35 Things to Know Before Traveling to Japan

Japan is a very unique country. It is quite impressive and so often full of surprises. Even though it is one of the better-known countries around the globe, people tend to know only the bare minimum about this great country. So, if you are about to visit Japan, it would be a great idea to brush up on fun facts about Japan. This way there will be less room for surprises once you arrive at your chosen Japanese destination.

If you rent apartment in Japan, you will be ripped off at time of leaving apartment. Small dirt spot on wall can cause you around 10000 yen, this amount is for single wallpaper. A small Room kitchen home can have 20–30 wallpaper sheet. This is just one aspect there are many such. The reason is in Japan when you rent apartment they give it to you like brand new. They makeover everything.

Japan travel tips

Explore Japan on your own and learn all the fun facts about Japan.

1. A vending machine on every corner

Attention all foodies! This will be your favorite out of all fun facts about Japan. To say that vending machines are all over the place in Japan would be an understatement. Japanese people just love them. Believe it or not, there are over 5.5 million machines throughout the country that offer anything from soda to toys and live crabs. If you are looking to stay fit while traveling, get ready to be tempted every step of the way.

The junk food they sell are usually in smaller portions (unless you go to Costco or specialty stores) and are found less ubiquitously compared to healthier options like fruits and vegetables. They also make a lot of healthy items affordable and abundantly stocked.

2. Don't forget to slurp

One of the fun facts about Japan is that you can leave some of your table manners at home. Most likely where you come from, you should remove your elbows from the table and refrain from making unnecessary noises while dining. Well, it is time to slurp away. Not only that it is not considered rude, but it is thought to be a big compliment for the cook when people slurp soup or noodles.

Therefore, feel free to forget your manners during your trip and enjoy the authentic Japanese food.

3. Take a nap during working hours

No, you didn’t misread it. Out of all the fun facts about Japan, this one might be the best fact for those that dream about taking a nap during their workday. Working days are long and tiring. Thus, taking a nap is sometimes necessary and totally acceptable. If you are looking to kick start your career at a place where you can take a nap after lunch, end your search because you have found what you are looking for.

4. Baseball is the number one sport in Japan

This is a very big surprise since sumo is the national sport. Yet, baseball seems to be the dominating sport since the 1830s, when it was introduced to Japanese culture by Americans. There are two leagues that are played in Japan, but international competitions are well known and followed by the Japanese people. You can bank on everybody knowing the Yankees and the Red Socks when you visit Japan.

In Japan, basketball and football are no match for baseball. It is easily the most popular sport in the country.

5. McDonald’s restaurants are everywhere

There are more than 3000 McDonald’s restaurants in Japan. The only country Japan is falling short to is the United States. Still, don’t be fooled. You will not run into many overweight people on the streets. However, eating fast food can be a great way to save money when traveling abroad. So, treat yourself with a juicy burger when in Japan.

6. When in a giving mood, buy fruit

This is a very long and well-kept tradition in Japan. Back in the day, fruit was very expensive, so giving fruit to somebody meant that they were getting a very nice and expensive present. In the meantime, the prices of fruits have changed but this long standing tradition remains. A fruit basket might be the best gift that you can offer somebody in Japan.

7. Japan is made up of 6852 islands

This fun fact about Japan is pretty unbelievable. No wonder Japan is known as the island nation. What makes this fact even more interesting is that 97% of the land is made up of only four islands: Shikoku, Kyushu, Honshu, and Hokkaido. Okinawa is the most beautiful out of all islands. It's the largest island in the Ryuku chain of islands.

It has beautiful beaches, waterfalls, caves, forests and cities with skyscrapers. It's quite a bit of variety for an island. The beaches are pretty nice and the water is clear, BUT you can't swim in the water year round. It gets chilly there in the winter with temperatures in the lower 50s.

