Many Americans who visit Japan return home excited to tell their friends and family about all the peculiar customs and cultural differences they experienced during their travels.
But have you ever wondered what Japanese who visited America tell their family and friends when they get back?
Your reporter (Japanese) has traveled to Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and a number of other cities in America over the past few years and today I’d like to share 11 things about America that surprised me.
I should preface this list by saying that there are a number of common stereotypes Japanese people hold of America and Americans, such as Americans are friendly and like physical contact, serving sizes in America are gigantic, many Americans carry guns, etc. Setting aside the validity of such stereotypes, this list is a collection of things that I wasn’t expecting—ergo things that stereotypes don’t cover.
Alright, let’s get started!
・Toilets do not have a bidet function
Most Western-style toilets in Japan are equipped with “washlet,” a sort of toilet-integrated bidet that sprays warm water to clean your bits after you’ve finished your business. However, I had a hard time finding a toilet with the same function in America.
As a side note, there are many Japanese people who feel reluctant to use the washlet function of public toilets and fundamentally only use it with their toilet at home.
・Taxi doors are opened manually
I had an awkward moment in Hawaii once when I called a taxi and, after it pulled up, I stared at the passenger door for several moments until I realized that the driver was waiting for me to open the door myself. In Japan, of course, taxi doors open and close for passengers automatically.
・Navigation costs extra when renting a car
Perhaps it’s just the company that I rented from, but it came as a surprise to me when I learned that you need to pay an extra $13 per day if you want car navigation. In Japan, it’s now standard for all car rentals to come equipped with navigation at no extra charge. After all, no one likes spending precious vacation time looking through maps!
・There is a chronic lack of vending machines
Beverages, smokes, sweets, cosmetics, cup ramen, hamburgers, books…you name it, Japan probably has a vending machine for it. Beverages are of course the most common and you can easily find a machine within a minute’s walking distance from nearly anywhere.
This is apparently not the case in America. Not that it’s a bad thing, it’s just a bit startling when you’re used to that warm LED glow and constant humming being with you wherever you go.
・Sales tax differs depending on the state
Some states are cheap while others are extremely high, and trying to keep up with the difference is difficult for us Japanese who are used to 5% wherever you go. Of course, the Japanese government is desperate to raise that number by a few points and it’s said that it’ll be over 10% within the next few years.
・Food coloring is used in abundance
This is something that I always think about when I go to America, especially when looking at the appetizingly-colored cakes sold at supermarkets.
Japan is currently in a fitness and health boom, so the resistance to unnatural-looking food coloring may be stronger than usual.
・There is no Short size at Starbucks
American Starbucks starts their cups at Tall. In Japan, we have an even smaller size called Short. For reference, the Starbucks Japan size and pricing chart for a cup of brewed coffee is as follows:
Tall: 340 円（$4.41）
Grande 380 円（$4.93）
Venti 420 円（$5.45）
Speaking of prices, I was also surprised at how much cheaper Starbucks is!
・America has yet to dispose of the disposable
In addition to the aforementioned health and fitness boom, Japan is also big on eco-friendly these days. This is perhaps most obvious with tableware. For example, Japan’s most prominent gyudon (beef bowl) chain Yoshinoya has swapped out disposable chopsticks for washable plastic ones, and most restaurants in Japan are doing the same. However in America, I came across many eateries where I would be handed a set of disposable plastic silverware with my meal.
・Hello Kitty is everywhere
This seemed to be particularly true of Hawaii, where every store I went to was selling Hello Kitty goods of some kind.
It goes without saying that Hello Kitty is also popular in her homeland, but not to the point where you can find her face decorating goods at every convenience store and supermarket.
・Drugstores are few in number
At least when compared to Japan, where drugstores stocked with medicine, cosmetics, food, magazines and more fall somewhere in between convenience stores and supermarkets and can be found with almost as much frequency as vending machines. Last I checked there were over 5 drugstores in the area around Oizumigaku Station near where I live.
・America is not a friendly place for smokers
Even Japan has been cracking down on smoking recently with cigarette price hikes, even but it’s still nowhere near as strict as America. In Japan, most public places like restaurants, karaoke parlors and trains still have designated smoking areas. But I found myself having such a hard time finding a place to smoke in America that I ended up smoking half of what I usually do.
I was surprised the most when one of the hotels I stayed at even prohibited smoking on the verandah!
This has nothing to do with anything, but I also wanted to mention that the steak I had at Steak & Fish Company in Hawaii was absolutely amazing. Anyone planning a trip to Hawaii should check it out—and then come over to Japan before going back home!