This is a MONSTER post with lots of photos, so let’s get straight into it. In no particular order, here is 50 cool things about Japan…
Vending machines: Mostly they are really nothing special. We’ve heard rumours of vending machines with used school-girls panties and other crazy things, but never seen anything like it on my travels around this country. They are great because if you are thirsty, no matter where you are you are just about guaranteed to find one. And the prices are all reasonable, only about 10-50% higher than supermarkets, but definitely cheaper (and more convenient than) convenience stores – but that still equates to be about half the price we pay for the same drinks in Australia.
Beer vending machines: Usually about the same, sometimes less than convenience store prices. There is a beer vending machine that stocks 1 litre Asahi Super Dry cans near my house! That one is a little special.
You can drink alcohol just about anywhere: Low restrictions on where you can drink means you can drink alcohol on public transport, out on the street, at any festival or park etc. In Australia you’re basically only allowed to drink within licensed venues.
Cheap alcohol: I’m comparing to Australia here, although beer prices are relatively the same, prices for spirits are much cheaper in Japan. As an example, a 700ml bottle of Canadian club is about 1000yen in Japan, in Australia it would be at least 3500yen. Also there is a cheap “beer” called happoshu which is almost half the price of normal/real beer.
Cheap cigarettes: If you’re a smoker, prices are about a third of what they are in Australia.
High-speed trains: The bullet train and the soon to be a reality, Maglev train. The E5 Hayabusa was launched this year, the E6 (shiny red) Hayabusa will be faster and launch in 2013 (watch a HD video of the two new bullet trains). The Maglev train line has been approved for construction, the route is almost completely straight between Osaka and Tokyo, with a stop at Nagoya.
Izakaya: I’m sure places like this would be illegal in Australia, the reason is that they offer not only all you can eat (tabehodai) but also all you can drink (nomiodai), usually for a given period of time (e.g. 60/90/120 minutes). Always assured of a good time and able to experience many different Japanese foods and drinks. This isn’t the first time izakaya has been mentioned on japantravelmate.com – it made my top 3 list of reasons to visit Japan!
Free tissues: A very popular form of street marketing, keep your eyes open for people wearing advertising clad clothing handing out tissues. Grab a pack for your travels… they come in handy – a friend figured this out the hard way after using the toilets at JR Kyoto Station and discovering you have to buy toilet paper before you enter…
It’s OK to sleep at work:We’re talking mainly office jobs, no client facing jobs or anything that might be dangerous of course! In many different types of companies and schools, it is fine to take a 10 or 20 minute nap at your desk. Sprawled out or sitting up, it is very common.
Kei cars: These cars are defined as having a 3 cylinder engine no larger than 660cc. They are cheap to buy, cheap to register (e.g. vehicle tax), gets you through tolls cheaper and use less fuel.
Tokyo: One of the world’s mega-cities, Tokyo has about the same population as Australia. You’re guaranteed a great time visiting here, there is an almost endless amount of things to do and see.
Sumo: A sport that is over 2000 years old, you have to see it with your own eyes to appreciate the skill and sheer power. On top of that is the ancient rituals and hardcore fan base, there is no questioning why this is such a popular sport in Japan. It also attracts many foreign participants from all over the world.
Personal sweat towels: Perhaps I like this one because I sweat a lot. When it is hot in Japan, almost everyone carries their own personal small towel, used to wipe away sweat in the high humidity. Helps prevent sweat from building up and turning into stench. I always have mine in the summer, it was definitely handy at the Awa Odori dancing festival in Shikoku.
Cherry blossoms: Famous all over the world, the cherry blossom is in bloom only for about a month in Japan. It dominates the news, with daily updates on the status on the “cherry blossom front”, which basically is an area that moves from south to north (with the spring weather) and indicates when and where in the country the cherry blossoms are in bloom.
More photos: Cherry Blossoms in the Japanese Spring.