8. Japan is the land of earthquakes

It might sound unbelievable, but every single year Japan is hit by 1500 earthquakes. The number is alarming, but the reality is very different. Fortunately, most of them are small shocks, but every year a large earthquake reaches more than 8 on the Richter scale. Therefore, this is not something that should alarm you to the extent that you decide not to visit this one of a kind country.

9. Crime rates are unbelievably low

Out of all the fun facts about Japan, this one is the most important for those that are looking to move to Japan. Crime rates are the lowest in the world. Most common crimes are stealing an umbrella or taking somebody's unlocked bike on the street. You read it right. People leave unlocked bikes on the street because the trust between people is on such a high level. There are more than 50,000 people in Japan who are over 100 years old.

10. Run into words that are not translatable

Between all the fun facts about Japan, this one might be the hardest to explain. For instance, in our eyes 'komorebi' might seem like one simple word that should be translated into one other word that has the same meaning. Yet, this isn’t the case. The real meaning is 'sunshine filtering through leaves'. Also, learning Japanese slang can be a bit tricky.

11. Nagasaki, The City Beyond the Atomic Bomb

Nagasaki is a city in Japan with a rich history that goes beyond its significance for WWII. For example: in the 17th century, Nagasaki was the only place in Japan where foreign trade happened. Nowadays Nagasaki is a modern city with a relaxed atmosphere and many interesting places to visit.

Nagasaki is just 2 hours away by train, with loads to see in the city. It is a wonderful historical city, and that doesn’t mean anything connected to the war. There is a long cultural influence with both China and Holland, and many nice churches to see as well. Plus the food like chanpon and saraudon are magnificent. And along the way, seeing the beautiful Yutoku Inari Shrine will leave you spellbound.

Unzen - also in Nagasaki, has one of Kyushu’s best hot spring areas, and it’s also a very geologically active places with its Unzen Jigoku or Unzen Hells area. It is best seen when the weather is clear - there are spectacular views from the mountains. But the area is also best reached by a rental car.

12. Use of coins

In Japan you will find coins are widely used. There are 1, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 yen coins in use. Nowhere you find problem of change. If you have to pay 324 yen and you handover 10,000 yen bill, you get back remaining change within seconds that's too from the machines which give exact change in bills and coins.

13. Coupon system to order food

Almost all ramen shops use this system. But there are also other restaurants e.g. curry shops, udon shops which are using this. For restaurant using this system, you cannot order from the staff. You can only use this machine. Some restaurants will allocate a staff to assist foreign visitors with the ordering process by helping to press the ticket from the machine for you. But the tickets are must to get seats.

You can’t really say you want the chasu (meat) on your ramen to be replaced by an onsen egg. You can only order an additional onsen egg. Or if you dislike spring onion, there is no way to say - exclude spring onions. In short, customization of meals is pretty challenging for restaurants using this system. Nonetheless, this is a very efficient queuing system.

14. Solo dining is super normal

Places with seating arrangement for solo diner makes dining alone not awkward at all (not being stared by others). For restaurants which do not have this special seating, they often have wall seats or window seats where you can dine alone comfortably. Introverts would definitely appreciate this.

High-end restaurants and bars that don’t provide you a menu with prices. The restaurants are mostly Sushi places. One of the most common way sushi is eaten in Japan is to pick it up on your way home. Supermarkets are bursting with fresh sushi and sashimi. Let’s talk about the restaurant experience for a moment, and sushi-eating customs.

In high-class sushi restaurants in Japan wasabi and soy sauce won’t be served separately. The chef will put just the right amount of wasabi between the fish and rice, so there won’t be any mixing options. You can either ask the chef sabi-nuki which means to not put any wasabi, or eat it as-is. When it comes to cheap sushi restaurants, it’s a different story.

Normally sushi and wasabi will be served separately due to cost reduction. In that case, eat as you want. It's still inappropriate to mix, but nobody will care. It’s pretty normal to put soy sauce in a little dish, and dip sushi in it. Dip the fish side, not the rice side, of the sushi. The idea is to avoid unintentionally soaking the seasoned rice in soy sauce, it’s the fish that you want to flavor with a touch of soy sauce.

