You’ve finally made it: you fulfilled your life-long dream of travelling into the land of anime, manga and sushi and are ready to experience Japan firsthand. But why does everything feel so weird?
If you’ve grown up in Western countries all your life, then everyday life in Japan can be quite different from what you’re used to. True, there are many things you can find out about before embarking on your trip, but some differences only become noticeable once you are actually in Japan.
To prep you for any future trips to Tokyo we have compiled a list of the most common first impressions foreigners have when coming to Japan. Read them carefully so you’ll know what to expect when coming here. Enjoy!
“Japan is so clean!”
You’d expect a country of more than 120 million people to have a couple of used wrappers lying around, right? Not so in Japan which is often named as one of the cleanest countries in the world.
Even when walking in the busy streets of Tokyo you won’t see much garbage piling up in the streets. Even public bathrooms are usually clean, stocked up on toilet paper and free of graffiti. Depending on what you are used to, the cleanliness of the Japanese can truly surprise you. What’s even more shocking though is the fact that there are almost no garbage bins out on the streets. That’s right, Japanese people will carry their garbage around all day and toss it away at home rather than polluting their cities. That’s what we call commitment!
“Everyone is wearing surgical masks.”
You are probably already familiar with the stereotype that all Asian tourists can only be seen with surgical masks covering their faces. But what might seem like a cliché is actually a common sight in Japan.
Wearing a mask doesn’t necessarily mean that that person is sick. In fact, there are many reasons why Japanese choose to wear masks. One of them, of course, is preventing any illnesses and having to miss a couple days of work as a result. Sick people themselves tend to wear them not for their own sake, but rather not to infect and inconvenience others. Another reason has to do with allergies, since a lot of Japanese claim to be allergic to pollen. Lastly, some people enjoy wearing masks in the cold winter months since they keep their faces warm. As you can see, there are more than enough reasons to wear surgical masks in Japan.
“Why is there no soap in public bathrooms?”
Even though public bathrooms are so clean in Japan, you will most often be disappointed if you’re looking for soap or paper towels.
Bathrooms at train stations or in parks will only give you the bare minimum – meaning a functioning toilet and toilet paper. When it comes to washing your hands, many Japanese carry their own soap and small towels in their bags. If that is too much of a hassle for you then we advise you to use a bathroom at your nearest convenience store or department store; they tend to be better equipped and have all the soap, paper towels and disinfectant you could ask for.
“Tokyo is super crowded.”
Let’s be honest, who comes to Japan and doesn’t expect it to be crowded? Yet, when you are actually standing at the famous Shibuya crossing at peak hour you will be surprised by the sheer number of people.
With a population of over 35 million people (metropolitan area included) Tokyo is the largest city in the world. What makes its street so crowded, however, is not the number of people alone, but rather the population density. Japanese are used to small spaces and getting close to strangers in public settings. Also, many people share a similar daily schedule, meaning that most people are out on the streets around the same time. Put all these factors together and you will find yourself trapped on a crowded train with what feels like half of those 35 million people surrounding you. Welcome to Japan!
“Public transportation is so quiet.”
Getting around in Tokyo requires you to use public transportation, no matter where you’re heading. But what might be a tedious task elsewhere, can actually be pretty relaxing in Japan.
There are certain manners all passengers are expected to have when using public transportation, the most important one of them being keeping your voice down at all times. Not only that, but you also will not find people talking on their phones or playing loud music. You can even see illustrated signs inside all public transportation, reminding you to keep quiet, refrain from running and not take up more seats than you need. If you’ve ever wondered how Japanese people are able to fall asleep as soon as they get on a train, now you know why.
Culture shock is an issue no matter where you go in the world, but many unpleasant surprises can be prevented if you spend enough time preparing yourself. Just be ready to encounter new things and make experiences you would have never made at home. The first impressions we have presented today are just a first glimpse at Japanese culture and can be the start of an exciting journey into a truly amazing country.
Have you ever traveled to Japan and if so, what were your first impressions? Let us know in the comment section down below.