Impressions from Japan – A Guide to Japanese Culture
October 26, 2018
Last updated on January 21, 2020.
Konichiwa! I was lucky enough to recently spend two weeks in Japan. It was a dream of mine turned to reality. Proof that if you work hard enough on your goals and dreams, they will come true! The whole time I was there, I was absorbing all of the cultural differences and appreciating all that Japan does – and occasionally being confused. So here are my impressions about Japanese culture, adoring so many aspects of its culture, and questioning a few more. It’s my love letter to Japan.
In Japan, everything is so darn cute or stunningly beautiful.
Everything. Even the warning signs and trash company logos were cute! It was a struggle not to buy every single thing I saw in the stores. Every garden has such a perfect mixture of nature and order. It’s stunning. The bonsai trees, statues, tea rooms, and koi ponds all come together to make an oasis. Sometimes right in the middle of the city. It’s wonderful.
Dear Japan, I love how organized how you are!
There are signs everywhere directing people where to go. In both Japanese AND English. Sometimes Chinese and Korean too. But, can I ask a favor? Make up your mind! I get that escalators are consistent – you always stand to the left and pass on the right. But staircases? It changes by the footstep. Sidewalks? Depends if there is a bike lane. Sometimes I was walking through a train station following signs that said “stay left here”, then I turned a corner and saw signs that said “stay right here”. Help!
And the public transportation is so easy to use. Thank you!
You make it relatively easy for foreigners to understand your train system and purchase tickets. Yes, I’m still struggling to figure out why there are SO many different railway systems, but the ticketing system is consistent and the metro maps are super helpful. And if I purchase the wrong fare? You give me the chance to fix it before I get off!
Dear Japan, what’s with the shopping mall / grocery store / market / restaurants / train stations all mixed together?
Holy! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten turned around in the train stations that seamlessly turn into shopping malls. And then I had to find the restaurants within the shops. The silver lining? It was super easy to meet my daily step goals! My Fitbit was very happy.
Also, what’s the strange obsession with gelatin?
Seriously. So many of the foods are a jelly-like consistency. Pork, fish, fruit, you name it. Whatever… you do you, Japan. It’s just a lot of gelatin.
Things I love about Japan: free wi-fi, wet washcloths, and bathroom amenities.
It’s the 21st century and Japan understands. Foreign visitors appreciate that! Free wi-fi was available almost everywhere I went.
My favorite Japanese tradition? At every restaurant, you get a wet washcloth to wipe your hands before you eat. So simple, yet so thoughtful! Of all the things I’ve noticed, this is the one I’d like to catch on in the US the most.
Japanese bathrooms are full of thoughtful additions. From the baby holders in the women’s stalls, to the numerous buttons for features on the toilets – it was all so interesting! I was a big fan of the “privacy noise” button on the toilet so people can’t hear you ‘do your business’, but it was a struggle to listen to it if there was a line in the bathroom!
Dear Japan, I love how you mix tradition with modernity.
You can find temples that are hundreds of years old right next to brand new buildings in the city. It’s amazing just how seamless you make this! Such a wonder to witness. I also love how many shrines and temples there are, and that each is honoring a different aspect of nature. Visiting these places as an outsider, I was in complete awe and felt very welcome to join in the ceremonies with other visitors.
In Japan, everything is so “cool”!
Ninja restaurants, robot restaurants, conveyor belt sushi… I love the creativity! And I have to admit, the ninja dinner was one of the most fun dinners (and most filling) that I have ever had. And the Art Aquarium? It’s incredible! Just another example of how they mix art and technology into everything they do. Keep it up!
Dear Japan, what’s wrong with “u”?
So many words have the letter “u” at the end, but it is rarely, if ever pronounced. This took a while for me to get used to. For the longest time I didn’t even realize it was “arigatou” and not “arigato”. Live and learn!
Everywhere I went, people were absolutely lovely. Overly kind and considerate. The rest of the world should be that way! For example, I visited a traditional tea house on a day when no one was working. The manager just happened to be visiting and eating lunch, so he treated me to traditional green tea and a sweet!
It’s also all very clean. There is no smoking or eating in public (on sidewalks) and you rarely see trashcans around. It’s a mystery how everything stays so clean!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about all my impressions from Japanese culture, and hopefully you’ve learned some things to help you when you visit. If you’ve already been to Japan, what did you think about all the cultural differences and behaviors? Do you have any to add? Let me know in the comments! And if you’re looking for travel tips on visiting Japan, check my travel guide!