The following is a list of things in Japan that have surprised, fascinated, and shocked the outside world. Some of these things you’ll wish you had in your home country and a few you may never want to see in person. So, without further ado, here are the top 25 Japanese things, from obscure to notorious, that leave foreigners mouths agape.
25 – Braille on Your Beer
Japanese beer cans are designed with many special features, one of which is that they are imprinted with braille for our blind brothers and sisters who also deserve to kick back and enjoy a brew with ease.
This was actually a recent development in Japan who used to have a poor record of accessibility for differently abled people. In the past few years, there has been a huge push in Government and industry to reverse this trend, with results like this.
24 – Stem Glass Tray
Originally designed for use on vehicles like boats, planes, and trains, these trays have caught the attention of other countries with their elegant blend of form and function. Designed like a painter’s pallet, any long stem glass can easily slide into the side making them virtually impossible to spill. Brilliantly simple and amazingly useful.
23 – Elevator Girls
Although they’ve been around since the dawn of the mechanical lift, elevator girls are nearly extinct in Western countries in an effort to save money. It’s a practical expense for department stores and hotels to cut since most people know how to work these newfangled contraptions by now.
But dang it, it feels good to have a perky young woman welcome you into the elevator and push your button with a smile. Despite being completely unnecessary, it makes customers feel good and important. It also one of the reasons people praise Japan’s customer service above all other countries’.
Picture : donguri773.fc2web.com
22 – Delivery Companies Who Actually Deliver Things When You Want It
Speaking of stellar customer service Japan’s delivery companies, led by but not exclusive to the infamous black cat Yamato company, are really an example for all others.
For a price that rivals other countries couriers Japan’s delivery services have a habit of getting things to you faster than you’d expect. And although they also have their “from 1:00pm to 4:00pm” windows of time you can often expect them at your doorstep near the beginning of that window.
Picture : photozou.jp
21 – Whiskey
Most people probably don’t associate whiskey with Japan, but they’d be sorely mistaken. It’s available pretty much everywhere in sizes ranging from 300ml to 5L at your local supermarket.
It’s not just the availability either. Japanese whiskeys are rapidly gaining worldwide recognition for their quality. Suntory’s Hibiki brand was recently won multiple “World’s Best Whiskey” awards.
Picture : suntory.co.jp
20 – Freaky Sci-Fi Door
This door made up of a series of bars opens to the specific shape of the object approaching it. The effect would be a cool futuristic look like something out of a big budget Hollywood flick, if it worked properly.
Despite being potentially awesome, this door is low on the list because it’s not actually available yet and judging by the video still has some kinks to work out.
19 – Mine Detector Technology
Currently Tohoku University is testing a new type of mine sweeper that can detect mines more accurately and quickly than any currently existing one.
Although this isn’t as sexy as the other things on the list, it deserves credit for potentially saving countless lives. On the other hand, it’s not fully completed so still low on the list.
Picture : tohoku.ac.jp
18 – Drink Can Pull Tab Design
Revisiting the can, if you look past the braille you’ll notice a small groove behind the pull tab. This is so that your finger can easily grip the pull tab and open the can. It lets you grip the tab with the flesh of your finger tip firmly. For added measure the pull tab is also elevated ever so slightly affording you maximum grip. It’s a small thing but makes a big difference.
17 – Japanese Blotting Paper
I’m not sure how but for some reason Japanese companies have trumped other countries in blotting paper technology. Often the toast of major American women’s magazines these simple pieces of paper like the kind made by Tatcha can soak up oil better than anything else out there.
16 – Robot Suit [HAL]
Helping paralyzed people to walk again by giving them cybernetic suits is a double win because it’s a great benefit to society and looks cool as all hell.
This remains low on the list because I’m still not seeing any disabled cyborgs walking around in Japan. It also loses points for being named after the psycho-killer computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
15 – Vending Machines
Although the machines themselves are not entirely special from other countries they are unique in their dispersion across Japan’s landscape. Next to ancient temples, deep in forests, even on top of Mount Fuji they can be found offering cold or hot beverages 24/7.
They are also known for the range of products offered via vending machines. Things like crepes, underwear, dirty magazines, eggs, and mysterious remotes can be found in these things. In spite of all this, it’s especially difficult to find a vending machine in Japan that dispenses chips or candy bars. Go figure.
14 – Dispen Pak
Visitors to Japan may find themselves briefly bemused by Dispen Pak, especially since the strawberry jam/butter one kind of resembles those liquid bomb things from Die Hard 3.
However, we all quickly fall in love with its no fuss, no muss way of getting condiments onto your food. Just pinch the package together and out squeezes the one or two condiments inside.
13 – This… Thing
In Japanese this thing’s proper name translates to “Delivery Goods Transport Device.” What the name lacks in creativity it makes up for in clarity. It’s used to transport goods for delivery, particularly foods such as soup that may spill if carried on a bicycle or motorcycle in the typical way.
Looking like something Wile E. Coyote might use to catch the roadrunner, this thing undoubtedly freaks out foreigners when riding past.
12 – Bike Parking
This photo was posted onto Flicker a while back and ignited a s**t storm of debate amongst foreigners. Some say it the full bicycle parking lot next to an empty car lot is a beautiful environmentalist’s utopia. The reality is less inspiring, Japan is a tight country with limited parking and driving space. This makes bicycles the most convenient method of conveyance. As a result Japan is full of sights like this outside of train stations or shopping centers.
