Now before you jump to any conclusions about Japan or my opinions regarding the Land of the Rising Sun, let me share with you the truth: Japan is amazeballs. A more appropriate title for this post might be “11 Things In Japan That Americans May Or May Not Find Rather Annoying”, but I did not think that flowed as well.
THERE ARE NO TRASH CANS
I don't know how this is possible, but finding a trash can in the wild in Japan is extraordinarily difficult. Recycling bins are everywhere, but for whatever reason you will find yourself carrying around your trash in search of an appropriate waste receptacle for days. When I encounter this problem I always look around and notice that no Japanese people are doing the same. What do they know that I don't? Are they just not creating any trash? Is it in their pockets? Are they dumping it in recycling bins? They aren't throwing it on the ground because this place is quite clean. What is their secret!?
THERE'S NO SOAP OR TOWELS
This does not hold true everywhere (in tourist heavy spots soap is usually provided), but when you go to wash your hands post bathroom use, you will frequently find that soap has not been made available for your hand cleansing needs. “Okay” you say to yourself, “I'll just rinse off the bacteria with water, that works, right?” But when you go to dry your hands you are disappointed once again when you fail to find paper towels or an air blowing machine. Admitting defeat you wipe your hands on your jeans and through your hair, now thankful that you have to bow instead of shake hands.
Further reading on Japan's garbage situation: Garbage In Japan: The Country’s Greatest Mystery.
EVERYTHING IS INDIVIDUALLY WRAPPED
Whether you invest in a bag of candy, a box of pocky, or even an ear of corn, practically everything in Japan is individually wrapped. Once in a while it will make sense, but most of the time you will find yourself wondering why anyone would waste so much wrapping. The worst part? You can't take handfuls of chocolate out of the bag unless you unwrap them all first. Maybe this is the secret to solving America's obesity epidemic.
WELCOME TO OUR STORE!
When you enter a store in Japan, you will usually be greeted by someone shouting: irashaimase (いらしゃいます)! Nothing wrong with that, I suppose I would prefer to be acknowledged instead of ignored. However, it appears that the only way to properly welcome someone is to scream “irashaimase” at the top of your lungs or to mumble “irashaimase” to yourself as you stock the shelves and look miserable. Sometimes a 7-11 (or similar store) will have as many as six people working, and hearing them all scream “irashaimase” or mutter it to themselves like an abused parrot at every person who walks through the door is an uncomfortable combination of sad and annoying.
BREAD IS SILLY
Apparently Japan only make loaves of bread in one size. These loaves are then cut into four, five, or six pieces – I hesitate to call them slices because they are almost loaves themselves (once I saw ten pieces – eight is 50/50). Placing two pieces together as one would to make a sandwich results in three to four inches of crust. Excellent for mini-pizzas, but not ideal for your everyday sandwiches. You can get freshly cooked bread, but you will have to go to a market large enough to have a bakery.
THE STREETS MAKE NO SENSE
I am constantly asking myself how some of these roads and intersections came to be in Japan. It is as if Japan had two rival road systems that one day were forced to overlay one another. Sometimes the intersections ended up working out, and sometimes it ended up a giant clusterfuck. Occasionally you will pull up to a traffic signal and there will be four different green arrows because the intersection you have stopped at is the meeting point of five different streets. How is that even possible? Trust me, it is.
CHEESE IS SCARCE
I love cheese. I will literally just take bites out of a block of cheese and call it a meal. Not a snack, a meal (it's got everything you need). Sadly, the Japanese do not share my enthusiasm for cheese, and the selection at the market is usually quite slim. You can find the plastic “kraft singles” type cheese, miniature pre-sliced blocks of cheese, and then (very) expensive mozzarella and parmesan cheeses. A two-pound block of cheddar? Out of luck, pal.
A lot of the time you will have a choice in Japan when deciding which toilet best suits your excretory needs. However, sometimes a squat toilet is the only option. If you are a “sit and enjoy” type (like myself), then squat toilets are not conducive to your typical bathroom routine. Squat toilets cut short your enjoyment time, and increase the risk that you will drop your cell phone into the toilet (if for some strange reason you are using it in the bathroom).
YOU CAN'T UNDERSTAND ANYTHING
When you travel to another country without speaking the language you expect (or should expect, you ignoranus) to not understand most of what is happening in the world around you – that is part of the fun. However, in countries that use different alphabets, the difficulty is multiplied. For example, say someone tells you the name of the subway stop you need to exit the train at. Good for you, you are prepared. Then you get to the subway and realize that even though you know the name of your stop, you cannot decipher the symbols on the map. Time to start being the lost tourist (or time to start studying).
FRUIT IS OUTRAGEOUSLY EXPENSIVE
Want to get your hands around some delectable Japanese melons? Okay, well how about just some delicious cantaloupe instead? Maybe you are more a watermelon person? You won't have trouble finding these products in Japanese markets, but you may have trouble bringing yourself to shell out the money for them. At almost $20 each I do not understand who buys these things. Watermelon is good, but it isn't that good.
SMOKING IN RESTAURANTS
Yes, smoking in restaurants is allowed in Japan. I suppose for anyone who smokes this is a reason to love Japan, but for everyone else it's a drag. You may elect to sit in the “non-smoking” section, but it can be more accurately described as the “second-hand smoke section” as opposed to a truly smoke free section (it usually isn't even a separate room). Even though smoking is typically banned in Japan's crowded outdoor areas (ex. shopping arcades), smoking in restaurants is something you may have to deal with whilst eating your raw horse meat.