Sleeping At The Workplace
The Japanese are hardworking people, no doubt about that. They value effort so much when an employee falls asleep on the job it is not a bad sign necessarily. He was just working too hard! This strange thing is called "Inemuri" and is performed regularly by some people, who just want to take a break without receiving a swift kick in the ass. Of course you also need to look properly even when you sleep, standing upright for example.
Well, they are certainly better than going to the park. Love hotels are especially popular in Japan because of the lack of space(and strict parents). You can "rest" there for a couple of hours or stay overnight with your partner. Different quality of hotels do exist, with the more expensive ones being very fancy. We have windowless ones, European castle ones, you get the idea.
Slurping At The Table
Table manners are different worldwide, especially in a place that uses chopsticks. Probably the most notable "manner" is to slurp like a horse while having a dinner with a decent Japanese family. It will show them that you do enjoy your meal and think it is awesome! In other countries burping is considered polite, perhaps farting will someday also be considered great manners.
The Suicide Forest
Not something you'd most likely visit, The Suicide Forest in Japan has the second highest number of suicides, with only the Golden Gate Bridge topping it. What makes it strange is that there is no clear way to die, you can't just jump from somewhere. You need to carry your own rope to hang yourself, or a hefty dose of drugs. No wonder it is said that the forest is inhabited by demons, it is so quiet and dense inside you'll most likely get lost and die alone anyway. Creepy.
The Naked Festival
Eh, they are not completely naked, they still have loin cloth around their genitals. But here you go, a festival where thousands of men take their attires off and run around together to chase evil spirits. Japanese do adhere to ancient traditions. The festival itself is called Hadaka Matsuri and happens every February if you are interested.
The Canned Food Restaurant
You don't go to a restaurant to eat canned food.......right? This is exactly what's been happening in Japan during the last 10 or so years though. A very prosperous brand of canned food restaurants called Mr. Kanso started in Osaka and subsequently spread across the country like a wildfire. Why is it so popular? Two reasons. First, it doesn't require any cooking so a rather large chunk of expenses is written off, making it incredibly cheap. Second, you don't need menus, you don't have to wait for the waiter, you choose whichever can you want and start eating on the spot. The food is also 100% well preserved and without insects in it, another plus.
To be honest the idea is genius. If you only need a place to sleep for a night or two you might as well go for the cheapest of the cheap - a capsule hotel. The "rooms" are super small, often as big as 2 by 1 by 1.25 meters. You enter, lay down and sleep, you can't even sit properly. No wonder they've been compared to morgues. Usually men choose to visit and sleep in capsule hotels(what a surprise). At least some of them have a television, if you are in the mood.
The Ghost Island
You've most likely heard of this one before - an island near Nagasaki was abandoned. Thousands of people stopped living there and everything went to ruin. Nowadays you can walk around such a modern day ghost town. It is called Hashima Island and it was famous for its coal mining until 1974 when everything collapsed and the population of five thousand left. In 2000s it became a tourist attraction, sort of. Only parts of it can be accessed because, you know, crumbling buildings can be very dangerous. Some renovations ensued but they likely took away from its ghostly charm.
They are popular everywhere really. Cafe, snacks, drinks, it is an easy way to spread around the cheaper goods in big quantities. Japan has already embraced this to its logical extreme - vending machines are everywhere! There are literally millions of them, as many as the population of a small country. They are near temples, historical locations, even on Mount Fuji. And they offer us things like eggs, and underwear. One can say this is the future, after all condensing most goods in these machines can save, thats right, some space! And indeed the Japanese are pretty comfortable with them, they are even baffled that the other countries don't utilize them as much.
The Shortest Escalator In The World
is in Japan and has five steps. It is located in Kawasaki in some shop and is indeed one of the hottest lesser known tourist destinations in the country. The escalator is not even one meter high but this is only for the better. You can ride it multiple times in a very short time frame and nobody is going to pester you to get off it. A truly remarkable thing probably put there just for laughs.
There are some very specific rules when it comes to serving alcohol. You should always pour alcohol to your seniors first, before they pour some for you. If you are not entirely sure who is above who your best bet is to start pouring for everyone to save yourself the trouble of offending a person. Also you must never refuse an alcoholic drink offered to you, so I hope your stomach is strong!
