lifestyle

46 things that surprise foreigners in Japan

61 Comments
By Jessica Ocheltree

Japan is a weird, amazing, amusing and confusing place, and I’m not just talking about the maid cafes and pornographic manga. Even things that your average Japanese would consider completely commonplace and boring can be captivating for foreigners. After exhaustive research (well, some research anyway), Rocket News has compiled this list of 46 things visitors to Japan find surprising.

  1. The trains actually come on time
  2. The fruit is really delicious (There’s a lot of cross breeding)
  3. The bread at 7-11 is really good
  4. Taxi doors open automatically
  5. The high likelihood of lost items being returned to you
  6. Everyone eats KFC for Christmas dinner
  7. There are vending machines absolutely everywhere
  8. You can buy alcohol and tobacco from those ubiquitous vending machines
  9. The Washlet bidets
  10. You can drink water from the tap
  11. The tea isn’t sweetened
  12. You can smoke in restaurants
  13. There are free samples at the supermarket
  14. There are tolls on the highways
  15. You can find absolute masterpieces of pastry at cake shops
  16. The confusing, complex layout of Tokyo
  17. The buttons to summon a waiter at family-style restaurants
  18. Touch-screen menus at bars and restaurants
  19. There are holes in the 5 and 50 yen coins
  20. People hand out free packets of tissues on the street
  21. The quality and selection at 100 yen shops
  22. Japanese people really like Yahoo!
  23. GPS is automatically included in rental cars
  24. You can leave a bag to save your seat and no one will steal it
  25. A small-size drink is actually quite small
  26. There are power lines all over the place
  27. People politely line up to wait for the train
  28. Heated toilet seats
  29. The high price of movie tickets
  30. There are pachinko parlors everywhere
  31. The skill used in wrapping gifts and other purchases
  32. The multi-storey parking garages
  33. The ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) system on the highways
  34. There are hot springs just for your feet
  35. There are women-only cars on the trains
  36. The love hotels
  37. Cigarettes are really cheap
  38. It’s so safe you can go walking around in the middle of the night with no problem
  39. Japanese squat-style toilets
  40. The incredible variety of KitKat flavors
  41. There are still elevator girls who operate the elevator for you
  42. The packets of condiments that you can easily open with one hand
  43. Capsule hotels
  44. The lucky bags sold at New Years
  45. The rooms at business hotels are tiny.
  46. The foreign guys dating beautiful Japanese girls are often ugly

So, what do you think, Japanophiles? Were these things that surprised you? Something to add? Let’s hear it in the comments below.

© RocketNews24

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

61 Comments
Login to comment

I can add some:

Some world-wide famous actors are on the TV commercial of Japanese products( ex. Tommy Lee Jones for a canned coffee, Jean Leno for a car)

The gesture of a waving hand from out to in near your head doesn't mean "Go away" but "Come here".

When someone lets you merge on your way in driving, you usually push a blink lamp twice, which means "Thank you".

Recent Japanese Prime Ministers leave the post less than one year :-( 
0 ( +0 / -0 )

well recently-after being here 20+years a relative decided this was the year to ask me if I want some potatoes from their crop.....the scheming; but then again it's probably everywhere it just feels more directed as a foreigner probably.....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"You can smoke in restaurants"

Yesterday I saw a restaurant with tables outside that had "No smoking" signs on them whilst smokers inside were puffing away, lol.

"Sorry Japan, but you cannot make a good donut"

Haven't been to Mister Donut, I see.

"So, what do you think, Japanophiles?"

Hee hee!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

'47. The popularity of 'ranking' lists here.'

Or is that just me? I don't remember them being so popular anywhere else I've been, although to be fair they seemed to be more popular about 5-10 years ago here.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

but can you drive through your gate at 30mph without stopping?

Actually, Japanese ETC booths generally require you to slow down to 20 km/h. Which I believe is quite a bit slower than 30 m/h.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

RoccoL

Multi storey car parks "we have those". Really, well can you park your car at the entrance while a robot parking system files it away for you. Oh, no, of course not.

