Japan, with a population of roughly 125 million, is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean with high-rise-filled cities, imperial palaces, mountainous national parks and thousands of shrines and temples.
Tokyo, the crowded capital, is known for its neon skyscrapers and pop culture. In contrast, Kyoto offers Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, gardens and cherry blossoms. Sushi, the national dish, is served everywhere from casual pubs to gourmet restaurants.
I recently visited Japan, a fascinating country
At first glance you might see Japan as just a modern, Westernized country with large, crowded cities and an awful lot of people in business suits… But this country gets a lot stranger than that!
Japan is truly unique and if you want to experience something different I’d recommend spending at least three to four weeks traveling through Japan, talking to local people as much as you can (the Japanese are very friendly and often speak good English) and really experience the Japanese culture to its fullest.
But first, check out these fun, sometimes useful and often really surprising facts about Japan and the Japanese:
1. Japan consists of over 6,800 islands.
2. Japan has a ‘suicide forest’. Called ‘the perfect place to die’, the Aokigahara forest has the unfortunate distinction of the world’s second most popular place to take one’s life. (The first is the Golden Gate Bridge)
3. Animated Japanese films and television shows (i.e.: Anime) account for 60% of the world’s animation-based entertainment. So successful is animation in Japan, that there are almost 130 voice-acting schools in the country.
4. 21% of the Japanese population is elderly, the highest proportion in the world. Japan has more than 50,000 people who are over 100 years old.
5. Raised floors help indicate when to take off slippers or shoes. At the entrance to a home in Japan, the floor will usually be raised about 6 inches (15.24 cm) indicating you should take off your shoes and put on slippers. If the house has a tatami mat room, its floor may be raised 1-2 inches (2.54-5.08 cm.) indicating you should take off your slippers.
6. Japan has just 2 gun-related homicides per year on average. Japan feels very safe in general. They say you could leave your wallet on the floor of the busiest metro station and come back an hour later to still find it there, untouched. I didn’t test that though…
7. Japanese trains are among the world’s most punctual: their average delay is just 18 seconds!
8. Square watermelons are grown by Japanese farmers for easier stack and store.
9. In Japan there are more pets than children.
10. Japan’s birth rate is so low that adult diapers are sold more than baby diapers.
11. The Japanese survivor of the Titanic was called a coward in his country for not dying with the other passengers.
12. In Japan there are ‘Maid Cafes’ where waitresses dressed in maid costumes act as servants, and treat customers as masters (and mistresses) in a private home, rather than as café patrons.
13. Around 24 billion pairs of chopsticks are used in Japan each year.
14. 685 kids were rushed to hospitals in Japan in 1997 after an intense pokemon episode that caused dizziness, vomiting and seizures.
15. Japan has 5.52 million vending machines offering anything from soda to sex toys and live crabs.
16. Ronald McDonald is called Donald McDonald in Japan due to a lack of a clear ‘R’ sound in Japanese.
17. Many hot springs and public bathhouses in Japan ban customers with tattoos from entering because they see it as possible affiliation with gangs.
18. They use more paper for comics than for toilet paper in Japan.
19. Sometimes the trains in Japan are so crowded railway staff are employed to cram passengers inside.
20. In Japan there is a train that “floats” above the tracks by magnetism, reaching 550km/h (311 mph).
21. If you commit suicide in Japan by jumping in front of a train, the family of the deceased will be charged a disruption fee.
22. Norway introduced salmon sushi to the Japanese in the 80’s.
23. In Japan there is a ‘crying sumo’ contest where wrestlers compete to see who can make a baby cry first.
24. Coffee is so popular in Japan that Japan imports approximately 85% of Jamaica’s annual coffee production.
25. Most toilets in Japan have a built-in bidet system for spraying your backside. These are known as washlets and are now the norm in homes and nicer restrooms. However, in some train stations and other public restrooms you may still find the traditional Japanese “floor toilet”.
26. When you use the restroom in someone’s home you may need to put on designated bathroom slippers so as not to contaminate the rest of the home.
27. Noodles, especially soba (buckwheat), are slurped somewhat loudly when eaten. It has been said slurping indicates the food is delicious. The slurping also serves to cool down the hot noodles for eating.
28. In a Sumo training “stable” the junior rikishi Sumo wrestlers must wash and bathe their senior sumo wrestlers and make sure their hard to reach places are clean.
29. Ovens are not nearly as commonplace as rice cookers in Japanese households.
30. Geisha means “person of the arts” and the first geisha were actually men.
31.In Japan non-smoking areas are often difficult to find in restaurants, including family restaurants. Many of Japan’s politicians have interest in the tobacco industry.
32. There is almost no immigration in Japan. The population is 98% ethnic Japanese.
33. Japan is the world’s largest consumer of Amazon rain forest timber.
34. The greater Tokyo area is the largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 35 million people.
35. Tokyo is the second most expensive city in the world to live in.
36. Sushi used to be eaten as street food.
37. The world’s most expensive tuna was sold in Japan for $735,000 USD.
38. It’s considered inappropriate to blow your nose in public.
39. Japanese sake is made from fermented rice.
40. The fortune cookie dates back to the 19th century and was first made in Kyoto, Japan.
Inspired? Put Japan on your list of ‘must visit countries’, it’s worth it!
And, unlike what many people believe, Japan doesn’t have to be an extremely expensive country to visit. Use AirBnB or VRBO to find great places to rent directly from the owner and use HotelsCombined for good deals on hotels and hostels. Ask the locals for good but cheap restaurants and I assure you you will have an amazing experience and a fairly affordable trip to Japan!
Check out 8 Things Not to Miss For Food Lovers Traveling to Japan and for more travel inspiration!
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