72 Random Observations About Japan

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Japan is a wonderfully strange country. It’s the cultural differences that make travel interesting and Japan is full of them. These are some random observations that we jotted down in our moleskine as we travelled around the country.

This post was originally written in 2011 and has been updated after multiple repeat visits to Japan.


1) Japan has recovered extraordinarily well from the earthquake. We didn’t see any signs of it, although we didn’t travel further north than Tokyo. We don’t see any reason to avoid travel there. (This was noted after our visit in August 2011).

2) Expect to be confused much of the time.

3) Expect random bursts of weirdness.

Weird model outside Kyoto restaurant
This was outside a Kyoto restaurant. No idea why.
Kurama train station statue
This was in a car park at Kurama train station.

4) Japan is expensive. But totally worth it, and probably no more expensive than parts of Western Europe.

5) When we first arrived it wasn’t as super-modern or as traditional as we expected. These aspects take time to find.

6) When you find traditional Japan it is everything you expected.

Tsumago, Japan

7) We didn’t expect the ugliness that is found in some areas. There are many ugly concrete buildings and between Osaka and Kyoto there is a continual stretch of housing reaching right up to the train tracks.

8 ) Startling green rice paddies are squeezed among apartment buildings in urban locations.

9) Cartoons are used for official signs. This is a practice that should be adopted all over the world.

Nara deer warning sign
A sign in Nara Park warning about the dangers of deer

10) Japan is super-safe. Even in a big city like Kyoto people often don’t lock their bikes or houses. In cafés people will leave their mobile phones on the table while they go and order. It was nice not having to worry about crime.

11) Toilets range from squat (with instructions and a handrail to help you balance) to ultra-modern with multiple buttons for varying levels of spray and heated seats.

12) Video arcades abound and the taiko drumming game is particularly fun.

Taiko drum game in Japanese arcade
Taiko drum game in Japanese arcade

13) Taiko drumming in real life takes an enormous amount of energy.

Taiko drummers
Taiko drummers


14) You’ll change your shoes a lot. You’ll need to take off your shoes when entering a home, guesthouse and even some restaurants and museums. You often change into the provided slippers, and when you go to the bathroom you change from them to the provided bathroom slippers.

15) Eating while walking just isn’t done. This can be harder to get used to than you’d think.

16) Not blowing your nose in public is difficult when you have allergies.

17) There is no tipping at all.

18) Traditional Japanese accommodation doesn’t have private bathrooms. Instead you’ll share a large bath with strangers. That freaked us out.

19) Don’t pour your own drink – pour for others and they’ll take care of you.


20) Most people don’t speak English.

21) Although many street signs and train station names are in English, mostly you’ll be floating around in a sea of Kanji. Especially at supermarkets.

22) Learning to speak basic Japanese is easier than you think. It’s not a tonal language and there are no verb conjugations.

23) Learning to decipher Kanji on the other hand…

24) Japan has three alphabets. One would be hard enough.

25) Sometimes things are lost in translation…


This hotel information sign was the weirdest of all. We get the “Grime Prevention” confusion, but what on earth does this mean: “The all over Japan can send out blacksheep. I make acceptance at the front desk”.

Japan hotel sign sheet

Then there are the signs on Japanese trains…

Japanese train sign

Japanese train sign 2


26) There are very few western tourists, but plenty of domestic tourists. (Update: in 2019 there are plenty of western tourists, especially in Kyoto, but it’s still possible to find quiet spots). 

27) For the Japanese it seems essential to say “chizu” and make a peace sign when having your photo taken. When in Rome…

Simon making a peace sign at Golden Temple, Kyoto

28) The Japanese don’t stare. We particularly appreciated this when struggling to eat slippery, unidentifiable blobs with chopsticks.

29) The people are super-polite. The world-renowned British politeness? Nothing on this.

30) Japanese women have wonderfully sweet sing-song voices.

31) In shops you’ll be greeted with a chorus of enthusiastic “irashimase” (welcome). As you leave the back and forth exchange of “arigato gozaimasu” (thank you) can go on for a while.

32) You can observe train drivers in their glass booths wearing white gloves and pointing out the window, seemingly randomly every 30 seconds or so. Apparently, this helps prevent errors by associating tasks with physical movements. 

33) The Japanese are the only nationality who can pull off socks and sandals.

Socks and sandles with a kimono

34) Women really do wear kimono.

Woman in kimono at Yasaka Shrine

35) Geisha can still be found in Kyoto. Head to Gion in the evening for a chance to see one heading to an appointment (but be respectful). 