Sorry but multi storey carparks are just that. You are referring to automatic carparks where you pull up and you car is whisked away.

7-11 bread. Most people go to Circle K or Lawson's where yes, the bread is really nice. It's not gourmet but it's really good. And better than most I've eaten from supermarkets in other countries. Those knocking it probably don't live in Japan or haven't really tried it.

Nice assumption but as someone who does infact live in Japan and has tried it, it is not that nice. Seriously it is poor tasting and not that nice at all.

Toll roads, great, but can you drive through your gate at 30mph without stopping?

Lol our toll roads at home dont have gates so you dont even need to slow down. P.s they use KM/H in Japan not MPH. You sure your actually in Japan?

Fruit. Japanese fruit is bland?! Are you serious? You were either I'm Taiwan and confused or you actually have never been to Japan.

Nope not in Taiwan, and yep definitely in Japan and yep definitely bland and expensive.

Japan, not perfect, but as a well travelled man imo the best country in the world.

I agree Japan is not perfect but as someone who has travelled extensively it isnt as good as its made out to be either. And many of the "unique" Japanese things are available elsewhere and are even better.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Multi storey car parks "we have those". Really, well can you park your car at the entrance while a robot parking system files it away for you. Oh, no, of course not.

7-11 bread. Most people go to Circle K or Lawson's where yes, the bread is really nice. It's not gourmet but it's really good. And better than most I've eaten from supermarkets in other countries. Those knocking it probably don't live in Japan or haven't really tried it.

Toll roads, great, but can you drive through your gate at 30mph without stopping?

Fruit. Japanese fruit is bland?! Are you serious? You were either I'm Taiwan and confused or you actually have never been to Japan.

Japan, not perfect, but as a well travelled man imo the best country in the world.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

I would think the implied comparison regarding the 7-11 bread would, rationally, be with its 7-11 counterpart in America. Don't you think?

Of course it's not good on some absolute scale, or compared with some proper "artisan bakery" bread, doh?

Of course convenience store stuff in general isn't great food.

But the surprise is that it's actually EDIBLE in Japan. And some of it is good. (E.g. Mini Stop's ice cream).

North American 7-11 food is absolutely not edible at all, so Japanese 7-11 is surprising in this regard.

But, this article is written from an American point of view. Some of the points are not surprising or less surprising to, say, Europeans. Would someone from Switzerland be surprised by trains being on time?

And what's with the electronic highway tolling being surprising????

Come on, transponder based tolling is used world over. It is based on 1960's technology.

In British Columbia, Canada, if you drive over the recently built Golden Ears Bridge, cameras scan your license plate and you get a bill in the mail. This is image recognition: quite a bit more advanced than receiving an ID from a transponder.

Look at the "electronic toll collection" Wikipedia article: "In the 1960s and 1970s, free flow tolling was tested with fixed transponders at the undersides of the vehicles and readers, which were located under the surface of the highway." And: "Norway has been the world's pioneer in the widespread implementation of this technology. ETC was first introduced in Bergen, in 1986, operating together with traditional tollbooths."

I suspect this article was hammered out on a typewriter and then OCR-ed by a Japan Today clerk. :)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I was quite surprised to see that there is nothing wrong with dressing like you've just been pulled out of the North Atlantic by the Carpathia, swaddled in scarves and blankets is considered suitable office attire when it's 27 degrees celsius.

It's very surprising that some people cannot tell the difference between "too hot" and "freezing cold".

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Dogs not being able to look up

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What is surprising and confusing for a first time visitors in Tokyo is that there is no street name with street number to find hotels, companies, restaurants or residence. It takes time to get used to the different ways Japanese look at getting to your destination.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Things that surprise me is the person who did that article who think many of these habits are a surprise.

You can drink water from the tap

Who did this surprise? A American that is used to drinking water from a bottle?

There are free samples at the supermarket There are tolls on the highways

Nothing new. They have these in my home country.

