I was so excited when I found out that I was going to be able to visit Japan for work this year. Japan was in my list of top 5 places I wanted to visit. I have been fascinated by the weird and quirky aspects of Japanese culture and love Japanese fashion. Yet, there were a few quirks that took me by surprise. So, here are a few interesting and quirky things to know about Japan before visiting for the first time.
1. The sun rises really early.
Japan is known as the land of the rising sun, but I thought the name was more figurative than literal. Seriously though, the sun rose right after 4 am in May. Invest in a sleeping mask or get ready to start your day by 5 am.
2. Don’t eat or drink while walking or standing.
In America, it’s common to grab food or drinks to eat while driving or walking. The Japanese don’t do this, and it would be considered incredibly rude if you did this while visiting their country. Eating is a much more intentional act in Japan, and you must sit down to eat and drink. Perhaps Americans would be healthier if we were more intentional about our eating habits.
3. It’s nearly impossible to find a garbage can in public.
Refer back to the previous point about eating and drinking. Americans expect to find public garbage cans on city streets and in subway stations. We need them because we are always walking around eating and drinking and need a place to dispose of the bottles and papers when we are done. If you need to dispose of a bottle or paper in Japan, you had better plan on just putting it back in your bag until you get back to your home or hotel.
4. Stay to the left.
The Japanese drive on the left-hand side of the road. They also walk on the left-hand side of the sidewalk. Just to be quirky and confusing, however, sometimes they will randomly switch things up and indicate that you should walk up the right-hand side of the staircase in the train station. Just when you finally get used to staying to the left, you’ll go home and find yourself going left when you should go right.
5. Older people probably know more English than younger people.
Don’t expect people in Japan to speak English because, in general, their English not much better than your Japanese. In most foreign countries, the younger generation tends to be most familiar with American culture and the English language. This is not the case in Japan. The Japanese are very kind and helpful people, but you’ll have better luck speaking English with someone over the age of 40.
6. You need yen.
Most Americans are like me and don’t carry much cash on a daily basis. It’s so much quicker and easier to tap to Apple Pay or swipe a credit card. In Japan, however, you are going to need to make sure you have cash (yen). Although large restaurants and chain stores accept all of the usual credit cards, most smaller store and restaurants do not accept credit cards at all. That means you need to make sure that you exchange and carry more yen than you would at home.
7. Avoid the number four.
In America, the number 13 is considered to be bad luck. In Japan, it’s the number 4 because it sounds like the word for death. You just might find that your hotel is missing a fourth floor or that rooms go from number 3 to 5. Of course, I can tell you about the Friday the 13th I spent in a hotel on the 13th floor in room 1313. Luckily, I lived to tell the tale.
Have you visited Japan? What were some of the things that surprised you? If you are planning a visit to Japan, be sure to check out my post about Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine as well.