Being a technological wonderland it is expected for Japan to produce top notch mobile phones too. And indeed, their phones are not only cheap but at least 5 years more advanced than the ones produced in the rest of the world. There is a catch though. In Japan being respectful is very important, you shouldn't talk in a laud voice in quiet places. Similarly your phone should be in silent mode when you use buses and trains. It is not even an unwritten rule, it is actually required for the passengers to do so.
Everybody who watches Naruto knows what ramen is. It is the most prized food in Japan and you should definitely try some when you are there. There are of course some peculiarities involved. Noodles must be eaten fast and since they are quite hot that means lots of sucking and slurping. Not to worry though, as discussed in part 1 slurping is considered good table manners in Japan. Turns out it is also the practical thing to do so why not. Oh, and you should never tip the waiter or anyone for that matter. Bad manners and all.
A very useful thing to know when going to Japan is how to claim something you've lost. It happens, especially during hectic travels. This is where Kobans come in handy. They are small police boxes, every neighborhood has one. Just go to the closest one and ask for your wallet, even after several hours there is a good chance to find it there. If you want to turn in an item someone else has lost you can also do it, then wait for 6 months and if it hasn't been claimed it becomes yours automatically. Some neat rules here!
As you already know Japan has some serious problems when it comes to space. Small, tight streets are not all that uncommon and of course bicycles then become the preferred method of travel. But what is this, most of them are not locked at all? Aren't these people afraid they are going to get stolen? Well, each bicycle comes with a license, so if you try to steal one and don't have the needed paperwork you are going to spend some time in jail for a petty crime. Not worth it. Of course this also means it is a hassle to borrow a bike, just make a copy of said license and you are good to go.
We've all been there, the horror of having to go but failing to find anything suitable, or being forced to pay for it in a restaurant. Not in Japan though, public restrooms are in abundance and they are completely free. Same thing when it comes to using the toilet in coffee shops and other public establishments. Now this may sound weird considering how strict Japan is, but you can also do your business next to the road, it is allowed as long as you don't disturb other people.
Yup, there are some rules involved even when it comes to bathing. Each Japanese family has a shower and a bathing tub. If you are a guest there and will stay for the night you'll be offered to take a bath. Do not refuse! First thing you need to know is that each family member soaks in the same bath water. Thats right, it doesn't get changed. Don't worry though, as a guest you will have the honor of going first. But don't forget to shower beforehand! See, it is not all that bad, just remember to exit the bath tub early for the next family member.
We already talked about sleeping at work. It is entirely possible to see the very same salary men sleeping near the train station, a suitcase as their pillow. It is not that weird either, they didn't get kicked out of the house by their wives(at least most of them didn't), they just missed the last train because they worked so hard they needed an overtime. Seeing sleeping men on the streets before 6 AM when the first trains arrive is completely normal.
In The House And In The Toilet
Most people already know this, you can't enter a Japanese home wearing your shoes. You'll be given a slippers though. What most people don't know is that you need to change into another slippers when going to the toilet. You don't want to spread all these germs around the house, see. Ok, fair game so far, but when you see the toilet itself you may be in for a very big surprise. High tech toilets, with lots of buttons and instructions in Japanese are the hype in Japan. You need to actually ask how to operate this alien device, or else you risk a great embarrassment.
Ah, the famous Japanese futons! Or in other words a padded mattress strapped on the floor. They are quite easy to move around, so during the day they can sit rolled up in a corner and allow the room to be used for something else. Japanese and their love for space! This doesn't mean proper beds do not exist but hey, I bet the price for these special mattresses is way lower than buying a whole western-style bed.
These chocolate bars of different flavors are widely popular in Japan. But why is that? It is all about the name as it turns out. Kit Kat sounds very familiar to Kitto Katsu, which in turn means "You will win!" . Naturally people, especially students, started buying and eating them before something very important, like an exam. It all went uphill from there and nowadays you'll find a huge collection of Kit Kat products in Japan. Goes to show how important the name is.
