A trip to visit Big Sis takes Yoshio an ocean away from Japan, and in some ways a world apart.

Most of the time, you can find SoraNews24 founder Yoshio at his desk at SN24 HQ in downtown Tokyo, but recently he wasn’t just out of the office, but out of the country, spending two weeks in California. Now back in Japan, he’s made up a list of the things that surprised him as a Japanese visitor on his visit to the U.S.

This August, I spent two weeks visiting my older sister and her family at their house in San Diego. Even though I’d visited San Diego about a half-dozen times before, going there again I found 28 things that surprised me, and today I’m sharing them with you.

Before getting into the list, though, I’ll say that I was really startled by how high prices were overall. In the time I was there, I only ate in a restaurant where you leave a tip once, and almost all of my meals were things we cooked at home, with some takeout sprinkled in here and there. Right now the yen is really weak against the dollar, so as someone from Japan, it felt extra expensive to me. Even if the exchange rate were back at 100 yen to the dollar, though, San Diego isn’t an inexpensive place at all, so budget-wise it was a tough trip.

The weather in San Diego can get really hot, but it’s dry, with hardly any humidity, so compared to the summer in Japan, it’s a lot more comfortable. It makes me want to go back again next summer, as an escape from the muggy heat we get in Japan.

OK, let’s get into the list of 28 things that surprised me, as a Japanese person, in San Diego.

1. People brining their dogs into restaurants and supermarkets like it’s no big thing

In Japan, it’s pretty much the rule that you can’t take pets into stores, and only very few restaurants allow dogs.

2. The screen windows and doors don’t open

You can always expect the screen doors and windows in Japanese homes to be the kind you can slide open, so it was inconvenient having ones that are permanently closed.

▼ American screen windows can’t be slid open.

3. Costco gives out A LOT of samples

Costcos in Japan give out samples too, but it’s almost always something the staff has cooked. Like, say, stir-fried beef and rice, which gives that part of the store a nice meaty aroma. The Costco in America, though, gives out samples of things you don’t need to cook, like candy and drinks, and I was amazed out how many different kinds they give. There were so many that I could get completely full just walking around the store.

4. Costco sells cars

I have never, not even once, seen cars for sale at Costco in Japan.

5. The cotton part of American cotton swabs comes off really easily

Sometimes when I’d be cleaning my ears with an American cotton swab, part of the cotton on the tip would tear off inside my ear. That’s something that almost never happens with the cotton swabs they sell in Japan, which are sturdier. I even gave an American friend of mine some Japanese cotton swabs as a present, and he was really happy with how good they were, so if you get a chance to come to Japan, please try out cotton swabs.

6. The most popular souvenir I brought from Japan were the rice balls

I brought a lot of different food souvenirs for my sister’s family, but the biggest hit was the onigiri (rice balls) I bought at 7-Eleven in Japan. I just picked them up at the 7-Eleven at Narita Airport before I got on the plane, but my sister was so happy, saying “You can’t get Japanese-style rice balls like these in America.”

7. Kura Sushi’s Bikkura Pon isn’t as good of a deal in America

The Japanese conveyor belt sushi chain Kura Sushi has branches in America now too, and just like at their restaurants in Japan, you can get free Bikkura Pon capsule toys depending on how many plates of sushi you eat. In Japan, though, you get one toy for every five plates, but in San Diego, you have to eat 15 plates to get just one Bikkura Pon! I think it should be just five plate in America too.

▼ The Bikkura Pon machine at the San Diego Kura Sushi

▼ Bikkura Pon in Japan

8. Kura Sushi charges you for green tea

Not just at Kura Suahi, but at all conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Japan, the tea is free, with unlimited refills. Really, it’s understood that at all types of sushi restaurants in Japan, the tea is free. At the San Diego Kura Sushi, though, green tea is $3.80 a cup. I was shocked!

9. The prices at Kura Sushi are really high

In Japan, Kura Sushi’s prices are basically 115 yen ($0.78) a plate. Sure, there are some special items that are 165 yen ($1.12) a plate, or even more, but most of them are 115 yen. On the other hand, in San Diego, the basic sushi plates were $3.50 (514 yen).

10, Kura Sushi USA’s Soy Pepper Roll

This was a nice surprise! In Japan, we don’t have “soy pepper rolls,” at Kura Sushi or anywhere else, but this Soy Pepper Spider Hand Roll was really, really good, and now I wish they sold it at Kura Sushi in Japan too!

11. They charge you for luggage carts at the airport

At airports in Japan, the luggage carts are free, but San Diego International Airport’s departure gate area charges you $7 for a cart, which was a big shock (the carts at the arrival gates are free, though).

