10 Things that surprised us about Japan

We still remember the first day we landed in Japan. Ours was the last flight to land and it was almost 12:00 a.m. when we got out of the airport so everything was closed by then. Luckily, we were staying at a hotel near the airport so we decided to check out the vending machines because we don’t have them in our country ( NO LIE !) – and THAT was our introduction to cultural differences to come.

Here are some of the others –

1.  Japan takes garbage seriously :

Crazy Garbage Sorting
Crazy Garbage Sorting by Chad Elston

This was one of our biggest culture shocks believe it or not. The Japanese people are meticulous in sorting their trash. There’s a category for everything. We had to sort paper, plastic, food waste, cans, glass and many of the other waste into different garbage bags ( which are color coded) and throw them on different days which are specifically allotted. Every time we had to dispose something, we used to check each package and sort it according to the symbol. And if you sort your garbage wrong, the bag will be left behind with a pink slip on it asking you to sort it properly. We only managed to figure out how to dispose glass 8 months after we moved there. It also took us time to figure out the allotted days to throw the garbage.  It’s a lot of work but we got used to it – sort of.

2. Many Cafes and bakeries require you to clean up after yourself.

Systematic Disposal
Systematic Garbage Disposal At Starbucks by Christina Chan

The first time we went into a cafe, it took us a long time to leave.  We were done with food pretty fast but we took our time taking sneak peeks at people carrying their trays with them once they were done. Curiously, we watched them as they sorted the stuff on their trays and threw them in the appropriate cans before leaving. It took us time to work up courage to walk up to the garbage cans. We spent even more time sorting the items and figuring out where to dump them. One of the staff took pity on us and offered to do it for us – phew! The problem wasn’t that the cans aren’t marked, just that in some cafes, its only ever written in Japanese . After visiting cafes a few more times, we totally got used to it!

 3. Finding big shoe sizes are ALMOST impossible:

Japan is a shopping hell for people who have big feet. We had so much trouble with finding our size. We literally went to 50 shops and none of them had anything over a European size 25 ( even those are rare).  Makes you feel like a giant among Cinderellas. We had to order them online ( Rakuten) and even after ordering the correct size, one of them didn’t fit. But if you want to try your luck at finding shoes in Japan, head straight for the extra-large section ( you’ll be directed there anyway) but we recommend getting them from home, if you plan on moving to Japan.

4 .There are Vending machines and convenience stores in every corner :

Family Mart ファミリーマート
Family Mart ファミリーマート by jpellgen

These were the best things that happened to us ( kidding!). We don’t have them in our country and it was so much fun trying out different drinks with their funny names ( pokari sweat) and also shopping at convenience stores that stock almost everything. It’s easy to run into them if you’re not careful( they’re just about everywhere). Japanese convenience stores are awesome because you can pay all your bills there ( usually) except for your rent and they are open 24/7.

5. Dogs in baby carriages :

Image by Kelvin Lin

We remember the first time we saw them. We were walking down a shopping street and we saw this lady pushing a baby carriage. Obvious we peeked inside and we saw 2 Pomeranians ( male and female we’re assuming) dressed in kimonos ( yes even males have kimonos).  This is quite normal in Japan. We really love dogs but to push them in baby carriages………

6. Japanese Trains are ALWAYS on time :


The transportation system in Japan is really convenient and accurate. It makes it so much easier to travel around the country. If for any reason your train is delayed a public announcement is made to apologize for it. If you are late for work because of it, you can get a delay certificate stating that you arrived later than the stipulated time. The Japanese trains don’t run 24/7  so you might have to catch a taxi ( it can be expensive) if you miss the last train. This can be quite a problem for those of you who have 24/7 train in your country.

7. Not a vegetarian or a vegan heaven :

It is next to impossible to live in most places in Japan if you are vegetarian or vegan . Japan just doesn’t have the concept of serving something without meat. You can however find vegan restaurants in Tokyo ( we read that there were 155) but In Nagoya ( where we lived) – the 3rd largest metropolitan in Japan, there were only 16. It becomes lesser in smaller cities. We went to a restaurant once with a vegetarian friend. When we asked for vegetarian food, we were recommended chicken, egg and fish. On the other hand, it can be great for the meat eaters. A lot of people find Japanese food to be bland. We used to think the same way ourselves till we tried the food in Nagoya. It has a lot of flavor  – and lets not forget about Ramen!

8. Some Japanese people are cautious but others are really friendly :

The Japanese people aren’t known for approaching foreigners. A lot of them are quite scared to be talked to in English. We’re not saying that people aren’t scared anymore, just that some people actually approach you now. We’ve been offered help by so many people whenever we looked a little lost. A few of them even walked us to the place from where we can manage to get to where we want, while others have cheerfully cleared any doubts we had about Japanese culture.

9. Serving size at restaurants :

In Japan it’s frowned upon if you waste food. This was a big problem for us in the beginning because the size of the meals served in the restaurant was too big for us. In our home country, we are used to getting smaller meals. So, in order for us not to waste food, we had to buy a single meal and share it between us ( especially Ramen).  This was quite surprising as we’ve heard some of our western friends complain that the meal size was too small. What was interesting was that living in Japan increased our appetite but we still didn’t gain weight – Awesome!

10. Japanese stores close really early :


We’re used to  stores being open till 23:00 – malls, department stores you name it. But in Japan, people are all for eating out so the only places that’ll be open till 23:00 are restaurant and nightclubs. Most stores close by 20:00 or 21:00. We had an underground mall at the station near our house and it was freaky the way the shutters for all the shops came down AT THE SAME TIME. An announcement to close is made 15 minutes before closing time and you are expected to be done with your shopping by then.  Talk about punctuality !

Your thoughts…


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1 Response

  1. Agis says:

    Agree with the dog in baby carriages…

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