Sadness In Art
The Movie: House of Flying Daggers (2004)
When you watch or read Japanese works, which deal with sadness, you can feel something weird happening. They don't bring you down, or at least not in the same way the more conventional tragedies hammer you mercilessly. This has to do with the special way Japanese people perceive the world. Our lives are fleeting, the world itself is constantly changing, this brings up the feeling of acceptance and understanding. Not everything is purely sad, there is a certain amount of bittersweet carefully woven inside. If you are with the right mindset a sad Japanese film can even make you happy. It is weird but hey, people always say how Japanese art is higher level.
Kawaii is love, Kawaii is life, Kawaii is culture. It makes most guys cringe but girls love it. It is about being cute, having cute mannerisms, decorating in a cute way, dressing in the cute fashion, listening to cute idols and so on.......you get the point. Understanding it is mostly a preparation for what you'll see in Japan and trust me, it'll be way over the top than the similar things we have here.
Religion in Japan is a total mishmash. Take Buddhism, cook alongside Shintoism, add a bit of Confusism for an even more exotic taste, expose to plenty of Christianity. The end result is confusing and most Japanese people don't even know where to go and for what to pray. The biggest sign of this are the various shrines put everywhere. Shrines for good luck, good grades, making lots of money, getting married, getting laid, they all exist and are visited frequently by people who believe it is all going to work out in the end. Well, at the very least it makes for some wonderful festivals and beautiful views so nobody is complaining.
The Butt Statue
Mhm, it is there and waiting for you! The Butt Statue is located right in the middle of Kobe and consists of about 5-6 torsos and butts put over each other. You really have to circle around it to witness its full glory. Maybe the most weird thing about the Butt Statue is how the Kobe residents don't see it at all, to them it is invisible. You'll only notice foreigners staring at it in a baffled manner. Maybe the locals are just used to it, or maybe they are part of the conspiracy. Hmmm....
Japanese students clean their classrooms on a daily basis. This by itself is already a strange thing, however the last day of school beats it completely. There are no classes, oh no, what the classmates do instead is cleaning up the entire building. This group is scrubbing the floor with erasers. The other one is thoroughly cleaning the windows. Groups are sent to the nurse office, the gym, all desks and chairs are put in the hallway first of course. It is very eerie to see so many students not only do all this menial work but also enjoy it. We are not teaching our kids right.
This may sound strange(oh really?) but an overwhelming majority, perhaps even all of the lingerie mannequins find in Japan are of white women. Are Japanese females jealous of their Western counterparts? Do they find their bodies better? Hard to say really, but maybe it is just a form of standardization. The mannequins started off as white and have been kept white for easier recognition.
Fingers In The Butt
Butts again, but this time it is very important. Say hello to Kancho, the dreaded game children in Japan play. All the time. First they form a gun with their hands, putting their index fingers together. Then they ram the newly formed object into the ass of one of their classmates, or even better - the teacher. I bet foreign teachers, who have to work with small kids, receive a fair warning about this.....eccentric behavior. But in the end it is all in good fun. Japanese parents and teachers seem to be more lenient with kids in general, letting them be...well....kids. No wonder such a cruel thing was invented by the little devils. There are guides, which deal with ways to defend yourself from this little game. The most prolific defense is to put your back against a wall, obviously.
Japan is home of the biggest hornets in the world, the Asian Giant Hornets. These monsters can grow up to 5 centimeters long and are relentless hunters, capable of killing thousands of bees in a couple of hours. Needless to say their stinger hurts, a lot, and because it is not barbed the hornet can sting you multiple times. About 40 people die each year because of them, usually from allergic reactions. Despite being horrifying, the Asian Giant Hornets can be fried and eaten by locals with strong stomachs.
Monkeys Like Hot Water
Monkeys don't only look like us, they sometimes behave like us and like the same things we do. Like hot springs, something Japan is famous for. It won't be unusual to see a bunch of monkeys relaxing in the natural steaming waters, especially in the winter. The Japanese Macaques are the usual culprits. They are 20 centimeters long and cute enough to not be a problem though.
Jesus Christ of Japan
You know what's weird? 12 years of the life of Jesus Christ are missing, the Bible doesn't tell us what he has been doing. Well, how about this, he went to Asia. Not only to India but as far as Japan. He even stayed and died there, the guy who got crucified was his brother. It is all legends of course, doesn't stop the small town of Shingo from having the grave of Jesus Christ. A lot of people are visiting it each year, mostly religious folk, to pay their respects.
