5 Surprising Things About Japan
Our travels through Japan was an amazing experience and we encountered many surprising customs that you wouldn't notice unless you experienced them for yourself. Don't expect anyone to speak English in Japan, so have your offline translator handy at all times.
Here are 5 things to keep in mind when visiting Japan!
Japan has a lot of pedestrians but you rarely see any garbage on the floor. What was surprising was the fact that there were no public garbage bins on the street. That's right! No bins to throw your garbage away in. The only ones available are near vending machines made specifically for vending machine drinks. It's even customary for people to finish their drinks near the vending machine.
This shouldn't be surprising as it seems that another custom in Japan is to not eat or drink anything while on the go (This is not the case for other Asian countries). We noticed this one morning when we were in a rush. We were eating a croissant and drinking a coffee on the road. Everyone was commuting to work but no one had anything in their hands. Eating and drinking on the go is a definite faux pas! There doesn't seem to be ONE answer on Google for why this is but I think the answer may lie in their respect for food. The best answers I have found are here and here.
Not tipping is common practice in Japan and other Asian countries. Tipping can be considered as an insult to your server. The Japanese people find great pride in their work and do not need motivation to do their duty to the best of their abilities. Do not tip in Japan. In the end if you think about it, everyone wins - you save some money and your server is happy. If you feel that you need to reward your server after a great experience a simple bow and "arigatou" (thank you in Japanese) will do.
3. Electric Sliding Door
This one we wouldn't really say is a custom in Japan but it is something we found different and important to know. The first time we tried to enter a convenience store we got to the front sliding door and stood there waiting for the automatic sensor. It never opened. We stood there like creepers staring into the store for a good couple of minutes. We waved our hands around in hopes to trigger the sensor with no luck. After our many hand waves we noticed a button in the middle of the door with Japanese writing. Having no idea what it said, we pushed it anyways and voila! Push the button to open the sliding door. This makes total sense because there are so many people passing on the street that if there was a regular motion sensor the door would keep opening and closing.
4. Japanese Etiquette
Japanese people have been known for their politeness. There are even articles calling Japan the most polite nation in the world. We even caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a bowing contest outside a restaurant between a younger man & his older colleague just saying their goodbyes after sharing a meal.
Remove your shoes in Japan, when visiting a temple or sitting at a zashiki style seating restaurantIt is common for you to . At temples or shrines, sometimes plastic bags are provided for you to carry your shoes. We have also been to restaurants where you need to change your shoes and use the slippers (bathroom slippers) in the washroom.
When entering a taxi cab do not open the door. The cab driver has a lever to open the door on the left side of the car. Try not to open the door, we forgot one time and the happy cab driver almost lost it.
When paying, place your money onto the tray and not directly into the cashier's hand. At restaurants it's typical for you to settle the bill at the cash near the exit and not at the table.
5. Fruits & Vegetables
The most surprising thing about Japan was the cost of vegetables & fruits. There is a fascination with perfection in their produce and this is reflected in the price because of the extraordinary measure farmers use to cultivate their crops. Fruits are more commonly given as gifts, rather than snacks, and can be bought in high end specialty and department stores. If you're in the mood to splurge, Japanese white strawberries can be $40 USD for a pack.
What surprised you the most about Japan?