36) Everyone is stylish.

37) Every Japanese male seems to carry a man-bag.

Japanese man bags

38) The supermarket guard near our house would always bow and say “herro” to us.

39) Women wear detachable sleeves in the summer to protect them from the sun. They also wear full face visors while cycling.

40) At parks and temples you’ll find lots of older men with SLR cameras and photography vests.

41) In our local ice-cream shop we were usually served by six smiling staff who’d greet us with an overwhelming chorus of “irashimase” and all contribute a few words of English while taking our order.

42) At Disney Tokyo, people are obsessed with the different flavours of popcorn that they collect in souvenir buckets that hang around their necks. It turns out that curry popcorn is really good.


43) A Japan Rail Pass will save you money and make your life easier. Make sure you buy yours in advance—read our Japan Rail Pass guide for everything you need to know. 

44) Public transport is dead on time. Always.

45) Trains have different tunes that play when they arrive at a station. The music varies depending on the direction of the train – sometimes it’s spooky, other times chirpy and Disney-esque.

46) Bullet trains are awesome. It’s the only country we have travelled in where Simon has complained that the journeys were too short.

Bullet Train Japan

47) Trains have seats that swivel around so they all face the direction of travel, or you can turn them to face each other if you’re in a group. On some scenic routes they even turn sideways to face the window for maximum views.

Scenic train to Kurama
Scenic train to Kurama

48) Tokyo has the most confusing subway map we have ever seen.

49) The Japanese can seemingly sleep anywhere. Most people on a morning train are asleep. We don’t blame them though when working until 11 pm is normal.

50) Hyperdia was the best travel planning site we had ever used and negotiating the rail system without it would have been utter confusion. Unfortunately it’s now offline, but Navitime looks like it could be a good alternative.

51) Even carparks in Japan can be attractive.

Japanese car park


52) Food in Japan is an art-form. It’s fresh, healthy, perfectly balanced, delicate and beautifully presented.

Yuba tofu at Tosuiro
Yuba tofu at Tosuiro in Kyoto

53) Tofu comes in more forms than you could possibly imagine. In Japan it is delicious and beautiful.

54) We had no idea what we were eating many times.

Konnyaku at Yoshuji
We had no idea what this was when we ate it. Later we learned it is Konnyaku or Devil’s Tongue.

55) Vegetarians beware: fish broth is in everything. Luckily Kyoto has a tradition of shojin ryori, Zen Buddhist vegetarian cuisine and there are a growing number of excellent vegetarian restaurants in Tokyo

56) Drinks are expensive, and not just alcoholic drinks. A soft drink or coffee can cost 450 yen in cafés and even more in restaurants. (Update: with the favourable exchange rates in recent years this isn’t so expensive anymore.)

57) Luckily vending machines are everywhere, even in rural locations. You’ll never go thirsty and soft drinks are an affordable 120 yen a can.

58) Sometimes vending machine drinks surprise you. A Minutemaid grape soda had slimy chunks of aloe in it. Odd.

59) I’m not a tea-drinker but I drank a lot of tea in Japan. It’s often included with meals.

60) Green tea ice-cream is not good. (Update: it has grown on me and can be very good!)

Green tea ice-cream, Kyoto

61) Pickles are awesome.

Tsukemono pickles at Nishiki Market in Kyoto

62) I LOVE rice cookers.

63) Japanese desserts are bewildering. They are beautiful but we had no idea what they were.

64) Umeshu (plum sake) is delicious and homemade in many homes.

65) Traditional restaurants can be ultra-minimalist with no chairs or tables. The tatami mat room of a temple we ate in…

Shigetsu restaurant at Tenryuji temple
Shigetsu restaurant at Tenryuji temple

66) Plastic food models outside many restaurants are amazingly realistic.

Plastic food models, Japan


Otagi Nenbutsuji, the coolest temple in Kyoto
Otagi Nenbutsuji, the coolest temple in Kyoto

67) The Japanese are more religious than we expected. In Kyoto it seems like there is a shrine on every street where people stop as they pass, ring the bell and pray.

68) Kyoto has more temples and shrines, each different in their own way, than you could possibly imagine. But we never felt templed-out.

69) Entrance tickets are beautiful.

70) You can get your fortune told from a vending machine at a temple.

Fortune vending machine Japan

71) Ema are wooden plates at temples where people write their wishes. Most are in Japanese of course but we saw this one in English…

Ema wooden wishes

72) Bright red torii gates are everywhere and we loved them.

Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine
Torii gates at Fushimi Inari Shrine

You might also enjoy our recommended books to read before visiting Japan, our Japan 2 Week Itinerary and tips for planning a trip to Japan

Don’t forget to buy your Japan Rail Pass in advance before visiting Japan. It’ll save you money and make it much easier to get around.


  1. My wife and I backpacked through Japan 50 years ago – from the sound of things in your blog it hasn’t changed that much – hey, we even got to ride the bullet train back then and of course there was no English spoken at all – not being able to read the Japanese writing on the town and street signs , we knew where we were by the time on our watches because the buses and trains were always perfectly on time to the minute written on the ticket .

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  2. Japan is on top of the list of the countries I haven’t visited yet, hopefully soon. Thanks for the infos!

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  3. Thank you for an informative and enlightening blog. I sincerely read every word and cannot wait to get there!!

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  4. Great post. I’ve wanted to go to travel to Japan ever since watching the “Fight Quest” episode on kyokushin karate

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  5. This is a wonderful page and site that I stumbled upon (sans that site) looking for better carry on luggage. I really want to travel this year, so I hope this inspires me to start saving and then travel to Japan. I enjoyed the comments as much as your list and the photos.

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  6. We love the love the little whistling tunes made at traffic light crossings. We have taken to singing along – the locals must think we are mad. We like to sing and dance when we hear a known song in a train station, cafe etc but i get the feeling that this is not acceptable???

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  7. strange country lots of contradictions lived in Kyoto ten years. Married a fine Japanese woman. loved it hated it both at the same time

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  8. I’m italian and I found this web page with Stumble Upon, the post is very well written and I found it interesting.
    I would like to visit Japan, I love the Japanese people and especially Japanese food, but for now I can’t go there.


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  9. This is a wonderful post. I totally agreed that the diet in Japan is really healthy and I can’t spot any fat people in Japan.

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  10. I love Japan in all its weirdness. You also come to miss the vending machines once you leave. They’re everywhere and you can get anything in them! Most memorable would be the hot tea in a can, jelly in a can and coffee named ‘Depresso’. Also the stalls surrounding Osaka Castle are probably more of an attraction than the castle itself (best pineapple I’ve ever had, and weird pancake balls still gooey in the middle. Yum!) I agree about Japan being really safe too. My friend accidentally left his DSLR camera at the base of osaka castle next to a street performer. An hour later when he realised and went back it was still there! The best flavoured popcorn was the maple popcorn by the way =P

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  11. I use to travel to Japan several times a year… I love it.. Have you ever tried Asparagus biscuits? It’s more like a cookie, but the shape resemble an asparagus….

    I do not like Green Tea Frozen yogart, but I love Green Tea Ice Cream. The darker shade of green, the better…

    Love your photo’s, and tips

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  12. Hi Guys Loving the list and all your helpful info, this is a great site.
    I’ve definitely got going to Japan in mind thinking i’m going to head to tokyo for a month around may, and take little trips out from there. did you guys go to any of the islands?
    Also i’m Vege so really appreciated your info on that any more tips would be great

    Cheers/Ganpai :-) (started learning already)

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  13. I lived in Japan for three years, and I loved your list. I don’t necessarily agree with it all. (Few here seem to agree with your assessment of green tea ice cream, and I have to side with them…:) Also, having taught in a number of schools, I did see quite a few overweight kids. Oh, and I had a bike stolen, so locking them is actually necessary.) That said, your list did bring back some wonderful memories. I’d add that I loved that in larger cities, companies would have people hand out packets of tissue to advertise their company, which was always handy.

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  14. I would love to visit Japan, but I have a lung condition and cannot cope with smoky places. Do people some everywhere and are there no “no smoking” restaurants or train carriages?

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  15. We are leaving Japan this afternoon after being on a 10 day tour and I found your list through google after just finishing a list of our own. We didn’t have 72 items but I agree whole heartedly with all of yours. Japan was totally what we expected and not what we expected all at the same time.

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  16. I have traveled to Japan from Hawaii for the last 12 years, and have sped over a year there to date.
    Macha ice cream (green tea ice cream) may be a acquired taste and I love it.
    The Japanese are the kindest people I have ever meet.
    All of the major department stores have a basement of prepared food that is delicious and very reasonable. At 6 to 6:30 in the evening they offer the food at a sale price.
    You can travel in Japan for less money than Hawaii IF you do your research ahead.
    Most Japanese speak english and are often to shy to try to in front of you.