You can find absolute masterpieces of pastry at cake shops

Saying that only cake shops in Japan are good at pastry? Back home we have some amazing pastry shops.

Japanese people really like Yahoo!

I'll admit that is a surprise because Yahoo is crap.

People politely line up to wait for the train

Why did we have a article the other week saying otherwise?

The high price of movie tickets

Back home the cinema is daylight robbery. Especially the cost of drink and food.

There are women-only cars on the trains

Not exactly something to be proud about.

The love hotels

Back home its called a cheap motel.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How surprising is it that radioactively contaminated food is on the increase?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Jail time for downloading Winnie the Pooh!
0 ( +1 / -1 )

Sorry Japan, but you cannot make a good donut.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

46 things that surprise foreigners in Japan

1 through to 46 would have to be the way the people accept without question the things their crooked corrupt politicians do.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The only thing that surprises me about this country is how self-absorbed some its inhabitants can be.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The Mayonnaise in Japan has wasabi and is put on almost everything, even takoyaki and okonomiyaki. The kaiten zushi places are cool with all the tea you can drink. Not many trash cans. No tipping in most restaurants and cafes. The hairstyles of the Department of Motor vehicles staff still goes back to the 50's. You can drink alcohol in public.
0 ( +2 / -2 )

Dear editor - please stop putting these identical articles up when you know I have plenty to say about them and will delete everything I post.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Spot the newbie to Japan.

And funny, seems the mods got rid of my "Again??" comment with regards to this topic.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Many of the things in this article aren't that surprising. I found this other article on RocketNews to contain more surprises (and PICTURES!):

http://en.rocketnews24.com/2012/06/16/the-top-25-things-in-japan-most-likely-to-blow-foreigners-minds/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Reproductive organs are served and eaten with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

honestly though..its probably 90% of items that would surprise em anywhere, and btw fruits in Japan are TERRIBLE compared to many other countries...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

More like.. a list that surprises rural foreign hillbillies when they come over to land of the Rising sun for a low budget first visit....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why are so many posters so intent on trying to prove the author wrong ?

It's not that any of these things are out of date, or nothing special, or inane, or any of the criticisms flung at them. A lot of these things are great, and I love / appreciate them, and would miss them if I left Japan.

Yes, perhaps we should stop and smell the roses and appreciate anew what Japan has to offer. But I don't think that's the article's aim.

Instead of "foreigners", the author means (Or should mean) "first-time visitors to Japan". Many of us who read / post on JT have lived in Japan a while, or used to, so these things on the list are a matter of fact.

In a sense, this article reflects an attitude: how foreigners are seen in Japan. We may have been here a week, a year, a decade, or more than half our lives, but we are often bundled together as unobservant, unadventurous, unaware and basically ignorant of life in Japan.

And that's what surprises me the most (if by surprises I mean irritates, which I do).

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

50 If you know the first three letters of the alphabet, you can order lunch at any restaurant in Tokyo.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

47 Some supermarkets sell Geiger counters next to the register as impulse items.

48 Just about all girls named Akiko are total pervs.

49 The inability to get a decent pint of beer for a decent price.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

They missed something:

They have had more Prime Ministers pushed in and out in the last ten years which makes Italy appear as a joke politically wise.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

What do you mean the tea isn't sweetened?

Do you mean green tea?

The various versions of "Royal Milk Tea" are not quite as sickly sweet as an Indian chai, but not so far away.

Definitely sweet.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

1.They put mayonnaise on everything.

Yep, they even throw it on highschool girls. LOL

7 ( +8 / -1 )

"This is to inform you that your message on JapanToday.com has been removed for the following reason: Off Topic

"#47 The incredible number of bitter foreign women in Japan.

