Weird things in Japan

There are many weird and wonderful things to discover in Japan. From super smart toilets to the fastest train cleaning in the world, Japan won't cease to amaze new visitors.

There are many weird things in Japan, but that's the joy of visiting this country. All new visitors have a cultural shock in Japan, but everything that appears odd at first becomes lovely and incredible. Japan has super smart toilets with more buttons than your professional camera. There are also weird themed cafés with monster drinks and coffin tables. Expect bizarre festivals like the Kanamara Matsuri – Festival of the Iron Phallus or the Naki Sumo – The crying baby festival. You'll eat the best and most colourful ice cream, with as many flavours as the colourful of the rainbow.

And yes, you will be shocked at times and even confused, but you will love every single moment of your time spent in Japan. If you're planning a trip to Japan, you will want to know what are the weirdest things to expect in Japan.

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1. There are 2.25 million vending machines

When you visit Japan, the first thing you'll notice as the sheer numbers of vending machines at every corner. They are literally everywhere. In fact, there is 1 vending machine for every 23 Japanese people. That's pretty impressive if you think about it.

Vending machines are so popular in Japan, you can really find them even in the unlikeliest of places. For example, there are vending machines on mount Inari as you hike towards the top. There are vending machines along trails to the Kegon Falls in Nikko. If you can think of a place, there is a vending machine there.

And yes, there are some weird Japanese vending machines which sell instant noodles and ramen, ice cream bars, edible insects and even toys or powdered milk. Try all the vending machines during your time in Japan, you will love it! There are hot and cold beverages available for very affordable prices.

Beverages on display in a vending machine in Tokyo
Beverages on display in a vending machine in Tokyo
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2. Super smart toilets

We wish the whole world would adopt the super smart Japanese toilets. These are full of buttons meant to make your private toilet time more comfortable. The smart Japanese toilets come with warm seats, some are self-cleaning and all of them have integrated bidets.

There are some great smart toilets which sing to you to create a more private environment, especially when you are out in a public bathroom.

These toilets are virtually everywhere in Japan. You will find them in your hotel, restaurant, and even the most traditional ryokans will have them.

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3. Colourful food

Food is everything in Japan and when it comes to creating unusual kawaii food, Japan knows how to impress. Walk around Harajuku and you will find rainbow cotton candy, colourful sundaes with kawaii characters as decoration and even animal shaped doughnuts.

It's not hard to find cute food in Japan, as every youthful café will have something kawaii on the menu. I especially recommend the Japanese soufle pankes with chocolate and strawberry syrups. Totoro cream puffs are a must when visiting Tokyo and animal shaped sushi rice with nori sheets as decoration.

For the cutest pictures, try Cafe Reissue in Harajuku, perfect for latte art with super cute fluffy lattes that showcase the most adorable animals.

Colourful lego shaped Japanese candy in a store in Harajuku
Colourful lego shaped Japanese candy in a store in Harajuku
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4. Weird cafes

When it comes to cafes, Japan can get pretty weird. There are many themed cafés in Japans that will blow your mind. For example, there are maid cafes where customers get served by innocent looking Japanese ladies dressed in lolita like maid outfits. While these are perfectly acceptable for foreigners, in Japan, these are frown upon among locals.

There are cuddle cafes which are meant to help people get cuddles after a long day at work. While some find them very sweet and adorable, others find them really creepy.

But it doesn't stop here. There are animal themed cafés too and in Tokyo, you will find cat cafés, owl cafés, hedgehog cafes and even a snake café.

Then there are anime and manga themed café where the staff dresses as anime characters. The latest newcomer is a vampire café in Tokyo, with a coffin room where customers can have gothic dishes and monster snacks.

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5. Love hotels

Love hotels are short stay hotels used primarily for intimate activities. Customers can rent them by the hour and in these hotels privacy is most important. Higher end love hotels are decorated with a lot of distinctive furniture and equipped with rotating beds, ceiling mirrors and all sort of erotic entertainment.

The name love hotels originate from Hotel Love in Osaka which was built 1968. In Tokyo, there is even a love hotel which looks like a European castle with two towers on each side of the entrance. If you decide to enjoy a love hotel, just ask a local guide to help you decide where to go as some of these establishments are ran by the Japanese mafia.

