We expected Japan’s complex and diverse food culture, modern conveniences, Hello Kitty, polite social norms, and ubiquitous robots. But the following things came as a bit of a surprise:
- There are no trash bins, but streets are spotless. You are expected to carry garbage with you in your pockets or bags until the appropriate time.
- You never need to worry about going to the bathroom. There are sparkling clean toilets everywhere, and fancy washlet toilets in most places. I have concluded Japan has the most convenient and clean toilets anywhere in the world.
- Tank tops are not a thing, neither men nor women bear shoulders.
- Socks are a thing, even with thongs, for which special socks with a separate big toe have been designed for both men and women.
- Tattoos are not a thing. Seniors in particular find tattoos taboo, but even hip young people aren’t sporting body art trends.
- Cosplay really is a thing, and young men and women go the distance dressing up like comic book characters.
- Public bath houses (onsen) are not just about taking a soak in hot springs. Onsen are where many people take care of their personal grooming. You will see women shaving and washing their hair in the public bath house facilities, which are usually larger and more modern than the bathrooms in their own homes.
- Train engineers use a complex system of gestures, not to communicate, but to keep themselves awake while working.
- Snack food is elevated to an art form. The array of snacks and junk foods vary from province to province, depending on local ingredients and trends. Far beyond seasoned nuts and chips, Japanese junk food can range from sugar and sesame-coated softshell crabs to crunchy corn covered in matcha and dark chocolate. The best thing is that sampling is usually an option in the stores that sell regional food items.
- Except for craft beer, Japan is relatively inexpensive. Along the same lines as North America, Japan is not nearly as expensive as its reputation. We splurged a few times at ryokans and one kaiseki meal, but regular daily food items are inexpensive except for craft beer, which is as expensive as Norway and Australia.
What about you–what did you find most surprising about Japan?