48 The ubiquity of garbage that passes for social commentary on English speaking websites. 49 The overwhelming number and sheer audacity of foreign bloggers on Japan who attempt to pass off commonplace observations as astute and or relevant..." 50 The inability or unwillingness of foreigners in Japan to accept criticism after being constantly inundated with false praise. I bet your Japanese is really goooooooood.
2 ( +4 / -2 )

They put mayonnaise on everything.
2 ( +2 / -0 )

The bread at 7-11 is crap and everywhere else in Japan. There's only a few mediocre bread shops in this country. Onsens and heated toilet seats are right up there at the top in Japan.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Gotta be a slow news day!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The last one is probably the funniest. Also least true, according to my knowledge.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The fruit is really delicious

Not that delicious, and it tends to be a bit on the costly side.

There are free samples at the supermarket

Sorry to rain on your parade but that is common almost everywhere.

There are tolls on the highways

Again not a Japan only thing.

The multi-storey parking garages

Wow really!!! Sorry but have seen them outside of Japan too.

The ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) system on the highways

Yep again seen it elsewhere.....

There are women-only cars on the trains

I would actually be ashamed to admit this. These are only there because Japanese men cant keep their hands to themselves. And that goes for Japanese men everywhere even when traveling

Japanese squat-style toilets

Funny, l have seen these Japanese squat toilets in numerous other countries as well. Malaysia, China, Thailand etc etc. The Japanese must have exported them when they invaded all those countries.

The packets of condiments that you can easily open with one hand

Yes we have them at home too. Its awful hard to open the sauce in one hand while holding a meat pie in the other if they are not easy to open.

Seriously this person needs to get out a bit more. At least 50% of the stuff on the list is common overseas. And the other 40% is irrelevant and the last 10% is nothing to brag about....

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The tea isn’t sweetened Virtually EVERYTHING else is

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The tea isn’t sweetened Virtually EVERYTHING else is

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The bread at 7-11 is really good WHAT????????????? do you know what bread is?
3 ( +3 / -0 )

Darling Wa Gaikokujin movie http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMu8P0Tfg6A&feature=plcp

and Tokyo Pop movie about foreigners in Japan also sums it up very well http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xCwN2KZE1tI&feature=plcp

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Nihonjin no Nihongo Shiranai series on this channel sums it up in every detail http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSMyJoXhQUQ&feature=plcp

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Want to know what really surprises foreigners? Natto.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Woah!!!1!1!!111! . . That's a whole lot of 1's in my post!!!1!!11!1 . . Another software bug : /

This writer has a toilet fixation (both for the modern bidet style heated seat ones and also the squat style).

Must refer them to Dr Freud ASAP... :D

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Woah!!!1!1!!111! . . That's a whole lot of 1's in my post!!!1!!11!1 . . Another software bug : /

This writer has a toilet fixation (both for the modern bidet style heated seat ones and also the squat style).

Must refer them to Dr Freud ASAP... :D

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Guess I've been here too long. I find them quite commonplace ... just part of living here.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Most things on this list doesn't surprise a European at all. This was a narrow-minded article written with very little worldly knowledge.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

You can drink water from the tap

To survive, sure. But can you enjoy it? It's like drinking from the swimming pool... same as the rest of the world.

You can smoke in restaurants

:)

There are free samples at the supermarket

Same here in America... Costco, Trader Joe's, various hippie grocery stores and food co-ops...

There are tolls on the highways The ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) system on the highways

Yup. Same here. The perfectly paved 73 Freeway here in Orange County, with barely any cars. If you take it often, it's cheaper to buy the FasTrack transponder. I take the I-5 instead. But i'd much rather have that noisy raw concrete stretch of I-5 that belongs to LA County take over the whole state than pay any tolls...

There are holes in the 5 and 50 yen coins

Chinese tradition.

GPS is automatically included in rental cars

Same here.

The multi-storey parking garages

Same here.

Cigarettes are really cheap

They are reasonable, compared to the extortionately taxed cigs in the US, but not "cheap". But i'm not complaining.

Japanese squat-style toilets

If you travel in India or the former Soviet Union, you'll also see a whole lot of "Japanese squat toilets"..

Verdict: really "unique"...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The number of ugly old men (not just foreigners) walking around with gorgeous young girlfriends.

