10 Weird Things That Only Exist in Japan

Quirky and unusual things about living in Japan

Japan is a country that never ceases to amaze us, and for good reason! For many westerners in the land of the rising sun, living in Japan can be one of the most unique experiences of a lifetime. Ranging from lifestyle, culture, language, relationships or even culinary customs, we can agree that taking the plunge and breaking out of your comfort zone can be challenging but also incredibly rewarding in matters of life experience. Here I detail a small list of some of the things that have captured my attention over the years living in here:

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1. Drunken office workers

Back at home, talking about drunken groups of people generally involved tourists or weekend partygoers. But when I started living in Japan, one of the things that struck me as odd was seeing the contrast between the seriousness of black suited office clerks and their drunken shenanigans every weekend around some of the most popular Tokyo areas like Ikebukuro or Shinjuku. Turns out, a large part of the work life in many companies consist of drinking parties of varying scale, which generally serve the purpose of improving relationships in the office or doing business with clients. In any case, they usually end with some of them making a scene or sleeping it off in the street or crawling their way into a capsule hotel if they lose the last train. Many clothing products or anti-hangover drinks that used to catch my attention now make a lot more sense to me!

2. Toilets can make noise to conceal your private business

The majority of public toilets you can find in most major cities in Japan not only come equipped with nifty washlet bidet functions (which sometimes even include temperature and/or pressure controls), but also allow users to play music or water stream sounds while taking care of their personal business. So if there’s a chance you ever feel self-conscious about certain sounds when nature calls, Japanese multifunction toilets have you covered!

3. Leaving your stuff unattended at a cafe

While Japan is already widely known for its low crime and all-around safety, for most of us living in Japan it’s still second nature to be constantly on the lookout for our belongings while in public spaces. This is why one of my most cherished experiences while living in Japan is knowing that even if I’m alone, I can be working at a cafe and leave my stuff on the table while I take a phone call outside, go to the toilet, etc. I don’t have to worry about thieves stealing them, which seriously comes with great peace of mind.

However, we still recommend that you keep an eye on your valuable stuff. Just in case!

4. Fax is still a thing here

I still remember my jaw hitting the floor the first time I attempted to get a contract with an Internet Service Provider after moving to our first apartment. I was required to send a fax. A fax! I hardly remembered what it looked like, let alone how to use it. I tried to explain that it was impossible as I lacked a fax machine, But I was promptly directed to my nearest convenience store. Turns out all convenience stores in Japan are equipped with fax machines. And even though the Japanese government is facing an uphill challenge to try to modernize infrastructure and get rid of faxes, they’re still very much a thing in 2022. This brings me to my next point:

5. 24h Convenience stores everywhere

I already loved these aptly named convenience stores whenever I was here for the holidays. Particularly during those jet-lagged hours when I could just grab a drink or a snack during the wee hours of the night, but once I lived here it was really amazing to see these are practically everywhere and there is one every few blocks. And these places aren’t just for getting your fix at unusual hours but there’s a myriad of stuff you can do, from printing photos, buying concert tickets to even paying bills, or carrying out city hall procedures!

6. Christmas is not a family holiday but a romantic one

As if Japan adopting Christmas and going to KFC for dinner wasn’t strange enough, turns out that, unlike the original celebration where all families gather together, the Japanese opted for transforming Christmas into a romantic occasion. That’s right, here, people don’t go back home for Christmas, they are supposed to spend the day with their significant other instead! And the entire season leading up to Christmas day, besides typical decorations found everywhere and endless carols or jingles as background music, lots of places put up elaborate Illumination installations, which tend to be popular spots for couples. This is so normal here that some Japanese aquaintances 

7. Seasonal items are… well, seasonal

It took me a couple of years to have this one completely figured out. That choco-mint ice cream me and my friends loved? Poof! Gone as soon as summer was over. What happened to all the lovely strawberry shortcakes I had seen everywhere at some point? I realized I had to wait until the Christmas season. Why can’t I enjoy all those delicious sweet potato drinks and desserts during spring? Turns out those are just for the autumn-winter season. Oh, and that time I was going back home for Christmas and wanted to buy some affordable and cute fans and tenugui towels as souvenirs for friends & family? You should’ve seen the puzzled faces of the poor shop employees whenever I asked for those items as I was supposed to buy them in summer. Lesson learned: Living in Japan will teach you to be quick to snatch those seasonal items when you see them, because they’re never around for long… until next year, that is.

8. Supermarkets evening bargains

Depending on where you’re from, grocery prices may be one of the biggest culture shocks. As a Spaniard used to buy cheap fruits and vegetables all year round, supermarket prices were quite surprising. Particularly if you’re on a budget as a student on a part-time job’s salary, shopping for weekly offers and bargains across different grocery stores in your neighborhood is a must. But most supermarkets start to apply hefty discounts to various items like readymade meals in the evening, so that’s usually the perfect time to be on the lookout to get your dinner. Except… you’re not the only one aware of this so depending on the time, you’ll have to be on the lookout for others trying to get that nice sushi bento at 50% off. Ever seen people seemingly walking aimlessly around the bento areas during the evening? Now you know what they’re waiting for.

9. Toilets separated from bathrooms

Toilet and bathroom in JapanUnless we’re talking about tiny apartments where every inch counts and design is made to optimize small spaces, the norm for regular apartments and detached houses is to keep toilets and baths in different rooms (sometimes the sink may be in between or right beside the bath), which at first seems quite unusual, but once I got used to it, I found it quite convenient, particularly if you are living as a couple or with your family as one can use the toilet while another uses the bath. It also makes sense once you find out more about Japanese bath culture, such as onsen/sento.

10. Facial hair is frowned upon 

Japanese man with beardThis is probably the one I will never get used to. Turns out, Japan has a bit of a messy history involving cultural attitudes around facial hair. Glorified during Samurai era to the point those unable to grow a nice beard would even resort to fake pieces, facial hair came to be associated to a rebellious and unruly spirit so the Tokugawa Shogunate ordered all men to shave their facial hair, save for very few exceptions such a needing to hide scars, etc. Facial hair enjoyed a resurgence during Meiji and Taisho eras following western fashion but unfortunately, postwar Japan did a wrong turn again and clean shaven looks came to be favored so excessively that even many workplaces had shaving as an employment requirement, a sad outlook for women like me who love facial hair in men. Sigh.

Want to find out by yourself what living in Japan is like?

Living Japan website

Finding out interesting or unusual things about Japan is the kind of experience that’s most rewarding when done by ourselves. But for everything else regarding settling in, Living Japan offers the possibility of smoothing and speeding up the process of moving to Japan, so you can focus your time and energy where it actually matters. Everything can be sorted out completely online. Lack of Japanese skills won’t be a problem either, as both the website and the customer support is available in English, Chinese, and Korean. Even setting up additional services and utilities can be a breeze if required!

▶Official Website: https://www.livingjapan.com/

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Despite my very traditional souding Japanese name, I was completely raised abroad, so living in Japan has meant getting an opportunity to broaden my horizons and learn about different lifestyles. It’s always interesting to learn about different things even if I don’t like them (there’s probably an article out there about a Japanese living in Spain talking about all the weird things Spaniards do). After all, life would be incredibly boring if there weren’t any unusual customs for us to discover!

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Written by

Photographer, journalist, and avid urban cyclist, making sense of Japan since 2017. I was born in Caracas and lived for 14 years in Barcelona before moving to Tokyo. Currently working towards my goal of visiting every prefecture in Japan, I hope to share with readers the everlasting joy of discovery and the neverending urge to keep exploring.