Top 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Japan
Japan is a fascinating country, but let’s face it: everyone already knows that you take your shoes off on tatami, that you eat with chopsticks, and that you go naked in the hot springs (even with friends).
But do you know why KFC is eaten on Christmas, or what fruit people put in their bath during the winter solstice?
Whether you’re just coming to Japan on vacation, or getting ready to study abroad, here are 10 things about the Land of the Rising Sun that you need to know.
#1. There’s no fluoride in the water
Some people say that Japanese toothpaste doesn’t work or just plain sucks, but the real issue is that there’s no fluoride in certain types of toothpaste and none in the water.
This means that your teeth stain more easily, especially if you’re a long-term tea or coffee drinker, so if you want toothpaste that has fluoride in it, ask the shop staff for toothpaste that contains “foo-so” (フッ素) or “foo-kabutsu” (フッ化物), two terms that both mean fluoride. Alternatively, you could just bring a tube from home.
#2. Yuzu fruit is put in the bath during the winter solstice
Not everyone does this, but it is, nevertheless, an interesting tradition.
Yuzu is a yellow winter citrus fruit, and it’s slightly more sour than an orange (but not as sour as a lemon in my opinion.)
And for some reason, on the winter solstice, Japanese people put it into the bath. As a bonus, the natural perfume of the yuzu will scent your skin.
If you get a really large one, it’s like having a giant grapefruit floating around in the tub with you (which can be kind of annoying at times), but hey, at least it smells nice.
#3. All the manga is encased in plastic wrap
Manga lovers everywhere, beware!
Unlike going into a bookstore like Barnes & Noble in the states, all the manga in Japan is covered in shrink-wrap.
This prevents readers from engaging in tachiyomi (立ち読み), which literally means reading a book while standing without buying it.
That’s all fine and dandy for the bookstore, because it prevents aisle traffic jams, but it’s bad news for us customers, because let’s get real: who wants to pay for a comic book they haven’t even read yet that might potentially suck?
There is, however, a way around this: if you head to your local BOOKOFF (a used bookstore that sells second-hand comics and video games), you can leaf through the pages, just like you’d be able to at a normal bookstore in the USA.
#4. Tokyo Tower changes its clothes
Who knew that Tokyo Tower was such a dashing dresser? Normally it’s lit up in white and orange, but the Tower changes its outfit based on holidays and other events.
If you’re lucky, you can catch it when it’s lit up bright pink on Chinese New Year or in rainbow-colored Diamond Veil late at night on Saturdays.
Tokyo Tower is a popular tourist hot-spot, so head on over to Shibakoen, put your best dress on, and take a selfie together.
#5. Black eggs are eaten for longevity
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a . . . black chicken egg?
These unusual eggs are boiled in hot springs at a place in Hakone, called Owakudani. The sulfur in the water turns the eggs black, which is why they’re called kuro-tamago.
This seems fitting since the river they’re dipped in is called Hell’s Valley by many foreigners, with kanji that literally translates to ‘large boiling valley’ (大涌谷).
They say that for every egg you eat, you add an extra seven years to your life. Hakone’s famous for hot springs, so if you have the time, it’s a great place to go grab some black eggs and take a dip in the onsen.
#6. New’s Years Osechi is really sweet
Osechi is a traditional Japanese dish that’s served on New Year’s, but it’s so sweet that it almost tastes like a dessert.
The majority of the food is candied or caramelized, so if sweets aren’t your thing, it’s best to stick to eating the fish or the meat, since those two items are usually left unsweetened.
#7. The bus schedules are all in Japanese
Despite the high number of foreigners living in Tokyo, the bus schedules are written solely in Japanese. The locations on the buses themselves will flash in English, but if you can’t read kanji, learning to read the schedules takes some getting used to.
Once you’re familiar with the kanji it’s a breeze, though. Here’s a short list to help you out:
休日: Holidays (Sunday is included in this list)
The number in dark gray represents the hour that the bus comes, and the white, blue, and pink parts represents the minutes.
So if you look under weekdays (平日) at 7 am, the bus stops at 7:08, 7:29, and 7:55.
#8. Palazzo pants are all the rage here
I always thought that wide-leg pants were so That ’70s Show (or so I’ll-wear-these-someday-if-I-ever-live-in-Britain sort of thing), but they’re extremely fashionable here.
They’re so fashionable, in fact, that no matter where you go in Tokyo, you’ll see at least one, if not several, women wearing these pants during the day.
I personally feel like a puffy cloud when I wear them, but if wearing billowy pants is your thing, then Tokyo just might be the place for you!
#9: You get a maternity mark if you’re pregnant
Pregnant women in Japan are given what’s called a マタニティマーク, or a maternity mark. Maternity marks come in several styles, the most popular being a badge or a keychain, and read 「おなかに赤ちゃんがいます」 which means: ‘There’s a baby in my belly.’
These are helpful for women riding crowded trains who are experiencing morning sickness or may not be showing yet, because they’ll be able to sit in the priority section without anyone wondering what they’re doing there.
If you ever see a woman wearing a maternity mark on the train, offer her a seat if none are available — because not everyone will.
#10. People eat KFC on Christmas
The fact that Christmas is a date day in Japan is curious enough — it’s the Japanese equivalent of the American Valentine’s Day, where you go out on a date with your partner and all that — but did you know that people celebrate Christmas Eve while eating Kentucky Fried Chicken?
Ever since the popular KFC marketing campaign called ‘Kentucky for Christmas’ took place in 1974, people just can’t seem to get enough of their fried chicken on December 24th.
So if you’re in Japan for the holidays and want to eat KFC this Xmas Eve, better make a reservation — I promise you it’ll be worth it. If you’re lucky, this year they’ll serve the same Christmas pudding cake!
Here’s another quick interesting tidbit: Kentucky Fried Chicken isn’t called KFC in Japan, it’s called Kentucky (ケンタッキー.)
From the culture to the kawaii, Japan has everything you’d ever want to see
There are tons of reasons to add Japan to your travel list: cherry blossoms, matcha, and Mt. Fuji are all things that you’ll find in this unusual country.
This article just barely scratches the surface of things that make Japan so unique, so if you’re a first-time visitor or someone who’s been wondering what this country has to offer, I hope this list will inspire you to add Japan to your itinerary.
You’ll always discover things you didn’t even know existed whenever you travel somewhere new, so take advantage of your opportunity if you’re ever in Japan and keep your eyes open — you never know what kind of cool things you might find on your journey.