One of the things I most love about travel is noticing the differences between the place I'm visiting and home - the architecture, the light, the plants, the people. I find this stuff fascinating, even if the 'travel' is just going to a country town an hour away. Going slight further afield, say from Melbourne to Sydney or Hobart is great, as each city is so different in terms of climate, architecture and more. And going overseas blows my mind - I notice everything, am fascinated about how & why things are the way they are.
All this year I'd been reading about Japan (well, I'd read bits of Hello Sandwich's Tokyo Guide and also Tokyo Precincts and Monocle's Tokyo Travel Guide, all highly recommended, along with a few general online travel guides and some blogs) and I knew what to expect generally. But when I got there, there were all these little quirky differences that I loved. So I decided to write them down, so I wouldn't forget them. And as I know a few people going to Japan soon, I thought I'd share them in case they're interested.
Thank you. I don't speak Japanese but I already knew one thing - "thank you" is "arigatou". But when thanking you (which happens a million times a day - everyone is so polite!) people actually seemed to be saying something else. It took me a while to figure out it was the more formal "arigatou gozaimasu" (pronounced "goes eye moss" with a silent "u").
You get hand towels at eating and drinking establishments. Sometimes it's a real towel (face washer sized) and it's hot. Sometimes it's a small wet napkin in a plastic bag (like you used to get on planes!) It's always nice.
You don't need to press the button at traffic lights (and often there is no button). Well, this was the case pretty much everywhere we went. Occasionally you need to press the button at night but generally the lights just cycle through, as there are always pedestrians everywhere.
People wait for the green light at traffic lights. Yep, no crossing on the red! Generally, anyway. Why rush?
Crows. Or maybe ravens? There were loud, squawking crows everywhere we went. Initially they freaked me out (is it an omen?!) Then I got used to them. Apparently they're very smart, remember faces and do swoop people, so don't be mean to them, as they'll remember you next time!
Footpath = road. It's not the case everywhere, but in lots of places we went to there's no footpath and you just walk on the side of the road. It's how it's always been so it's very safe, but it took me a little while to get my head around the idea.
So many pot plants. It's definitely not the case everywhere, but in the first area we stayed in Tokyo, there are pot plants all over the place. There often isn't room for everyone to have a garden but you can still have greenery this way. Excellent!
The train station music/jingles. They're unique, to say the least. According to the sister of someone I know, the tunes have "baroque foundations and excellent augmented triads." So kawaii.
Stripes. So much striped clothing. Who would have thought you could have so much variation with stripes!
Folded toilet paper edges. Everywhere - in all the AirBNB places we stayed, in little bars, restaurants, even in department stores. Everywhere. And public toilets are everywhere and clean, amazing. But finding a bin...well, that's another story.
Toilet flush confusion. Sometimes it took me way too long to figure out how to flush a toilet (push a button here? Push a button there? Hover your hand over a sensor? Pull a lever?) that I'd accidentally hit the flush sound effect button. Yep.
Craft beer. OK, I knew Japanese craft beer was a bit of a thing. But it's actually a super big thing and there are so many great local artisan brews. If you're into beer, prepare you palette and your wallet - they're excellent but can be pricey.
Hydrangeas and ivy. Unfortunately we couldn't time our holiday to coincide with cherry blossom season (just missed out) but the hydrangeas everywhere more than made up for it. They're one of my favourite plants but I had no idea they came in so many varieties and in such vibrant colours. And ivy, often variegated, also seemed to be everywhere. I used to hate ivy and thought of it as a weed but now I'm going to have to find some and pot it in an indoor hanging basket ASAP.
Let me know if you've been to Japan and have more things to add to this list!