10 surprising things about Japan

Japan is one of my all time favourite destinations so I thought I would share some of the kooky, awesome and surprising things I learnt while I was there.

10 surprising things about Japan

1. Not everything is high-tech

So you know about the high-tech toilets right? The ones with seat warmers and sounds? Yet how come in most public restrooms they have these fancy toilets yet there are no hand dryers and quite often not even any soap?!

2. Kawaii is everywhere

Kawaii (cute) is not something just for school girls and small children, I saw grown business men (or salary men as the Japanese call them) with kawaii Pikachu phone charms.

Black Egg Kitty - a mascot at Owakudani where you can buy blackened eggs cooked in volcanic pools
Black Egg Kitty at Owakudani where you can buy eggs cooked in volcanic pools

3. Japanese people are incredibly helpful

Although English is not as widely spoken there as it is in other parts of Asia, people will still go out of their way to help you.

On our first visit to Tokyo, we were stood in a train station, slightly baffled, trying to make our way to Harajuku. A random commuter approached us, not speaking a word of English (and us not speaking much more than a couple of words of Japanese). He then proceeds to point at our map and point at the map on the wall. After alot of pointing from us and the man, we thanked him (arigato) and went on our way. We made it to Harajuku fine. I also remember having lunch one day and flicking through my Lonely Planet guidebook, when out of nowhere a young woman came up to us at our table and asked if we needed help finding anything.

On our second visit to Tokyo, a kind old lady showed us the way to our hotel, again not speaking any English, but happy to help us without us even asking.

4. Japanese people are also polite and kind

Being a tourist in a foreign city it’s easy to be wary of any strangers who approach you because more often than not, they want something. To be fair, this happens at home too. So anyway, when we were greeted by a man suddenly at Ueno Zoo who offered to take our photo and then asked us alot of questions, my guard was up. He then gave me a little leather shoe phone charm and went on his way. He didn’t want money. It was a gift. He had made it himself. I was wrong to jump to a conclusion but can you blame me? I spent the rest of the trip gushing about how nice everyone in Japan is.

5. The television is as weird as you imagine

We saw a show where they got a bunch of people to make a human table and then a girl proceeded to dance on top of this human table. We also watched a programme of people being surprised with cute animals to play with!

Bizarre Japanese television - a human table
Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘bending over backwards’ !

6. They play cutesy jingles in train stations

For some reason, most of the train stations we hopped on and off at played cheeping bird noises from a speaker. I don’t know why but I kind of miss it. They also play cutesy jingles when the train is in and doors are closing. Not something I’ve ever experienced anywhere else.

7. The Japanese love a theme

Theme restaurants and cafes are all over Japan. We visited an Alice in Wonderland restaurant, a cat cafe, a rabbit cafe and a maid cafe. There are also many other places you can go and experience, from dining in a jail cell to having your food brought out to you by a ninja!

Cat Cafe in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan

8. Vending machines are king

Yes they are everywhere. Most of them sell drinks but you can buy all sorts of other stuff from them. Gachapons are also quite common and mainly sell toys, although apparently there is one somewhere in Tokyo that sells wigs for dogs!

Souvenir vending machines in Japan
Souvenir vending machines

9. Gerbils are zoo animals here

I used to keep pet gerbils in the days before I had my cat. They’re not super common pets in the UK in the way that cats and dogs are but they are still pretty popular. So it came as a surprise to me to find that in Japan, gerbils are actually zoo animals!

Mongolian Gerbil at Ueno Zoo in Japan

10. Robots are for real

Imagine my excitement on my first evening in Tokyo, I headed to the Tokyo Dome entertainment complex for a bite to eat to find this robot just wandering about!

Have you been to Japan? What surprised you?

Why not follow my Japantastic Japan board on Pinterest for inspiration?

25 thoughts on “10 surprising things about Japan

  1. I lived in Japan for two years, the TV shows are truly nuts!!!! But the people are a delight, although their idea of personal space perimeter is much small than mine, took some getting used to (but I did).

      1. Yokota Air Base. But I lived off base in Tachikawa for about a year. And off-base I had no TV. On base we were able to get Star TV out of Hong Kong which had some pretty decent shows. I remember my townhouse was down the end of a very narrow little street, and I prayed every day that no one would come the other way when I was on my way home, because it meant backing up to the one part of the street that was a little wider, so the other car could get by. I did love visiting all the temples and loved the parades, oh and the bento boxes. And the Seiyu department stores.

  2. I’m with you on Japanese people being incredibly helpful. I had a similar experience in Hiroshima with someone who didn’t speak English walking me to where I needed to go. The vending machines are great too!

  3. My fave Tokyo experience of all time has got to be when we pressed the help button on the subway ticket machine, and a man appeared from a little compartment behind the machine to help us out…lol…I wondered if he lived in there or something. Haha. Very efficient though, that’s for sure! 🙂

  4. Great post, I really liked reading about Japan from the point of view of someone who’s been there and their genuine reaction to things. The bunny cafe would be my idea of heaven!

  5. I loved this post! We didn’t make it to the cat cafe. I agree with every single point on your list! 🙂 In Kyoto, a man walked us till our destination to show us the way. We couldn’t believe it. Tokyo was different. People running everywhere and not always ready to help. I guess, it’s the big city thingy. 🙂 On the whole Japan was fantastic.

  6. I’ve worked in Japan twice – once in Yokohama and the other in Yamagata Prefecture. One thing that surprised me about Japan was that… all the trains weren’t crowded. My impression of Japan – before working there – was that all the subway trains were jam-packed. At least, those are the images I had seen for a long time. There were the normal times when the trains were crammed but plenty of times when they weren’t.

  7. I absolutely loved Japan when I visited it a few weeks ago and I am desperate to return.

    I agree with the point about the train jingles – why can’t we have these on the tube? It might make people a bit less grumpy. Or maybe that’s just me. And vending machines are another thing we need to bring over to the UK.

      1. Oh boy that’s a hard question.

        Probably how they openly embrace the nerdier side of their culture.

        And how nice and helpful everyone seemed to be!

        I know it’s a stereotype but that really was my experience. People are so friendly – so different from England, unfortunately. It does make you want to be more friendly and helpful to strangers.

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