One of my favorite things about traveling is being able to see how laws and social taboos (what silly things they are) change across countries.
Differences between Japan and the United States extend beyond simply bowing and taking off your shoes to enter places. The following ten things are not only rare in the United States, but most of them are also illegal. And so naturally, I feel compelled to do all of them whilst adventuring in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Buy a Live Turtle at the Market
Can’t decide if you need dinner or a new friend? Head over to the market and buy yourself a turtle! Usually found crawling around in about four inches of water inside of a large plastic bucket, these delicious reptiles do not come cheap. With price tags of ¥4,000 or more (~$40), it isn’t something that you will find baked into a McDonald’s patty (like the Ebi (Shrimp) burger), but instead, something to bring a nice Japanese date home to.
Buy Cigarettes from Vending Machines
Japan has an interesting relationship with cigarettes. Should you need a pack of cigarettes, you do not even enter one of the dozens of convenience stores sprinkled throughout the country, you need only press a button on a vending machine (for around 4-5 USD). How do they keep minors from buying these? Some sort of ID reader? I guess I will have to give one of them a try.
Run Red Lights
Now you can’t outright ignore traffic signals in Japan, but should you find yourself arriving at that limit line just as the light turns red, then go on ahead through. A yellow light in Japan is more an extension of a green and the first two seconds of the red light serve as a yellow. If you find yourself heading through a light saying “phew, that was close”, chances are that the two cars in back of you will have gone for it as well.
Although it has become more scarce, whale is still available at some restaurants in Japan. Not nearly as popular as it once was, whale’s popularity is on the decline, but should I find myself in a position to try some, I will (but maybe not). At least the whales are being killed and not held captive as trick-performing revenue generators like poor Shamu (referring to Sea World – and all other animal-enslaving theme parks – for anyone missing the reference).
Buy Alcohol in a Juice Box
I am not sure what the rationale or purpose of alcohol in a juice box is (to my knowledge its only shochu), but you can get yourself some in your local convenience store. Unfortunately, juice box alcohol tastes awful and should only be considered as a last resort.
Yell to Your Waiter
I find it quite annoying that in the US you need to bob your head around like a pigeon to make eye contact with your waiter. Whistling, snapping, and yelling out are much more effective ways to attract your waiter’s attention.
In Japan you need simply shout sumimasen (すみません), Japanese for “excuse me”, and your waiter will come running. Point, Japan.
Smoke in Restaurants
Smoking is not permitted in most crowded public spaces (such as outdoor malls or train stations), yet you will constantly find yourself surrounded by smokers in restaurants. Yes, smoking in restaurants is allowed, and yes, people do take advantage. There are smoking and non-smoking sections, but who are we trying to kid? If one section is smoking, all sections are smoking.
Squat Over a Toilet
Just like out on the Pacific Crest Trail (except now there’s toilet paper). Squat toilets are popular in public restrooms in Japan, and there are even squat porta-potty toilets.
Check out: “Toilets In Japan: To Squat Or Not To Squat“.
Bag Your Own Groceries
In Japan, that awkward situation where you are being checked out at the market, and you don’t know whether or not you should be bagging your groceries or not (because maybe someone isn’t doing their job?), does not exist. You have no choice because there are no baggers. Markets provide separate “bagging tables” behind the registers for you to bag up your purchase before taking it out to your car (no, nobody offers to assist you out to your car).
Get “All You Can Drink” at Bars
I was surprised to learn that for as little as ¥2,000 (about $20 US), you can get “all you can drink” (nomihoudai) at bars in Japan. Now this is not an option everywhere, and it is not always the economic option, but should you be planning a night of debauchery, be sure to take advantage.
UPDATE: the current record for nomihoudai is ¥380 for each hour of infinity drinks. I don’t see this being beaten any time soon.
Buy Alcohol from Vending Machines
Like cigarettes, alcohol is also readily available from vending machines. These machines are far less common than cigarette vending machines (and even more scarce than the ever-present soda/coffee vending machines), but in a pinch, you can get yourself a cold beer or alcoholic beverage (no liquor/wine) at the push of a button.