Last summer, I was riding the subway with some friends from home who were visiting me here in Nagoya, Japan. Suddenly, my friend pointed at a sticker on the window behind us. “What’s that?” he asked, staring wide-eyed at the image of a smiling cartoon golden dragon wearing a train conductor’s uniform. “That’s the mascot of the Nagoya Transportation Bureau,” I replied, happy to be imparting local knowledge. “Oh,” he said. “And why does the Transportation Bureau need a mascot?” 

You see, it’s the little things that can be most surprising about a culture that’s not your own. Today, we bring you a list of 10 quirky things that you probably didn’t know – or may not have realised – about everyday life in Japan.

1) Sometimes people just wear kimono out and about for no reason

People in Japan wear traditional kimono for special occasions: weddings, festivals, graduation, visiting a shrine. But sometimes they just wear them because they feel like it, or want to take a lot of cute pictures that day. Some older women still wear kimono every day. In how many other countries do people wear traditional national dress just for kicks?


2) You have to pay to have oversize waste picked up…so some people don’t bother

Japan’s trash collection system is a masterpiece of complication that baffles foreign residents and Japanese alike. If you have trash that’s bigger than a regulation-sized bag, you have to pay for a special sticker to put on it, and then have call the local council to make an appointment to have it picked up since, particularly in urban centres, there are so few dumps, and even if there are, few people own cars to carry their unwanted junk there in.

It’s not surprising, then, that some people choose to quietly ignore this rule, instead slapping a “HELP YOURSELF” sign on usable items and leaving them by the side of the road for anyone to take. And, more often than not, it just sits there until someone else begrudgingly deals with it.

▼ This person’s old stuff isn’t even over-sized.


3) Japanese school teachers eat the exact same lunch as the students

In fact, teachers even take it in turns to taste-test the school lunch before the students, to check it’s safe to eat (that’s their excuse, anyway). Japanese kids are expected to eat everything they’re served without being picky eaters – no leaving your vegetables – and school lunches are credited with helping to keep Japanese kids from succumbing to the obesity epidemic gripping the Western world. Plus, as we recently learned, that daily bowl of miso soup might actually be incredibly good for you.


4) There are stray cats everywhere

In Japan’s urban parks it’s common to see feral cats, often being petted or fed by visitors who come every day to hang out with them. And that’s not to mention the cat island


5) And branded goods EVERYWHERE

A staggering 92 percent of women in their 20s living in Tokyo own at least one item by Louis Vuitton; 58 percent have something by Prada, and 44 percent own a Christian Dior piece. Surely they don’t go well with a kimono though, girls?


6)  …and it’s near-impossible to buy fake designer goods

Although the demand for counterfeit goods is high, the rates of seizure of these fake goods at airports also reached a record high in 2013, with over 20,000 items seized at customs. With Japan’s economy heavily dependent on intellectual property rights, the government is keen to keep Chinese-made fakes out of Japan.

(It’s worth noting at this point that these surprising things about Japan were sourced from a survey of Chinese people – so perhaps a better title for this section would be “it’s not insanely easy to buy counterfeit goods like it is back home”?)


7) Everything has a character mascot

Everything. EVERYTHING. Not only companies and major organisations, but also every public service imaginable, as evidenced by this line-up from my local Aichi Prefecture below.

▼Aichi Prefectural Police, Nagoya Castle, and Nagoya City Transportation Bureau mascots. As if Japan wasn’t cute enough already.


8) There are random detached houses in the centre of town

This is one of my favourite things about living in the city in Japan. You’ll be walking along, surrounded by high-rise buildings, when you suddenly come across a beautiful, traditional Japanese house, often surrounded by stately tiled walls.

▼ Whether the owners are too rich or just too stubborn to sell, we salute you, cool old Japanese people, for keeping these amazing residences standing.


9) No trash cans anywhere

Well, no public trash cans, anyway. Japan is very much a take-your-litter-home society, so get used to carrying a little stinky bag of garbage around with you wherever you go. What’s kind of cool, though, is that people actually do take their rubbish home with them, confirming once and for all that a lack of trash cans does not automatically have to mean more trash in the streets.

▼ Convenience stores are a good place to find trash cans, although signs prohibit the throwing away of household waste


10) And Buddhist monks just hangin’ out

Traditionally, Buddhist monks live on donated food or money. So if you’re near a temple in Japan, chances are there will be a monk or two walking around, or sitting or standing with a collection bowl. This is also intended to bring the monks into contact with lay people on a daily basis.


What other little things amaze and amuse you about visiting Japan? Be sure to let us know in the comments!

Source: Yahoo! Japan
Top image: Shiotsi Other images: Odawara CityNakazatoWikipedia, Mike nekoRakutenSpotbagsNagoya Castle, Aichi Keisatsu, Kotsu Nagoya (edited by RocketNews24), Japan NewbieAnother world, not quite oursWikipedia.