I’ve been fortunate enough to spend 8 days in Japan, and I thought it would be interesting to share with you a few of the quirky observations I made during my time there. Who knows, maybe it might actually come in handy for your trip planning. I definitely wish someone gave me the heads-up!
Redefining a Hotel Experience
In Japan, when you book a hotel, know that you are really booking a home away from home. Everything is taken care of for you, and I mean everything down to cue tips, razors, iPhone chargers, and outlet converters. In addition, you have large bottles of high quality lavender, almond and honey based shampoos, conditions, soaps, and lotions that are probably even better than the ones I own.
Left is Clean
I’m not sure if this is actually a cultural topic but I noticed that in Japan, everyone pays and accepts cash with their left hand. It is considered to be the clean hand, since you are more inclined to use your right hand to clean your rear (unless you’re left handed, then this rule gets a bit complicated).
Quality Infrastructure at a Price
Owning a car in Japan is a complete luxury. I know this because my toll way fees of driving a total of 1,500 km came up to 32,000 Yen (300 USD). This is just the toll way fees, and I’m completely serious. The roads were definitely of the finest quality. I didn’t see a single pothole or uneven road along the toll way. The highlight was definitely the gorgeous and lengthy tunnels that go straight through the Japanese Alps in Nagano. The longest tunnel was around 11km, and I must have driven through 100 of these. I can only imagine how difficult they were to build; hence the drivers bear the costs! As an addict of off-road adventures and discovering hidden gems inaccessible by Japanese trains, I can’t really complain about the cost!
Clean without Trash Cans
The lack of trash cans in this country absolutely baffled me. I would be holding my trash for up to 30 minutes or longer until I either gave up or finally found one (and by giving up I mean, handing my trash to a shop owner, attendee at the gas station, or the hotel receptionist upon check-in). This country is without a doubt one of the cleanest I’ve been to, but I just can’t wrap my head around how it is this clean without any place to dispose of my waste.
The Bicycle Basket
People of all ages love their bicycles here. What they love more than their bicycles, are their bicycle baskets. Not once, did I see a city bicycle without a basket attached either to the front or the back of the bike. I have to say, it came in pretty handy when I rented bicycles to drive around the lakes and historical sites.
The Voiceless SIM Card
Unless you are a resident in Japan, you are by law, not allowed to purchase a Japanese SIM card that has calling minutes or a phone number attached. You can purchase a data-only SIM card though. I’m still not sure why this rule exists, but it does, and it’s weird.
The Hunt for Cash
Majority of the ATM machines throughout Japan will not accept your foreign ATM cards. The only ATMs I was able to find that accepted them were located either at the airports or the 7-11s. Japan is not as paperless as I expected, and is still quite cash driven. I was on a hunt of 7-11 ATMs throughout the country.
Mr. Genius GPS
I decided to take a road trip, which meant, I needed a GPS. All GPSs’ in Japan are entirely in Japanese. However, they have found an amazing way to accommodate to all the tourists. If you know your destination, all you have to do is key in the phone number of that destination and the GPS will take you there. Now, all the signs and everything on the GPS will be Japanese, but you can have it speak English when providing the directions. Mr. Genius GPS will also tell you exactly how many lanes are closed up ahead down to the kilometer due to construction work. It will go as far as telling you that a car or truck has broken down ahead, and on which exact lane. It’s absolutely fantastic, and I wish we had something like this for Bangkok. But I guess, in Bangkok, the reason would simply be, “too many cars.” Oh also, you will never arrive before the time set by the GPS; even if you think it is calculated ridiculously slow. Trust me, the genius GPS has considered every obstacle, speed limit, and red light on your journey.
The Helping Hands and Feet
I quickly realized that every time I asked for help (no matter from whom it was), the Japanese would immediately stop whatever they were doing and walk with me. They wouldn’t just give me directions, but physically move from their location to walk with me either the whole way or half the way; until I told them it was really okay (because I felt bad). If they didn’t know the answer, they would help you search for it. A cashier at a Family Mart even closed the cash, just to walk me out and show me the directions to the subway station. People here genuinely want to help you and make sure you have a comfortable experience. It’s absolutely admirable.
This one I seriously struggled with to be honest. I haven’t been to a single country that still allows indoor smoking. This is however, quite common in Japan, especially with the stand alone restaurants on the streets. The shopping malls and airports have designated smoking areas, but every other store on the street (especially restaurants and bars), seem to be smoking-friendly.
The Tricky Train Entrance
Don’t try and fool the subway system. They might not have any blocks on their entrances, and it might seem like you can easily walk straight through, but it can detect if you’ve swiped your card or put in your ticket. I accidently forgot to swipe my day pass, and the security was automatically triggered with a blockage of my entry passage. This was actually quite cool, but embarrassing!
It is 26:00 Hours
I genuinely had no idea the Japanese have a completely different way of telling time. After midnight (24:00), the Japanese have decided to add 2 more hours, 25:00 (1:00am) and 26:00 (2:00am). Confusing much? Completely! But the Japanese find that if an activity spans past midnight, it’s easier communicated this way. So don’t be surprised if you go to a bar or club and they announce their opening hours from 20:00 to 26:00! It’s completely normal.
Comfort when Nature Calls
The Japanese are very serious and intensive when it comes to their bathrooms. They have seat warmers in almost every bathroom I used. IN addition, there are about 10 ways a toilet can be flushed, and 10 other ways you can choose to wash your rear. It was quite an exciting experience, but not every bottom cleaning option was a comfortable one… if you know what I mean.
The Ryokan Experience
Ryokans are traditional Japanese accommodation and lifestyle experiences. Some interesting rules apply from what I observed at the two ryokans I stayed in:
- Shoes off and house slippers on!
- When using the bathroom, you have to switch from house slipper to bathroom shoes.
- When in the dining room, you have to remove your shoes entirely.
- Do not arrive late to a ryokan dinner. It is elaborate, and they’ve prepared your entire Japanese royalty feast for you at the exact hour of your booking
- There are no full baths in your room, only a toilet and a sink. If you want to take a shower, you’ll have to do it in the family bathroom, which is a communal public bathroom, shared by everyone (friends and family included).
- To use the Onsen (Japanese hot springs), wear your Kimono provided in the room and take your towel with you. The left side of the Kimono always goes above the right side. Oh, and you’ll be entering the Onsen naked, so don’t wear your swimsuit! Also, the water is HOT. I can finally relate to boiled eggs.
Pre-dinner, mid-dinner, and post-dinner; there is a defined type of sake for all occasions. My favorite was actually a combination of the Apricot based sake (which is a post-dinner dessert sake), with a regular mid-dinner sake. I was given this tip by the wife of the family owned brewery. She says it’s a very local way of drinking it!
I could go on about the tea, vending machines, karaoke, arcade games, weird food, fake beer foam, Japanese gardens, and much more… but the list is entirely too long. Also, I feel like I have to leave something for you to observe for yourself when you get to Japan! 🙂