40 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Japan

Before I jump straight into this list, I want to clarify that some of these points may be generally incorrect, or could be exclusive to Tokyo.  I could also have some of my reasonings wrong.  This list is simply something I compiled based off of my own experiences throughout the year that I lived and traveled throughout Japan.
This list is also not, in any way, a complete one.  I’m sure if you search the internet you can find many other very true facts about Japan that I have forgotten to list here.
  1. In urban areas there will, at any given time or place, be at least one コンビニ (“conbini” / convenience store) within walking distance.
  2. Japanese people don’t usually have middle names.
  3. Japanese people are very interested in each others’ blood type – it’s like astrology in America, except people take it very seriously.  Expect to be asked what your blood type is at least once.
  4. Japanese deodorant supposedly doesn’t work very well.  I brought my own deodorant from America because I am actually allergic to most types, so I never tried any Japanese deodorants.  But I heard that it is powdery and messy, and that it doesn’t effectively cover odors or prevent perspiration.
  5. I’ve also heard that Japanese toothpaste isn’t very good.  But this is another thing that I had sent to me from America, because I am picky about my toothpaste.
  6. Their toothbrushes are tiny!  The part with the bristles is about the size of a bean.
  7. They seem to think that tissues are the same thing as napkins.  In restaurants you will be given a small box of tissues instead of napkins, and in the average home you will find many boxes of tissues, because they are used instead of paper napkins.
  8. Similarly, along the streets in crowded and popular areas, people will hand you small packets of tissues with advertisements on them.  They expect you to use these tissues as towels after washing your hands in the restroom.
  9. This is because, in public restrooms you will rarely find paper towels.  Most people carry their own small towel to dry their hands on.
  10. Do remember NOT to use your tissues to blow your nose in public.  It is considered incredibly rude.
  11. However, it is relatively common for people to cough without covering their mouths.
  12. You will also not find toilet seat covers in public restrooms.
  13. You probably know all about the fancy Japanese toilets, but did you know that they also have a function that either plays music or plays a loud rushing water sound?  This function is meant to cover up any “embarrassing” bathroom sounds that you may be making.  Unfortunately, sometimes this function is on an automatic sensor.  So if you sit down to pee and are thinking to yourself “my goodness, I am peeing incredibly loudly!  What’s wrong with me?” it may be that the toilet is playing a trick on you. (Source: personal experience)
  14. These toilets also commonly have heated seats waiting for you.
  15. There is no phrase to say to someone who has just sneezed.  Of course they would not say “bless you” because this term comes from “God bless you,” and Japan’s most common religions are Buddhism and Shintoism, rather than Christianity.  So, do not be offended when someone gives you a strange look for telling them “bless you” when they sneeze.
  16. In fact, it is abnormal for strangers to speak to one another at all.  Whereas, in America, it is perfectly normal to strike up a conversation with someone who you are standing in line next to, or waiting at a crosswalk with, in Japan strangers will not talk to one another in almost any circumstance.
  17. Japanese prefer to be left alone and to leave others alone so much that even if someone is in need of help (has fallen, is hurt, is lost, etc.) many people will not stop to help, but will simply stare and then walk by.  Please do note: I do not claim that Japanese people will not offer aid or assistance to others; they simply prefer to stay out of each others’ business, and it is considered embarrassing to need help, and so out of respect people will not cause that embarrassment to others
  18. On the other hand, if you ask someone for help (especially with directions) you will receive the most thorough, eager assistance you have ever experienced in your life.  A Japanese person will go out of their way to walk you straight to where you need to go, even if they were headed in a completely opposite direction.
  19. People in Japan do tend to stare quite a lot.  What I found most strange about this was, even if you catch someone staring at you, they will not falter and look away.  It is as if staring is not considered rude or strange at all.
  20. They separate trash hardcore.  They do not simply have trash and recycling, but rather

    burnable trash
    non burnable trash
    compost
    papers
    cardboards
    plastics
    PET bottles
    PET bottle caps
    glass bottles
    cans
    oversized items
    toxic items

    and there is a specific, unified schedule on when each type is picked up.

  21. There is an indescribable number of mosquitoes in the summertime.  I really don’t know how I didn’t know about this before I arrived, because it is such a large part of daily life.  You will be covered in mosquito bites.  I promise.
  22. It also rains very frequently in Japan.  All year ’round.
  23. They use umbrellas for everything; not just for rain, but in mist, in bright sun, on hot days, and every other time you could think of.  Expect to see many umbrellas, every day.
  24. Showing a lot (and I mean a lot) of leg is acceptable at any age.  I’m really not sure how girls manage to not show their underwear to the world when their skirts hardly cover their backsides.
  25. However, showing cleavage or bra straps is considered trashy.
  26. Every female wears heels, no matter what age, location, or time of year.  Elementary school girls will be seen commonly walking around in kitten heels, and when you visit a shrine or a temple that is set somewhere along a rocky trail, expect to see girls and women struggling along the path in their stilettos and wedges.
  27. If she isn’t wearing heels, she’ll be wearing Crocs.  Crocs are incredibly stylish in Japan, for all genders and ages.
  28. The dips in the sidewalk are incredibly steep.  Apparently the dips in England and some places in Europe are also this way, but in America, sidewalk dips are minor, whereas in Japan they are a bit of a drop.  This may seem like a strange fact to point out, but it was very startling to me.
  29. You should be particularly careful around these sidewalk dips because cars don’t wait for pedestrians.  Even though you may legally have the right of way as a pedestrian, no driver can be expected to honor that.  Be careful.
  30. Nobody wears a helmet while biking.  I’m not sure, but I think you may not be required to wear one by law.
  31. Automatic doors don’t open until right before you approach them.  The first few times I almost ran straight into them because they took so long to open.  That they’re this slow strikes me as very strange since everyone is always rushing in Tokyo.
  32. A green light indicates that an electronic is off, whereas a red light indicates that it is on.  This is backward from America and incredibly confusing.
  33. All cell phone cameras make a sound when capturing a picture.  The sound function can not be turned off, no matter what.  This is to discourage voyeurs from snapping pictures of girls on trains and in public spaces, which is a common problem.
  34. The average paper size is slightly larger than it is in America.  This includes computer paper and lined notebook paper.
  35. Everything is paid in cash.  And I mean everything.  Do not expect to use a credit or debit card anywhere except for some hotels.  Even bills are paid in cash.
  36. If you do have a debit card, make sure to pull out your money during the day, because ATMs “close” at night.
  37. There is an additional charge to ship a package that includes a letter or card of any type inside, so either send it separately, or lie when they ask whether there is a letter inside.
  38. Mayonnaise on everything, seriously.
  39. Salmonella doesn’t exist in Japan, so it is not only safe to eat raw egg, but many dishes include raw egg.
  40. They count money in a very peculiar way.  It is hard to explain, so here’s a short video I found demonstrating it.