Television, YouTube and Facebook are common mediums where we get our worldview of Japan. But if you read my article on the widely-believed-but-untrue myths about this country, your perception may have started to change. This time, I will highlight some unknown and possibly a different side of real Japan that you have never stumble upon.
1. Coffee is more popular than you think
Tea may be the staple beverage in Japan, but interestingly this country is one of the world’s largest importer of coffee. Although coffee is easily attainable from vending machines and convenience stores for a cheap price, I would recommend visiting a Japanese coffee chain store to experience the Japanese coffee culture. In authentic coffee shops or kissaten, good coffee beans are imported and handled with care until a cup of aromatic coffee is produced. Do check out Japanese coffee chains like Doutor, Renoir and Komeda easily found in major cities to experience coffee culture – it is calm and quiet, a perfect place to relax and unwind.
2. Horse meat is a delicacy
Looks like seafood is not the only raw meat delicacy in Japan. Horse meat is called ‘sakura niku’ in Japanese, due to the colour of the meat which is redder when compared to other meat. It is in fact considered a healthy and is eaten raw, baked and grilled. Low in fat and calories, it has more vitamins and minerals. Eating horse meat may sound strange, but it has been consumed for hundreds of years in Kumamoto and Nagano prefecture and became part of the food culture. Many who have tried this meat has commented that the texture is crispy and delicious, so why not give it a try?
3. There are more than 6,000 islands
Japan is a country of islands, but who knew there were more than 6,000? Besides the main islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, Kyushu, there sure are many more islands to explore. Just look up the Sea of Japan, Ise Bay, Pacific Ocean, Nansei Islands and Seto Inland Sea and you would find many islands scattered in these area. Apart from these islands in the oceans, some islands are found in big lakes. Some of the exciting activities you could look forward to include tarai-bune (traditional tub boat ride) at Sado Island, or even enjoy the company of cats at Shikoku islands and rabbits at Okunoshima!
4. Cities have vending machines on every street
You probably have guessed this out if you watched anime and Japanese dramas. Thanks to the low vandalisme rate, Japan could place a vending machine at every street corner. The existence of these machines provides the convenience to buy different types of beverage, cigarettes, candy, soup, hot food, and even alcohol in both commercial and residential areas. It could very well end up as your favourite grab-to-go solution in Japan too!
5. Many streets don’t have a name
Image credit: Google Maps
Streets without names are common in Japan. If you have come across a Japanese address, most of the time it starts with something like “1 Chome-2-1…” which are block numbers. In Japan, building blocks are given unique numbers to identify its location. This method of address system is surprisingly helpful as numbers are easier to remember compared to street names. On top of that, this is also useful for both locals and foreign tourists.
6. The largest age group is the elderly
According to The Telegraph, 27.3 percent of Japan’s population is over the age of 65. With the elderly population increasing each year, the Japanese government is looking into measures to help this population especially in terms of social welfare and healthcare. If you are travelling to Japan, don’t be surprised to spot older people on the streets from time to time. You might even be surprised to see them healthy and prefer to work despite their age!
7. Geisha was men’s occupation
Commonly known as one of the cultural icons of Japan, little did foreigners know that geisha was originally a men’s occupation. History of male geisha dates back to the 13th Century whereas female geisha did not exist until the mid-18th Century. The word for male geisha is ‘taikomochi’ or ’hokan’. Back in those days, a taikomochi’s role is to entertain people of the court using arts, give advice to feudal lords, and attend to royal families.
8. Exercise culture
The exercise culture is apparent in Japan, thanks to the cultivated habit of morning exercise instilled in Japanese since schooldays. But even in offices, employers do include exercise as part of daily routine in the morning or break time. The good news is it does not stop there – the government is also mindful of citizens having a healthy lifestyle and even encourage citizens to make use of parks in their vicinity. For example, train stations in Japan are equipped with lockers to store belongings and hence it is convenient to change into an exercise outfit and hit a park nearby.
9. Ready for disaster and survival
Japan is a country well-prepared for natural disasters. Every year, Japan is hit with 1,500 earthquakes, possible tsunamis, typhoons, and volcanic eruptions. Earthquake is the most commonly encountered disaster in the country and citizens are educated on what to do when an earthquake strikes. Drills are conducted regularly from time to time in schools and offices, and citizens are educated to keep an emergency bag containing food, water and medication which would help them to survive for a few days.
10. The crooked teeth trend
You may think nice straight teeth is organised and beautiful, but Japan ladies think otherwise. For them, the vampire-like crooked teeth (yaeba) are considered cute or kawaii. Instead of perceiving crooked teeth as a negative attribute, Japanese recognise that this imperfection brings about an adorable and child-like trait especially when smiling. That being so, it is not surprising to hear ladies feel encouraged to make their nice teeth crooked!
How many of these facts about Japan did you know before reading this article? Well, you certainly discovered a different side of Japan now!