10 things that might surprise you when you visit Japan

RocketNews 24:

When traveling to a foreign country for the first time, no matter how well-prepared you are, there’s sure to be a lot you’ll be surprised by! Let’s take a look at 10 things in Japan that might surprise you when you first hop off the plane.

With these in mind, you can enjoy your first trip to Japan even more!

1. Slurping Food:


You’ve just arrived in Japan for the first time, and you can’t wait to enjoy your first authentic bowl of Japanese ramen. The salaryman at the counter next to you receives his order before you and goes to town—and he’s not quiet about it. Try not to lose your appetite—slurping noodles like ramen, soba and udon is totally okay in Japan! In fact, it shows you’re enjoying your meal and if you’re an expert noodle-slurper, it’s actually easier than trying to sip your soba delicately.

2. Toilets


While standard Western toilets are the most common in Japan, you occasionally play a risky roulette game when you open the bathroom door. Will you be treated to the luxurious-if-not-slightly-intimidating heated washlet toilet? Or will you have to suffer the trials of the traditional floor-level “washiki?”

If you chose Door #1, you may get to enjoy a heated seat, simulated flushing sound for privacy, and of course, the bidet with various heat/water pressure/location options. If you chose Door #2, make sure your phone and valuables are out of your pockets, carefully gather up loose clothing, and try not to fall in. Some public bathrooms have both western and washiki options, so check the door for the in-ground toilet symbol! If people are waiting behind you, offer them a “douzo!” (go ahead) and a wave of your hand towards the toilet hell you’re hoping to avoid entering.

3. Sento and Onsen


If you really want to immerse yourself in Japanese culture, you’ve got to be ready to immerse yourself in “onsen” (hot springs). Or, for the more budget-conscious traveler, “sento” (public bath houses). The idea of stripping down and taking a bath with a bunch of strangers can be pretty intimidating, but the tradition has existed in Japan for hundreds of years so try to remind yourself that everyone else is used to it!

Read up a bit on bath house etiquette (wash first, take a dip, wash again!) and enjoy the relaxation! Tattoos are often frowned upon in Japan due to their association with the yakuza, and many onsen and sento actually prohibit entering if you have them (though if they’re small enough to be covered by a bandage, you should be alright.) If you’re shy or tattooed but you still want to enjoy the hot springs experience, some onsen resorts offer “kashikiri” (private) baths for you and your travel partners!

4. Trash cans and sorting


Japan is a country of convenience. Drinks machines on every corner, convenience stores every five minutes… but with all these grab-and-go drinks and snacks, what are you supposed to do with your trash?! Tokyo’s trash cans largely disappeared as a safety measure after a domestic terror attack in the ’90s but don’t show any signs of coming back soon, so you have to know where to look. Some convenience stores have trash cans outside, or tucked away inside if the store has a mini in-store cafe. JR stations sometimes have trash cans on the platforms, and you can sometimes find trash cans just inside or outside of subway station turnstiles. If you really can’t find anywhere to stash your trash, be prepared to carry it with you for a while! And remember, Japan is very careful about sorting its trash. Here are the most common categories:

– もえるゴミ / moeru gomi – burnable trash (paper, food waste, sometimes non-recyclable plastic)
– もえないゴミ / moenai gomi – non-burnable trash (light bulbs, batteries, broken glass)
– びん / bin – glass bottles, カン/ kan – aluminum cans (these two often get thrown away together)
– ペットボトル / petto botoru – plastic bottles

5. Unattended items


When you’re scoping out somewhere to sit at a café or restaurant, you might be shocked to see someone’s bag or iPhone left unattended at their table. Japan is an extremely safe country with one of the lowest crime rates in the world, and a system that rewards honesty and casts stigma on bad behavior is to thank. For the same reasons, you may see many young children riding trains to and from school safely by themselves, and some Japanese men with long-style wallets protruding from their back pockets. Would that fly in your country?

6. Fruit prices


If your first trip to Tokyo involves a whole lot of high-class convenience store dining, you might find yourself craving some fruit after a couple of days as conbini don’t typically have much to offer. The basement floor of many department stores include somewhat high-end supermarkets, where you can find a famed gem of Weird Japan— super expensive fruit. It’s not uncommon to see beautiful pieces of fruit going for upwards of 10,000 yen or 20,000 yen (~$100 or $200 USD) but these aren’t melons you bring home and toss in a fruit salad. It’s common for these luxury fruits to be given as gifts during business transactions, weddings or hospital visits. If those are a bit out of your price range, check out the fruit stand just around the left corner of ALTA outside Shinjuku station’s east exit for 100 yen or 200 yen sticks of delicious fresh fruit!

