Surprises in Japan

What I've learnt during my trips

By Elena Lisina    - 5 min read

One of my strongest impressions of Japan was my most recent one – the extraordinary beauty and absolute silence on Fuji-san. We had climbed to a height of 3400 meters and stood there, above the clouds. No matter what you read about the impressions of other people, it can never compare with what you yourself can experience...

Of course, before my first trip to Japan I had read about the country, watched its movies and TV series. However, when I arrived in Japan, I discovered a lot of surprising and unexpected things.

Electrical design

First of all, I was surprised by huge number of electric and telephone wires – many small streets were entangled with them, like a spider web, and 'decorated' with transformers on poles. It took a while but I eventually became accustomed to these curious sights. I was then struck by the cleanliness of public places, and toilets in particular. Public toilets as clean as home ones? Why wasn't it like that where I am from? I asked myself this many times.

A new food culture

On the evening of my arrival, I noticed that food was displayed in the windows of restaurants and were quite appetizing to look at. I soon realized that these dishes were made of plastic. Where I am from, advertised products tend to look very different to their real-life versions but not in Japan. Here, they look exactly like their plastic models. I was also surprised by their portions, huge! At least for me. The first time I couldn't cope with a bowl of ramen and gave up, but I discovered that its not common to leave food uneaten in Japan. I think this is a good attitude to take.

Another thing that I found surprising was that kitchens are often open, allowing you to watch the cooks work. It may be common knowledge for some but at the time, I never knew that raw egg and raw fish were commonly used in dishes. Then there are little things like dining out with co-workers where dishes are shared, everyone takes a little from common plates. And what about those cute little dishes made up for children? So much detail, it's a pity to eat them!

City wildlife

It was a great surprise to see fish, animals and birds in the center of cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Matsumoto, and Nara. Beautiful carp, turtles, ducks, and swans all swim in the ponds of gardens and parks. Looking closely and you can even come across herons, cormorants, and seagulls. In Nara and on the island of Miyajima, deer roam in large numbers, at will, without fear of people. They can even be fed with special food, which is sold in trays. It was also funny to see domestic dogs taken for walks in strollers, like babies...

Public transport

Few things are as impressive as public transport in Japan. Trains, subways, and buses run on time and are extremely clean with almost anywhere reachable by public transport. At train stations, it amazed me to see markings on the platforms showing where which carriage will stop and where people should board from. Even with crowded stations, people calmly stand in line. I did notice that not all stations have escalators making stairs a thing here. Another curious observation was that along with the modern shinkansen bullet trains, Japan is filled with quite old trains and trams, particularly on local lines. Tourist spots will even offer rickshaw rides!

Religious co-operation

One of the surprising things is the co-operation and combination of Shinto and Buddhism, Japan's two major religions. Often the temples of both religions are adjacent or even share the same territory. The more ancient Shinto shrines will have centuries-old trees and stones keeping a wise silence and calm. The beauty, history and heritage of the shrines and the Buddhist temples are an amazing experience.


The variety of clothing styles immediately caught my eye, particularly in the larger cities. Classic designs, gothic styles, creative multi-layered apparel and, yes, kimonos. I tried to imagine the women of my home country Russia walking calmly down the street in a 19th-century saraphan; or a bride in an old kokoshnik with the groom in a caftan and boots but I couldn't! In Japan, wearing a traditional kimono is quite common. Not that everyone does, or even has these clothes but enough do. For those that don't, renting such gear is normal. People engaged in traditional arts or crafts will traditional-style clothing constantly.

Floral beauty

While I had already known just how iconic the blooming sakura cherry blossoms were in Japan, I didn’t expect to come across such a large-scale spectacle and a holiday atmosphere all over the country! The blooming fuji wisteria also made deep impression – the first time I saw them I was amazed by their style and color, a feeling I still have to this day.

Not cold at all

After staying in a private home, I was surprised at the lack of central heating. I asked myself many times if the Japanese had somehow become more resistant to cold. It was amazing to see school girls wearing golf socks, skirts and only a scarf to keep warm. Even now I shake my head in wonder! In Russia, babies wear baby caps and pants but I noticed that babies in Japan often don’t.

I once read that it was better to see once than to hear a hundred times. Given my experiences with Japan, I'm not sure if there is a truer statement out there!

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Elena Lisina

Elena Lisina @shiroi.tenshi

I am interested in Japanese art, crafts, history and Shinto religion. Photography is my hobby, and there are many amazing places to capture in Japan.

Original by Elena Lisina