Cherry blossom festivals and viewing (ohanami): With the onset of spring and the delightful cherry blossoms seemingly everywhere, all areas of Japan have cherry blossom viewing days, events or festivals. Typically this consists of an outdoor meal (a BBQ or buying from a stall), sitting on a blue ground sheet with your friends drinking beer.
Capsule hotels: I’ve heard these were created to be earthquake proof, but they just seem like a way to pack more people into smaller places for cheap accommodation. I love these, my only tip is don’t go for the cheapest because they are usually very old and allow smoking inside the capsule, so they stink. My old favourite was the Asahi Capsule Plaza in Osaka. My new favourite is 9hours, a capsule hotel in Kyoto, a new designer hotel that really is something special.
Love hotels: Designed for one thing… making love, having sex, fucking, screwing, doing the in-and-out, gettin’ naughty, sekkusu… These hotels are very popular, I think because Japanese homes have paper thin walls so couples have a hard time “doing the business” without the rest of the family hearing. Most are themed, or at least have themed rooms, are EXTREMELY clean and can be paid for by the hour.
Samurai: Super cool ultra warriors, an icon of Japan.
Samurai swords: The awesome weapon of the super cool ultra warrior.
Ninjas: Just as famous as Japan’s samurai, the sneaky ninja is loved all over the world. Have you seen the annual ninja parade?
Castles: If you’re interested in Japanese castles, be sure to check out Japanese Castle Explorer. An amazingly in-depth site with interactive map and all the info you need on just about every castle in Japan. You’re never far from a castle when travelling Japan, be sure to check one out.
Temples: Some of the most beautiful places, you’ll find temples all over Japan. Kyoto seems to have one on every block, and they are dotted all around Tokyo. The brilliantly red Osu Kannon temple in Nagoya is one of my favourite (outside of Kyoto anyway!).
Festivals: The Naked Man festival, the huge Awo Odori dancing festival in Shikoku, spring’s cherry blossom viewing festivals and many more. Almost every month in Japan there is some kind of festival, always unique and exciting with Japan’s rich culture and history on display.
Toilets: If they aren’t the gadgetised “I’ll wash and dry your arse for you” automatic Japanese toilet, the normal household toilet usually helps save water. Simple genius – want to see my Japanese toilet?
Dotonbori, Shinsaibashi and Namba in Osaka: The best nightlife in Osaka – also known as downtown or south Osaka – the area is so lively, I just keep going back.
Internet speeds: Known as “hikari-fiber” (hikari being the name of a bullet train service), Japan enjoys super high speed Internet. When the company connected my internet, a guy literally connected a fiber-optic cable from my apartment to the line outside. Try it for yourself at any internet cafe.
Motorcycles: I don’t know the exact laws for motorcycles in Japan, but there are some crazy rides going around. There are many mini-bikes and some are highly modified. The Honda Ape is a good example, a mini-bike for a grown man.
Asahi Super Dry beer: It’s just a great beer, and they have so many different sizes of cans and bottles, I’ve become a collector!
Yebisu Premium: An even better beer, but more expensive beer.
Sweets: The Japanese do sweets and desserts of all varieties extremely well. I’m still amazed at how often you see something about desserts on TV.
Interface and Information Design: Being somewhat a geek and having studied Multimedia (including digital interface design), I love how Japan displays information. From a floor layout that is easy to read, to train platform signs, it is all pleasing to the eye and easy to understand.
Genki drinks: Literally meaning healthy drink, there are so many different types: ukon/ginger drinks (the pink and orange metallic bottles below) which are supposed to stop hangovers and make you great at drinking booze; CC Lemon with the power of 210 lemons worth of vitamins C; multi-vitamin; cold, flu & cough. They are a great pick-me-up, especially for travellers.
Eating out, sanitarily: Everywhere you go to eat, from fast food joints, izakayas and sushi train restaurants, you are always provided with a small sanitary towel (sometimes hot) to clean your hands before getting stuck into your meal.