7. Food portions


Here’s some culture shock that works both ways: when Japanese people visit other countries, they’re often shocked by how huge the drink and food portions are. When visiting from outside Japan, you might be surprised by how small your lunch is. After a long day wandering the city, don’t expect a big glass of water when you sit down for a meal—but feel free to ask for “okawari” (refill) or try somewhere with a “drink bar” option—free refills of whatever kind of drinks you want for a minimal fixed price. Most Japanese restaurants don’t have “to go” options for leftovers, and instead serve just enough for one meal’s portion. Of course, everyone’s appetite is different, so if you’ve come hungry, try ordering your rice or noodle dish “ohmori” (big serving.)

8. Finding places to sit


Travel is tiring! Sometimes you just want to find somewhere to rest your feet for a few minutes—but in Japan, Tokyo especially, this is easier said than done. There are very few public benches and places to sit outside, and sitting down on the ground may earn you several side-eye stares. Even train station platforms have only a few seats for weary travelers and commuters. If you really need a break and can’t find a public park, you may have to pay up for a drink in a café or McDonald’s, but you can stay as long as you’d like. Or, if you’re in Tokyo, you can always hop on the Yamanote loop line and be back where you started after one hour!

9. Queuing culture


In a densely packed city such as Tokyo, lining up in an organized way exceeds necessity and has become almost an art form. Lining up for the train, lining up for the escalator, lining up for a restaurant, lining up for an hour to buy specialty popcorn—be ready to do some waiting, and absolutely no cutting in line!! If you really hate waiting in lines, they can be reduced or avoided by considering the time of day and day of the week you’re trying to go somewhere or do something. Plan around weekends and rush hour!

10. Lost items


One of the scariest possible travel mishaps is losing something in a foreign country. But good news! If you lose something in Japan, the odds are pretty good that it will be returned to you. Items such as wallets, umbrellas, and more that get lost on trains can be recovered by talking to station staff, though sometimes you may need to go to the last station on that train line to access their lost and found.

If you lose something elsewhere, try finding the nearest “koban” (police box) and explaining what you lost, where, and when. If you forget something in your hotel room, the hotel staff will almost always be able to get it back to you, even if you’ve already gone home!

To begin explaining your situation, try using the phrase: “wasuremono wo shimashita” (I lost/forgot something) and go from there.


A Westerner’s guide to Japanese toilets




Dirt, stains, effluent, material, the load, waste, matter. These are the words my tour guides at Toto‘s toilet factory and research center in Kyushu used to verbally pirouette around what exactly its porcelain thrones deal with: shit. Japanese toilets are probably the best in the business at getting rid of your business, but for many Westerners, that first moment of contact can be terrifying. There are so many buttons, so many unknown symbols and open-to-interpretation stickmen figures; not to mention the (unfounded) fear that you could be sprayed with toilet water by merely approaching one. The Washlet, as Toto’s combination bidet/toilet is called, doesn’t come cheap. And yet, in Japan, they are everywhere. In fact, compared to plain, old, featureless toilets, washlets occupy the majority of restrooms.

Japan’s biggest toilet maker isn’t based in Tokyo. Toto’s headquarters are actually hundreds of miles away from the capital, on the island of Kyushu in the southwest tail of Japan, an area better known for its addictive tonkotsu pork ramen. Toto’s been here for just shy of 100 years; early, illustrious years that included making Japan’s first seated flush toilet. This is the same company that refers to itself as the “Apple of toilet tech.” But for all its technical accomplishments, Toto believes its toilets are the best simply due to its heritage in this area of bathroom fixtures, and not the Star Trek-esque control board attached to the bowl’s side.


The washlet’s plethora of user settings focuses more on physics and chemistry than electronics. Toto’s modern toilet bowls have a nanotech coating on the interior to defend against incidental stains and prevent waste from sticking to it long after you’ve flushed. The very latest models even partially electrolyze the flush water, which not only adds an antibacterial bonus to every flush, but also has a bleaching effect on urine stains. And some higher-end washlets pack proximity sensors that cause the seat to raise and lower on your approach and dismount.

Intelligence toilet

A representative demos Toto’s Intelligence Toilet.

Toto’s high-tech integration reached a peak with its nearly 10-year-old, health-centered “Intelligence Toilet.” A collaboration with construction giant, Daiwa House, the entire system included scales built into the bathroom floor, blood sugar and blood pressure monitoring, access to the internet (and your physician) and the ability to conduct “urine analysis.” It also came with a hefty $6,100 price tag.

A graphical representation of the Tornado Flush.

A graphical representation of the Tornado Flush.

Then there’s the Tornado flush — think of it as the toilet version of Dyson’s “cyclone technology.” Toto’s team made it a point to drill this specific feature into my head. This particular flushing process uses less water, and as demonstrated by the company’s own graphic visualization, is a more efficient way of getting rid of everything. And it’s constantly evolving, too. Toto teams up with universities, using supercomputers to model water physics, test flushing processes with particle waste and tweak the shape of its future toilets.


For decades, modest Japanese would apparently repeatedly flush the toilet in public stalls to mask any trumpeting. The net effect of which was wasted water. To remedy that, Toto invented the Otohime (translation: sound princess) — a simple noise generator that’s often attached to the company’s public or business-based toilets. Waving your hand overOtohime‘s sensor makes a comforting, camouflaging noise play (a delicate melody, or perhaps something representing a tranquil forest) without an actual water flush, so you can sit in peace.



