It’s no wonder that Australians revere Japan so highly for its beautiful scenery, ancient cultures, dynamic cities, phenomenal food scene and epic snow resorts, but what about its smaller, more eccentric everyday details? There’s a lot to love there too.

If I were to list all of the things I love about Japan personally, it’d take me an eternity and end up being a very long list.

Because whatever you’re into or up for, Japan has so much to offer for everyone.

Having returned from another trip, this time to Kyushu Island in the South and Tokyo (Read all about it here), I’ve put together a few of my favourite cultural quirks to take note of on your travels around this stunning country.

So if you have a curious mind and want to scratch under this country’s surface a little more, then this is your stop.


1. If you drop trash – you are trash

See any litter? Nope. Pic: Matt Leedham

See any litter? Nope. Pic: Matt Leedham

If you’ve been to Japan, you’ll have noticed that the entire country is virtually spotless.

Wherever you travel throughout Japan, you’ll see no litter, plastic bottles or cigarette butts choking up the ecosystem.

You also won’t see many bins on the streets either except at train stations, near vending machines or 7/11’s where they have recycling bins. This is another reason why there is no litter – people take their own trash home.

When you consider that this is a country of 121 million people, it’s an unbelievable point to note.

Everybody follows a simple principle – Do not throw your trash on the floor.

They also all follow a strict set of rules which stipulates that they must always be dressed immaculately and keep themselves clean.

Travel Tip: Take small compostable plastic bags to carry your trash in a daypack to avoid being shamed.


2. Recycle, recycle, recycle

There's a place for everything here...

There’s a place for everything here

Following on from cleanliness comes trash recycling and the Japanese’ insane appetite for it.

Incredibly, Japan recycles 77% of its waste as a nation. That’s some collective effort.

In Australia, we have the fundamental choice of a yellow, red or green bin option at best. In contrast, the Japanese meticulously sort their trash into categories ranging from 10 to 44. These separate categories include bottle tops, plastic bottle, glass bottles and steel items.

Japnese householders are required to use the trash bags as designated by local authorities and then take them to a selected pickup point on the morning of the scheduled collection day. If the designated bag isn’t used – it will not be collected.

Kamikatsu, a small town in Tokushima prefecture in Japan’s South West, is aiming to become Japan’s first zero-waste community by 2020. From recycling furniture to zero landfills or incinerating garbage, their story is an inspirational one we could all learn from.

Travel Tip: Recycle your bag tag at the airport. All airports have recycling bins to handily discard your luggage tags on your way out of the terminal.


3. A culture of waving goodbye to planes

Bye bye now

“Tatty bye then”

Once you’re on the plane (seated ideally in the window), If you keep a keen eye out, you’re likely to see airline ground staff below you bowing and waving to your aircraft until it’s out of sight. Often four or five people will line up, militarily to perform their courteous farewell to the departing flight they have just been working on.

Why is that you might ask?

Well, pride in doing their job is one reason, along with the same utmost respect for service and duty that you’ll see everywhere in Japan.

It’s just what they do, and you’ll see the same ritual on Bullet train platforms, where crews have only 7 minutes to turn around a train to make it spotlessly clean before its next journey leaves bang on time.

Travel Tip: Wave back and make someone’s day.


4. Toilets to warm your heart and soul


This toilet even comes with its body fat analyser and remote control

Japanese toilets are famous for their technological superiority, with around 74% of Japanese homes having a Japanese electronic lavatory.

They say that once you become accustomed to Japanese toilets, it’s difficult to go back.

In most regions of Japan, homes lack central heating. Such homes are designed to heat one room at a time (as opposed to the entire house). This saves a great deal of energy but means that many Japanese homes (especially bathrooms) are cold in winter.

Not to fear — the toilet seats are often heated, which is strangely comforting.

There’s even a list of features from a warm air dryer for your behind to bidet options, and a timer for your warming seat (To save power of course).

Some toilets feature a noisemaker that can emit a white noise that drowns out other sounds which are intended to enhance privacy. The sound is either triggered by sitting on the seat or pressing a button.

In the past, noisemakers sounded like a continuously flushing toilet; however, these days, more pleasant sounds are available. Some toilets even play classical music mixed with white noise. Fancy.

Travel Tip: Try all the buttons. Go on, I dare you.


5. Courtesy gift wrapping in department stores


The Japanese believe that the presentation and meaning of the gift are more important than the actual gift itself, so it’s no surprise that they take gift wrapping very seriously indeed.

At Takashimaya Department Store in Tokyo for example, their gift wrapping service uses a unique method, known as the Takashimaya Japanese Style Gift Wrap – where only one piece of adhesive tape is used to secure the entire wrapping paper. Also, there is no cutting needed; instead, the method employs a neat trick of folding in the excess paper.

Most sizeable Japanese department or toy stores offer a gift wrap service for free at specialist counters.

Travel Tip: If you’re buying a present, then make sure you get it at one of the department stores or toy shops to take advantage of the free wrap.


6. It’s as safe as thousand year old houses


Image: Flickr

Japan is generally extremely safe for tourists.

An Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development study in 2014 ranked Japan as “the safest country in the world.”

Generally speaking, people on the street and on public transport will look at you with a sense of curiosity and are some of the friendliest, warmest people you could meet although they may tell you to be quiet on the train if you’re too loud.

All that said, it’s still (as always) better to err on the side of caution, so don’t drop your guard, do keep an eye on valuables and don’t do anything you wouldn’t normally do at home.

Travel Tip: Japan is generally extremely safe. So if you’re a solo female traveller, you’re in a great place, but still be aware of what’s going on around you, especially when travelling at night.


7. Sshhh… Quiet, please


All quiet here…

When you first visit Tokyo (and anywhere else in Japan for that matter) and spend a bit of time there, you’ll wonder why this city of 9.2 million people is so, so quiet.

“Did someone pass away?” you might think. “Did I miss something?”

No, you didn’t, because culturally, loud behaviour anywhere in Japan is frowned upon simply because it ‘invades others space.’

There’s no tooting car horns or loud music blaring out on the streets; no-one is shouting, and everywhere you go, people will mostly be respectfully quiet.

Public transport is one place you especially must adhere to this rule, so avoid talking on the phone (put it in silent mode) and send messages instead.

After a while, you’ll find yourself falling into this ‘Zen’ like mood too. And when you return home, you’ll notice the noise difference.

Travel Tip: Listen and observe… Who can you hear on trains in Tokyo? If it’s noisy, my bet is it’s Aussies!

So there are 7 of my favourite cultural quirks with plenty more to add here. I’d love to hear some of yours too.

Japan is an incredible country full of diversity, tradition and wonder.