Japan, the island nation in the Pacific Ocean, has over 125 million people. The country is packed full of high-rises, grand palaces, lustrous mountainous national parks, and countless shrines and temples. Japan may be seen as just a modern, Westernized country known for introducing sushi to the world. But the country has a lot more to offer. The country isn’t just full of rich history, it also has its fair share of unique idiosyncrasies.
Japan is truly one of a kind and anyone who visits can attest to that. Did you know that there are cafes in which you can pay to cuddle with someone? And did you know that about the village of dolls? Yeah, probably not. That’s why we’re here – to fill you in on all things Japan (the interesting things). So whether you plan on visiting one day, or if you would rather admire the country from afar via articles like this, these are some interesting facts about Japan that might change the way you previously thought about the country.
It’s actually an unfortunate fact, but Japan actually has a big problem due to its lack of childbirth. The Japanese people don’t have time or money to raise families in their society in these times. The result is that there are more seniors than children. And Japan’s population is aging rapidly. In 2012, there were more than 50,000 centenarians (people over the age of 100).
The estimate is that by 2,100, the elderly population of Tokyo (people older than 65) will equal the working age population (those between 15 and 64). And they actually sell more adult diapers than children’s diapers?
As strange as it may be when you think of it, most Japanese streets don’t have names. You can only wonder how it’s possible to navigate or explain directions to someone. Their system used for postal addresses is complex and particular.
It starts with the province, then the city or municipality, then district, and then the block or the land number. When giving directions, most people provide landmarks and subway stations. And businesses include maps on their business cards.
Japan should be proud – they’re one of the safest countries in the world. The most common crimes reported in the country include stealing bicycles or umbrellas left outside of a convenience store. On the subways and trains, you’ll easily see locals taking a nap while having their phone in their hand or at easy access.
It’s also common to see people walking around with their bags and backpacks open. It probably comes as no surprise then that people don’t even lock their homes or their bicycles (hence the occasional theft)! So there’s that…
It can either be seen as endearing or creepy, depending on who’s judging, but Japan is home to a village of dolls. The village of Nagoro has more life-size dolls than humans. A local artist named Tsukimi Ayano creates the dolls based on locals as they pass away or move somewhere else.
What Ayano does is put the dolls in poses and different states of action around the village. There are more than 350 dolls, and the town has only about 40 human residents.
Japan might as well be called Vending Machine Land. See why next…
Japan has the highest amount of vending machines in the world. There are about 5 million machines in total or one machine for every 23 people. With that many machines, you can only imagine the items being sold in them. You’ll find everything from live lobsters and bread in a can to underwear in a Japanese vending machine.
These are literally around every corner, and basically a part of the modern Japanese culture. Don’t get them wrong – they also have the conventional machines that sell beverages. Many restaurants have started implementing vending machines for people to order food.
Japanese trains are some of the most punctual in the world. An average delay is about half a minute on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, which is the most heavily used high-speed rail line in the world. If a train is delayed for even an hour, it may make the news.
These trains are expected to be punctual, so much so that if a train is five minutes late, the railway company will issue official delay certificates, for employees to provide proof for their employers and for appointments.
Next – something you probably didn’t know about sushi in Japan!
Of course, Japan is known around the world as the land of sushi. But salmon sushi, one of the most popular kinds of sushi, isn’t even Japanese in origin. It turns out that a Norwegian diplomat introduced salmon sushi to the Japanese in the 1980s to sell his country’s own fish.
Before the 80s, the Japanese wouldn’t eat raw salmon – it was usually grilled or dried. And even when raw salmon was introduced, it took a while until salmon sushi caught on. It wasn’t until about the mid-90s that Japanese people started to widely accept it.
Other than sushi, Japan is also known for being an island nation. But the amount of islands is staggering. There are more than 6,800 islands in Japan! Four of the biggest islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku.
Those four islands together make up about 97% of the total land area. And then there’s the paradise islands of Okinawa, full of its beautiful beaches and tropical climate.
If you had to guess – how many chopsticks do you think Japan uses every year? See next…
Speaking of sushi, Japan uses close to 24 billion pairs of disposable chopsticks every year. That equates to about 200 pairs per person every year. It makes you wonder why they’re even disposable. It sounds like reusable chopsticks would be a better option.
