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22 Things That Surprised Me About Japan (as an American)

I know I’ve said this a million times, but Japan is an absolutely amazing country. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, DO NOT hesitate. Living in Tokyo has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I would move back in a heartbeat and stay there forever. It is my absolute favorite place I have been to, hands down. (And my husband seconds this!)

I know there are many preconceived notions about what Japan is like, especially Tokyo…I had many of them before I moved there. So, hopefully, this post will shed a little light on the actual differences between Japan and America. And I think you’ll find that nearly all of these differences are positive differences…or at the very least, they’re very interesting!

A public square in Tokyo, Japan filled with people. There's a large red and black shrine in the forefront of the image, along with trees and mountains in the background. Text across the bottom of the image says "22 things that surprised me about Japan"

(Note: These are not in any particular order, just a list of what surprised me!)

Visiting Japan as an American: 22 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know!

1.) How quiet it is…even in Tokyo!

I know that sounds crazy…especially because Tokyo is the biggest city in the world, with more than 13 million people living there, but you could seriously hear a pin drop at times! This is for a couple of reasons: 1.) The Japanese culture is very quiet…you won’t hear people talking loudly or on their cell phones in public (especially not on public transport). 2.) There aren’t that many vehicles (because of how awesome the public transport is), and the ones that people do have are generally electric and very quiet. Also, no one hardly ever honks their horn.

2.) How clean Japan is.

You would not see litter anywhere…you also wouldn’t see trash cans anywhere. You are expected to carry your trash with you and then throw it away at home.

3.) The toilets.

You could seriously fly to space with how high-tech some of the toilets are here. Many have heated seats, bidets, and dryers..some play music or make the sound of running water – it’s crazy, haha. But most parks and train stations won’t have these lovely toilets…be prepared to use a squat toilet!

4.) The dogs.

Holy smokes, are there some tiny, well-cared-for dogs here! Generally, if you saw a stroller or an over-sized purse…there would be a tiny dog’s head sticking out of it. And chances are that dog is better dressed than you, haha. And most dogs couldn’t have weighed much more than a pound, they were so small (and adorable)! Also, dog groomers were out of this world luxurious, haha. I’m pretty sure most of the dogs also had better hair than me.

5.) Seeing ancient shrines & temples mixed in with a modern city was surprising as well.

It was absolutely beautiful, though…and very calming to have these spaces mixed in with the bustle of the city.

An image shows a large stone shrine in front of an ancient Japanese temple. The temple is bright red and surrounded by green trees under a blue sky.
A stunning ancient shrine and temple in the heart of Tokyo.

6.) How extremely polite everyone is all the time.

It’s absolutely amazing! Even when police cars were coming through with their rather quiet sirens, I was told they were announcing, “Please move. Please move.”

7.) Purse holders and boxes were at just about every single restaurant or bar.

Your purse is never going to have to touch the ground or anything dirty while in Japan. And if the restaurant had an open chair near you, they would offer it to your purse. It made me want to invest in a nicer purse if it was going to be so well cared for! Haha.

8.) Vending machines. They are everywhere!

And you can get a wide variety of things from them. I was very amused by the beer vending machines and ramen vending machines. (Pictured below.) And no, you can’t buy used underwear from vending machines (anymore)…it’s against the law.

A Japanese food vending machine features small images of different dishes, from rice to means, ramen, and more.
In Japan, you can order ramen out of a vending machine!

9.) There is virtually no crime in Japan.

As a woman, I was never once was afraid of walking alone at night. And many people would leave their bikes unlocked, with personal belongings in their baskets…or even leave their dogs tied up outside as they quickly popped in a shop. These were all acceptable because no one would steal the bikes or take the dogs. It’s beautiful, really.

10.) Japan is not as technologically advanced as you might think.

Everyone seems to think Japan is living in a space age…and while there are some neat technologies available, there are many, many outdated ones. DVDs are still booming, as are fax machines. Many people still use flip phones. Credit cards are not widely accepted. Have cash handy!

A busy city street in Japan at night, lined with brightly-lit storefront signs advertising shops and DVD stores.
The bright lights of a city street in Japan… advertising DVD stores everywhere!

11.) The earthquakes!

Not that earthquakes are specific to Japan…but having earthquakes on roughly a monthly basis was shocking for someone like me, who has never experienced any seismic activity. Haha. Most were just enough to make some rattling noises, but not do any damage whatsoever.

