When I first stepped into Japan as an inexperienced 19-year-old college student in 2014, it was not the different food, people or the language that most shocked me; it was just things that…made sense.
Things that you would never really think about until you actually see them for yourself. But once you do, you cannot unsee them. It’s like taking the red pill in the Matrix. Are you ready to go down the rabbit hole that is Japan, Neo?
The Toilet Faucet
Saving Water in Japan is made easy when doing your business. Not only does each toilet offer options for big and small… business. But, there is also a faucet attached on top of most, which releases water as soon as you flush. This way, you can wash your hands while the excess is used to help flush the toilet. It might seem like a small amount, but multiply it by a population of more than 100 million people, multiple times a day, and you can save enough water to fill an Olympic swimming pool. Probably.
This is something my Japanese wife often struggles with abroad: not knowing what food items look like before she orders them. Now, you might not think that this is an issue, considering you can easily read what’s inside a dish on the menu. But in Japan, you can not only read, but also see exactly what you are going to get. Almost all restaurants will have pictures inside their menu, and many of them even have fake plastic mock-ups of dishes outside that look just like the real thing and allow you to quickly gauge whether you want to eat there or not.
The Future of Money
Sometimes in 2019, a revolution started in Japan. In a country that was (and still is) famous for its love of hard cash, contactless payments came and stole the show. Unlike credit cards or systems like Apple or Google Pay, this new way of paying is more elaborate. Smartphone-based QR codes by different providers (Line, Yahoo, Softbank etc.) provide a quick and easy way of paying with your phone while also giving out easy cashback rewards and gamifying shopping. Seriously, I love it. I might write a full article on these systems in the future, but for now just trust me. They. Are. Awesome.
One Card to Rule Them All
Some of you may be familiar with London’s Oyster Card or a Metro Card in Australia. Japan also has that in the form of a Suica or Pasmo (the two major providers in the Tokyo area). These rechargeable IC cards can be topped up at train stations or convenience stores (or directly connected to your credit card) and allow you to easily and quickly get on and off trains with just one tap. But these cards can be used not just on trains but in many other places such as convenience stores, supermarkets and even vending machines, making it super easy and convenient to quickly pay for small items without having to fiddle through tons of change.
Hospitality beyond the big cities
One thing that Japan does not get enough credit for is how well it manages to promote small, off-the-beaten-path destinations. This might be stemming from the fact that the Japanese were not allowed to leave the country until the end of the 19th century and thus, all travel had to be done locally. No matter the reason, the result is a wide array of local specialties, unique sights and a conscious effort to promote them both on a prefectural and national level to tourists, something which I have not seen done to that extent in any other country before.
There are many more things that just make sense in Japan. I saw many of them in my everyday life while I was living there. But I’ll be honest: once you see them every day, the extraordinary stops appearing as such and just appears as normal. In order to experience the magic, you have to go there yourself. I hope that this article inspired you to do that someday.