When you travel through Japan some of the following things might seem a little bit crazy in the beginning to you. They are completely different from our habits in the Western world - For the Japanese they are quite normal, and they even think sometimes it is funny that we think that they are strange! Here are my personal favourites of strangeness!
(1) There are no bins.
Really, all over Japan it is really, really, really hard to find a bin. Sometimes, especially next to vending machines you can find bins for cans and plastic bottles. But for general waste and all the plastic wrapping? Virtually impossible! I wonder how much waste an average Japanese carries around in his bags...
(2) Everything is wrapped in plastic - for two, or three, or four or five... times?!
Okay, there are no bins. So maybe there are no bins, because there is virtually no trash? NO!!! In Japan nearly everything is at least wrapped twice in plastic. Would you think it is crazy to wrap single onions, carrots or even strawberries in plastic? Well, not if you are in Japan! Also tofu, which is already sealed in plastic, is wrapped twice in plastic again!
(3) Fish, Fish and Fish!
You don't like fish or seafood? All the lovely little stuff out of the sea with tentacles and eyes? The taste of fresh fish inside everything? Well then don't come to Japan! Japanese food is about fish. In average every Austrian eats 13.3kg of fish/seafood and 106.4kg meat per year, whereas Japanese only it 48.8kg of meat but 53.7kg of fish and seafood! However, Kujira, whale meat, is not so easy to get and not as popular as it seems in the Western World. I think I ate so much seafood that I even grew gills!
(4) Toilets are free and everywhere
Toilets in Japan are nearly everywhere. In department stores, restaurants, railway stations, public places, tourist informations - simply everywhere. And the best thing? They are always for free and most times quite clean. Oh and by the way the often have a heated toilet seat and a privacy music button: Just play some music whilst you are on the toilet, so nobody can hear about your business...
(5) 24h shopping Kombini
Japan is a country of convenience stores. There are over 45.000 so called "Kombini" stores and you can buy drinks, food, sweets there, use the copy machine, the ATM or buy train/bus tickets. And yes, they are open 24h. (On the picture some delicious green tea ice cream at 1am from the Kombini ;-)
(6) Where is a restaurant?
If you cannot read Japanese is sometimes really hard to know which building is a restaurant and which not. Why? Just look at the picture! In other cases - especially in cities - restaurants or often in the top or basement floors of large shopping centers. Also a thing have to know before you can find them.
(7) Vending machines
There are an incredible number of 5.6 million (!!) vending machines in Japan. That's around 1 for every 23 people. And these only include vending machines for drinks and sweets, and not for train tickets.
(8) Kaiten Sushi
Kaiten Sushi is the well-known conveyer belt sushi. We also have that in the western world, but the way cooler Kaiten sushi, is the one where you have a little screen over your head and you order the food by tapping on it. The little plates then arrive on a cart on the conveyer belt, you take off the food and send back the cart by pressing a button. Absolutely crazy and cool!
(9) Rice, Rice, Rice
If you live with Japanese family be prepared to have rice 3 times a day. A traditional Japanese family has rice (cooked without salt, most times in an own device - the rice cooker) eats rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It's kind of our bread - We also eat it many times a day.
(10) NO (central) heating systems
Japan is highly developed and technologized, but there are virtually no central heating systems. Some houses have air conditioners in each room which can also heat the room in the winter. But a comfy central heating system which heats via radiators is non existent. Some houses just heat with small little kerosene or electricity heaters or heated tables with blankets (Kotatsu). And yes it gets quite cold in Japan.
(11) Japanese families sleep together.
Japanese families sleeping together means the father, mother and ALL children sleep together in one room, all futons side by side. Mother - Children - Father. There is even an own Japanese word for this sleeping arrangement "kawa no ji" - meaning: "To sleep in the shape of the character of 川", which is the Kanji character for river.
(12) Japanese Couples
Sometimes Japanese family arrangements can seem quite strange to us. It is not unusual that couples don't sleep in the same room - also newly married ones. Also as Japanese workers always move around with their company and are strongly bound to their workplace many couples live separate for years or decades - sometimes even more than 1.000km away seeing each other only a couple of times per year. This is completely normal and NOT astonishing to a Japanese person.
(13) Rock-paper-scissors is THE game
Japanese love to play rock-paper-scissors. Very often you are on a trip to a sight, in a bus or in a bar. Suddenly there is a giveaway for the guests and all guest play rock-paper-scissors together. The winner gets the prize, like sweets or a little toy.
It seems to me as the Japanese society is built upon mindufulnes. You can even call it a Mindful Society. You will never ever (Ok never say never?) be jostled, Japanese take care about where other people walk, what others want and are extremely helpful.
If you try to make a picture of a Japanese person be prepared to the confusing peace symbol. Nearly ALL the time Japanese form the peace symbol with their index and middle finger. Why? I don't know! Another funny side fact: On Japanese iPhones you CANNOT disable the shutter sound when taking a picture!
(16) Japanese Writing
Japanese writing is really challenging for Westerners. First of all there are three different writing systems. Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji. The first two are syllabaries - sets of written symbols that represent the syllables or (more frequently) moras which make up words. These are quite easy for us to learn, because that system is quite similar to our alphabet and there is a limited number of characters (about ~50 for each system). But with the Kanji-system it gets difficult. These symbols are adapted from the Chinese writing system and some can be really complex. Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 characters are commonly used in Japan, a few thousand more find occasional use, and a total of about 13,000 characters can be encoded in various Japanese Industrial Standards for Kanji.
(17) Surgical masks & umbrellas
Japanese love their umbrellas against sun (but of course also against rain, there are also very often rental umbrellas for free at many places) and their surgical masks. This looks quite ridiculous to us, but initially they wore it (and still do) when you are sick so you do not infect others. But nowadays there are also other reasons, like "I am too lazy to do my make up". Check this article out for more information on the surgical masks.
Kawai is the Japanese word for cute or sweet. Kawai is virtually everything: A T-Shirt, a cat, a kid, a store, a colour, everything can be kawai! Some more kawai-ness? Try out the rabbit, fox or cat island. These are small islands where a lot of the namesgiving-animal lives and Japanese visit these islands, because these animals are sooooo kawai.
(19) Life coordinate shops
These so called life coordinate shops are nothing other than 100 yen shops (= ~ 1 Euro/Dollar). The difference to Europe is that it does not smell like plastic hell in these shops. They are quite nice and you can buy all these little handy things Japanese invented to make their life's easier: Hooks to hang stuff, boxes to store stuff, decoration material, cleaning tools,... Quite good quality also - at least compared to icky stores in Europe.
The traditional Japanese way to sleep is not in a bed, but on a so called futon. These are like mattresses, sometimes really heard, sometimes not so hard. They can be folded and put into a cupboard, but also need to be aired out, especially in the summer when humidity is high. Quite comfortable for guests, but a lot of foreigners have problems dealing with sleeping on the floor. Also strange for foreigners: Japanese don't have nice seating possibilities on their balconies or garden furniture in their gardens.