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  17. By this ‘The all over Japan can send out blacksheep. I make acceptance at the front desk”., they mean: they provide delivery service that covers the whole country.if you need, go to the front desk.
    “Man bag” .LOL so funny

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  18. Your blog is wonderful, I’m visiting japan with my hubby soon, and I can’t wait, thank you for being amazing

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  19. hahaha these observations were funny and interesting (mostly the mistranslated signs, always a source of amusement and confusion). I like to hear about foreigners’ experiences in Japan because it reminds me of the culture shock and what things need explaining. Still have no idea why they can’t get the signs translated a bit more properly, especially in big cities. If you get to go again, try exploring the far north (never been personally) or the far south. I’m half-Okinawan. I think Okinawa is the best intro for Japan for those that speak English since it has a heavy American presence down there so there’s plenty of forks, Western toilets, and English menus. It does not take away from the foreign experience since it’s still Japan, just a different side of it. Especially the Okianwan unique aspects of culture, language, cuisine, and most of all, much better beaches ;)

    I found it amusing that you also enjoyed the taiko video game since my cousin laughed at me for enjoying it too and was wondering why I wasn’t embarrassed to be playing a child’s game. As a vegan, I know navigating cuisine is tough and sometimes I have to bite the bullet and accept the compromises. I found the Kyoto shojin-ryori too expensive and wasn’t open when I would pass by. Like another commenter, I’m always wondering where the fat people get their clothes (minority but they exist and I’m talking beyond the scope of “Japanese fat” but something globally considered overweight). You definitely had it easier as a tourist. Japanese are very friendly to tourists. To other Japanese, not so much. So my experiences vary depending on how they see me as, could go either way.

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  20. Going to Japan for the first time in April- will look out for all those cute random things and I have to say that now I am even more excited:) thanks a lot!

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  21. 1) We saw many Japanese girls with X- and O-legs, especially in the big cities like Tokyo.
    2) Japanese young males have a preference for oversized shoes.

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  22. When the conductors point out of the window, they are generally pointing at small marker signs along the track, what those marker signs mean… I’ve no idea.

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  23. Hey guys! Firstly, I want to say that I love this blog and your lifestyle is very inspirational. I’ve been “travelling” (well, teaching English abroad) for 2 and a half years now, and the thought of setting up an online business and carrying on travelling sounds very tempting… I actually lived in Japan for 16 months, so I enjoyed your observations! I have to disagree with a few, though ;) – there ARE fat people, I definitely had some fat kids in my classes, although where they have clothes, I have no idea (my tiny friend wore a “large”, I bought my clothes online). Green tea ice cream is delicious! Also, I was there when the earthquake happened, and although there was some damage in Tokyo (and the blackouts) it recovered very quickly. A little further west, Kyoto, was where I travelled to that very night and people were laughing and drinking in restaurants as if nothing had happened. We went further north, to Nikko, a few months later and you wouldn’t know that anything had happened. Sadly, it was the tsunami that did the damage, and I hear that people up in the affected areas – Fukushima, Sendai, etc are still living in elementary schools even now. It isn’t “news-worthy” now, apparently, but a lot of people are still suffering, and more and more stories of nuclear reactor cover-ups keep slipping through, so I wouldn’t speak too soon. Anyway, sorry to dampen the tone, keep up the great work! Our paths may cross some day!

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    • Thanks for your insights Gwynnie—we obviously had a limited view from our short time there. Maybe green tea ice cream would grow on me :)

      It’s very sad to hear that people are still suffering from the effects of the tsunami. I wanted to highlight the fact that tourists to most parts of the country won’t notice any problems though and it shouldn’t stop people visiting.

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  24. “Japanese women have wonderfully sweet sing-song voices.” chinese too, like little singing birds, so cute when they say “have nice day”

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  25. I like this observation list, it’s funny yet true. About no fat people in japan, thats what i thought too, but my japanese friend say there are, perhaps what’s considered fat is different there

    What stayed with me well after spending 3 weeks there last year was how surprisingly kind people are, i didnt have enough money when i caught taxi home as it was late, and the driver let me go with a smile ( were you surprised that the passenger’s door is automatic?!!), if i were in other country, i’d probably get sweared off. And someone called a taxi for me from his office even when i didnt ask for it, dont ask me how as i dont remember why he did. And i was shocked to see people dont lock their bikes outside supermarket. Transportation staff were friendly and tried to help and explained in elaborative sentence in japanese though i actually only need few words as my listening skill’s in elementary level. Though i heard they dont speak much english but i was surprised that many young ones (staff) dont and the older ones fare better.

