Even More Japan Tidbits

As always, when I’m not writing about my personal experiences here, I like to try and bring up some lesser talked about tidbits about Japan. It feels like pretty much everyone mentions the same basic points like “don’t stick your chopsticks into your food” and “take off your shoes when going inside” in their “Top X Things to Not Do in Japan” videos / posts.

Not that there’s anything wrong with those posts, I mean I read a bunch of them before coming here. So you can bet that I was totally prepared when it comes to what not to do with my chopsticks around food.

But of course there are so many things that I had no idea about before coming here. Which is why I wracked my brain to scrape together some more tidbits. These aren’t Earth-shattering points, just small things that maybe aren’t as known!

I’ll share some pictures from my recent trip to a scenic road in the mountains – we could even see Fuji-san from where we were, which was cool. And high up enough we reached snow, which was also pretty surreal in a way.

1. I hope you like spiders

There are a lot of spiders. Of all shapes and sizes. I’ve written before about my encounter with a huntsman at school that was the size of my hand, but there are so many more spiders than that. While giant insects is something that I feel like Japan is known for, like the giant hornet, the issue here isn’t so much the size (although on average they’re much bigger than in Canada), but the frequency of these damn spiders.

Every night from summer till fall you can expect spiders to set up shop outside everywhere. The worst culprits for this around my apartment are golden orb spiders, or at least I’m pretty sure that’s what they are. And when I say “set up shop”, I mean it. They can make some crazy big webs, meaning that I’d have to be careful every single morning I left my apartment, because sometimes they will build a web between two walls that are around 4 feet apart.

I have a friend who jogs in the mornings, and he runs on the road because of how often he’s run head first into a web that was constructed across the sidewalk between a tree and some wall.

In my case, there’s a broom just out in the hallway that I’d have to use to knock down spiders and their webs every so often. This year was worse than last year, but I made it through anyways, it’s cold enough that the spiders have let up. I still instinctively duck and hold my arm out in front of my face as I walk out though, just in case.

2. Google Maps is not your friend

Next up is a warning more than anything else. Be careful with Google Maps!

There are so many tiny roads, weird intersections, and so on, that it’s quite common for Google to think that it’s faster for you to drive through some small sketchy single-lane roads and then have to turn onto a busy road without any traffic lights. Which as you can imagine, is not fun. It’s even worse when it’s dark outside, because you really have to keep your eyes peeled to find the tiny roads that Google may have you turning onto. Around where I am, and in the countryside, there aren’t as many street lights.

And if you’re driving in Tokyo, you have to be careful of two scenarios in which you will lose reception. First is driving along a road that runs underneath a toll road / highway, as you will lose GPS pretty frequently. The other is on the underground toll roads that run around Tokyo, as you will naturally lose reception there as well.

Of course, the reason we use Google Maps is because we don’t know where we are going, so it’s not exactly easy to solve these issues. Best you can do is take a look at the route it wants you to take and see if anything looks off, I guess. Try to stick to main roads in the countryside. Things like that.

Lake Shirakaba

3. Onsen Town tidbits

I recently went to Nozawa Onsen, a nice little town that’s famous for it’s natural hot springs and skiing. It’s a really cool place that’s sort of tucked away and built on the side of a mountain.

I can’t speak for other onsen towns, but at this one, there are many free hot springs buildings where you can just walk in and bathe (there is a donation box outside if you’re so inclined). With some of my Japanese friends we went to three different hot springs. They’re all fairly similar.

Basically, you walk in and there will be a bunch of cubbies on the wall for you to put all of your clothes and stuff into. Then, you can just grab one of the pails that’ll be in the room and scoop some water out of the hot springs to wash yourself with before going into the water. As it’s natural hot springs, with water high in sulphur, it kind of smells like rotton eggs (to me anyways). Two of the three places I visited had two pools, one for warm water, the other for hot. The final place just had a single pool.

That said, they were all stupidly hot. Scalding hot. There are taps that you can turn on to run cold water into the pools to cool them down, so where we went we’d have to run the water for five minutes or so until it was at least possible to get into the water. And then, well you just get in and enjoy, dry off when you leave and all that.

Just be ready to smell like sulphur when you leave, because these free hot springs don’t have soap / showers like a paid onsen does.

Aside from the hot springs, there were some other neat points about Nozawa Onsen. There are some large pools of hot spring water out in the open that are accessible to residents, so they can take water for cooking food. When we were there, a lady was cooking some food right there in the pool. The natural spring water is supposed to be healthier or whatever, although because of the smell I’d probably pass on cooking my own food in it.

And speaking of that smell, there’s also a spot where anyone can draw water to boil eggs, which is apparently a popular thing to do. We saw a guy there who had three dozen eggs that he was boiling! Likely not just for himself, but for family and friends as well.

Finally, as the town is on the side of a mountain, it’s completely slanted upwards, meaning you’re either walking uphill or downhill through most of the town. I imagine it’s tough on the cars of locals that live there, as the engine has to work harder to drive uphill, and the brakes have to work harder when going downhill.

Anyways, this was the second time I’ve visited Nozawa Onsen, but the first time I’d actually visited the hot springs there. It’s a cool experience, although I do prefer a good paid onsen with showers and soap.

Even in the mountains, you can’t escape the powerlines in Japan.
Almost as common as the spiders.

4. Full Service Gas Stations

Now this is a point I actually already knew about, but maybe you don’t.

In Japan there are many self-serve gas stations, but there are also full service gas stations, which are a real step above anything I’d experienced in Canada. You pay a little extra on the gas, maybe 5-10 yen per litre, for the service. I don’t actually know exactly because I never pay attention to the gas prices (it’s expensive, compared to North America anyways).

Depending on how many free attendants there are, you will get someone pumping your gas, and 1 or 2 people wiping down your windshield / mirrors / windows with wet towels. You can also ask them to check your tire pressure, which they’ll do, and even fill them if any are low. They also give you a towel so you can wipe down the interior of your car. And, at least in the city (not where I am, but I did experience this in Matsumoto), an attendant will actually walk out onto the road and block traffic so you can safely leave without issue.

Only reason I knew about all of this is because of a YouTube video I saw back in university that showed off a customer’s experience at a full service gas station in Japan, as an example of good customer service. And it’s true, they do have good customer service, not just at the gas stations, but in most places.

When I lived in Richmond, Vancouver, I used to go to a gas station that had attendants, but they’d only pump your gas for you, and then they’d try to get you to tip them. So I always waved them away and pumped my own gas instead. That said, it sure is nice to not have to leave your car when getting gas at one of the full service stations here.

Lot of nice cars in the area.

5. Holidays

This is a minor point, but something I didn’t realize about Japan is that holidays are held on the numbered date, no matter what day of the week it falls on. I know that Canada used to do this, although it was before I was born I believe. In Canada, holidays generally fall to the nearest Friday / Monday, so that weekends are extended. With a few exceptions, like Canada Day, which is always on the exact date.

But here, holidays can pretty much be anytime. The reason I’m even bringing this up is because this upcoming Wednesday is a holiday, effectively splitting the work week in two, which is pretty neat. While sometimes it feels like the timing of holidays is a bit odd, it’s also pretty neat as holidays during the week create nice little pockets that are great for taking paid leave.

6. Gari-gari kun

I’ll finish off on a nice and super-cheap treat that’s very popular in Japan. Gari-gari kun is a brand of popsicles that apparently has over 100 flavours, although I haven’t seen that many. They’re generally around 50 or 60 yen, which is super cheap, and really hit the spot if you’re looking for something refreshing to eat. Even in winter, it’s nice to eat one while sitting under the kotatsu, I think, although I know that eating mandarins is the traditional thing to do in that situation here.

My personal favourite flavour, which is pretty popular, is the cola flavour, but there are many others, depending on where you go. Large supermarkets have the largest selection in my experience. Many of the fruit flavours are great.

I guess what really makes these popsicles great for me is the texture. The outside is a solid layer, like a regular popsicle I’m used to back home. But the inside isn’t just a solid block of frozen juice like I’m used to, it’s more like a slushee inside. I’m typically not a fan of popsicles, but I am a big fan of slushees. And Gari-gari kun is basically a hand-held slushee, so it’s great.

That about does it for this selection of Japan tidbits. I basically write about what comes to mind once I’m in the mood to do some writing like this. And this is a good break from anime reviews, although there are more of those to come in the future.

As always, if you have any questions feel free to ask, because it’s actually difficult at times to think of new things to write about in regards to Japan. I’m sure there are many things that just didn’t come to mind when I wrote this.

I’ll try to write something else in the near future, maybe about school again, we’ll see.

Until then,
Thanks for reading.


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