Cheap food: I’m thinking specifically of western-style restaurant chains (Joyful and Gasto). They are open 24 hours, the prices are cheap, usually below 1000yen and for a little extra you can have all-you-can-drink from the drink bar. In general, if you are going out for Japanese food at a normal bar or restaurant then you can get cheap meals. I’m comparing this to Australia where the equivalent meals would be around 2000yen ($20 AUD).
Pachinko: I’ve written a few times about pachinko on this site, but I’m not the kind of guy that frequents them. My foreign mates here in Japan prefer to gamble online at places like PartyCasino. The kind of people you’ll find at pachinko parlours are either unemployed or retired.
Style: Japan is absolutely crazy about fashion, even the guys. My favourite place for a bit of Japanese-fashion-assimilation is Uniqlo, check it out and grab yourself some unique limited edition shirts.
Okonomiyaki: Sometimes described as a Japanese pizza, for lack of a better word, this is a delicious food you just have to try. It comes in many variations, you can choose to have seafood, pork or many other things. Osaka and Hiroshima are well known for okonomiyaki and truly make some of the best I’ve ever tried.
Shikoku: It wasn’t until 1988 that the first of the bridges to Shikoku – the smallest of Japan’s four main islands – were completed. Previously accessible only by ferry, the Great Seto Bridge is a man made marvel, connecting Shikoku to the mainland of Japan. The bridges are amazing and there is also a phenomenon of whirlpools in the water near the bridges.
Japanese-to-English translations: Everywhere you will find Japanese that has been translated to English. I’m always on the lookout for these, a laugh is guaranteed. Check out all of japantravelmate.com’s Japrish.
Mt Fuji: This is just a damn cool lookin’ mountain, sprouting 3776m’s into the sky it is an icon of Japan and is very important to the Japanese people. Fuji-san is notoriously shy, but on a clear day you can see it from Tokyo – try Tokyo Tower, Sky Tree Tower or the free Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building Observatories in Shinjuku.
Train stations: are actually less of a train station and more of a mega shopping complex, with multiple levels above and below ground to do almost any kind of shopping imaginable.
Architecture: From the almost ancient temples and castles, to modern houses which retain a flair of historic Japanese design, there is a lot of impressive architecture all over Japan.
Masks: when you have a fever, a cough, or any type of sickness you wear a mask. The white surgical style mask is frequently seen, especially in the colder months. I think this is really hygienic and should be adopted everywhere around the world. The number of times I have caught a cold from sitting next to someone spluttering their coughs and sneezes inside a packed Sydney train or Melbourne tram… if only for the mask.
Onsen (Hot Springs): As strange as it may sound, getting naked with a bunch of other blokes (or ladies, if you’re a lady), hot springs in Japan are amazingly relaxing. Natural onsens are the best, natural as in the hot mineral enriched water is coming out of the ground. Others are fake (i.e. they mix in the minerals to normal water and heat it up) but still very relaxing. One of the most relaxing days I’ve had in Japan, I spent 2 hours in an onsen, had a 1 hour massage in the same building then went back into the onsen.
Autumn/Fall: Colours representing the changing season provide some spectacular views of natural Japan.
(Legal) Fireworks: Lots of fun for about 1000yen! It could just be the fact they are illegal in Australia, but the joys of a big bang make me feel like a kid again!
Anime & Manga: A cornerstone of pop culture in Japan, I’m a One Piece fan…
Ikebana (Flower Arranging): Amazing to contemplate, this ancient artform is taken very seriously, although most often enjoyed by retired grandmothers.
Sushi: What do you get when you cross a bullet train with a sushi delivery system? The coolest sushi train restaurant in the world!
Kyoto: I just keep going back… the home of no less than 17 UNESCO World Heritage sits, this is by far the most culturally and historically rich city in Japan. From the brilliant Golden Pavilion Temple to the serene mountain shrine of Fushimi Inari, this is a mandatory place to visit when you come to Japan.
Well, that’s it for the most massive list of why Japan is awesome! Explore Japan, and find what else is so great about this place…