    I love green tea ice cream though!! It is awesomeness wrapped in ice. i’ve hardly eat any other flavor since.

    Onsen is awesome and it’s one of many things i really wish they have in sydney, i would go everyday. Only took me 5 minutes to gather courage to share a communal bath naked, by the second visit, i didnt care anymore.

    I didnt know about the swivel chair! On any train?

    I’m going back next year and this post makes me miss this wonderful country. Thank you for sharing ^-^

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    • Hi Mel
      Thanks for your wonderful observations. The kindness of the people was a highlight for us.

      The swivel chairs were on all the trains we took. It just makes so much sense!

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  26. My husband and I just spent 3 weeks in Japan on our RTW trip. LOVED this list!

    Did you also notice there are hardly any garbage cans (or garbage) on the streets? Also, watching the experts playing the Taiko drum game (or any game in the arcades) is fascinating. Oh! and the photobooths – found close to or in every arcade… particularly the ones that change the shape of the eyes – so strange and funny.

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  27. My best friend Daniela and I visited Japan three years ago. We have been traveling the world for many years, and Japan is one of our favorite places in the world. The complexity of its culture, transpired in the ‘daily common’, was very puzzling. To this day, I hand out my business cards in the same ceremonial way I’ve earned from them. We loved “72 Random” …
    22 :)…
    25 brought back the funniest memories!
    35, 36, 37 my friend’s point – the entire trip!
    we mastered 48!!!!!!!!!
    we have pics of 49 to prove it!

    Japan is one of the very few places in the world we are sure to return!!!!

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  28. My son lives in Japan so we visit ever other year. It is a beautiful country with wonderful people. You did not mention all the great food in the basement level of the department stores. Food here is very cheap but you have to take it to go.
    Also we have had the opportunity to go to a traditional onsen (sorry about the spelling) which is a bath house. I was a little shy about going into the baths without my clothes or towel but when in Rome……..
    My son is an English teacher and lives in a rural farmland area. He teaches at elementary schools with as many as 1000 students and as few as 3. When we visit, we visit the different schools. The principal and staff are always very interested in meeting us and are as Douro us about us as we are of them. The majority of them speak little to no English but our son speaks fluent Japanese so he translates
    I also noticed that you did not mention anything about the bar scene. Japanese love to drink. We spent a almost every night in a bar drinking until the wee hours of the morning since bars will serve alcohol all night. You can meet some very interesting people from all over the world in these bars
    Back to food. You can’t find a Western style breakfast anywhere but at hotels. In fact most restaurants are not open in the morning, even for udon. There are McDonald everywhere so you can get breakfast if you need. By the way, the staff runs the food to your table and the quality of food at a Japanese McDonald is a lot better than in the US.
    Thank you for you blog. It bought back wonderful memories

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  29. I just got back from Japan on Saturday after spending two weeks there and agree with a huge amount of this post. The warm toilet seats are unquestionably the best memory I’ll take away – while the worst is the lack of the smoking ban and waking up smelling of cigarette smoke like the bad old days!

    However, I have to say that your observation about the Earthquake recovery is very wide of the mark. It’s a very clever facade that the government have worked hard to create. I was visiting a friend who has been living there 10 years and said that their is a VERY deep-rooted resentment, especially among the younger generation, about how the fall out from the disaster was handled and the lack of work in many of the more rural areas. Tokyo was not that badly damaged anyway and what was was fixed immediately because that’s where the eyes of the world go, but areas of Chiba, just a short train ride away, still has cracks in the roads and whole areas fenced off.

    Many in the country see the 3/11 disaster as a chance to change the way the people think and the government behave – it’ll be very interesting to see if this is the case.

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    • Thanks for your insights Alan. Our friends lived in Tokyo so perhaps that’s where we got the impression that the country was recovering well. Also we spent all of our time in Honshu and didn’t see any evidence of damage, but it is probably different in other parts of the country. My point really was that there is no reason for tourists to stay away as it didn’t affect our trip at all.