Not by sprinkling soy sauce on it, from the bottle, but instead, pouring the soy sauce into the tiny dish provided, and use the dish for dipping. To put your mind at ease, both at home and in restaurants, Japanese people dip sushi in soy sauce all the time. It’s normal.

It can depend on what kind of sushi, and people have their own individual tastes and habits, but the reality is, it’s common, offends no one, and it’s hard to fathom why we would be led to believe otherwise. That’s why sushi restaurants provide the soy sauce, and the miniature bowls (and the pickled ginger, and wasabi) and have the soy sauce conveniently placed right in front of the customer, or on each table.

So the customers can use it. This alone should be a clue that it’s acceptable. Would sushi restaurants be willfully tricking customers? By providing the soy sauce at the table? Luring them into doing something improper, or offensive? So they could watch them, and judge them? That would be rather cruel, wouldn’t it?

Many non-Japanese experts on Japanese food, customs, and manners insist that true Japanese sushi should never be eaten with soy sauce added. The first thing to keep in mind is that your sushi chef isn’t paying attention to what you do with your food after it’s served to you, the sushi chef is occupied making sushi for customers.

If your sushi chef is watching you eat, approving or disapproving of what you do or don’t do, you are in the wrong restaurant. It’s hard to imagine a sushi chef or any chef, really pausing to observe and study an individual guest while they’re eating and making condiment selections, then judging what they observe, taking offense if the customer does something they disapprove of.

Or evaluating how their customers eat, with an eye toward catching them doing something improper. For sashimi where you only eat fish without the rice, there’s a mixing option. If it’s a fancy place that serves real freshly grated wasabi, by all means DO NOT MIX. Wasabi won’t melt in the soy sauce, it won’t taste nice, and moreover it’s not a cool thing to do. Put your preferred amount of wasabi ON the sashimi with chopsticks.

There is a word Jika; prices depending on the time in Japanese. They buy fresh fish every morning from the market and the price they pay there change every day. So they charge purchase price + profit on you. They also check you as a person and set the prices for you.

Some high-end bars don’t have menus. They make drinks asking your preference and mood from scratch. Such bars are very expensive but worth it for those who want to enjoy brilliant cocktails, professional services, and classy atmosphere.

15. Cat is popular

Cat is popular as pet but it can also have important role. This cat called Tama II is the train master for Kishi station at Wakayama Perfecture. There are 4 designs of the train; strawberry, toys, ume (plum), Tama (the first cat captain). There are more Pets than Children in Japan.

16. Cute (kawaii) culture

Kawaii (cute) culture is popular. Here, it is fine common to see adults having a big collection of toys. You can find buses or train with cartoon theme. Or you can find mascot or symbolic animals for bank, buildings, shops, temples.

17. Gacha (egg machines)

They are everywhere and you can literally do a gacha shopping spree walking from one end to another. Then, move to the next line. Yes, you hear me right.

18. No taking calls on trains

If someone forgot to turn on silent and gets a call they will quickly reject the call. There are rules displayed everywhere; at train stations, inside train/bus, malls, toilets, in the hostels rooms/bathroom, etc. These are just written rules. There are also unspoken rules while dining, queuing, commuting. Most service provider staffs treat visitors in a polite and friendly manner.

But some can be very very persistent and there is no room for negotiation if your actions are perceived to have a slight chance to disturb others (the top rule in Japan - do not cause disturbance to others). In city such as Tokyo, locals often expect visitors to follow the same set of rules otherwise you might run into a situation where you accidentally offend someone and get a really angry stare or even scolding.

The Tokyo region is among the largest Metropolitan areas in the world, with more than 35 million people. Japanese trains are the world's most accurate running trains: their average delay is only 18 seconds. There is a train in Japan that lives above the tracks by a magnet and its speed reaches 550 km/hour.