One thing you need to understand about Japan, everything there has to be learned anew. Traditional food for example, have you ever been to a place where they serve your meal still alive? Thought so. You must be always on your toes for something new and unexpected. Now about shower gels, there is a thing called Sea Breeze. It is good alright, makes you feel like your body is exposed to the slightly chilly sea wind. Until you let it touch a delicate skin, then you realize it has menthol inside. Always be on your guard and ask as much as you can!
The Japanese are proud people. This is expressed tenfold when it comes to their culture. They believe they are unique and for a very good reason. Putting all this together, it is not all that strange to see store owners, and other people you might see while traveling, talk to you at length not only about their products but also about different aspects of their culture and beliefs. It is good too, considering a visitor must be educated a lot about the different oddities and customs Japan will throw at them.
It is hard to find a country with as many dialects as Japan. Because so many words are said in the same way but written differently there are lots of puns and harmless jokes between Japanese speakers. The thing is they don't really discriminate or make fun of someone because of the way they speak. It is all very open minded and respectful, doesn't make learning Japanese any less harder though.
Uncertainty Must Be Expressed
It is a quirk of the Japanese people to rarely talk in absolutes, unless they are absolutely sure about something. This makes expressing yourself a bit tricky, because you need to add things like "I think" or "It appears to be" in your sentences. Even if you are sure your friend is going somewhere, you should always add a hefty dose of uncertainty to your speech to not confuse the Japanese people you talk with.
They are kind of a big deal, aren't they? It is always a good thing to get a compliment for a stranger. Not so much in Japan. There people will compliment you for the smallest thing. For example, even if your Japanese consists of several sentences you can barely scrape together, you will still get amazed looks and compliments from them. It is totally different when you try the reverse. Complimenting a stranger will most likely get you a "it was nothing" response. It is all ingrained in their brains, see, the notion that they must not put themselves above the other person, to not show superiority. This is their way of showing respect.
It is not all that uncommon to do business with big Japanese companies nowadays. When it comes to making big business decisions it is the rule for both sides to get to know each other. This may take days. If a foreigner is visiting Japan, the Japanese businessman will show him around, talk with him at length, get to know him and in the end both parties will have a good idea what they are dealing with, what their new business partner is like and what they want. This reduces the angry confrontations between them and smoothens up the deal. Japanese are curious people, who also want to be prepared. No wonder they are giants in various markets.
Japanese people are crazy about it even though it is not natural to Japan. There is a whole group of people, called "mayora" who are, to put it lightly, a mayonnaise fanatics. They will pour it on literally everything and eat it with a wolf-like appetite. No wonder there are so many different flavors to choose from. But this is not all, there are even special brand of restaurants called Mayonnaise Kitchen, that offers every dish, western and eastern, which can be served with the delicious topping. I hope the people who are so much into it, mostly teenagers, won't regret it later.
Christmas In Japan
It is a bit complicated you see, after all Japan is not technically a Christian nation. The idea of Christmas was at first brought by European missionaries, but the holiday itself only gained its popularity with the modernization of the country in the 1960s. It is not an official celebration(the New Year is official however) but this doesn't stop people to exchange gifts, put Christmas trees inside of their houses and decorate the premises. Not to the same extend other countries do it but still, it is there. Furthermore 24th December is somewhat of a second Valentine's day for the Japanese, it is often chosen for dates and confessions.
It is funny actually. In 1970s, when Christmas was widely celebrated in Japan, KFC convinced them that fried chicken is what everybody eats on 24th and 25th. It makes sense too, considering turkeys, what Americans traditionally eat during those days, are not so readily available in the Land of the Rising Sun. KFC hit it big no doubt about that. 20% of their annual sales in Japan happen on Christmas.
How Does It Feel To Be Dead
It is a scary thought, one day we'll cease to exist, our bodies confined inside a coffin. Most people don't give this much thought, after all what is the point, not the Japanese though. There is a festival called Shukatsu Festa, it directly shows you how your body will be treated once the time for the final journey comes. You can choose your funeral clothes, and of course your coffin. Then lay down inside it for awhile, even take some pictures. It is all in good fun, shows the lightheartedness of some people, who don't worry too much about taboos.
Chi, or the so called "life energy", is kind of a big deal in Japan. Some people believe it is possible to transmit this energy from one person to another. A Chi master can do even better. Kanzawa Sensei claims he can put animals to sleep with nothing but the palms of his hands, which transmit his energy forward. It is not a hundred percent method and some observes do believe he is a fraud, but uit is still a fascinating thing to learn about and even try to practice.
Sleeping While Standing
Sleeping again, Japanese seem to be the masters of taking a nap in unusual positions. Rush hour there is a killer, especially if you have to take the train. Japanese public vehicles are renown for being constantly filled up to the brim, stress levels rise and some people are forced to wake up a couple of hours early just to avoid the madness. This is how the "metro chin stick" was invented. It is similar to the hand straps in buses, instead you put your head in and take a half an hour nap. Without getting choked of course. Brilliant.
Dealing With Rain
Rain is usually harmless, but very very annoying. Bringing umbrella everywhere you go is cumbersome and in the end you still get part of your back and feet wet. Raincoat just won't do because you can't soak the passenger seats of buses and trains. What is the solution then? An umbrella with a plastic extension of course! Imagine walking around inside a plastic see-through moving cabin, this is what it looks like. It is not the optimal solution but at least it'll keep most parts of your body dry and happy. Plus this unusual umbrella will make sure people on the street will take a long bewildered look at you.
One Stroke Art
Painters, coming from Kousyuuya Studio in Nikko, Japan, are one of the best in their craft. The most amazing thing they can draw is called the One Stroke Dragon, or Hitofude Ryuu in Japanese. They grab different brushes and paint in single strokes. It is fast, clean and is wonderful to watch. Words don't really do it justice so here is one of them in action:
Museum For Parasites
It is the only such establishment in the whole world, located in Japan naturally. It was created in 1953 in Meguro, Tokyo, and it prospers to this day. The museum is not on the first page of famous tourist attractions and for a very good reason. It can scare you. How about the over 8 meters long tapeworm, or the graphic pictures of testicles, getting ruined by a particularly nasty tropical bug? But hey, in the end it is educational too. Not all parasites are scary and you definitely shouldn't be paranoid about them. Even if you are easily disgusted you should visit the place on account of it being the only one in the world.
Rice Field Art
When rice and art go hand in hand we get this - a Rice Paddy Art. The small Inakadate village has about eight thousand residents, not that many. What they have aplenty are their rice fields, which are not only extremely fertile but quite ancient as well. The last ingredient to bringing tourist to the village is the way some of the fields are handled. The residents draw pictures with different kinds of rice, pictures you don't even need to see from the sky, they are perfectly visible on ground level and include some famous paintings too. 200 000 tourists come to the village each year and for a very good reason.
Fishing With Birds
You can already hunt with birds, so why not use them in fishing? The art of Ukai, or using trained cormorants to catch fish for you, has been used in Japan for 1 300 years. Obviously such an ancient tradition can't die just yet. Master fishers using the Ukai style still exists, mainly near the Nagara, Hozu and Uji rivers. The Ukai itself is practiced during nighttime. Fishermen drop their cormorants into the river, which then swallow fish whole and come back. Special snares prevent the birds from completely eating their prey. In the end their masters collect the fish.
Another ancient tradition, called Ama, has been around for two thousand years. It involve women divers. Since Japan has lots of water around, going deep for food and pearls has been practiced for years. Women proved that they are the better divers when it comes to swimming without gear, they are the Japanese mermaids. They only use loin cloths, very rarely masks and fins. Being an Ama could be a profession, or a hobby for keeping your body in shape. Unfortunately ever since Japan became modernized this old tradition has started to disappear.
The Gas Mask Town
The island Miyakejima is home of constant volcanic activity. The last large eruption happened in 2000, the whole population was evacuated and allowed to return after four years. The damage has been done though, the air was filled with dangerous sulfuric gases that needed many more years to clear. This is where the gas masks come into effect. The residents are not supposed to wear them at all times at least, an alarm warns them when to put them on. Despite all that the island has a very rich flora and fauna. Since 2008 planes are allowed to fly there too.