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  30. Just took my “bucket list” first-time trip to Japan last summer. As a third-generation (sansei) Japanese American, this was definitely the “trip of a lifetime.” One observation – do not go in summertime if you can help it. After the first day of 1,000 percent humidity (at least that’s what it felt like!), I completely gave up on makeup, fashionable clothing, etc. And I swear that native Japanese do not sweat! The best item I bought there was a handheld fan. A total lifesaver! On the plus side, summertime prices were much cheaper. We went with an international U.S.-Japan friendship exchange program that included a homestay. Awesome! Check out Center for International Exchange at #111227. Americans of any age can participate, which is very nice since most if not all exchanges seem to be for high school or college students only. Total price was just $2,080 for 8 days and that included airfare and meals! The organization will be going back in 2013, maybe Hokaido area. They alternate visits to different U.S. and Japan cities every year. For example, last summer we went to Kochi area and this summer they will be exchanging to Dallas.

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    • Thanks for letting us know about the opportunity. Everyone recommended against going to Japan in the heat but I like hot weather so enjoyed it. By mid September I was getting cold! We would love to go back in the spring to see the cherry blossoms though.

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  31. Wow this is incredible. I’ve read many articles and photo essays on Japan but your’s is deferentially my favorite. I love how you get in depth, and have great knowledge of the culture. Thanks for this!

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  32. Wow you did an EXCELLENT job of summing up exactly what it feels like as a westerner in Japan.

    “48) Tokyo has the most confusing subway map we have ever seen.”

    I agree with you 100% and although it can take you just about EVERYWHERE, it seems like to took a long time and several transfers to get wherever we were going. Such is life in one of the biggest cities in the world though.

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    • Thanks John. I agree the subway system is great once you figure it out. The suica card made life a lot easier as we didn’t have to worry about what the fare would be. But yes, it does take ages to get anywhere.

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  33. 25: “We can send luggage, etc. all across Japan. (Prepaid only)
    Acceptations can be made at the front desk.”

    (No idea why “blacksheep” was substituted for “luggage”.)
    Hope that helps.

    60: Go to Uji to get matcha ice cream! It tastes much better there! :)

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    • Glad you agree, although from the other comments it sounds like we are in the minority! Maybe it’s an acquired taste.

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  34. Those elaborate noses on the bullet trains are hand hammered from sheets of aluminum. Trains magazine had an article on this earlier in the year; it would be worth looking up.

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  35. For the life of me I can’t understand why we don’t have high speed trains in the United States. A lot of observations here. You must have spent a good amount of time.

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  36. Great post guys, enjoyable read.
    We had Many of the same observations, and even took a photo of the exact same statue in Kyoto (naked bum boy). Too funny!
    Japan remains one of our favorite countries!

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  37. Visited Osaka and Kyoto about 6 years ago and enjoyed the people, food and temples. The ‘weird’experience is seeing a women only subway car if they don’t want to be groped by men. Apparently this is culturally acceptable.

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    • That is weird! I can’t imagine Japanese people being anything but polite but apparently the men get a bit rowdy after working really late then going out drinking.

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  38. -Taxi drivers in Tokyo are smartly dressed.

    – There of plenty of indian food joints and you will find more local in Indian joints.

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  39. Great post and observations! We were in Tokyo last summer and loved it. My kids have proclaimed that Japan has the “coolest toilets EVER”. I definitely have to agree with you on how the Japanese are the most polite and helpful people. They have also brought an art form to wrapping purchases. I didn’t want to open things I bought because they were too pretty. We went to Disney Sea and it was amazing to see the Duffy Bear phenomenon. We definitely missed out on the swivel chair trains.

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    • Glad you and your kids enjoyed Japan too Mary. We didn’t buy anything there but everything is always so beautifully presented I can imagine their gift wrapping must be lovely.

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  40. Ahh – your post makes me miss Japan so much! I totally agree with you. Japan is expensive but absolutely worth it!

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  41. I just got back from 24 hours in Tokyo. That’s right…only one day. I’m hooked. I can’t wait to go back to Japan. Thanks to this guide, I’ll know exactly what to expect. Thanks and great job!

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  42. 1. You pretty much got nowhere near the quake area, then. Also, here’s an observation you may have missed – Japan goes East to West, not North to South.

    31. Hah, I’ve seen this mentioned before. You, the customer, have to break it off, or it will go on forever. Gotta keep in mind that the customer is held in very high regard in Japan.

    32. No, probably just all trains in Japan. What they are doing is acknowledging the track signals. It’s like you driving along and saying “hey look, that’s a green light!” over and over again. When there are two in there, they’re acknowledging to eachother, but yeah – guys flying solo do it too, partly out of habit, but also as a way of keeping on their toes. Better than falling asleep at the wheel!

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      • Sorry, I didn’t phrase that correctly. I meant that the conjugation is the same for all subjects – I, you, he etc is all the same verb. After learning Spanish this was much easier.