19. What is Onsen Tamago?

There are 2 types of onsen tamago in Japan. Onsen tamago just means eggs cooked/boiled/steamed in/over spa water. People in Japan who live near Hot Springs have a tradition of cooking things in the hot spa water as well. Vegetables and other things are actually lowered into the hot water and cooked. Other things that don’t really do well in hot water are steamed over the boiling water.

Some souvenir shops started boiling eggs in spa water and started selling them to tourists. Sometimes the eggs turn a dramatic black because of the spa water. They are just very hard boiled eggs and they don’t taste especially different from normal boiled eggs. The other product that is sold in supermarkets called onsen tamago is just very soft boiled eggs which usually come with a dipping sauce in a packet.

They are usually sold in small packages of three or four eggs at a time. You break the egg into a bowl and open the tiny packet which has a bit of soy sauce and broth in it and you put that over the egg and have it with your breakfast or with other meals. Japanese people love raw eggs and near raw eggs a lot and enjoy eating these kinds of very very very soft boiled eggs.

The products sold in supermarkets have nothing to do with actual spa water and they are just soft, very soft boiled eggs. They taste like really soft boiled egg. They are very runny and are best eaten with a spoon although a lot of people do try to eat them with chopsticks. Every year around 24 billion pair of Chopsticks are used in Japan.

20. What is a water cake?

The Water Cake is referred to as Mizu Shingen Mochi. It was originally made and originated in Japan. If this delicate cake isn’t eaten within half an hour it actually disappears leaving just a small puddle of water. It makes sense because to form the little Raindrops, it’s just water and sugar.

You can also create other shapes and get creative with it, but it comes with patience and experience. There are other ingredients to make these little cakes, which you could definitely find on Pinterest.

21. The masked danger island

Miyake Jima is one of the most dangerous islands in the world, prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity. There is a regular leak of sulfur in the air—consequently—locals frequently wear gas masks on the island.

22. Too many bones

Putting something into your mouth then spitting part of it out’ is considered a no-no in Japanese table manner. So most cuisines in Japan are prepared bone-less. In the case bones are unavoidable, they tend to use the sharp chopstick tips to neatly remove the bones before putting into their mouths.

23. Japanese eat whale and dolphin

Some do, although it's certainly not a daily food. Special whale restaurants exist but they are an exception and expensive. Most haven't eaten it, or maybe most have tried it once. Sometimes unknowingly.

24. Japanese wear kimonos

It's popular for Japanese of all ages to dress up for ceremonies and festivals. Sometimes you'll see older ladies around town dressed in kimono and wearing the wooden shoes (geta). Day to day, however, they dress like the rest of the world (albeit much smarter and better).

25. Japanese are religious

While Japanese follow Shinto and Buddhism, few are strictly religious. Along with North Europe, Japan is one of the least religious countries in the world. Religious permeates daily life in rituals, art, food but few adhere to religious dogma or rules.

Japan has a festival called Kanamara Matsuri. The meaning of this word is the festival for the phallus of steal. This festival is celebrated every year on the first Sunday of April.

26. Japan is a hi-tech world

Sure, this is a world of robots and some world-leading innovative technologies, but this is also a world of fax machines, endless paperwork and people who use pencils. For some reason, some Japanese companies insist on doing business by fax when the rest of the world gave up on them way back.

27. Japanese people are formal

It's important to understand that protocol and convention dominate much of Japanese public life but you'll be surprised by how funny Japanese are. They love to laugh and you'll hear them laughing publicly in all situations. Much of Japanese TV is dominated by baka programs where celebrities sit around a monitor and discuss rather pointless issues (like public toilets or a monkey that does magic tricks) all to raucous laughter.

Give them a beer and formality melts away. They love to sing (karaoke).

28. Airport security

You know how you can’t bring a bottle of water through most airport checks. Some Japanese airports have a machine that scans your bottle for flammable liquids. If it passes you can bring it. Just goes to show their attitude to not inconvenience you that they will invent a machine to do that.

