Japan is full of surprises when it comes to local customs, fashion, art and gadgets. Find out what peculiar things surprised us the most during our round trip through the country.
ARTISTIC MANHOLE COVERS
Japan is known for its beautiful art which you find in temples, museums and art galleries. Yet, there’s another art form which we found quite startling. When walking through a street in Japan – be it in a city or a village – you notice that manhole covers are beautifully decorated. I’ve read that this curious phenomenon started in 1985, when a bureaucrat working at the ministry of construction came up with the idea to let municipalities design their own manhole covers.
I really liked to spot the designs in every city I visited. We photographed them to make a cool collage. There seems to be more than 6.000 artistic manhole covers all over Japan, each of them containing local symbols. Curious isn’t it?
HANDY VENDING MACHINES
When thirsty in Japan you don’t need to rush into a 7 Eleven or supermarket to buy yourself a drink. You simply walk out of your hotel and make a short walk down the street. Soon you’ll bump into a vending machine offering you a selection of exotic Japanese sodas or a good old Coca Cola. Vending machines selling refreshments are literally to be found on every street corner. If you’re lucky, there are more than 4 vending machines next to each other selling even more varieties of drinks. Help yourself!
JAPANESE SHOWER TOILETS
A long time ago I watched a television program that featured Japanese toilets. I had forgotten about this until I went to the bathroom of my hotel in Tokyo. That was quite an experience! Every time I went to the toilet, either at a hotel or a public building, I had to figure out how the toilet worked. Especially, where to find the flush button. Japanese toilets offer so many options and icons on the manuals. I soon found out that there’s a button to spray water to clean your bottom, a button to play music, one to turn on the volume, another to turn on a seat heater and the most important one: to flush. The other buttons I didn’t try since I wanted to avoid to get wet on wrong places…
VENDING MACHINES FOR NOODLES
There are many places in Japan where you don’t have to wait for the waiter to take your order. Instead you choose a dish and pay at the vending machine at the entrance of a restaurant or eatery. It’s cheap and easy!
We didn’t always know which button to press to choose our food (the dishes where written in Japanese and no images were displayed). However, we heard that the most popular dishes are always displayed top left on the vending machine.
THE ART OF PLASTIC FOOD REPLICAS
When looking for a place to have lunch or dinner in Japan, it’s very likely you’ll see display cases with food replicas in the windows of restaurants. At first we thought this was a way to attract tourists to buy food. At least that’s my experience in Europe: avoid places with food replica’s for they are often tourist traps!
In Japan the opposite is true: food replicas nowadays are considered an art form! There are even competitions held making fake food dishes out of plastic and other materials.
In Nara we came across a cool shop which sells food replicas, not only to restaurants but also to tourists. We bought a cool sushi key chain which looks like a real piece of sushi. Mhhhh…
JAPANESE MANGA SENSATION
When in Japan, you are most likely to find a bookstore selling manga comics. In Japan, people of both genders and all ages read manga. We found it very cool to visit specialty (book)stores to see hundreds of comics and other products related to manga. Most video gaming halls and stores have manga as well: you can either play a game with manga characters or win a manga puppet at a machine. Our most memorable experience was when we walked into a convenience store which at first sights sold manga comics. When going further into the store, we were surprised by seeing racks full of pornographic manga comics and videos! This area is not accessible for children, obviously, but it might even be a bit shocking for adults like myself 😉
BOOK A JAPANESE DATE
Apparently hooking up with guy isn’t as easy in Japan as it is in Europe or the States. Japanese girls are shy to approach boys when going out. That’s why there are special clubs where you can book your favorite type of guy for a date. In Tokyo we accidentally came across those clubs when walking through some back streets of Shinjuku and Shibuya. Large billboards caught our attention with a great selection of guys you can choose to date with. It is said that an evening with a boy can cost you quite an amount of money. You have to pay for his drinks (sometimes expensive champaign) and food. The funny thing is that these guys have a peculiar (hair)style. To us they look kind of girlish. But as you know, there’s no arguing about matters of taste.
DRESS UP LIKE A GEISHA
When we visited Kyoto, we noticed that many Japanese girls (often tourists) love to dress up like geishas. They bring their ‘selfie sticks’ and take pictures to show off their traditional costumes. There are various shops and places where you can rent traditional kimonos in Kyoto (both for men and women). Girls can even get there hair and make-up done like the geishas do.
HARAJUKU GIRLS (AND BOYS)
Strolling through the streets of Shibuya and particularly near Harakuja station in Tokyo, there’s a big chance you walk into youngsters wearing some peculiar outfits. Japan is known for this street fashion called Harakuja. This fashion style has many manifestations and constantly changes. There’s mixing and matching including the punk look with the schoolgirl uniform or a goth look with designer clothes. In Harajuku, mixing different styles and mismatching colors and patterns is encouraged. You can do anything you want, as long as your outfit is a thoughtful expression of your individuality.
Find out more about Japan and our travel experiences by checking out our previous blogs >