"Have you ever seen a used panties vending machine?" ... Well no. This is the question that I asked the most when talking about "how crazy and weird Japan is". The idea of Japan being weird and strange, normally comes up in conversations with people that have just found out that I have been to Japan and therefore I get flooded with questions every time but to start off this post, I wanted to answer that question. I do not know why I get asked that by most people. Something like that would not work in the UK so why would it work in Japan? To be honest with myself, I have seen some questionable things in vending machines, but they could also work in the UK.
Now when I first landed in Japan, I did find vending machines in Japan weird but for another reason. There are TONS! They are everywhere, to be exact, there should be one every 12 metres. And sometimes there will be more than one in the same spot. If you think about it, yes, it is an odd at first. By chance, my 2017 trip was during winter when hot drinks are also in the machines which are another "weird" thing. But over the multiple trips that I have been on, I started to realise why there is so many. Convenience! Which makes sense when Tokyo known as the city of convenience. But unknown to most people, Japan can get quite hot in summer, most of my trips recently have been during the summer and I can tell you now, you need the vending machines. There has been a case when I expected one on the metro station because I needed a drink and it was not there. PANIC! I did survive but why did I need a drink so badly? Well with Japan being quite hot in the summer, it is normal to sweat buckets, even in summer clothing. And this is when the next "weird" thing come in. Sweat towels!
To be specific, I am not talking about your gym towel, I am talking about one that you will carry everywhere. I have been sitting outside Shinjuku Station eating my lunch of a fruit sandwich and have watched a salaryman in a crowd dab his forehead in a towel. It is not your day to day sight in the UK, I have not seen Gary on the tube, wipe sweat off his face, but Japan is hotter and more humid than London or any part of the UK. And truth be told, I have my own!
I remember buying it from a Don Quijote, a popular discount chain store. I will be doing a post about Don Quijote so keep your eye out for it. But sweat towels are not the only common thing to be noticed!
With COVID-19, face masks are a common occurrence now everywhere, but the Japanese have been wearing them for years. At first, I did think it was odd, seeing someone wear a face mask in a middle of crowd but I did realise why during my second trip. Unlike the UK, where if you have a cough, you do not think about it too much, but the Japanese do think about it. So, it is a common practise to wear a mask when you are ill.
What about maid cafes? I feel like I must talk about this topic, or this post would not be complete. To be honest, I do see why they might seem weird and I will not lie, I do find them a bit weird. But is this normal Japan? Well if you ask most Japanese people if they ever been to a maid cafe or used a rental boyfriend/girlfriend service, they will probably say no. Because it is also seen as a bit odd by the Japanese. So why do maid cafes or rental partner services exist? Well it is the reason why animal cafes like cat, dog, owl, etc cafe exist, for companionship. In places like Tokyo, it is hard to make and hold a relationship with anyone, due to how individuals function within Japanese society. It is one of the reasons why the population is in its current situation of having an aging population.
Unlike the western world, Japanese children are expected to work hard at a very young age for very long time before getting to university. The best way of putting it is from elementary school, a child's life is decided purely on where they go to school. Getting into specific universities sometimes only depend on where you went to school and then as soon as you are at uni, your career is decided. Because as soon as you get a job after university, you are expected to work hard again for that job for life unless you get promoted or fired.
The one thing that everyone mentions to me about Japan is anime or "those weird cartoons". So, what is anime like in Japan? Well it is the same as it is outside of Japan but the use of anime in day to day life is different. From outside, it seems like anime is just for children but there is anime for adults. For example, there are animes that teaches people how to cook recipes. The influence that anime has on Japan is found in everything: music, adverts, live tv shows, games, signs, etc. A big question that comes from all of this is there so much? Well apart from the west lapping it up, anime is a good time filler for the Japanese. This is because of the phone culture. In Japan, it is common to have a mobile service contract that is unlimited data and very little texts/minutes. My Japanese SIM card is unlimited data with a upload and download limitations after a specific amount of data use. And when you look at the core reason for all of this, you find the source of it is from the culture of using trains. The unspoken rule is do not talk to anyone on the train and just focus on yourself. That is why there is a big mobile phone game market out in Japan and why anime is perfect because a train journey might just be one episode.
Most of the things I spoken about this post is "weird" things, what about the wonderful things? Like trains that are on time? That is a good one, it is one of the things that I wish I could bring back to the UK. It would make life here much easier. But why are they always on time? And why does it only take one train to leave early by a matter of seconds for it to come up in national news? Well Japan and especially Tokyo is like one big machine, everything within it is like a cog. That is why a train leaving early affects things. There is even a saying about this: "Shinkansen runs to time, is not only a statement of fact, it is a matter of national pride." The Shinkansen is the bullet trains. To look at a real example of this, there was a case where two trains left early, and the board of the company apologised publicly for the inconvenience caused. Now let us think about that ladies and gentlemen, this is a country where trains leave 20 seconds early and the board of the train company apologised to the mass public for the inconvenience caused. But here is a question: why do they never apologies for the trains leaving late? Because the train do not leave late in Japan. It is as simple as that.
But what else do we know about Japan that is wonderful but wacky? Their toilets?!? Well I think everyone has heard the high-tech "washes your bum" toilets! I think it is one of the unique things that Japan is famous for. And I can tell you, they are wonderful. To be honest, at first, I do not think anyone knows what to expect but after a couple of uses, you see why the Japanese like them. This is one of the few topics that I will cover in its own post! So, keep your eye out for it.
So, the real question is: is Japan weird? To answer that in one word: no! To answer it in a sentence: Japan is quite normal when you actually visit it, but the west, tourism and news outlets take the weird things and broadcast them. To be fair, Japan is starting to lean into the crazy weird stereotype. Now I am not saying there is not weird things in Japan, there is still things that I don't understand like why does every garden and park I have been to have turtle??? And this is my invite to you, to join me on my journey of finding out the wonders and mysteries of Japan and exploring it as my soon to be home and career as a cyber security professional!
This post only looked at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the weird and wonderful Japan that the west dreams of. I will do a future post about what I find weird about Japan and I would more than happily do a part 2, to have a look at more of the weird and wonderful Japan!
I will come back to this post and add links to the posts that will be about specific topics like Toilets.