Japan Curiosities and tips

We collected a few curiosities and tips while in Japan. We hope you’ll find them useful, or interesting!

– Japanese girls and women are mostly always pictured wearing super tight and short clothing in anime and manga, but in reality, they wear loose clothing and, even during summer months, they end up wearing long sleeves and long bottoms to avoid sun damage. During colder months we see women wearing shorter clothes more often than during summer.

– I don’t know how they do it, but I’ve never heard a child make a sound at night. Not once. Even adult sounds are heard only on Friday and Saturday nights. They take noise seriously.

– There are western style toilets and Japanese style toilets. Most foreigners tend to wait in the long line for the western style toilets but trust me: the Japanese style toilets are great. It’s easier to do what you gotta do without touching the vase. Just make sure you do it facing the higher part of the toilet. And throw that toilet paper in the vase.

ninja village

The pretty toilet sign in Iga-Ueno Ninja Village

– Speaking of toilets, in residential toilets (mostly) there’s a little sink that feeds water to the flush and you can and should wash your hands there. The houses I visited keep a bottle of hand soap there,

– Always carry a handkerchief with you. It’ll wipe off your sweat, your hands after the toilet (not all toilets offer paper or hand dryers), and even serve as a hat when the sun’s too hot.

– Use your coins, the attendants wait patiently always and they do prefer to receive the small change slowly over give out loads of coins.

nara deer

The beautiful Nara deer

– Tattooed people aren’t allowed in pools, onsens (thermal springs) and some beaches. Even when there isn’t any control (like in some beaches) tattooed people get a lot of personal space and, maybe, an empty beach.

– People are using phones ALL THE TIME. It’s amazing there aren’t loads of accidents.

– Mobile internet there is really good – we used it all the time.

– There isn’t much free wi-fi around. We found some at Mc Donald’s, at the airport and express bus waiting rooms.

– They use every little space very smartly, and it can be a bit difficult to get used to it at first. When you get used to it, though, it’s difficult to turn back.

– I once picked up a little pack of dog treat a lady dropped on the street and gave it back to her. She thanked me profusely and we walked away. We crossed each other a few times that day and every time, she thanked me again. Get used to it, and thank everyone a lot. Forever, maybe. Thanking and apologizing.

– Japanese food is not raw fish only. It’s a bit sweet, mostly healthy and fresh.

Buddhist altar

An altar in Iga-Ueno

– Not all beaches are for swimming. For real.

– They try really hard not to disturb each other, so even chatting inside public transport is considered rude.

– Bikes are a very common transport method, from the school kids to business people to mothers with 2 kids to the elderly. There are bike parking lots everywhere as well as bikes parked in improper places. I’ve even seen one person riding a bike on a rainy day holding an umbrella and texting on the phone (or catching Pokémon, who knows?), all at the same time.

– People don’t eat while walking. It’s rude, so sit down and have your crepe enjoying the view.

– Even though water is served in restaurants for free, tea is the usual drink. I’ve had tea at the bank, at the optometrist, and everywhere where there’s free tea. The kids, on the other hand, end up not having anything because they don’t like tea.

– Couples (and friend groups, sometimes) wear matching clothes. I love it.

– Even though people aren’t allowed to smoke on the streets, in loads of restaurants, game centers, and malls, they are.

– Some streets are very narrow and most of them are two-way streets, which pedestrians and bikes also use.

– There are crows everywhere. EVERYWHERE.

crows in japan

Crows over a rice field in Suzuka, Mie

If I remember anything new, I’ll keep adding to this list!

How different is it from where you live?

30 replies
  1. travelscoutadventure
    travelscoutadventure says:

    What a great compilation of culture tips. I like that your tips are detailed rather than the typical norms that seem to get repeated in travel guides. Interesting points about tattoos. Is it a matter of modesty? Or is it hygiene?

    Reply
    • Thais Saito
      Thais Saito says:

      Thank you 🙂 ! It’s actually a matter of culture! In Japan, tattoos are the marks for Yakuza, the Japanese mafia, so they aren’t very welcome.

      Reply
  2. kallsypage
    kallsypage says:

    Completely agree with all of these things! We spent a summer in Japan last year and it was amazing to witness such a polite and courteous culture first hand. When we came back to the states, I found myself apologizing profusely to people I was bumping into at customs only to be looked at as if I was a crazy person (have I mentioned that I miss Japan?) . One thing I have to add is the use of escalators! It was so interesting that there were two separate lines on them. One for standing and the other for walking up!

    Reply
  3. Lindsay @ The Neverending Wanderlust
    Lindsay @ The Neverending Wanderlust says:

    One of my favorite things about my travels to Japan – ‘They take noise seriously’ – YES! I’ve been living in Korea for the past two years and the noise on the public transport can be a bit crazy at times. Not so in Japan – I really appreciated the chill vibe (for the most part) on the trains and subways. Looks like you are really enjoying your time!

    Reply
  4. Lydia@LifeUntraveled
    Lydia@LifeUntraveled says:

    Ah Japan! I was in Tokyo for a short layover and I’ve been wanting to go back. I found Japanese toilets to be very confusing….lol! Thanks for sharing some of the quirky curiosities of Japan…..I enjoyed reading this post!

    Reply
  5. Paula - Gone with the Wine
    Paula - Gone with the Wine says:

    This was very interesting and informative. We are heading to Japan in two weeks for the first time. I am so excited! Little nervous too. I searched for Airbnb places and noticed that they all seemed to be warning about the noise level in the apartments, even about not talking too loud. So I can relate to what you said above.

    I am originally from Finland where sometimes couples dress in the matching colours too 😀 It is kind of funny!

    Reply
    • Thais Saito
      Thais Saito says:

      Yes, inside the houses you need to keep your voice down all day long, but it’s not too crazy. Imagine, I was there with 4 kids, and everyone said we were quiet enough. Just don’t overdo and it should be fine! Oh, and I’m sure you’ll have an awesome time!

      Reply
  6. Gareth
    Gareth says:

    When you’re talking about Japan, there is no shortage of cultural oddities to perplex the Western visitor. And just a little bit of trivia (if I have been informed correctly) the reason people with tattoos are not allowed in swimming pools is to due to the Yakuza and therefore how tattoos are viewed in Japanese culture. Anyway, great collection of tips, certainly will come in useful for anyone heading to the land of the Rising Sun!

    Reply
  7. Ashley
    Ashley says:

    OMG Yes! What is with the Crows?! And they are by far the biggest crows I’ve ever seen. The matching thing makes me giggle when I see it too. Especially the younger couples, those matching shoes are quite the investment in a relationship.

    Reply
  8. Expat and the City
    Expat and the City says:

    These are very similar ‘curiosities’ to Korea. The girls in tight clothes; western style toilets; not being loud on public transit; and the matching couple outfits! So many couples here in the same clothing!

    Reply
  9. sudiptode
    sudiptode says:

    Haha. This is the most beautiful of the lot. I did not know there was a different Japanese toilet. How would you for directions there then if people are reluctant to talk.

    Reply
    • Thais Saito
      Thais Saito says:

      You CAN ask for directions and all, but you can’t chat loudly and disturb people, I think. At least we did ask – better than being lost! Thanks for the comment!

      Reply

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