Japan was one of most wonderful destinations we had ever been to. I always imagined two sides of Japan – the historical and traditional Japan of temples, torii gates and elegant geishas, against the hyper-modern cities, cartoons and robots. Inbetween it all, there are so many tiny quirks and conveniences that are the cherry on top. All woven together, it’s these little things that make Japan such an interesting, alluring destination.
Convenience store snacks
Starving at midnight (on our way to the Airbnb from the airport), we picked up a few onigiri for dinner. In essence, they are balls of vinegared rice, commonly wrapped in seaweed, coated in sesame seeds and spices, or filled with fish, chicken, or other fillings. They’re cheap, filling, and incredibly tasty. The seaweed is kept separate, to be as fresh as possible. Who would have thought that the Japanese konbini (convenience store) would be such a lifesaver!
The modern Japanese toilet, famously, has a lot of features built in, including on the control panel next to you. These toilets are commonplace as well; from hotels to public restrooms, the entire country has adopted these wonderful inventions. Looking down at the control panel, with just Japanese characters, it might all seem a bit too much at first. But you won’t be able to go back to the old way once you’ve experienced heated seats, the butt water jet, and even a fake flush sound to mask any noises that you might make!
Let’s look at some of the best things about Japanese toilets:
- Heated toilet seat
- White noise, or fake flush noises, to hide your bodily noises
- The butt water jet, which is controlled by the panel. A nozzle extends from the toilet to give a cleaner experience after you finish your business. The type of spray, and direction can all be chosen. And at the end, the nozzle is sterilised.
- A hand rinse located above the cistern. You wash your hands with clean water when you finish, and then this water is used for the flush. A great way to save water.
- Air deodoriser
- Automatic lid open and close
- Self-washing bowl
- Warm air drying, or air conditioning, for your behind
- There are even some urinals with built-in pee-based video games to be found in Japan!
Some of these features are novelties, but others are essential (heated seats, of course!). It all begs the question: why don’t we have these toilets at home?
Japanese Manhole Covers
Japanese cities and towns all across the country have incredible manhole cover designs. What are normally ugly lumps of utilitarian metal are exquisitely designed to reflect the culture, history, tradition and industry of that particular place. They’re so beloved, there’s even manhole cover trading cards, and a manhole cover convention!
I did an in-depth dive into the world of Japanese manhole covers – read more here!
Every town and city in Japan has a mascot, a cute, colourful character that usually reflects the identity of the place. They’re usually adorable, and can be found all over souvenirs for that place. Japanese mascots can reflect a cultural element of the city, their local industry, or even their history. Thus, they take all kinds of forms! A dancing leek, a bear dressed as a samurai, a smiling monk, a factory with cutesy eyes. They’re even used in advertising – kawaii cartoons advertise everything from hangover remedies to cartoon monks.
Purikura, the cute photo booths
Purikura was one of the irrelevantly fun activities we did in tokyo; an extra cutesy photo booth which you edit with enlarged cartoon eyes and cat ears! Just walk into one of the purikura parlours, take your picture in one of the many booths, and follow the instructions to make your picture as kawaii as possible!
The compact Tokyo house
Like many other post-war houses in this area, the house was cube-ish, clean and geometric, a sensible construction in a whole neighbourhood of small houses. It was our Airbnb, and I loved it! It felt very compact, like the rooms of an apartment were rearranged to form a mini 2-story house, which had shrunk in the wash. With such thin walls, the house was icy cold, so we let ourselves in, took off our shoes, and turned the heater up a toasty hot temperature.
Train station food courts (and free samples)
The biggest train stations in Tokyo are usually crammed with food courts, bento box shops for your next shinkansen trip, and clusters of stalls selling desserts and fresh ingredients. Ignore the fact that they exist in a train station – the quality of the food is top class. Whether you want a lunch box served in a plastic train, or you want to try chocolate donuts, train station food is irresistable!
And much more!
The natural beauty of a snow-speckled winter forest lit by stone lanterns; the subway trains that play little video game tunes at each station, I even became fond of the naked-only hot springs.
A look at every day life
We were staying in Hatsudai, a little-known suburb west of Shinjuku. Its lovely central walking street was named Fudo Dori. Fudo Dori was awake in the morning. The weather was fresh and cool, but clear and beautiful. We went in search of hot food. We passed a dog barber, trimming a poodle to give it an afro, a tail afro, and afro feet. A delivery driver was securing a plastic bowl of soup to the back of his motorbike for delivery.
Many of the shopkeepers were very old, selling fruit, vegetables and mystery fried things. Then we found the restaurant we were hoping for, a cute local diner with a small dining room, a fresh coffee station, and some local men reclining with cups of tea, watching game shows play out on the TV. Our Teishoku arrived – a Japanese set menu with rice, miso soup. We couldn’t wait to finish our breakfast and start the adventure!