12.) Japan, specifically Tokyo, has the best food and restaurants in the world, seriously.

Tokyo has 226 Michelin-star restaurants…and the second-best city, Paris, has just 96. I firmly believe it is impossible to have a bad dining experience in Japan…I ate at an obscene amount of restaurants while I was in Japan and only one was not remarkable in the food department. (And that was the evening with a Geisha dinner in Kyoto.) And while restaurants and bars are nice and all…the street food is also mind-blowingly good! I honestly almost liked eating street food better. There were so many delicious options…and it was a really nice option for all those Pokemon GO players. Haha. (Street food pictured below.)

13.) Public transport is amazing in the major cities.

There is no need for a car when you can literally take the subway or train anywhere (in a major city). The subways and subway stations are also incredibly clean. You won’t feel the need to bathe in bleach or burn your clothes after using public transport in Japan!

14.) There weren’t that many cars on the roads, the ones that were, were insanely expensive.

This one is a bit specific to the area I was living in (Azabu-jūban), but wowzers… It was not uncommon for me to walk out and see Rolls Royces, Bentleys, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bugattis, Porsches, you name it. I honestly don’t think I had even seen half of those kinds of cars in person before arriving in Azabu-jūban, haha.

15.) Baseball games!

Japan loves baseball! And I can see why…baseball games are incredible, with an amazing amount of fan participation. (I wrote a lengthier post on Japanese baseball games here if you’re interested.)

A giant crowd of Japanese baseball fans at a Swallows game on a gorgeous, sunny day.
Fans cheering with umbrellas at a Swallows baseball game.

16.) Sushi is not as common as you would think in Japan.

It honestly seems as though America has a bigger obsession with sushi in comparison to Japan. And if you are going out for sushi in Japan, you can expect to get Sashimi (thinly sliced raw fish) and Nigiri sushi..which is just rice, a thin layer of wasabi, and raw fish (and delicious). There are no spicy tuna rolls, California rolls, or any of the specialty rolls that are common in America. But my goodness is sushi in Japan yummy! I really got used to having the wasabi applied for me…as I always tend to overdo that when left to my own devices. Haha.

A variety of sashimi and nigiri sushi arranged on a white plate. The sushi is made with pieces of raw fish on top of a ball of sushi rice.
Fresh nigiri sushi in Japan.

17.) Kawaii – everywhere!

Everything in Japan is very “kawaii” (cute). From manhole covers to toilet paper…I was blown away by the cuteness everywhere!

18.) You get a wet napkin or towel with every meal.

If it’s a fast-food restaurant, it will be a disposable wipe..but otherwise, you will get a damp towel that is cold in the summer and warm in the winter.

19.) Face masks.

Ok, when people see photos of folks in Japan wearing face masks..everyone thinks there must be an outbreak of the plague or bird flu, or maybe it’s to protect from pollution. Here’s the scoop…people in Japan wear these as a common courtesy to their fellow city dwellers when they have a cold. This is so they do not spread the cold by getting their germs on others. Some women also wear these masks if they do not have time to put all of their makeup on…(to hide their unmade face). 


20.) A lot of people smoke in Japan.

Here’s probably the only negative surprise, in my opinion….Cigarettes are relatively cheap and many restaurants and bars allow you to smoke in them. It was really weird to be in smoky places again. (Most of the states in America have made it illegal to smoke in businesses.)

21.) Women’s fashion.

This could use its own post, but I’ll try to condense it. For the most part, nearly every woman was dressed incredibly cute and dressy. No one would be caught dead wearing their pajamas in public. I was surprised by how many ladies wore heels…and how many also wore socks with their heels in the heat of summer. Also, scrunchies…these are widely popular, but they aren’t the hideous ones from your childhood! Many are lacy and delicate and very kawaii! (It made me wish I still had long hair, haha.)

A small McDonalds delivery car, uniquely seen in the streets of Japan.
McDonald’s delivers, and they have their own cute branded vehicles!

22.) McDonald’s delivers!

I didn’t find this out until nearly my last day in Tokyo. But it surprised and amused me to no end, haha.

Which one surprised you the most? Let me know in the comments!

*If you like this post, it is now available as a self-guided walking tour! Click here to download it.