This writer has a toilet fixation (both for the modern bidet style heated seat ones and also the squat style).

Amazing how well lots of things work given the general gormlessness of many of the locals.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Haven't we just done this one? didn't it get like 10,000 comments?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Everyone eats KFC for Christmas dinner No they don't....(I dont know why JT wants to stereotype people here)

You can drink water from the tap Only if you want to get bladder or gall stones, I've had the former because of tap water here. (It depends where someone lives, Oh right Okinawa isnt a part of Japan)

The ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) system on the highways FYI it ain't just Japan foreign type people, there is another country with them too!

There are tolls on the highways Read my response to #33.....

People politely line up to wait for the train Really? Why I thought just the other day there was an article on JT about bad manners and people waiting for trains.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

(well, some research anyway)

Now that is the point!

I visied the site in question and read one related article, about some things which surprise Japanese tourists in US. Some of tings in that list and the things listed here just overlap-like the taxi doors which open manually stuff.

My guess is that Jessica just sent an e-mail to her colleagues, or met some of them over a cup of coffee at Starbucks, and asked them what do they find surprising in Japan.

Honestly, reading such articles makes me think that the only thing needed / and required / to be a journalist in an English language media is to be native speaker. Writing skills,knowledge etc isn't a requirement at all

4 ( +4 / -0 )

What a childish and incredibly ill-informed article. Do they really think that Japan is the only place where tap water is potable? Is it the only country with multi-storey car parks? Is there no other place in the world with small drinks or tea without sugar? What really surprises me about Japan is this sort of claptrap.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

The bread at 7-11 is really good

Really good for what? it's certainly not good for eating and tastes terrible doubt even the ducks would consider it really good it is disgusting.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

marcelito: Something to add?...Yeah, sure..lots. Just take your pick from the hundreds of comments on the " What surprises / is unsual for foreigners in Japan" article published last week..or the week before that..or the one before that.

Agreed, jt should come up with something new instead of republishing the same kinds of lists weekly.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The fruit is really delicious (There’s a lot of cross breeding)

Why this one got the second spot is beyond me. Where I live, fruit is a lot more delicious than it is in Japan. All fruit that you can get in other countries seems to have the same bland taste in Japan. Apart from tropic fruit, there's imho not much fruit to be cherished in Japan.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

The lack of dogging in car parks.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Another one of these stories?

Any case, cigarettes aren't cheap, just depends what you are comparing it to.

Free samples at the supermarket isn't anything new to me.

GPS is almost standard place in newer cars and rental cars (again depending on where you are comparing it to in the world).

Only very few bars and restaurants have touch screens.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Some of these things are out of date or inane. Serious dearth of beer vending machines and elevator girls these days. I'm a fan of both - should have elevator girls AT the beer machines :) ETC - that is pretty ubiquitous in developed countries. Everything's relative - if you are from a remote town in Burkino Faso, a lot of things here are downright bizarre. If you moved here from a major urban area in a developed country and are reasonably well-traveled, much less is surprising. By the way, drinking water from the tap - a lot of folks are NOT doing that lately.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

You can drink water from the tap

If you like drinking water that tastes like chlorine yeah

You can smoke in restaurants

Yeah thats good if you like a serve of secondhand smoke with your meal. Again that went out a decade ago in most countries

The bread at 7-11 is really good

Nope its not really it tastes disgusting

People hand out free packets of tissues on the street

Yeah unless your a foreigner then they tend to not give them to you (at least in Naoya that is)

The rooms at business hotels are tiny.

And way overpriced.

-1 ( +4 / -4 )

Something to add?...Yeah, sure..lots. Just take your pick from the hundreds of comments on the " What surprises / is unsual for foreigners in Japan" article published last week..or the week before that..or the one before that.

6 ( +9 / -3 )

List seems like it was made in 10 years ago, 7-11 bread is terrible, I don't think ETC is anything special nor is drinking from the tap weird?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites