You never really know what you’ll discover when you travel to Japan. A country of contradictions, this island nation is associated with futuristic robots, high-tech toilets and flashy video games while simultaneously being steeped in tradition.
The unique culture has blossomed over centuries so there are bound to be a few quirks to surprise even the most seasoned travellers. Here are 10 things about Japanese culture that you won’t find in the guidebooks:
1. ATMs with closing hours
Need more cash after that expensive evening meal? Think again, as most ATM machines in Japan won’t cough up dough in the evenings. Even those that do (mainly found in central city areas) aren’t available on Sundays or public holidays between 8pm and midnight.
2. Taxis with automatic doors
The Japanese have done away with the tiresome task of opening a taxi door by making them fully automatic. At the touch of a button, you can step on to the sidewalk with ease. If you want to exit with even more style, book an elite cab and the driver will open the door for you.
3. Know when to slip off slippers
You may already know that, when you enter a house in Japan, you’re expected to take your shoes off. However, did you know that raised floors indicate when this should be done? The entrance to a Japanese home is normally raised by 6 inches, signifying it’s time to ditch the shoes. The floor of a room with tatami mat is raised 1-2 inches, which means you need to lose the slippers too.
4. Quirky colours
There are many colours that exist in the Japanese language that don’t in English. Mizuiro, for example, translates as ‘water colour’, although we might call it light or sky blue. English expressions also don’t translate exactly into Japanese. Aogusa, or ‘green grass’ in English, actually means ‘blue grass’.
5. Feel free to slurp noodles
Slurping noodles, particularly soba noodles, means that you think the food is delicious. This usually impolite activity also helps to cool down the hot noodles.
6. Mind your head
The traditional Japanese greeting of bowing to each other is not without its dangers. In Toyko, there are 24 recorded incidents of people either being killed or seriously fracturing their skull after accidently bashing their heads together.
It’s not unusual for Japanese workers to be moved across the country because of work. In fact, it’s so common that there’s a special term for it – tanshinfunin – meaning ‘a job transfer that takes an employee away from their family for an extended period of time’. To discover more unusual words, enrol on a Japanese language course before you go.
8. Futuristic toilets
Japan’s ‘smart toilets’ have a variety of functions, from the practical to the bizarre. Built-in seat warmers appeal when nature calls in the middle of a cold winter’s night. However, there are also bowls that can analyse your business and will measure your blood pressure, body fat and sugar levels in your urine.
9. Moving is an expensive business
When moving into a new apartment in Japan, it’s customary to give your new landlord a ‘gift’ of money equivalent to two month’s rent.
10. Mascot school
The Japanese love all things cute – so much so that the country is home to the world’s only mascot school. Students learn how to walk, dance and interact with children while dressed up as cuddly characters.