11 – Love Hotels
Taking the concept of going to a seedy motel for a romantic rendezvous to the next level, love hotels discard all pretense at let you know this is the place to go if you want to get down to funky town. Thousands of hotels scattered all across Japan the market is booming, and with all the competition these hotels are serving up all kinds of luxuries. Whether you want fuzzy handcuffs or 3D televisions, you can find them here for an hourly rate.
Although not as infamous as another kind of accommodation in Japan, love hotels certainly make their marks on foreigners who have visited them.
Picture: Naver Matome
10 – Japanese Knives
Many Americans consider Japanese knives to be of the highest quality. During the 70’s and 80’s, tourists to Japan were eager to get their hands on some knives sometimes with their “Japanese” names etched into them. While it’s true that the techniques use to forge Japanese cutlery are very sophisticated, most Americans were duped at the time were duped by a clever marketing campaign.
The legendary Ginsu knives that were promoted in the first ever infomercials led millions of Americans to believe that this miracle knife that could cut pennies and tin cans was actually crafted by the Japanese. Actually they were mass produced in Freemont, Ohio, but since Japanese knives actually were among the best in the world it all worked out in the end.
9 – Mayonnaise
Before eating Japanese mayonnaise forget any previous experience you had with the tart condiment that’s dangerous to take on picnics. Japan’s most famous brand of mayo, Kewpie (named after the kewpie doll), is in whole different league of deliciousness.
Personally I have gone from never touching the stuff in the west, to putting mayo on nearly everything I eat. I’m quite sure it would taste good in my coffee, but never got around to trying it.
8 – 100 Yen Shops
Although the concept of the 100 yen shop is clearly derived from the dollar stores of western countries, anyone who’s been to both can easily tell you which is superior.
Japan’s ultra discount chains may offer things like fresh produce and baked goods in addition to the traditional knock-off toys and batteries. They are also lifesavers when it comes to souvenir shopping, selling Japanese folding fans, chopsticks, and other small items foreigners love.
7 – 3D Parking
One of those futuristic technologies like HAL or the Sci-Fi door, 3D Parking is high on the list because it’s actually in use – everywhere! Love Hotels, office buildings, and shopping centers all frequently have these machines that appear to swallow your vehicle and take it to some magical place while you go about your day.
Even when walking past people’s homes it’s not uncommon to see a pair of cars stacked on top of each other in the driveway.
6 – Japanese Curry
Like Japanese mayonnaise, Japanese curry shouldn’t really be considered curry in the traditional sense. Basically, Japan is to curry what America is to Pizza; vaguely resembling the original but with a lot more mass appeal.
Regardless of how ethnically complex this food sounds, you could serve a batch of Japanese curry to the pickiest eater in the West and I guarantee they will wolf it down and ask for seconds. It’s just that good.
5 – Kit Kat Flavors
Once again, Japan is taking a well-known foodstuff and giving it a delicious kick in the pants. Strawberry, Boston cream, and café au lait are among a few of the flavors released. Just reminiscing about it is making my mouth water.
But by far, the tip top Kit Kat bar designed in Japan has got to be the green tea flavor. By mixing green tea in with the chocolate coating, Nestle Japan may have created the greatest chocolate bar known to man. It tastes like pure ecstasy (the emotion not the drug).
4 – Pachinko
Pachinko is Japan’s main form of pseudo-legal gambling. Essentially a hybrid of pinball and a slot machine, the game involves shooting tiny metal balls into various crevices to get points. The game itself isn’t nearly as shocking as the places they are kept in.
It seems you can find at least one Pachinko Parlor in every neighborhood of Japan. And they tend to eclipse all other businesses in terms of size, some reaching the square footage of whole shopping centers. Inside is a whole other story. The best way to describe it is like walking into a Laundromat on 3 hits of acid. It’s a brutal assault on the senses that most foreigners can’t tolerate, but many Japanese people can bear for hours.
3 – Beef
Kobe beef has pretty much achieved household name status in many parts of the world. Touted for its high grade quality, and unique in its marbling that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world. Kobe beef doesn’t stand alone in excellence though with Mishima and Matsusaka rivaling it quality and technique.
Next time someone asks you, “Where’s the beef?” You can tell them where to go.
2 – The Washlet
Washlets are probably better known as “those crazy Japanese super toilets” overseas. When foreigners come in contact with one they are understandable apprehensive about getting a shot of water up the caboose. But I gotta tell you, once you try it you’ll never want to use a typical toilet ever again. Just the thought of using a dry piece of paper to clean up back there gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s like something cavemen would do.
The washlet certainly is a testament to Japan’s excellent engineering and design being used to make life better, but it was beat out of the number one spot by…
1 – Capsule Motels
Capsule Motels aren’t likely to pop up in countries outside of Japan. The few attempts by American companies haven’t found great success with the formula of cramming guests inside lockers.
However, the space efficient sleeping quarters made a huge impact on foreigners views of life in Japan. Invented around the same time as Japan’s blossoming into an economic powerhouse, word of these hotels shocked an already nervous 1980’s America. The image of Japanese businessmen sacrificing comfort by sleeping in boxes like these showed the West how far they were willing to go to be the top.
Although these days are long behind us, the image of the capsule hotel still lingers in western culture in regards to Japan. It’s by far the one thing I’m asked about most while living in Japan, and thus is the number one most shocking thing in Japan for foreigners.