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    • Thanks for the responses Jake.

      1. Yep, we didn’t get further North than Tokyo, due to time more than anything. I realise it’s probably a shallow observation to think that Japan is fully recovered, but we saw no signs of problems in the places we visited and wanted to show people that they don’t need to be put off visiting. I did get the East- West thing, but foudn it easier to say North- South as on a map it looks more like SW -NE. I could be wrong!

      32. Thanks so much for explaining this! How thorough they are!

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  43. I love how the chairs on the train swivel around so you can see out the window! I can’t wait to go to Japan in a year :D Best to avoid the green ice cream, though.

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  44. I’m dying to get to Japan! We had to pass on it this year but we really want to spend a few weeks exploring – sounds magical!

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  45. Some interesting observations and agree with most of them. Disagree that Japan is expensive and is relatively cheap compared to other destinations and can be done on a budget. Many attractions are free such as temples and gardens, and attractions are much cheaper than in my home country of Australia.

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    • I guess it depends where you are coming from. We’ve travelled in many countries and have never spent as much as we did in Japan. It was mainly the accommodation and travel costs that added up. I agree that attractions are cheaper than in Australia, the US and some parts of Western Europe – even when temples charge they are good value.

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  46. LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. Wow. I’d write more, but I have to start all over again from the top – David HAS to see this! -Veronica

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  47. Thanks guys, you made me so nostalgic. Most countries I visit I do want to go back to… but the feeling with Japan is much stronger than anywhere else.

    #2 and #3 are by far the best observations about the country – you walk past 10 shops in a row and not have any idea what they sold or serviced. I spent hours in small supermarkets in Tokyo, even after studying the packets for minutes I had NO IDEA what the product was.

    #5: Japan is either in the future OR in the past, never in the present

    #11: My favourite high tech toilet was in a , the seat rose up automatically as you entered the cubicle!

    #12: Did you get a chance to go into a Pachinko Parlour? They were crazy smoke filled, loud gaming areas.

    #14: Yes! house shoes, bathroom shoes & outside shoes.

    #20: By far the most difficult think I had to overcome. I was not expecting the level of english to be so limited.

    #26: I loved this aspect A LOT. I hate all the Australian tourists in Vietnam.

    #28: No staring, or even gazing at someone. It was hard enough to communicate with a Japanese person already, without them avoiding eye contact

    #45: Awww… the train & subway sounds! They were the best

    #46: I made the mistake of catching the bullet train at night time =/

    #48: Confusing subway map, YES! But it takes only a few shots to perfect the system. I dont think I got horribly lost more than once!

    #52: The food is awesome. ALL the food is awesome. Enough said.

    #58: My serviced office had a vending machine, I became addicted to the chunky grape juice.

    #60: I didnt get a chance to try the green tea icecream, but had Miso (bean flavoured)… it was ordinary!

    #61: I made it to a tourist village on the outskirts of Tokyo called Kamakura, there were so many pickle shops in which you could try stuff for free. It was great fun.

    Thanks guys. Ill make a summary post about my experience there and we’ll see how they compare!

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    • Thanks for that Chris. It’s really interesting to see how your insights compared. We also have a strong urge to return to Japan – it is one of those places.

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  48. Damn that made me yearn to go back to Japan, I was there some three years ago, and it still is the most amazing place I’ve been to. And yes, weird is the word that about sums it up! It is expensive yes, the cheapest way to drink is to go to a nomihoudai (all you can drink) karaoke, which is great fun!

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    • I saw some crazy cheap (for Japan) all you can drink bars but we aren’t big drinkers so didn’t try them. The combo with karaoke sounds like a good deal for those on a budget.

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  49. We spent two months in Japan a couple of years ago. Your post made me SO homesick for this most wonderful country. I smiled — and remembered — at each of your observations. Thank you!

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  50. This post reminded me of the idea: stay a week, write a book, stay a month, write an article, stay a year and write nothing. I lived in Japan but would have been hard pressed to come up with such a long list. However, reading over yours, it all pretty much rings true to my memories!

    And, for those who think the signage is funny, check out the website enrish.com!

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  51. Love this post! I think I’d love Japan for the weird stuff alone … like getting your fortune told from a vending machine. That’s hilarious. I also have a strange desire to travel on one of those bullet trains.

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  52. You made me nostalgic for the country I called home for 7 years. The picture in #3 of the long red nose guy is Tengu. Interesting story and the chain of izakayas (pub-restaurant hybrids) named after him are great too.