And if you're wondering if these establishments make any money, sufficient to say they make double than the Japan anime's market.

Love hotel that looks like an European castle in Japan
Castle Love Hotel, Torsodog, CC BY-SA 3.0
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6. Mascots everywhere

There are thousands of mascots in Japan, which represent everything from cities to organisations. The mascots are called yuru-kyara and you can find them in front of businesses or during a special event and matsuri.

I know what you're wondering, which is the most popular mascot in Japan. Turns out it's Kumamon, a mascot which promotes the Kumamoto Government.

Until recently, Japan used to hold a yearly mascot competition.

Japanese blue bear mascot in a shinkansen
Japanese blue mascot in a shinkansen
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7. Ads on tissues

Walk on any main boulevard in Japan and someone will hand you a packet of tissues. Weird indeed, but also brilliant. Japanese businesses advertise on packets of tissues, as people typically use these and find them useful, whereas they refuse or immediately throw away leaflets.

There is even a Japanese name for this, and it's called Tisshukubari (tissue-pack marketing) which started in the 1960s. Before the 60s, Japanese businesses used to advertise on matchboxes. As peculiar as this practice may seem, it's insanely popular still, and this type of advertisement continues to drive billions in revenue in Japan.

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8. Capsule hotels

Capsule hotels originated in Japan, although now they can be seen all over the world. While capsule hotels are now super popular among foreign tourists, they once came with plenty of stigmas. In the 90s, these were stereotypically used by salarymen who were too drunk to return home, or they have missed their last train.

Capsule hotels attracted a range of criticism because the pods were compared to sleeping in a morgue. While they are still not recommend to people which suffer from claustrophobia, the pods themselves are actually fairly spacious and comfortable. They come with a small tv, are equipped with wifi and even plugs to recharge electronics. However, all capsule hotels have shared bathrooms, although some high-end ones even have hot spring baths and restaurants on site.

Despite the criticism, some of these hotels were especially great during the Japanese Recession, when some unemployed and homeless people could rent the pods for cheaper on a monthly basis, thus saving people from ending up on the street. Some continue to be used as such, including the Capsule Hotel Shinjuku 510.

Pods in a capsule hotel in Tokyo
Pods in a capsule hotel in Tokyo
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9. Toilet slippers

Toilet slippers are one of those weird Japanese stuff you can't quite wrap your head around. You need to wear them only when you use the toilet. This is because you are not meant to take your house slippers or shoes into the toilet area and likewise, you are not meant to walk around with your toilet slippers.

This idea is to promote cleanliness around your house as well as keep the toilet as germ free as possible. You will find these toilet slipper in some Japanese hotels but mostly in ryokans and old school tea houses. I did come across toilet slipper in some traditional restaurants as well.

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10. Automatic taxi doors

One of the greatest things in Japan is the customer service. And when you hail a cab, one thing you won't have to do is to open your door. In Japan, taxis have automatic doors which open and close for you. The driver operates them to make it easier and more comfortable for you.

Automatic taxi doors might seem from the future, but they were invented a long time ago. They have been in operation since the early 60s, and they were designed to show how well the country is doing on the post-war recovery. Needless to say that foreign guests were especially enthralled by this and after a while, automatic taxi doors became a standard feature.

Japanese taxi which has an automatic door
Japanese taxis have automatic doors for passangers
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11. Expensive fruits

Any trip to fancy multi story department stores in Japan will reveal some of the most exquisite fruits and vegetables. Premium fruits are often well packaged with bows and extra protective sleeves. You will find fruits created in various shapes and forms and riped to perfection to become the sweetest and most addictive fruit on the planet.

Some Japanese farmers spend years perfecting the perfect product. You will find mangos and melons which cost over $100 per piece. The yubari king melon is the most incredible fruit in Japan with prices going up to $45000. These are usually sold in auctions. Some square watermelons can be sold for anything from $80 to $6000 like the famed Densuke watermelon.

If you're on a budget but still want to taste premium fruit, find Shine Muscat Grapes which cost from $25 to $40 a bunch in a supermarket.

