I know I wanted to write about Japan, but then I got here and settled in and whatnot, and I realized that a lot has already been covered somewhere before, for example mainstream tips like “don’t rub your chopsticks together”, that I’d read a million times prior to coming here. So I tried to come up with some other things that I hadn’t known.
Even these points probably have been mentioned before.
But they’re pretty minor things, so maybe not!
So let’s get into 8 random tidbits I’ve picked up so far from living in Japan for a couple of months. In no particular order.
1. There are no paper towels in public washrooms.
I bet almost everyone is hit by this one unexpectedly. You go to the washroom, wash your hands, and then are left looking around, with wet hands. Then you just have to use a combination of shaking them as dry as best you can and wiping them on your pants or something, because there are no paper towels in public washrooms!
Maybe some public washrooms in certain chains have them, but I’ve yet to see it. And in the schools I’m working in, there are also none. Gotta keep a hand towel handy!
2. Takoyaki isn’t always bite sized
This one I thought was interesting if only because it’s one of those “anime had me thinking differently” situations. I thought that takoyaki was always in small, bite sized balls that you can eat with a toothpick. But when I ordered some takoyaki, the takoyaki balls were actually quite large. Too big to eat in one bite, that’s for sure.
Still, it was good. Texture is exactly like you’d expect, which is just like squid. And overall, I think takoyaki is good. Very hot though, so be careful if you ever end up having some!
Maybe they come in the bite-sized variety too though, I don’t know for sure. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for it.
3. Bag your own groceries.
This probably exists outside of Japan too in many places, but at least everywhere I’ve lived in Canada your groceries are bagged for you. Or you bring your own bags, and in some cases you will bag your own then while the cashier rings up items.
But of the places I’ve shopped here in Nagano, cashiers will take a basket, and transfer your items one by one from your basket to the new one while ringing them up, and then you pay. And then you walk to a separate counter / area where you can bag your groceries, away from the register.
I have no issues with this one way or another though, just a random tidbit.
4. Weaker ovens
Maybe this is more of an apartment life thing, but it seems like ovens just aren’t really as big of a deal over here. Stove top cooking seems to be king. And the ovens that you can get aren’t as powerful as the West. The reason being that the standard amount of voltage you get here is lower.
From what I’ve read it’s approximately 20% lower than North America. Maybe appliances are designed to use even less than the maximum. My oven takes much longer to preheat than what I’m used to as a result.
In addition, as it has a built in microwave feature, microwaving seems to take a good 25 – 50% longer than what I’m used to from Canada. It’s cool to have a microwave feature built in though, I’d never heard of that before coming here.
This one depends on the area you are in. When I was staying with friends in Koto City, Tokyo, everyday at I believe 4:30pm a jingle would play that you could pretty much hear anywhere in the area. I heard it several times from several places within the area, many kilometres apart. This jingle was really short, maybe 10 seconds.
And where I’m living now, well this city is jingle crazy. I believe that it’s every hour from 9am to 7pm on weekdays, and then noon to 7pm on weekends, the same jingle plays. And unlike Koto City, this jingle is a solid 30 seconds. There’s even a second jingle that plays at around 8:30am, but I think this one is just a nearby business that does radio taisou before starting their workday. And then of course there’s always a chance of hearing a jingle in a store or somewhere.
Either way, I hear a lot of jingles here!
6. Open broadcasts
I wasn’t surprised at all when I heard this, but it was still an odd experience. Like with the jingles, I guess open broadcasts aren’t really frowned upon or an issue here. So many companies may have vans drive around with a loudspeaker on top broadcasting whatever.
There’s one van that comes by once a week that I believe collects used electronics. When I was in Tokyo I heard one for something else, but I don’t know what it was. Either way, it’s one of those “you aren’t in North America anymore” moments when I hear one. I hear that this gets even more prevalent during election seasons, as broadcast vans are a key tool politicians use to advertise their campaigns.
It even goes beyond vans, as I hear broadcasts in general much more often. I don’t know where they come from, just like the jingles, but someone, somewhere, hops on a PA system every once in a while and starts speaking. Broadcasting, jingles… things like this are just the norm here apparently!
7. Locks are backwards
Now here is one that messed with me a bit. After my 16 hour flight or thereabouts from Canada, I arrived in Japan, got through customs and all that, and got into a taxi to go to my hotel. At the hotel, I got my key and went up to my room.
I put the key in the lock, crank it clockwise, and then… the door didn’t open. Tired as I was, I couldn’t believe it. I was thinking like, “is the door stuck?”, so I tried lifting and pushing the door, and other things. I tried several times with the key, and nothing worked. In my mind I was starting to panic, thinking that I didn’t want to embarrass myself by going down to the lobby to say I couldn’t open my door.
Eventually, I tried turning the key the OTHER way, and the door unlocked! And that’s because, the locks here are all backwards! I hadn’t even considered the prospect that the locks would be backwards. In Canada, you turn the key in the same direction that the deadbolt moves. But in Japan, it’s the reverse!
Even now when I lock my apartment, I still give the door a push to confirm it’s locked because it feels so bizarre to turn the key the other way!
8. Brushing teeth
This one you can chalk up to cultural differences.
In North America, when we brush our teeth, we generally do it in the washroom. Usually we stand in front of a sink, looking into a mirror, and we brush our teeth. And that’s that. If we aren’t home, the closest you’ll usually find to “brushing your teeth” is taking a breath mint or something after a meal. Or maybe going to a washroom and brushing your teeth, in the washroom. At the sink.
But in Japan, people just brush their teeth, at work, usually after lunch (but some people also brush in the morning too). So after lunch at my schools, there will be several teachers, male and female, just walking around the faculty office brushing their teeth. They literally just wander around while brushing their teeth. Some even converse while brushing their teeth. I had no idea this was a thing!
I’d actually feel uncomfortable brushing my teeth in public like that.
Which is why I stick to breath mints.
Anyways, there are 8 random tidbits that I thought up for this post based on things I’ve experienced so far that I never really knew about or read about online before coming here.
Nothing groundbreaking, but maybe you thought “huh, interesting” for at least one of them. That was the goal of this post.
I’m working on another post that looks at tidbits from Japanese schools, so you can look forward to that! Probably will post that in a couple weeks or so.
Until next time,
Thanks for reading.