29. Efficient public transportation

The streets in Japan are very calm, you can hear a minor sounds. If a bus arrives you can easily hear big vehicle. Also mostly always buses are on time. So you don't have to wait for bus you just have to wait for bus time and it will be there.

It’s nice to only have to worry about making sure you’re in time for the train or bus departure. It’s a far cry from living in many other countries where you’re at the mercy of train delays, and reckless or uncaring bus drivers. While you could experience delays here, they’re more the exception than the rule.

Trains are useful for going near and far places in Japan, and there’s an efficiency and orderliness to them. You’re on their schedule, not the other way around. Just like commuter trains in America, there are customs around how early you should get there, where you should line up, etc. Once you and the kids understand the norms, you’re golden.

30. It's the ice vortex

In Hokkaido, there has been a huge ice vortex with a diameter of 30 kilometre. It needs to be photographed by plane or satellite to see the whole picture. It is a rare scene because thousands of small pieces of ice drift with the current vortex.

31. What is the Island of Iwo Jima like today?

The whole island, from North Field to Mount Suribachi smells of sulfur. All over the island bunkers, tunnels, and weapons emplacements can be found. All of them are succumbing to erosion and rust, and nearly every single has some form of damage from the battle.

Depending on the area, the beach is anywhere from 150–300m wide and is quite steep. On top of that, the sand isn’t really “sand” more like small rocks and feels wet to the touch, even when farther away from the water. The sand constantly shifts under you and it’s pretty easy to sink in past your ankles, in some places even reaching up to your calves.

There are various memorials across the island, American and Japanese, the most famous one being at the peak of Mt. Suribachi where the two flag raisings happened. Right next to that memorial, mere feet away, is a memorial to Japanese kamikaze pilots who died during the battle.

For the most part, visitors to the island are military personnel, veterans, or those taking part in ceremonies. That’s not to say civilians can’t go there at all but access is heavily controlled by the Japanese and the amount of time spent on the island is often limited to a few hours.

32. Difference between Bento and Ekiben

Both are pre-arranged boxes filled with food meant to be eaten later on the same day typically made up of rice combined with various side dishes. Bento (or bentou, depending on the transliteration) is the more general term of the two. In fact, Ekiben is just a shortened version of the word eki bento, literally meaning train station bento.

So what’s the difference? Well for starters, Bento can be both home-made or store-bought while Ekiben are, by definition, only sold at train stations. They are one of the minor cultural traditions in Japan. Simply put, whenever Japanese are going on a trip or vacation—which usually happens by train—they look forward to buying these Ekiben.

Either in a station where they switch trains, or even before they set off. Eating the Ekiben is considered a minor happening, as one of many little details that will help you savor and enjoy the journey. Because of this, the ekiben shops at train stations make sure that their boxes are thematic in some way.

Usually they do this by using the special local produce that their region is famous for, but sometimes they also do gimmicks like shaping the (edible) decoration inside in the form of local sights. Or making the whole Ekiben train shaped, itself. The idea is that you sit in your train, eat your delicious Ekiben and think about the places you visited.

33. Trash in Japan

Trash in Japan is considered your personal responsibility, not a public service. If you generate trash, you’re expected to take it with you and dispose of it personally in your own space. Also, you’re expected to be diligent about requiring little of it. Don’t overuse napkins, hand-towels, etc. Since the custom is to eat at the place you bought food, this isn’t a problem for most people who live there.

34. What is it like to be a vegan in Japan?

Square Watermelons is grown in Japan so that it is easy to keep. These watermelons now sell for around 100 USD each, because of the labor intensive process of making one of these. They have become a novelty, for some people it is an ornamental decoration to show status. In fact, fruit holds a very special place in Japan.

Giving beautiful and expensive fruits to friends or guests is somewhat of a tradition. These beautifully shaped watermelons suit this tradition perfectly. Originally created for practical reasons, the shaped watermelons are now a novelty of uniquely shaped fruit known around the world.

