Weird little things that are different in Japan, that you may or may not notice

Posted on 28.12.2014


I’ve been making a list of things and meaning to write about them, but have been all over the place lately with the new work schedule and trying to get my damn taxes done for 2013 in 2 different countries.

There are a bunch of tiny little things that are different here, that may take time to notice, if you notice them at all. I have to say that some of them, I didn’t notice: my boyfriend did. I’ll explain why when we get there. If you’re just here for a week, you might never notice, even if you *feel* like something is different. When you’re traveling, everything feels different, and amazing, interesting, and ‘OMG why doesn’t MY country do this??’. It takes time to notice the smaller things, that maybe have no immediate effect on your life, which are actually EVERYWHERE.


IMG_86961. No open spaces between bathroom stalls (in the ladies’ room, I have yet to venture into the men’s), and it’s a whole hell of a lot harder to look under doors here.

I think this one falls under the category of ‘women are private about their privates’ (see the curtain in the Gyno’s office, so you don’t make eye contact), but to me it just equals more expensive walls being made. The only way you know if someone is *actually* in the toilet is if the door is closed.

I think it’s a good way to deter people from bothering to look under the doors, because god forbid it was one of the hole-in-the-floor toilets with piss all over the floor: I wouldn’t want my face so close to that. And I’d have to literally put my face on the floor to look under that little opening.


IMG_86872. Railings, counters, tables, ticket gates at the train stations: they’re all LOWER to the ground.

I didn’t actually notice all of this, since everything is now perfectly me-sized. My boyfriend noticed it, since all of it is now decidedly NOT him-sized. I’m at least a head shorter than him, and now if he washes the dishes, he has to bend over like a little old lady to reach the sink. Walking through the ticket gates is easy for me, and he almost has to reach down to get his pass to touch the scanner. In restaurants, his legs are more likely to touch the bottom of the table. Also, washing dishes now hurts his back, as he has to really bend over to reach the sink.

This is clearly due to an overall shorter average height here in Japan. But I wonder what will happen now that the western diet is absolutely effecting the public (look at that spike in Type II Diabetes! ‘Murica!) and the kids are getting a LOT taller?


3. There’s hardly any trash on the streets.

You WILL notice a lack of trash cans as soon as you finish that coke you got at the convenience store or vending machine, but what might not show up as quickly is the question: ‘what in the hell do they all do with their trash when they’re finished eating/drinking and walking?’.

The answer: most people here DON’T eat and walk. And the drinks are meant to be consumed AT the drink machine, which is why there is a little receptacle RIGHT NEXT TO IT for cans, PET bottles, or other. And when they DO have trash, they put it in the trusty plastic bag that they most certainly got from the convenience store for that ONE item they bought and bring it home with them. Because apparently, only us ignorant Gaijin would EVER leave trash on the street if we couldn’t find a can to put it in. They clearly have never seen our anti-littering public service videos, or crying Native American commercials.


everyone says hi

everyone says hi

4. An inordinate amount of school children/young people will say ‘hello’ to you.

That’s because at this point, it might be the only word they’re comfortable speaking in English, and you have round eyes. It’s cute and never gets old. Make their day and say hi back.

<<< This photo is from our trip to Nikko, which is north of Tokyo, in May. We were out on a path that was made of wood, and were moving slower than the very large pack of schoolchildren who were coming up quickly from behind. So we stepped to the side to let them pass, and heard no less than 50 versions of ‘hello’.

Yes, we responded back to each of them.




that man will wave you on as you pass by, totally unhindered.

5. There are men standing around at most places, whose only job appears to be ‘standing at the front of’ a construction site, parking lot, etc., and they wave you through as you walk past, even if you didn’t need any help to know it was ok to walk.

Look for them, they’re everywhere. Often wearing a uniform so you know that’s their job. They may even have a light stick.


6. Unlike NYC or other metropolitan places you may have been to, there is no rule as to which side of the sidewalk you should walk on.

This makes for a godawful experience every time you walk into a train station, and often feels like swimming upstream. Add to this the fact that everyone is looking down at their phones WHILE WALKING and how many people stop for NO GD REASON at all, and you have something equivalent to trying to go shopping in a mall on a Saturday during Christmas season.

However, the train stations are clearly a part of daily life, so you kind of get used to it, albeit getting a little angry every day. It’s getting to the point where I want to punch people on a daily basis.


now you know what all of these in the souvenir shops are for! PERFECT gifts.

now you know what all of these in the souvenir shops are for!

7. There are often NO paper towels in the bathrooms.

There will either be an electric hand dryer, OR you’ll have been expected to carry around a handkerchief towel (Tenugui) like everyone else, in order to dry your hands off with. If you’re traveling to Japan, buy one of these and keep it in your purse/man bag at all times. Or be prepared to wipe off on your clothes. Or, don’t wash your hands.

Also, these make the perfect gifts to bring back to friends and family, and have saved me on more than one occasion in other countries (especially in German train station bathrooms).


you really CAN'T open them any other way.

you really CAN’T open them any other way.

8. You simply CANNOT open a bag of chips by pulling at the sides until the top splits along the seam.

I’m not sure if this is just how I open chips, or how everyone does it, but I’ve always opened bags of snacks by pulling at the sides, near the top, and letting the bag split along the seam that seals it shut. Here, that thing is closed with industrial strength adhesive of which I’ve never before seen in my life, but which is probably also used to keep all of those fake eyelashes that seem to be so popular in place for a MONTH.

Here, all packages (of which there are far, far too many) come with a helpful note and arrow ON them, showing you where you should open them from. No peeling apart seams here in Japan, no, we rip that package open wherever it tells us to. Any attempt on any other part of said package will usually prove futile.


I’ll add more of these bits of information as I come across them. But for now, I think these are a good primer.