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Japan is a wonderful, advanced, backwards, strange, clean country with a history as rich as a ramen broth. It’s a country built on respect for each other, yet their history shows very little respect for other Asian countries. It’s a country full of contrasts – Buddhism, Shintoism, and Christianity all live together a strangely harmonious blend.

After spending 43 days in strange ol’ Japan, I’m still scratching my head. And while we only scratched the surface of this crazy country, Japan is a place I plan on coming back to over and over to dig a little deeper.

1. Toilets and sinks are super advanced.

Actually, pretty much anything to do with cleaning is. Toilets come with heated seats, sprays, sounds – pretty much everything you could ever want and more. The sink in the above picture comes equipped with soap and a dryer!

2. Water is so pure, you don’t need soap.

When entering temples or shrines there’s usually a fountain for people to clean their hands and drink water. Most public bathrooms (and even restaurants) have all the latest in washing technology – but no soap! We couldn’t get anyone to explain it, but it seemed as if the Japanese view water differently than the west… or basically everywhere else.

3. Shrines are everywhere – even in Buddhist temples!

Shinto shrines are located everywhere, with small statues and offerings. Even inside Buddhist temple complexes!  Strangely Shintoism, an ancient Japanese belief that everything has a spirit, co-exists with Buddhism and Christianity. Apparently it’s not uncommon for the Japanese to borrow from all 3 belief systems: a Christian wedding, a Buddhist burial, and Shintoism for everything in between.

4. …which might explain why mascots are everywhere.

Everything has a mascot. Everything. Public transportation. TV Stations. Even prefects. I imagine this has something to do with Japan’s Shinto belief system, but who knows?

5. They have charms for pretty much everything.

Pretty much any temple you enter is hocking charms for anything. Love. Happiness. Prosperity. Good grades. Safe driving. Who knew such good fortune was available for the low, low price of 300 yen?

6. Photo booths aren’t just regulated to crappy malls.

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Photo booths usually take up the whole floor of an arcade and are almost always packed. The arcade even has mirrors and hair equipment so you can look your best. The machines make your eyes larger and your face whiter, which is just a little bit creepy.

7. Public transportation is a nightmare.

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Probably because it is largely privatized by competing companies. Transportation in Kyoto and Tokyo was a nightmare, and oh so expensive. We managed to find a map of the Japanese metro system, but crazily the JR trains don’t show up! Thanks, Japan.

8. Everyone wears uniforms.

School children. Teenagers. Salary men. We found the bus/cab/subway drivers’ hats + white glove combo to be endearing, but you gotta wonder what so many uniforms does to a country’s psyche.

9. And traditional dress is still popular.

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Wander around smaller towns, or a traditional city like Kyoto and you’re bound to run into a gaggle of ladies sporting their kimonos. It’s pretty awesome, actually.

10. …so maybe cosplayers aren’t as shocking.

Cosplayers (or costume-players) aren’t exactly an every day occurrence, but they happen frequently enough (like Sunday), that no one even bats an eye. Some people speculate that because Japan is so buttoned down (see uniforms), the youth of the country go crazy with style choices before they have to settle down into their adult uniform.

11. You can’t escape beer head.

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Try it.  We did – and failed.  You’ll watch in agony as a bartender does a perfect pull, then tops it off with half a foot of beer head.

12. There are multiple written languages.

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Japan has three written languages: Kanji (which is derived from Chinese characters), Hiragana (which is sounded out phonetically), and Katakana (which is used for romance language translated words).  If you can read Hiragana, it makes getting around a lot easier.

A side benefit, I suspect, is that it makes Japanese a lot easier for English speakers – say “karaage” out loud and pretty much any Japanese restaurant owner will know that you’re asking for fried chicken. We tried that in China with “Da-tong” and I damned near had to cut out my tongue to pronounce it correctly. The benefits of a well-written, and less tonal language, no doubt.

13. Movie matinees are more expensive than late night movies.

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Possibly due to curfews, but we noted it cost 1800 yen to watch a movie normally, or 1200 for an after 8pm showing.

14. Getting nekked in front of your besties is totally fine…

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Walk into any Japanese onsen, and everyone’s stripped down to their birthday suits – hemming and hawing with their friends.  It’s quite liberating once you get used to it.

15. …but being gay isn’t.

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While the Japanese have no problems sitting around butt-naked in front of one another, or dressing super effeminately, there’s definitely a strong taboo around gays. We didn’t see one gay bar, or gay couple the entire time we were in Japan.

16. “Love Hotels” aren’t just for prostitutes.

A “love hotel” is a place where a man and a woman rent a room by the hour (rest) or for an evening (stay). Apparently on any given day 2% of Japan’s population visits one.

17. You can get pretty much everything from vending machines.Japan - Observations 019

Soda. Hot coffee. Beer. Cigarettes. Sex toys. Possibly even used underwear (though we never found it).

18. Collectivism is still very much a thing.

Groups of teenagers wander everywhere, even outside of school – and I’m talking packs of 12+ kids. It must make choosing a restaurant incredibly difficult.

19. The Japanese sleep with wreckless abandon

The guy on the left is totally pretending to read a book, but he was doing a mean head-nod.  The guy on the right is just owning it.

19. Anime is really prevalent – and also for adults!

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Pretty much everyone watches anime, but there seems to be a fine distinction about what is for who. Totoro?  Everyone. Ponyo? That stuff’s for kids!

20. Golden Week!!!

If you’re thinking of visiting in the beginning of May, be careful to avoid Golden Week – the massive Japanese holiday.  Everyone gets a paid vacation for 2-3 days, then extends it for the full week.  The result is an explosion in hotel prices, and a massive influx of people to quaint locations (read: Kyoto). On the other hand, a lot of clothes go on sale then too.

21. Wedding Commercials are everywhere.

Or at least they were in Kyoto.  We counted 4 different commercials before watching Iron Man 3, plus you’ll see tons of advertisements for Hawaii and Tahitian weddings.

22. Karaoke, yep, had to say it.

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So awesome. Also embarrassing.

23. Yeah, that “L” and “R” thing is pretty much a Japan-only trait.

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Who wants the flyed lise?

24. Brown hair is as popular as blond hair is in the west.

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It’s called “chapatsu.” You will see brunettes everywhere.  Why isn’t anyone dying their hair black anywhere?

25. Desserts are fancier in Japan.

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There are tons of dessert based restaurants (e.g. Dessert Paradise), many with massive parfaits costing hundreds of dollars. One nice innovation was the inclusion of cornflakes to add a little crunch to an otherwise mushy treat.

That’s it for observations today – stay tuned for the wrap up tomorrow -it gets even stranger!