35. What is it like to be a vegan in Japan?

The Japanese diet is based on the 'one soup, three vegetables' philosophy - it provides the ideal balance of nutrients. Japanese food do not use animal oils for cooking, which in turn contributes to healthier eating, longer life span and the prevention of obesity. To make the food tasty, the Japanese know-how with ingredients ensure umami delicious food thus significantly reducing the use of salt, resulting in low calories food.

The Japanese food culture is refined and in sync with the season as the regard for food are based on the Japanese spirit of treating nature with respect. This culture is listed on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list - to represent 'the traditional culinary culture of the Japanese people.'

Japan has a temperate climate. They pride themselves on having 4 very distinct seasons. And Japan has miles of coastline and readily available fresh fish. The end result is that Japanese dishes tend to be very plain. They’re often beautiful and well made. But you’re not going to find many overpowering spices in Japanese cooking.

Also, the word for meat (niku) in some Japanese people's mind is synonymous with beef rather than meat. Not only that, but Japanese people often don't consider aquatic animals as animals with regards to food and so niku does not include things like fish or squid. This is partly a linguistic problem of non-aligning meanings, but it is also a cultural thing too.

You may also have a problem with sauces. People wont understand that you don't want animal products in sauce or dressing. If you search, you can find some specialised restaurants that have good vegan food in Japan but they are far and few between. There are some good restaurants that are completely tofu based, and others that celebrate fresh vegetables.

Nori Tsukudani is a paste made by boiling seaweed and soy sauce together. You can make it yourself or buy it in most stores. Raw egg turns rice into tamago kake gohan. You mix the egg in the hot rice along with soy sauce to taste. The egg gets very slightly cooked and kind of turns into a sauce. This is very often topped with furikake. Usually furikake would be offered aside another topping. So you’d get furikake and jako or whatever.

Alongside this you’d usually get tsukemono, which are pickles made out of literally everything that can possibly be pickled. And a bowl of miso soup. Unlike the kind that you get in the restaurants.

What kind of Japanese food do you know? Most of you say sushi, ramen, udon, and takoyaki or maybe someone say mochi. Not only mochi, but Japanese people have another sweet food called Wagashi. Wagashi has to look beautiful too. There are wagashi in the design of flower, fish, fruit, and others. The unique designs of wagashi come from the beauty of flowers or natural appearance according to the season in Japan.

Tsukemen is a ramen dish where the soup and noodles are separated. The noodle is much thicker than typical ramen noodle and it's also meant to be dunked in the soup, similar to how you eat zaru soba. The soup is also atypical and much more concentrated. When you finish your noodles, you can tell the staff "soup-wari" and they'll mix the remainder of your soup with broth to dilute it so you can drink it all up.

The confections are made each-day with designs that reflect the changes in nature every month. The use of this Japanese Sweets is increasingly diverse, wagashi is more than just candies or matcha tea ceremony. You can usually find a traditional wagashi shop in every neighborhood, giving you easy access to these Japanese vegan sweets.

Wagashi has developing as a cake that can be used as a gift on special occasions and also as a dish in the afternoon for Japanese people; especially children who like all things sweet.

Moving to Japan

Are you looking for a drastic change of scenery? Well if you are, Japan just might be the perfect place for you. Many are taking this big step in hopes of exploring a new culture and making a positive change in their lives. This is especially true for residents of large and overcrowded cities. Maybe it is time to leave NYC and explore the world and experience something new and different.

If moving is too big of a step right away, plan a trip to Japan to see what it can offer. After this trip, you will surely feel like this move should be in your near future.

Unfortunately, we have only scratched the surface. There are many more fun facts about Japan that you are left to discover on your own. So, what are you waiting for? Visit your favorite booking site and experience this marvelous country in person. The best and the most fun facts are those that we find by ourselves.
Kalyan Panja