By the way, in Japanese cultural etiquette, you shouldn’t crossed chopsticks on the table because it symbolizes death. You also shouldn’t stick them vertically into a bowl of rice, which is what is done at a funeral.
The Japanese take organization and cleanliness very seriously and they believe it should be taught at a young age, and in schools. That’s why many Japanese schools make their students clean toilets, classrooms, and the general school area.
Aside from the educational aspect, it also saves money as the schools won’t need to hire as many cleaners. This makes you wonder if other schools around the world would adopt the same practice. How would American families feel about having their kids clean school toilets??
Japan is no stranger to earthquakes. Do you know how many they get every year? See the next photo…
Although the number varies from year to year, in general, there are more than 1500 earthquakes annually in Japan. Luckily, most of them are small scale, but every year there are bigger earthquakes too that can reach more than 8 on the Richter scale.
The last major earthquake was on March 11, 2011, which was the strongest ever recorded earthquake in Japan. It was what triggered the massive tsunami along the Pacific Coast of northeastern Japan.
Japanese people might be some of the hardest workers in the world. They work more than any other country and their working days are long. Recently, some employers have started to let their employees take power naps at work.
The idea is to give them the opportunity to recharge and get more energy in order to keep working. It’s a common sight to see people sleeping on trains, but it looks like the desk is another popular spot to take naps now too.
Have you heard of Rabbit Island? See why it’s a must-see location if you visit Japan.
The island of Ōkunoshima is better known as “Rabbit Island.” Why? Because there are literally thousands of travelers that come every year to visit the island full of wild rabbits, who are so friendly that they jump up into your lap.
You might not want to know the origin of this island, though, as it’s pretty dark. The reason this island even exists is because rabbits were brought there during World War II as test subjects for a deadly poison.
The Gate Tower Building in Osaka is quite fascinating as you likely haven’t seen anything like it. The building has a highway that literally goes through the building, between the fifth and seventh floors.
The Hanshin Expressway is a 149-mile network of highways that run around the Japanese cities of Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto. Obviously, the most famous feature of the highway is the small section that passes through the building.
Wanna know what the best gifts are in Japan?
Giving fruit as a gift is an old age tradition that has remained popular up until today, regardless of how fruit, in general, is getting cheaper to buy in Japan. Back in the day, it used to be really expensive to buy fruit because fruit doesn’t grow naturally in Japan.
Fruit is still expensive compared to other countries, but the tradition is still alive. Fruit is a lovely gift option for when you’re looking to get something for a special someone. And it sure makes thinking of a gift idea a lot less stressful!
Currently, there are 3,600 Mc Donald’s restaurants in the country of Japan. Only America has more McDonald’s restaurants than Japan. Funnily enough, despite the number, it’s very rare to see obese people in Japan.
You can also imagine the kinds of items there are on the Japanese McDonald’s menu. If you’re curious as to what people order at Mc Dee’s around the world, see this insane article!
Contrary to American culture, slurping sounds are what Japanese actually like to hear. If you go to a noodle restaurant in Japan, don’t be afraid to slurp up the delicious noodles. It’s actually considered polite.
According to Japanese customary, it shows the cook that you appreciate his food and it’s also meant to enhance the flavors. Furthermore, the slurping also serves to cool down the hot noodles.
Next – see what Japanese people tend to buy ready-made…
Family Mart, 7 Eleven and Lawson are all big chains of convenience stores in Japan. And they all sell ready-made foods that can be heated in the store. You can buy noodles, ready-made sushi rolls, sandwiches and other kinds of meals, and prepare them in the store.
Eating meals at a supermarket isn’t considered strange and we can only assume that it’s because of the non-stop constantly on the go culture. Most people don’t have time to cook, let alone eat a meal before they go to work. The convenience stores are literally convenient in this sense. There are even bigger supermarkets with seating.
Japan seems to be a huge fan of the Kit Kat bar, seeing as how they have more than 300 different Kit Kat flavors. Some flavors include soy sauce, “European cheese,” and wasabi! Some of the flavored chocolate bars are limited or regional editions.
And since the candy bar’s name sounds like the Japanese expression “Kitto Katsu,” which translates to “You will surely win,” the Kit Kat became a popular good-luck gift for students going into their university exams.
Ever heard of cuddle cafes? See what they are, next…
The thing is, there’s nothing sexual about it. Cuddle cafes exist because a lot of Japanese people are single and lonely due to being overworked and it has actually become a real problem. There’s a real demand for cuddling and intimacy.
