you even had to separate the bottle caps and the bottle. It was good in a sense that it was better for the environment but I did find that Japan uses a lot of plastic – more than necessary. They gave out plastic bags even for a small items which you can carry in your hand or fit into your bag. Coming from UK where bags are not given out and instead you had to purchase, it felt weird getting so much plastic. I learnt how to say no thank you for bags and it was weird for both me and the server but it worked out!
6) Hygiene: The cleanliness in Japan did give me a shock.
- Many people were masks while walking around — it was the norm. They usually wear the masks when they are ill and it’s often rude not to wear one when you are ill. But some girls also wore masks on days they did not put on makeup. And some people just wore it like a fashion piece. When I became ill myself, I wore a mask and people knew I was ill because of that and would come up to me and say sorry and hope I got better soon. I think wearing masks should not be seen negatively as it does help to protect yourself and others to some degree.
- Japan cleaned their public spaces often, especially the subway stations. I would always see someone cleaning the hand rails of the escalators, the buttons on the elevator and cleaning the floor. It was always clean and looked new.
- People brush their teeth 3 times a day. Often times after lunch I would go to the toilet there would be people brushing their teeth. It appears its a normal thing to do that after eating lunch.
- You are not allowed to enter the gym with dirty shoes. You needed a separate clean gym shoes that hasn’t been worn outside otherwise you are not allowed in.
7) VERY CONVENIENT Convenience stores: Yes, convenience stores are meant to be convenient. But I’ve never felt it was useful until I went to Japan and saw how helpful it can be. There are many things you can do in a Japanese convenience store, you can pay your bills, you can use their delivery systems, when you are moving homes they provide you with the service that helps you transport your stuff, you can buy tickets to events, you can print and scan documents and pictures, you can buy ready-meals that they heat up for you, you can order personalised b-day cakes, you can buy freshly made fried chicken, soup and buns, they are open 24/7/365 days. They are also everywhere, so it’s not to far from your own home. You also get variety of choices so you always get to try something new!
8) Onsen: For a culture that is very passive and polite, they are not shy when it comes to ‘Onsen’ or Public bath houses. There are several onsens in Japan where you take a bath with random strangers – naked. I was nervous when I first did it but once you see how normal and casual people were about being naked, it felt okay. I felt sort of liberated that no one cared and it was the most unusual experience, but the onsen is very relaxing and healing. Big Onsens have different types of baths: outdoor bath , indoor bath, milk baths, salt baths, cold baths and wood baths. I say try it out at least once when you are in Japan!
(If you have a tattoo, most Onsen wont let you in as tattoos are still seen with a negative connotation to the yakuza)
9) Arcade culture: It’s the wildest thing you’ll ever see. There are so many arcade chains all over Japan, most prominent is called Round 1 and SEGA. It’s always filled with people. Some are pros at the game and it’s crazy to see them play the games in such high levels. My biggest addiction was the crane game where you win the prize if you can fork it out. And unlike my country, it’s not a scam, you can actually win with your skills. Sometimes if you ask, the employers also gives you tips to win, or they move the prize in an easier position to help you win! I won quite a few plushies myself and was never disappointed with the prizes. In the arcade I always went to, I would always see this salaryman with so many bags full of plushies and prizes from the crane game and I dubbed him as “the master”. On two occasions, he even helped us win some plushies and we were so grateful. He knew exactly how to win each prize… it’s crazy!! Truly worthy of the title as a “Master”.
10) Afraid of UV: It’s a usual thing to see some Japanese people layering up in summer in a 35°C heat. It’s the most bizarre thing to see, especially when you are sweating and dying from the humidity yourself. Some Japanese people, usually women, hate the sun and the UV radiation, the concept of tanning is non-existent, they try their very best to stay fair skinned. I saw many people use UV protection umbrella, anti-uv arm sleeves, anti-uv neck sleeve, huge anti-uv hats.
11) Toilets: I think everyone also already knows how high tech toilets are in Japan. The bidet has many functions: heated seat option, the strength of the water spray, position of the spray, temperature control of the water, air drying options, automatic flush, and the most shocking thing — MUSIC. Sometimes the music played automatically and it was usually the sound of river flowing and birds chirping. I was pleasantly surprised at first but I got used to it. It’s odd but understandable as people were just shy or being mindful of others about the sounds they make in the bathroom. Most toilets and public restrooms did not have hand dryers. This in particular was especially hard to adjust to as I was not used to carrying a handkerchief wherever I went. Everyone carries a handkerchief in Japan which they use to dry their hands.