  1. Can’t tell you how much I liked this post. It gives such a unique viewpoint to Japan.
    Some of them were really cool and kawaii. Really like the fact that it is so safe and clean.
    The vending machine bit was funny.
    Richa | Fancier’s World

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post. The fact about technology and credit cards definitely surprised me. It’s nice to hear that the city was so safe as well. Japan is definitely a country that I have always wanted to visit and learn more about. I have heard so many positive things and your posts have been so informational. I have been a little behind on your posts, so I can’t wait to catch up on your other posts from Japan.


    1. Yay! So glad you enjoyed the post, Joanna! I really hope that you get to experience Japan one day! It is such a wonderful country. 🙂

  3. Literally every single one of these favts surprised me. Great post! That makes me so happy that people are nice and its safe there. Makes me wonder why America isn’t like that?? I always thought Tokyo was like NYC too and its really not. Quiet is not how I would deacribe New York haha.


    1. I am so glad you enjoyed the post, Amanda! And I guess, I have no data to back this up…but it seems to me the main reason is that the Japanese value their honor very much and would never want to do anything to dishonor themselves. Therefore, crime is low. There also seems to be a greater sense of doing something because it will help the general population versus just helping themselves (which tends to be how many of us Americans think). And oh yes! Tokyo and NYC are like night and day! Two completely different cities – it’s crazy! 🙂

  4. Wow, the no crime and lack of technology probably surprised me the most…though there are several points that were surprising! I think I missed reading about your departure from Japan from the past month’s craziness, but I’m hoping to catch up more thoroughly later this week! XO

    1. I had been aware of Japan’s low crime rate before going…but it was still surprising just how safe I felt while I was there. I don’t even feel that safe back in little Wisconsin! And the technology did throw me for a loop too. 🙂

  5. The smoking really surprised me too, Lindsey – all through Asia so many smoke, especially young women. And the toilets – I was never quite brave enough to press all the buttons! Great post, shared.

    1. Yes, I was surprised by how many young people in general were smoking, too.

      Haha! I was never brave enough to press all the buttons either. 😉 And thank you so much for sharing my post! I really appreciate it.

  6. Great insights!!!!! The smoking is what amazed me too and the lack of littering. I’m not sure if you noticed it, but we saw numerous times people smoking outdoors and they had little fold up ashtrays they would remove from their pocket to ash in. Very nice gesture.

    I also loved the umbrella bags that were inside each place when you walked in so you weren’t walking around with a wet umbrella.

    Hopefully you and Zach get to make it home again.

    1. Huh, I don’t honestly think I noticed the little fold up ashtrays! That makes sense, though. Because I never once saw ash or cigarette butts on the ground. Oooh yes! I forgot about the umbrella bags! Those were so nice! And thank you so much! I really hope we get to make it our home again one day. 🙂

  7. Dear Lindsey, I was so waiting for this post, it’s brilliant! I can’t say what surprised me most, because I guess 20 amog 22 facts surprised me 🙂 When I read a post with some points, I normally write about what I remember – that maybe indicates that those were the points that most surprised me 🙂 So in no particular order, maybe I will list 20 surprises 🙂 McDonald’s delivery? I was surprised, never saw it before! The masks, because people are considerate… So many Michelin stars in the city and the second is Paris! Toilets, little dogs (better groomed that we are 🙂 Cigarettes in restaurants (that I wouldn’t like either), no trash bins in the city… I am really so amazed! Hope you have a very lovely week!

    1. Aw, thank you, Denise! I’m so happy you enjoyed it! Haha, oh yes I was constantly being surprised too! I hope you have a lovely week too! 🙂

  8. Wow. You describe the city so well! I can’t really see why you would want to go back. It seems like such a nice combination of pleasant and quirky. Plus, that sushi is my dream. Like get in my mouth right now, you yummy fishies.


    1. Oh gosh, thank you! And definitely a great combination of pleasant and quirky! And the sushi is soooo good! I was surprised when I was back in the US just how many sushi restaurants do serve Nigiri sushi, I just never thought to order it because I didn’t know what it was. 🙂

  9. Very interesting! Some things didn’t surprise me, because of my husbands visit to Japan. I am surprised they smoke, considering how clean they are! 🙂

    1. Glad you found it interesting, Laurie! And that surprised me as well…especially because of how clean and hygienic everything else is. It also seems as though there isn’t as much info being pushed as to the negative health effects that smoking has. (I mean, we have billboards and warning labels on every pack of cigarettes…but in Japan, there’s still actual ads for smoking.)

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