Expensive Japanese watermelon wrapped in plastic with a beautiful bow
Expensive Japanese watermelon wrapped in plastic with a beautiful bow
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12. Weird Japanese food

To understand more about the Japanese culture, I do recommend eating as much local food as possible. Normally, you don't have to expect weird things on your plate, although there are some exceptions to this rule.

I do need to stress that Japanese food is fantastic, and you'll have so much fun eating your way around the country. But there is some weird Japanese food you need to know about.

Most people typically try a variety of yakitori which are Japanese skewers. At first they look entirely innocent, but know that some establishments have a variety of bizarre types of meats. Some sell kawa (chicken skin), bonjiri (tail/parsons nose) or nankotsu (cartilage). They do sound worse than they taste. In fact these are especially delicious.

The most controversial type of weird food is whale sashimi which many are trying to ban in Japan. Another weird thing to try is horse sashimi. While it's not as common, almost all Japanese have tried it at one point or another.

Takotamago on a stick at the nishiki market in Kyoto
Takotamago on a stick in Nishiki Market in Kyoto
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13. Naked in an onsen

Onsen is part of the Japanese culture and all Japanese people enjoy going to an onsen. Some onsen are in the middle of a major city while others are in superb areas in the mountains, surrounded by nature and stunning views.

Whichever onsen or public bath you decide to visit, know that there are rules around this. To bathe in an onsen you will need to be entirely naked. You can't have a swimming costume around, and you can't cover yourself with a towel either.

You need to wash well before entering the water and make sure no towel or hair touches the water. As weird as this may seem, you have nothing to worry as nobody stares at your body or comes to an onsen for funky business.

The Japanese come to an onsen to relax and have a good time in nature. Public baths are often used for socialising, and it's totally normal for perfect strangers to be naked in a bath together.

Japanese foot onsen in the mountains near Nikko
Japanese foot onsen in the mountains near Nikko
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14. Shinkansen speedy cleaning

As part of the weird Japan series, I can't not tell you about the 7-minute speedy Shinkansen cleaning in Japan. At the end of the line, Shinkansen trains are cleaned and sanitised in just 7 minutes. This is done by a team of cleaning professionals called Tessei, who have been specifically trained to be fast and efficient.

In those 7 minutes, the team checks for any lost items, cleans the train, turns the seats around to ensure all passengers are facing forward and even get a minute to spare to ensure everything is spotless. It may be a bizarre concept, but these highly efficient people can clean a whole row of seats in just 12 seconds.

And yes, the trains really are well cleaned and perfectly spotless.

Shinkansen train arriving at the station
Shinkansen bullet train arriving at the station
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15. Lack of bins

One of the weirdest things in Japan is the lack of bins. This really comes as a cultural shock for most people who are used to just throwing their rubbish in a street bin. Not in Japan! People in Japan hold on to their rubbish until they get back home or until they go back to their hotel room.

This doesn't mean that Japan is dirty. On the contrary, Japan is probably the cleanest country I've ever seen. Don't worry though, there are some public bins in Japan. You will mainly seen them in some parks, train stations and public toilets.

You will even see some bins right next to a vending machine. Just know that those bins are reserved for the use of vending machine customers only, and not there for general rubbish.

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16. Plastic sample dishes

Plastic sample dishes might seem like a peculiar thing in Japan, but it's such a great invention. You will see a range of plastic dishes displayed in front of many restaurants. These showcase the menu to attract customers and passers-by. For those who don't speak Japanese, these are especially effective, as people can point to what they want or get an idea of what the restaurants are selling before even stepping into the establishment.

Back in the days, plastic dishes were made from candle wax and paraffin, but that unfortunately used to lose its colour after a while. During Edo Period, Japanese restaurant would showcase fresh food.

Plastic food display sample in Osaka
Plastic food samples in Osaka
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17. The anime industry

One of the weirdest things in Japan is the anime industry, which can be especially seen in Akihabara in Tokyo and Den Den Town in Osaka. This industry is huge in Japan, raking in the equivalent of over 27 billion USD.

Even if you're not an anime or manga fan, chances are you've seen Sailor Moon or at least one movie from Studio Ghibli. Animes in Japan are cute and adorable and there is even a huge erotic anime entertainment. A trip to a Don Quijote or M's department store can immediately reveal just how much innocent anime characters are turning into lewd content.

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