It’s at these cafes that you can come to get a hug or just lie down in someone’s lap, or even to just spend time with another human being. Of course, most Japanese don’t visit cuddle cafes, but the fact that they exist really says a lot about the problem of isolation.
Tattoos are not appreciated as works of body art in Japan. They’re considered ugly, and not only in terms of look, but the fact that they’re also associated with gangs and crime. If you have tattoos, you’re not going to be allowed to enter an Onsen as it would be very rude, and the water would be “contaminated.”
Nowadays with the increasing number of tattooed spa visitors, many places offer guests a skin-colored Band-Aid to cover their tattoos. This way, if the tattoo is covered, you’ll be allowed to take a bath.
Do you know what Pokemon Shock is? See the next photo to find out…
On December 16, 1997, a particularly intense episode of the anime series Pokémon resulted in 685 Japanese children hospitalized for headaches, dizziness, nausea, and seizures. Why? Because the show has repetitive visual effects that can be extremely troublesome for some children.
After the incident, which was called the “Pokémon Shock,” the show took a four-month break, and the episode was never broadcast again worldwide. But there were even some viewers who had seizures when the offending scenes were shown on TV news, reporting about the incident.
For anyone who visits as international guests and business people, you will probably still shake hands with the Japanese because they always want to be polite and welcome guests with their own culture. However, if you want to show the same politeness and be mindful of their culture, you should bow instead of shaking hands.
And according to tradition, the lower you bow, the more respect you show towards the person. Bowing is just something you see a lot in Japan, and there are different kinds of bows and even tutorials on how to make a perfect bow.
Food scientists in Japan have invented the impossible! There are now ice cream bars that don’t melt, thanks to the Japanese. And apparently, it was something of an accident. After the 2011 tsunami, scientists were experimenting with the chemistry of strawberries to help farmers.
These scientists accidentally discovered a chemical that can solidify cream almost instantly. Thus, ice cream bars made with this compound can stay frozen even when a hair dryer is blowing for 5 minutes!
You might have noticed that the Japanese love their game shows. But you might never have seen the next one!
Japan absolutely loves game shows. They have some of the most bizarre game shows out there, including one about chocolate. Sounds okay, right? But it gets stranger. There’s a game show in Japan where one item in a room is replaced with an exact replica item made of chocolate or some other candy.
You might be wondering, well what’s the point of the show? The point is for the contestants to try and find the replica item. And the only way to find the item is to bite into all the various objects in the room.
Kiyoshi Kimura is a sushi-chain owner, and he’s better known as Japan’s Tuna King. He recently paid $600,000 for a 467 lb. Bluefin tuna at the famous Tsukiji fish auction. Who knew there were even tuna that size? Let alone that expensive!
Based on that auction price that he bought the tuna for, a single piece of sushi from this fish would cost $85. And believe it or not, this wasn’t Kimura’s most expensive fish. The winner goes to the $1.8 million fish he bought in 2013.
In Japan, raised floors help indicate when it’s proper to take off your shoes or slippers. At the entrance to a home in Japan, the floor is typically raised by about 6 inches, indicating that you should take off your shoes and put on slippers.
The house, however, may have a tatami mat room, where the floor is typically raised 1-2 inches which means you should take off your slippers. So it’s important to pay attention to the floors!
Japan also has Maid Cafes. See what they are next!
In Japan, ‘Maid Cafes’ are cafes where waitresses dress up in maid costumes and act as servants, treating customers as their masters (and mistresses). But the café isn’t a public company, they’re in a private home.
The first permanent maid café, Cure Maid Café, was founded in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan, in 2001. Ever since they became increasingly popular. The maid costumes vary from café to café but most are based upon the French maids.
Since 1949, there have been 27 Japanese winners of the Nobel Prize. Of those winners, 11 have been physicists, 7 chemists, 3 for literature, 5 for physiology or medicine and one for efforts towards peace.
In the 2000s, in the field of natural science, the amount of Japanese winners has been second behind the U.S. The latest Nobel Prize went to Tasuku Jonjo in 2018 for his discovery of cancer therapy by “inhibition of negative immune regulation.”
There are simply too many people taking the subway in Japan. So much so that they have hire staff to literally shove people into the trains because there are just so many passengers. And because they are extremely punctual, the shoving is seen as a matter of efficiency.