12. McDonald’s Apple Pie is different

McDonald’s Japan fries their apple pies, so they’re crispy, so I was surprised to see that McDonald’s America bakes theirs. You get a totally different cooking method depending on which country you’re in.

▼ American McDonald’s Apple Pie

▼ Japanese McDonald’s Apple Pie

▼ Because the Japanese Apple Pies are fried, they make a snapping noise when you cut them with a knife! Take a listen for it in the video here.

13. Long poles sticking up from shopping carts

At some stores in America, there’s a long rod that sticks up from the frame of the shopping carts, to keep people from stealing them. I’ve never seen this in Japan.

14. The hamburger chain Five Guys has all-you-can-eat peanuts

Something else I’ve never seen in Japan: a hamburger chain that gives you all-you-can-eat peanuts!

15. “Telephone” play equipment in the park

I saw this at this one park in San Diego. It’s a piece of play equipment that lets two kids talk to each other from far apart, like an analog telephone. This is a cool idea, and something I’ve never found in a park in Japan.

16. Putting chili powder on watermelon

At the supermarket in San Diego, they sell chili powder right next to the watermelons. I heard that putting chili powder on watermelon is popular with the city’s large Mexican population. In Japan, we just eat watermelon as-is or maybe with some salt. I gave it a try with chili powder, but it tasted a little weird to me.

17. Cucumber water

During my trip, I also spent a night in a hotel in Los Angeles. There was a water cooler in the lobby for guests to use, but I was startled to see a cucumber floating in it! It gave the water a little bit of a cucumber flavor, which was kind of funky. In Japan, you might sometimes find water with lemon or other citrus fruits, but we usually just drink/serve it plain.

18. You can use credit cards at laundromats

It’s really convenient how you can use credit cards at laundromats in America! There are hardly any in Japan that take credit cards, and at most of them you have to pay in coins only.

19. The 99 Cents Only Store doesn’t sell much for 99 cents

I went to the 99 Cents Only Store, but they hardly have anything that costs 99 cents. Almost everything is ore expensive. Yeah, recently in Japan 100 yen shops like Daiso have some items that are more than 100 yen too, but the majority of their things are still 100 yen.

20. These crazy sodas

Won’t find these for sale in Japan!

21. Penny press souvenir machines

These are pretty cool! We don’t have them in Japan, but after making one at an aquarium in San Diego, I wish we did.

22. Discounts for retired military members

One day, we drove to Cabrillo National Monument. Usually, they charge $20 for parking, but because my sister’s husband, who’s American, used to be in the military, our parking was free. My sister says that a lot of places in America, as a show of respect, offer discounts for former military members, but that doesn’t really happen in Japan for former Self-Defense Force members.

23. American toilet and kitchen fixtures are so high

Compared to houses in Japan, houses in America are designed with really high fixtures. My niece is still in elementary school, and my sister says it’s hard for her to sit on the toilet. After two weeks I started to get used to how high the fixtures are in America, though, and when I came back to Japan, I got reverse culture shock from how low they are here! Now I don’t know which seems easier for me to use.

24. There’s a gym where everyone who’s shopping at the shopping center next door can see you

We went to a shopping mall that had a gym attached, and you could totally see into the place. I’ve never seen a gym in Japan with this kind of open layout.

25. Nobody was using swim rings at the beach

When I go to the beach in Japan, I see lots of kids who are playing in the water wearing swim rings, but I didn’t see even a single kid with one at the beach in San Diego. I wonder why that is?

26. There are traffic jams at schools in the morning

In Japan, we don’t have a custom of parents driving their kids to school. That’s really common in America, though, and I was startled to see traffic jams in front of schools in the morning from all cars of parents who were dropping off their kids.

27. Toilet seat covers are easy to find in American public restrooms

It was nice to see how many public restrooms have disposable paper toilet seat covers. You can sometimes find them at restrooms in Japan too, but in recent years they’re more likely to have a cleaner dispenser for you to squirt onto a piece of toilet paper and wipe the seat off with instead.

28. Trader Joe sells orchids for pretty cheap prices

Like I said, pretty much everything in San Diego seemed expensive, but something that didn’t was the orchids at Trader Joe’s. In Japan, orchids are really pricey, since we use them for special occasions and celebrations, and they’d be a lot more than the $25 Trader Joe’s was asking for the ones in this photo.

And that wraps up Yoshio’s list of surprises as a Japanese visitor to San Diego. They say the best trips are the ones that leave you with a newfound appreciation both for where you went and where you’re from, and that looks to be what’s happened with Yoshio. Odds are he’ll be back in San Diego again begore long to experience new surprises, but in the meantime if he starts getting nostalgic for America, at least we’ve got some extensive Japan hot dog recommendations for him.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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