I had learned many things after my first year living in Japan, some more amusing than others. Here is my list of 30 unexpected insights from living in Japan as a foreigner.

I will keep this as brief as possible…

Japanese Temple Through Sakura Tree Photography
Japanese Summer Festival Photography

Insight #26

“Japanese Love To Celebrate!”

Riding Train In Japan Interior

#1. CROSSWALKS ARE DANGEROUS

Look both ways before crossing the street as there is a small chance any approaching cars will stop. Good luck out there.

#2. NO TIPS

Hosts in Japan are some of the kindest I have experienced. It felt wrong not to pay a tip however, please don’t. I have been told this can be taken as disrespectful.

#3. WHERE IS THE TOILET?

Bath time is serious in Japan. Many homes have a separate room dedicated to bathing alone. No toilet, just a shower, and a heated bath which can be controlled from a panel to start filling.

Bicycle Parking Lot In Japan

#4. CASH ONLY

Even in the big city of Tokyo, you better have cash on hand. Not only for frequent vending machine usage, but many food vendors, restaurants, public transit systems, and shops are cash only.

#5. MATCHA IS A CEREMONY!

I was surprised to discover that when drinking matcha in Japan, there is a very detailed ceremony that goes into it. You can even take classes and learn how to conduct the ceremony yourself.

#6. THE MYSTERY OF EGGS IN JAPAN

Simply put, eggs are different in Japan. 

  • It’s not uncommon to eat raw eggs in Japanese dishes.
  • No amount of science could help me boil and peel an egg easily in Japan.
  • The variety in how the Japanese cook eggs fascinated me.
Japanese Toilet Sign Rules

How to use a Japanese toilet.

Funny Sign In Japan

#7. FACE CLOTH OR TOWEL?

Yes, the towels are smaller in Japan. Yet after some time, you will get used to it. You may even become more flexible in the process…

#8. BEDDING, MAKE YOUR BED!

In Japan, the term “make your bed” takes on an entirely new meaning, allow me to translate.

  • Wake up and fold your blanket and pillow to store in the closet.
  • Roll up your mattress and also place it in the closet.
  • If it’s sunny, hang your mattress on the deck to air out.
  • At night time reverse this, be sure to prepare ahead of time as when you’re exhausted this is a pain.

#9. HOW TO BE A POLITE GUEST

When visiting one’s home in Japan, be aware of these rules.

  • Take off your shoes before entering.
  • Sit down to pee…
  • Omiyage? (see insight #27)

#10. THE UNFORTUNATE DINING PRIVILEGE

It’s still legal to smoke inside many cafes and restaurants in Japan. Make sure to check ahead of time if you’re pregnant or simply can’t stand the smell.

#11. LUNCH DEALS ARE AMAZING

At lunchtime, the amount of delicious food you can get for 1000 yen (around $10 Canadian) is astounding! And as explained in (insight #2) no tips!

Side note, if you are not into Japanese food. The burgers in Japan can be quite impressive.

#12. JAPANESE CAN EAT MORE THAN I EXPECTED

Although I consider myself to have quite an appetite. I was often surprised at how a meal I could barely finish could be put away with grace by the Japanese guests around me. Talk about competition…

#13. GURGLING AND PHLEGM

Yes, the Japanese are polite and well-mannered. Yet the amount of gurgling and hacking up phlegm in public may surprise you.

#14. ENGLISH IS HAPPILY ACCEPTED

I’m not saying all Japanese know English. However, many will certainly try and may even know enough to help you out.

#15. ENERGETIC ELDERLY

The amount of energy in the Japanese elderly truly amazed me. Not only are they riding bikes, hiking, shopping, and engaging in activities. I would often find many exercising in the parks while I was jogging on through.

#16. MINI-VACATIONS A PLENTY!

Country, city, mountains, and rivers… As Japan is such a small island, you can easily hop on a train and soon enter a whole new world. Making mini-vacations easy and frequent!

#17. REST STOPS ARE AWESOME

Not just a dirty toilet on the side of the road. In Japan, they go all out on rest stops. Vendors, activities, restaurants, gift shops, and of course clean toilets! Make sure to plan ahead so you can spend some time exploring rest stops.

#18. VENDING MACHINES ARE EVERYWHERE

Forgot your water bottle at the hotel? Not a problem! Japan has more vending machines than where I come from has Starbucks. Seriously, it’s fun to spot them in the oddest places.

#19. JAPAN HAS MANY BEAUTIFUL PARKS!

I had imagined Tokyo to purely be a busy and chaotic city. But what truly amazed me was the number of beautiful parks available. If you ever need some nature, you got it!

Laundry Drying In Japan

#20. YOUNG MEN CARE ABOUT THEIR HAIR

Don’t be surprised if you find some of the young men spending more time fixing their hair in public than your girlfriend, sister, or…

#21. BICYCLE PARKING LOTS

This is amazing, official parking lots dedicated to bicycles. You enter, lock your bike into a mechanism, pay, then use your ticket to release your bike when ready. It’s the real deal.

#22. AMBULANCE OR AIR RAID?

I’ll never forget being awakened by a loud sustained alarm with fast Japanese voices shouting over a PA. Expecting there was some kind of disaster going on, turned out it was just an ambulance.

#23. PRODUCTIVE STORMS

You will encounter some pretty powerful seasonal storms in Tokyo. Yet what amazed me was throughout, we never lost power or internet!

#24. NO GARBAGE CANS

Lack of public garbage cans in Tokyo can be rather inconvenient. Pack an extra bag for storing garbage until you get home as you won’t have much luck finding one around the city.

#25. LEFT SIDE PLEASE!

Aside from driving in the left lane. When walking, stay on the left side as well. I’m not sure if this is also backward for you, but keep this in mind to avoid colliding with others.

#26. FESTIVALS

The Japanese love to celebrate. Throughout the year you will find many exciting festivals. From parades, food festivals, drummers in the streets, you name it! Every season seems to have something fun to enjoy or tasty to eat.

#27. OMIYAGE, THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING

Omiyage is a VERY important word to memorize in the Japanese language, meaning gift or souvenir. In Japan, When either visiting one’s home as a guest, traveling out of town, or celebrating a holiday. It’s customary to bring or pick up Omiyage to give to your hosts, friends, family members, or co-workers.

If you ever receive omiyage, make sure to return the gift with something of equal value afterwards. No joke, there are even catalogs and businesses dedicated to select omiyage to send to others.

#28. LAUNDRY HANGING

A dryer bought in Japan may last forever as it is RARELY used. Many hang laundry out on the balcony to dry or even on racks inside their homes.

#29. FAST MEDICAL

Throughout my year in Japan, I had a pregnant wife, a small child, and a visit or two myself to the hospital. Never did I experience long waiting times or delayed results. Just difficulties communicating…

#30. I FELT SAFE EVEN IN THE DARKEST ALLEYS

When walking around a foreign country late at night with a pocket full of cash (see insight #4). Never would I have thought I would feel safe. Yet I did.

Japanese Vending Machine In The Street

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