In the capital city of Tokyo, about 40 million passengers ride the subway every day, which heavily outweighs other modes of transportation like buses and cars. There are 24 trains per hour going in one direction. But despite the number of trains, the subway is still insanely overcrowded, especially during rush hour.
The adult literacy rate in Japan is 99% for the people over 15 years of age. This means that just about every person in Japan can read and write. Fortunately, most countries have very high literacy rates.
But you can compare Japan’s 99% to countries like Guinea at 25%, South Sudan at 27%, Afghanistan at 32%, Ethiopia at 39%, Haiti at 49%, and the list goes on.
If you visit Japan, be sure to go to one of their themed restaurants…
Japan just loves doing over-the-top themed restaurants. There’s an Alice in Wonderland themed restaurant, and the Kabukicho Robot Restaurant, where racy robots make it look like an automated gentlemen’s club.
There’s also the underground lair of the Vampire Café, an Alcatraz ER, which is made to look like an insane asylum from a horror film. Apparently, people don’t lose their appetites from seeing all these lights and colors!
Technically speaking, World War II isn’t officially over. The agreement was drawn up in 1945, but Moscow and Tokyo never signed the peace treaty which would have officially ended the war. There is animosity between the two countries which comes from a territorial disagreement over the Kuril Islands.
The chain of islands is right in between the two nations, which Russia invaded in 1945 and continues to occupy. Today, there are 30,000 Russian citizens on the islands that live in a state of constant readiness for war. There are even missiles pointed in Japan’s direction.
Do you know what hikikomori are? See next…
There are about 541,000 Japanese between the ages of 15 and 39, most of whom are male, who live their lives in total isolation. These young people are referred to as hikikomori. The Japanese Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry coined the term in the 1980s, as people who haven’t left their homes or interacted with others for at least six months.
In an attempt to help the hikikomori, support centers, and virtual high schools have been established. This condition is thought to result from psychological issues as well as the high expectations Japanese society puts on its men.
Did you know that adults are more commonly adopted than children are in Japan? More than 90% of the people adopted in 2011 were men between the ages of 20 and 30. It may seem bizarre, but there’s a real reason for this number.
These adoptions are a way for families to secure an heir or pass down a family business. Adult adoption is also used as a legal alternative to same-sex marriage, which isn’t yet formally recognized in Japan.
Like many things on this list, some things you’ll only ever see in Japan. And this is one of them. The world’s shortest escalator is in the basement of the More’s Department Store in the city of Kawasaki.
It’s 33 inches tall and has only five steps. It’s a real wonder why anyone would even feel the need to use let alone construct a 5-step escalator!
Another must-see are the toilets in Japan!
Many things seem to be futuristic in Japan, including the toilets. Flushing and leaving isn’t so easy. Their toilets have lots of options, including numerous different power sprays and other “delights.” Some toilets even play music to hide any sounds!
Word on the street is that some play Adele songs. Most toilets in Japan also have a built-in bidet system, known as washlets, and are now in many homes and nicer restrooms. But, in some train stations and public restrooms, you’ll probably find the traditional Japanese “floor toilet”.
Face masks are another Japanese favorite. It all began in 2009 after the Swine Flu epidemic broke out and ever since, face masks have been adorned on the faces of millions in the country. It may be a bit alarming, but you get used to it after a while.
Two obvious reasons for the masks are pollution and avoiding the spread of germs. In slang Japanese, it’s referred to as dahte masuku syoukougun or “the face mask syndrome.” The masks have even become something of a fashion statement, coming in different colors and styles.
Animated Japanese films and television shows, otherwise known as Anime, account for 60% of the world’s animation-based entertainment. There’s just something about the Japanese animation that the world can’t get enough of.
Animation is so successful in Japan that there are almost 130 voice-acting schools in the country. Some famous Anime cartoons include Dragon Ball Z, Naruto, A.I.C.O., and many others.
Similar to how the Japanese love their game shows, so do they love strange contests. In Japan, there is a ‘crying sumo’ contest. What is that you ask? Well it’s a contest where sumo wrestlers compete to see who can make a baby cry first.
Wrestlers at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, take part in a 400-year-old ceremony to try and make babies under one year old cry in an effort to ward off evil spirits. Poor little ones! They must have given them chocolate and hugs afterward.