The positives of embedding a bidet function within your toilet, aside from a cleaner oshiri (or “arse” in Japanese), are twofold: It’s more economical and, apparently, there’s a therapeutic benefit to washing your butt with water. If you’re looking for said therapeutic relief, Toto’s washlets offer plenty of cleaning options to try out. The typical washlet includes controls for water temperature and pressure, but it can also be further adjusted for both oscillating and pulsing water streams.

With the aid of a strobe light, the Toto team was able to show me how the washlet’s pulsing stream behaves; it’s apparently set to burst at roughly seven centimeters from the spout, about the location of our collective arses’ epicenters. The stream, a mixture of air and water, is also oddly hypnotic, as you’ll see below.



Despite the myriad benefits of a coddled washlet experience, Westerners are still not entirely sold on the toilet upgrade, and not just because of the associated high price. Sure, button panic and the fear of a rogue water stream factor into that hesitation, but there’s also the cultural discomfort to consider: Everybody poops, but no one wants to talk about it.

“It can be difficult to engage with consumers; to have a meaningful discussion about features and benefits beyond the design and basic function of a toilet,” said Brian Hedlund, marketing manager for US-based Kohler.

Everybody poops, but no one wants to talk about it.

Another US company, Brondell, sells bidet seats to augment existing toilets. As company head Steve Scheer told me, for many consumers, the key to understanding and buying into the luxe toilet experience is to test it out. “Trying to convince someone to change their [toilet paper] habits that have been ingrained in them since childhood were difficult at best. Bidet seats are a very personal and experiential thing in that you must experience it firsthand. You need a trusted source to convince you to try.”

Toto’s aware these cultural traditions and taboos hamper its reach in outside markets, especially in the US. To counter that, the company runs a Try a Washlet scheme in several bars and restaurants around the US to educate potential clients. Toto’s overall aim, however, is not the service industry, but upmarket homes. It’s the opposite tact from the bottom-up approach Toto used to build its business in Japan; a washlet for the everyman. In the US and other overseas markets, Toto’s marketing the washlet as aspirational; because most of us want what we can’t have, even if we’re not comfortable talking about it.


The many washlets on display at Toto’s showroom.

The Princess and the Pee

The portable Otohime is a convenient audio disguise for toilets that don’t have audio bells and whistles.

Headed to the USA, this model's remote panel is relatively clear on what each button does. The all important stop button is on far left. That

A washlet control panel customized for the US market. That “front” setting is meant for women, but don’t let that stop you from trying it.

What cleans the bidet cleaner?

Relax. The washlet’s self-cleaning bidet isn’t suddenly going to spray if you press a button — it’s connected to a pressure sensor on the seat.

The Washlet G: a toilet so famous it’s part of Japan’s Mechanical Engineering Heritage, like the bullet train. It was that important.

When the Washlet was first conceived, Toto experimented with varying water pressures and temperatures… on its staff.

Designer washlets, like this floating model, can cost around $6,000.

This one’s a toilet made for Sumo wrestlers. It’s specially strengthened to bear their extra weight.

Check out this link:

A Westerner’s guide to Japanese toilets


Meet Japan’s ‘Apple of toilet tech’


Say what you will about the Japanese, but they can lay claim to the world’s cleanest posteriors. For this, they have a technological wonder to thank — the washlet.

After years of squat lavatories where your toilet slippers — yes, Japan has special slippers for toilets — could disappear into rank and primitive plumbing, the Japanese have created a filth-free temple to techno-power and want to share it with the world.

Some call it the washlet, others the space lavvy or smart loo, but all of these appliances sport a panel by the lavatory that controls automatic bidet- style cleansing with warm water and warm air, doing away with the need for toilet paper altogether. Prices range from about $650 to nearly $2,000 and are lusted over by the likes of Madonna and Whoopi Goldberg.

Leading the charge to deliver smart loos to the world is Japan’s Toto.

Basically, we’re the Apple computers of toilets,” says a spokesman.

The company has cleaned up at home and is now tackling the Americas. It already faces competition, though. Kohler‘s Numi, which retails for around $5,000, features hand-free seat opening tech, Bluetooth-enabled music streaming capabilities, and a touchscreen remote.

Over 30 million washlet sales later and the washlet’s popularity is taking off all over the world, not only in Japan. In North America, our Washlet sales generally grow about 15% per year, which is considerably more than the overall plumbing fixtures industry tends to grow,” claims David M. Krakow president of Toto USA. Toto introduced Washlets to the United States in the 1990s. “We consider this product category to be something Toto owns,” he says.

Toto might well brag. With annual sales of $5.1 billion and over 20,000 employees in 69 offices globally, Toto is the world’s largest plumbing manufacturer. Toto did not offer U.S. washlet sales figures.

Check out this link:

Meet Japan’s ‘Apple of toilet tech’