Japan is truly one of the most special places I’ve ever been to. It is an island nation with a very distinct culture and set of traditions and customs. Modern Japan is a developed nation with a high quality of life, and there is something uniquely Japanese about the way things are done here. There are many things about Japanese culture that I find charming, endearing, and fun. Here are some of my most favorite things about Japan.
- How kawaii everything is
If there’s one word you need to know in Japanese, it’s kawaii, or cute. Everything in Japan is cute. Normal, everyday objects, from backpacks and cell phone cases to umbrellas and even food products are made to look cute. Why does this sponge have an adorable face on it? Why is this pastry shaped like a teddy bear? I don’t know, but I love it!
- The character culture
Japan is the land of characters. They are everywhere and on everything. There are thousands of different characters in Japan, such as Hello Kitty, Kumamon, Totoro and my personal favorite, Gudetama. In Japan characters aren't just for kids; they are a regular part of popular culture, and are found pretty much everywhere.
- The amazing public transit system
Japan’s public transportation network is huge, fast, reliable, and convenient. In large cities, trains run every few minutes, are usually exactly on time, and are very clean (albeit sometimes crowded). You can get to almost any corner of Japan by train, on some of the most advanced and fastest trains in the world. I love the fact that you don’t need a car to go to the mountains or to the beach.
- The seafood
Japan is known for having the best seafood in the world, and it lives up to this reputation. The seafood in Japan is fresh and delicious. From sashimi to takoyaki, there are countless options to try, and usually even affordable restaurants serve high quality fish.
- The politeness of the people
The stereotype is true – Japanese people are generally very polite and considerate. Everyone is so kind and helpful, even to me as a foreigner. There are very well established customs for politeness, and everyone follows them. It’s a very rare occurrence to ever have to deal with a rude staff member in Japan.
I love Japanese Karaoke, and much prefer it to the westernized version, where one person sings in front of everyone. In classic Japanese-style karaoke, you are in a private room with just your friends. There is way less pressure this way, and you get to only listen to the songs you want. Plus, most Karaoke places have awesome nomihoudai (all you can drink) deals.
- The aesthetics and attention to detail in packaging
I’m always amazed with the way things are packaged and presented in Japan – so beautifully and with such attention to detail. Bentos (boxed lunches) are the perfect example – each food is precisely arranged in its little square. At restaurants, the food is presented so artfully that sometimes I feel bad eating it.
- Matcha flavored everything
Matcha (green tea) is huge in Japan, and this popularity extends past just the beverage. Many different food products, from Oreos, pancakes, and Kit-Kats, to pastries, ice cream, and chocolate are available in matcha flavor.
- The trustworthiness of the people
In Japan, people are generally very trustworthy, and the honor system actually works. I can leave my bike unlocked without it being stolen and leave my laptop sitting unattended in cafés. I’ve lost my cell phone and had it returned to me, I’ve had a man tap me on the shoulder to let me know my backpack pocket was open with my wallet exposed, and I’ve had a child literally run after me to return me a few coins I forgot to take from a vending machine.
- 100 yen shops
So much better than their dollar store counterparts, these awesome little shops have a fantastic selection of pretty much everything you could imagine - household goods, toiletries, food, school and art supplies, cosmetics, decorations, clothing, electronics, toys, and other random kawaii things – all for only 100 yen.
- The healthcare system
Healthcare in Japan is high quality, efficient, and affordable. Everyone in Japan is required to have health insurance, and most people are enrolled in the Japanese National Insurance System, which covers 70% of all medical costs. Healthcare costs are low in general, because there are regulations keeping them this way. Every time I’ve needed to go to the doctor, and it has been fast, easy, and incredibly cheap.
- Konbinis (Convenience Stores)
These handy little shops are literally everywhere, open 24/7, and have pretty much anything you could need in a pinch, including a wide selection of affordable, good quality pre-made meals. You can also pick up and pay for packages, buy concert, train, and event tickets, and print and make copies at konbinis.
- The incredible safety
Japan is one of the safest nations in the world. I am a single woman living in Tokyo, one of the biggest cities in the world, but I have never felt unsafe. I go out by myself late at night and there are no areas of the city that I need to avoid. Gun violence in Japan is virtually non-existent, and I never need to worry about being robbed or harassed.
- No open container laws
Japan does not have open container laws, which means that you are allowed to drink alcohol in public spaces. While I certainty don’t recommend getting smashed on a park bench, it is quite nice to be allowed to enjoy an adult beverage at outdoor events like summer firework festivals, picnics, and hanamis (cheery blossom parties)
- The walk-ability and bike-ability of Japanese cities
In the United States, you pretty much need a car to go anywhere. In Japan, cities are laid out with people, not cars in mind. Most neighborhoods have everything you need within a central radius, and are friendly towards bikers and pedestrians. There are bike parking lots and even underground bike parking garages, and it’s easy to get around on foot.
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