On the other hand, there were some toilets which were opposite of high tech. It was usually the public restrooms which were in public parks. They had squat toilets and most of the time they did not have toilet paper. Now this is not all park toilets but just a heads up that some might have squat toilets!
12) Vending Machines: There are vending machines everywhere… when I say everywhere… IT’S EVERYWHERE! You will never go thirsty or hungry in Japan. Not only is it everywhere, it provides various options – hot or cold. Whether its coffee, tea, water, juice, soda, green tea, oolong tea. I like the fact that in winter you can buy warm coffee on the go — which I found very useful. Or if you want ice cream, they even have vending machines for that. It’s the most useful when you are in a pinch and don’t have time to go into a store. I miss having vending machines everywhere 😦
13) Smoking inside: People smoke inside. This concept was very odd and took a whIle for me to get used to. When you go into a restaurant they ask you two things: How many people? and Smoking or non-smoking? Because in Japan, you can smoke inside a restaurant so if you don’t like the smell of smoke, make sure to say non-smoking otherwise they might place you in a table thats in the smoking area section. This also means they smoke inside clubs – very hazardous – you also come out with your hair smelling like smoke which is hard to get rid of.
14) Eating by yourself: For me it’s very unusual to see people eating by themselves in cafes and restaurants. But in Japan, this was a normal thing — some restaurants even had furniture that accommodated to people who eat by themselves. I only did it a couple of times when I was travelling, it was odd at first but I got used to it and you get to eat awesome food even if you are by yourself.
15) Purikura obsession: Purikura is a photo booth, but not just any kind of photo booth, its a special photo booth that lets you edit the pictures in many ways. But OVERLY CUTE is the overall feel of these pictures. It’s very popular amongst females and couples and it’s always packed! I took quite a few myself and it’s very confusing and hectic to get it but in hindsight, they are memorable items that is unique to Japan and its culture!
16) Overly friendly customer service: Wherever you go, restaurants, cafes, convenience store, they welcome you in a very friendly way. When you leave they say farewell in a very friendly way. They also serve you in a very friendly way. It feels great and you get used to it very fast!
17) Packaging: Japan is very extra with their packaging. For instance, if you bought cookies, each individual cookie would be packaged on its own. If you bought chocolates, each individual piece would be packaged on its own. Yes, it does look very appealing but it was unnecessary at times.
18) Fruit: I don’t know why. But fruit has never tasted so good in my life. Especially the apples and watermelon. The apples were larger and sweeter and watermelons would be sold already cut into slices, ready to eat! I never crave apples in the UK but in Japan, I always craved the apples as it tasted so good!
19) Automatic taxi: I didn’t ride taxis that much in Japan, but when I did, I was always surprised at the automatic doors. You never open the taxi door by yourself, its automatic!
20) Free club entry: There were so many clubs that had free entry, or free entry to girls or foreigners, or a discounted entry. You also get one or two free drinks once you enter the club. For a club life in a capital city, this was a pretty good deal which I appreciated having.
21) Anime everywhere: Japan is known for Anime, and you won’t be disappointed – they have anime everywhere. Anime is not just for kids in Japan, its for adults too. Even for normal items and advertisement, they use anime. The trains would also be decorated with anime; the ones I saw myself were gudetama, pikachu and hello kitty themed. Akihabara and Ikebukuro are main anime hot-spots for all the otakus out there.
22) Using Cash: Japan is a cash-based society. Coming from UK where I am used to using card and contactless payment to buy things it was quite difficult to adjust. I had to get used to carrying cash everywhere I went.
23) Seasonal things: Since I lived in Japan for a year, I got to witness how with every season, there would be a special edition for everything. The most obvious was with cafe and dessert places. The best one for me was by far the spring time, there would be sakura aka cherry blossom flavoured everything – ice cream, cake, coffee, cookies, sweets. It’s an experience you will only get in Japan!
24) Izakaya fun: A social sanctuary that is open all night long, for you and your friends to hang out while drinking and eating! If clubbing and bar hopping is not your thing, Izakaya is the way to go! Its a Japanese style bar, very informal and very casual setting and you can sit there and have fun without worrying about looking good. There are so many drinking games that you’ll never get bored!
25) Supermarkets: Although supermarkets are meant to be big, the ones I went to in Japan were below average sized. Most supermarkets had a packing station where you took your paid items and pack them into bags yourself. I only went to supermarkets when I needed to buy long-lasting food and discounted care products. Because most of the time you can get the day-to-day things in the nearby convenience store. The shopping trolleys were also very small, it felt like a kids playhouse toy.
Special mention: Halloween and karaoke culture is a whole another world full of culture shock that deserves it’s own blog post! So keep a look out for those!