15 Things That Surprised Me About Japan
By Yumi Nakata
Two of my American friends from college visited me in Japan a few years ago. It was their first time visiting Japan and I wanted to write about their impressions of Japan. They were both really impressed with everything that they saw in Tokyo, Kyoto, Hiroshima, Nara and Okayama.
1. Japan has an extremely efficient transportation network.
Since we live in California and rely mainly on our cars to go anywhere, my friends were surprised to see such an advanced public transportation system. Trains that arrive and depart on time, clear and quiet rides, a electronic pass system the works on trains, buses, taxis, and even can be used to buy things at the convenience store.
2. Sophisticated customer service
Japanese business treats their customers as God. My friends were very surprised with how polite the cashier at the convenient store was. We went to many different restaurants, and service was good, the food came out quickly and they were happy they didn’t have to tip the waitress! They were pretty impressed with Japan’s efficient customer service in almost every business.
I wrote about this in my previous article but modern Japan is overloaded with cuteness. My friends also love hello kitty and sanrio so they were delighted to see all these girly shops. We bought lots of cute notebooks, pens, and other Japanese “omiyage” to take back to our family in the US.
4. Streets in Japan are so narrow.
My American friends (and myself) were worried because the street was so narrow that we thought that we were going to hit the oncoming car. In America, we have a luxury of driving 3 or 4 lanes on each side of the road so it was a huge cultural shock for them.
5. Everything is expensive.
As broke college students it was a little hard for us to eat out all three meals a day so we tried to just get a few snacks once a day to cut down the costs. But even a small cup of coffee in Tokyo can cost over ¥550! It was all too easy to spend ¥1000 notes like dollars bills.
6. Japan is very green
My friends arrived at Narita International Airport and on our way from the airport to the hotel, they were impressed with all these mountains and greenery they saw. I guess that they didn’t know that there is a lot of nature still left in Japan. They thought it was so beautiful but they seem a little overwhelmed with the contrast between the suburb and the crowded Tokyo.
7. Japanese people are sleeping on the train
I didn’t really pay attention to this but my friends noticed that a lot of people were sleeping on the train. Even the ones standing up! Japanese people seem to have an amazing ability to sleep on the train and yet wake up at their exact stop.
8. Earthquakes and Typhoons
Unfortunately earthquakes and typhoons are part of life in Japan and foreign tourists often experience both. We were eating at a restaurant and suddenly we felt it start to shake. My friends dove under the table even though all the Japanese people around us didn’t even react to the mini earthquake.
9. Japanese children were waiving to my American friends
They thought that Japanese children are the cutest thing because when we were walking to Kinkakuji in Kyoto, a group of Japanese elementary school students started to waive at us..of course they were waiving hands at my American friends but anyways, Japanese people generally like “Gaikokujin.”
10. Japanese people slurp noodles
We went to traditional ramen restaurant because I wanted my friends to know that Japan has much better ramen than the instant cup noodles sold in America! We were all excited and got seated when they heard this older Japanese man really enjoying his ramen. He was shamelessly slurping the noodles and so I had to explain that in Japan slurping your noodles is a show of how good it tastes.
11. Japanese people are so skinny
One of my friend is from the Midwest and at that time she was overweight and both of them realized how petite average Japanese people are. They were disappointed that they weren’t able to do much clothes shopping and that a XL here is medium in America!
I took my friends to Karaoke because we’ve never been to Karaoke in America. They were really impressed with the equipment, food service and we actually ended up going back there one more time before leaving Japan.
13. Young children taking the train by themselves.
It was a little shock for my friends. Even though American culture preaches the importance of being independent, parents are usually very protective of their children. Japan is a relatively safe country so parents feel safe about letting their children be alone, but in America someone would call child protective service if they saw a child taking the subway by themselves.
14. Japanese people trying to practice English
One of my friend used to study Japanese so she was able to order food in Japanese but everywhere she went, when she tried to start the conversation in Japanese, she would always get a response in English. My friend was a little stressed about this until I explain that Japanese people generally don’t have many opportunities to practice speaking English. So when they talk to a foreigner they usually will try to practice their English.
15. Store clerk’s “irasshaimase” creeped them out
Especially women clerks at the restaurants or the stores we went to said “irasshaimase” in very high pitched tone so my girlfriends were like “What the..” They were asking me why these women would say that in such a high pitched inhumane sound over and over..I told them..remember? The customer is God for business.