    Maccha (green tea) ice cream does have a strange taste, quite different from the drink. You get used to it…but it may take a while :)

    I enjoyed reading this but can see you wrote it as a visitor. I love Japan and visit often but when you live there you see things a little differently. There are fat people and bikes are the most stolen item in the country. Serious crime is rare but petty crime, including theft of bikes and personal items does happen – so it pays to not be too blase about leaving personal items around.

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    • Thanks for identifying the guy with the long red nose.

      It’s true, we only spent 5.5 weeks in Japan and this was never meant to be a list of facts, just some things that struck us as we travelled around. Of course there are some fat people but you do see remarkably few of them. And the Japanese people and long term resident foreigners we talked to were not worried about crime. Other than Pacific Islands and small villages we haven’t seen any other place that is so relaxed about leaving houses unlocked and belongings on coffee shop tables. Although we didn’t do that ourselves it was nice not having to worry too much.

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  53. God I love Japan.

    Although, I drank green tea out of necessity, we didn’t receive water with any of our meals, only green tea!

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  54. Haha some are hilarious! I’m glad to hear you had the impression that Japan already recovered from the earthquake and subsequent nuclear disaster. Maybe because Japan’s decline begon long time ago. I was there in spring 2008 and I loved every single second on the four islands. And I’m sure that had you gone during spring time, another load of remarks would have been about the famous “Cherry Blossom” and the immense fuss about it! :D

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  55. Curry popcorn? Yum!

    I have never been to Japan, but I work as a park ranger for the US National Park Service. I have always wondered about the Japanese visitor’s (pun intended) “yen” for the peace sign. Now I know!

    I would love to sample all types of Japanese green teas – and even give the ice cream a try…

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    • The curry popcorn is sooo good! We always laughed at Japanese people doing the peace sign around the world, but once you’ve been there a while you realise who normal it is. It’s rather sweet!

      The green tea in Japan is great. And you should give the ice cream a try anyway!

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  56. Up until this post, Japan wasn’t a place I had any real urge to check out. It was on my list of places to visit … eventually. Now, you had totally made it seem like the best place on earth. I can’t wait to check it out!

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    • I know what you mean. We only went because a house sit came up and it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. We are so glad we did though – we loved it.

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  57. I think all of this just makes me want to go more. Though I love wierdness, I think the chaos will get to me and we will definitely need to find a western hotel for a few days in the middle to recenter.

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    • The thing about Japan is that it’s actually not chaotic. Even in Tokyo where there are SO many people it’s all very orderly (not at all like Bangkok which was our next destination). We did need time in the western business hotels though as the shared baths in traditional inns freaked us out too much to do every day.

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  58. Wow, that’s a very extended and thorough article! I’ve never been in Japan but I plan to. This list helps a lot. :)

    I think it’s better to travel to an expensive but safe and comfortable country than to a cheap but not safe one. Train seats just amazed me – I love to travel in trains and look at the scenery. :D

    I’ll link to this post in one of my blogs soon. ;)

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    • We loved how safe Japan felt. We aren’t generally paranoid travellers but you do have to be on your guard a bit in other countries, but in Japan we didn’t worry at all. If you like train travel then you’ll enjoy Japan. Getting a rail pass is great as you don’t have to worry about buying tickets (which can be a bit confusing) and hop on and off anywhere.

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  59. Loved this post! Brought back so many memories of my visit to Tokyo about 10 years ago. Sign translations are a continuous source of hilarity (you caught some great examples) — and quite agree they should be rendered as cartoons in every country. Would have loved to see visuals for this gem I encountered in Shanghai, especially the admonitions about children and mental patients:

    Oh, and green tea ice cream is in fact amazing, BTW. :-)

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    • I love that Shanghai sign! Imagine what the Japanese would do with illustrating that!

      Yeah, green tea ice cream.. Just didn’t get it. Maybe that’s because I’m a rookie tea drinker though.

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  60. ‘Expect random bursts of weirdness’ – I think that just about sums Japan. Looks like an amazing place to visit. And I love those swivelling chairs on trains, why don’t they have those everywhere!?

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    • I think my friend Amy coined that phrase when preparing us for Japan. It’s actually what I love most about the country. Everything is so different, but yet it’s all so efficiently run that it’s a relatively easy country to travel around.

      I have no idea why they don’t have swivelling chairs everywhere. It seems so obvious when you think about it. Japanese trains are just amazing though.

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