23 random observations about Japan

One of the best things about travelling is noticing the differences. In many ways Japan is similar to the U.K. which only added to the contrast when we spotted the weird and the wonderful. Without further ado, here’s a random list of things that made us smile during our 3 months in Japan..

  1. There are drinks vending machines on just about every street corner. Sometimes they stand together in pairs and have staring contests with the pair of vending machines on the opposite corner.
  2. Vending machines have taken over Japan. This one was lurking at a temple, and they even climb mountains. Rumour has it there's one at the top of Mt Fuji..

    Vending machines have taken over Japan. This one was lurking at a temple, and they even climb mountains. Rumour has it there’s one at the top of Mt Fuji..

  3. Japan is a very clean country, but you’ll rarely see a litter bin. There are bottle bins next to most vending machines, and we occasionally found recycling bins, but public cigarette ashtrays are more common than general waste bins. We later learned that the Japanese thinking is this: rubbish bins attract rubbish.
  4. Yes, it’s true – the Japanese queue in an orderly fashion for everything, especially trains and subways. It made us a little homesick.. ;o)
  5. The red and green men at pedestrian crossings are smartly dressed and wear hats.
  6. It's all in the details. Pedestrian crossing lights in Japan are properly attired

    It’s all in the details. Pedestrian crossing lights in Japan are properly attired

  7. Train guards bow when entering each carriage, and turn to bow again before leaving.
  8. Toilet seats are heated and often include bidets and spray functions. This should be the standard across the world – they’re fantastic!
  9. Japanese toilet controls

    Japanese toilet controls. This one also includes a “flushing sound” to mask one’s embarrassment of a Delhi belly

  10. Speaking of toilets, bathrooms often have their own slippers to save getting your normal slippers (or socks) dirty, even some public bathrooms in palaces, temples or shrines!
  11. Most restaurants don’t have English menus, but it doesn’t matter because either the menus have pictures or there’s an elaborate display of fake plastic food outside. Note that the more expensive food is generally pictured in menus and the translated menu may not have all the choices of the Japanese version.
  12. Plastic food outside a restaurant in Japan

    Plastic food outside a restaurant in Japan

  13. “Hai” means “yes” in Japanese, but it’s used so frequently that it’s more akin to “yep”, “OK”, and “right” or “correct” in English.
  14. Ink stamps are everywhere. Every museum, historic point of interest and hiking trail will have at least one custom rubber stamp on a chain with an ink pad. Top tip for visiting Japan – take a small notebook with you to collect the stamps in!
  15. Ink Stamps

    Ink Stamps are everywhere and make a great free souvenir – take a small notebook with you to collect them all

  16. Business hotels often provide yukata, which are simple wrap-style Japanese nightgowns, and slippers.
  17. Manhole covers are often specific to the town, city or area, and have wonderfully creative and colourful designs.
  18.  Different designs on the manhole covers around Japan, often in colour and usually feature a motif or landmark of the area. Clockwise from top-left: Gassho-zukuri houses in Shirakawago; Deer in Nara; Momotaro fire-fighting in Okayama; The peony from Kumamoto

    Different designs on the manhole covers around Japan, often in colour and usually feature a motif or landmark of the area. Clockwise from top-left: Gassho-zukuri houses in Shirakawago; Deer in Nara; Momotaro fire-fighting in Okayama; The peony from Kumamoto

  19. As well as the fantastic public gardens, we’ve found that the Japanese take great pride in the appearance of their private gardens too. We’ve yet to see one that wasn’t beautiful and well organised. The same goes for their allotments!
  20. Japanese private gardens and allotments are as well ordered as the public ones

    Japanese private gardens and allotments are as well ordered as the public ones

  21. The Japanese love their bicycles. They like to ride them on the pavement, they rarely have lights (or if they do, they rarely use them) and when it’s raining, they can cycle while carrying an umbrella!
  22. Japanese man on a bicycle holding an umbrella. Even if the bicycle has a bell, the Japanese are too polite to use it, instead they purposefully neglect their bicycle so the chain and gears are rusty and the brakes squeal so you as a  pedestrian can hear them coming up behind you

    Japanese man on a bicycle holding an umbrella. Even if the bicycle has a bell, the Japanese are too polite to use it, instead they purposefully neglect their bicycle so the chain and gears are rusty and the brakes squeal so you as a pedestrian can hear them coming up behind you

  23. More people smoke than we were expecting, and smoking in restaurants and bars is still permitted. There are restrictions being applied to shopping centres and streets, and some restaurant chains have glassed-off smoking areas or are completely non-smoking.
  24. Japan is a very safe place, and there’s very little theft – we even saw people leave their cars running with the doors unlocked and windows open outside convenience stores while they nipped inside!
  25. This max'd out Nissan 350Z was left running in the car park of a 7-11 while the owner nipped inside for a pack of cigarettes. We saw so many cars left running outside shops, and delivery scooters with the keys in them!

    This max’d out Nissan 350Z was left running in the car park of a 7-11 while the owner nipped inside for a pack of cigarettes. We saw so many cars left running outside shops, and delivery scooters with the keys in them!

  26. Digital cameras and camera phones are required by law to make a shutter noise, to deter sneaky snapshots (source).
  27. Fruit and veg are priced per piece and not by weight, including apples, onions and even potatoes!
  28. .. and speaking of apples, they’re huge, like the size of lawn bowls huge.
  29. School seems to be more day trips than sitting in classrooms because we saw so many groups of schoolchildren visiting historic sights and museums.
  30. Us with a group of schoolchildren having just practiced their English with us in Kyoto. We saw so many groups of kids that school in Japan must consist entirely of day trips!

    Us with a group of schoolchildren having just practiced their English with us in Kyoto. We saw so many groups of kids that school in Japan must consist entirely of day trips!

  31. Cash machines only dispense ¥10,000 (£60) notes, but we’ve never had trouble getting one changed even in small shops and restaurants.
  32. Babies and toddlers are often transported in trollies!
  33. Woman pushing a wicker basket trolley of toddlers

    Can you think of a suitable caption? Post a comment below!

  34. Street maps are already orientated, which is very handy once we’d realised it, but we were initially confused why North pointed in seemingly random directions!

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