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For me, Japan has always been a place that has drawn me in, it has been top of my bucket list for as long as I can remember. A diverse and bold country which offers a mix of metropolitan, countryside and even islands from scuba diving. From tranquil temples to the outright bizarre in Tokyo, Japan is not to be underestimated, which is why I wanted to share some interesting facts about Japan and Japanese people.
Whether you are planning your first trip to Japan or just taking an interest in the culture, these Japanese facts are here to help inspire your trip, broaden your knowledge and maybe even impress your mates at the next pub quiz.
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>> Want to learn some Japanese for your trip? Here are some useful Japanese phrases for tourists
39 Fun and interesting facts about Japan
The Japanese name for Japan is “Nihon” or “Nippon” which means “sun origin”, which is loosely translated to mean “land of the rising sun“.
Japan is an island nation surrounded by the Sea of Japan to the East and the Pacific Ocean to the West. It is made up of 6852 islands!
The four biggest Japanese islands are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku, which together makes up about 97% of the total land area. However, Japan also has the Island of Okinawa which is known for its tropical beaches and scuba diving!
Tokyo is the capital city of Japan and also the largest city. Other major cities include Osaka, Nagoya, and Sapporo.
Kyoto is the former capital of Japan and for more than a thousand years the centre of traditional Japanese culture. Kyoto forms part of a large urban complex referred to as the Kinki region, which includes Osaka and Kobe as well.
The major cities of Japan are connected by the Bullet Train, also known as the Shinkansen Train. Shinkansen trains mostly run on dedicated tracks and stop only at major stations. They are operated by Japan Railways Group companies and feature some of the fastest trains in the world, travelling at up to 320 km per hour!
The bullet train is the most popular and quickest way to get around as a tourist in Japan. Tourists can purchase a 7, 14 or 21 day J Rail Pass which allows unlimited train travel.
These passes are not available to buy in Japan and must be purchased before arriving in Japan. These passes are also not available to residents of Japan.
Japan has the world most punctual railways. Their average delay is 18 seconds.
People aged 65 and older in Japan make up a quarter of its total population, estimated to reach a third by 2050. Making Japan the country with the oldest population in the world.
Some of the most well-known companies in the world are Japanese such as Toyota, Honda, Sony, Nintendo, Canon, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sharp.
Japan is home to 11 different Pokemon centres! The biggest is in the Takashimaya Department Store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo.
The largest city in the world by population is Tokyo, Japan, with a population of 38,001,000. The city has twenty-three wards, and each ward is made up of several districts – therefore ensure you allocate enough time in Tokyo to ensure you get to see the city.
Animated Japanese films and television shows (Anime) accounts for 60% of the world’s animation-based entertainment.
There are a reported 5.52 million vending machines in Japan. These vending machines are all over Japan and contain everything from drinks, food, toys to even used underwear!
Mount Fuji is Japan’s most prominent and highest mountain standing at 3776 metres. Early July to mid-September is the official climbing season when the trails and mountain facilities are open. During this period the mountain is usually free of snow, the weather is relatively mild, access by public transportation is easy, and the mountain huts are operating.
However, many tourists opt to just take in the view of Mount Fuji rather than climbing, one of the most popular places to see Mount Fuji is from Hakone, however, on a very clear day it can also be seen from the Tokyo Sky Tree.
More than 5 billion servings of instant ramen noodles are consumed in Japan each year. Chef Momofuku Ando invented the first instant “chicken ramen” in 1958.
One of the most popular (and most expensive) times to visit Japan is during Cherry Blossom Season. During Cherry Blossom, Japan is covered in beautiful pink blossoms, making for beautiful views and excellent photography.
In most major cities in between, including Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place in early April. However, it is important to be aware of the prices of hotels and flights increase dramatically during this time.
Another popular time, which does not see an as big price increase, is during the Autumn leaves, which takes places from November to early December.
Another popular place to visit in Japan is Hiroshima, a modern city on Japan’s Honshu Island. Hiroshima was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during World War II. Today, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the 1945 event.
The city of Kobe is also becoming largely popular with tourists visiting Japan as well, the city is located on the island of Honshu and it is famous for being the birthplace of Kobe Beef.
Japanese manners place a great emphasis on “ikkai ichi dousa,” a phrase similar to “one thing at a time.” So eating while walking is seen as impolite. Also, in sacred places such as temples and shrines eating and drinking is considered to show a lack of common sense and bad manners.
Ancient warriors of Japan were known as Samurai. They were very skilled fighters and swordsmen. Their main weapon was the Katana, a sharp sword with a slight curve to it.
The Japanese tea ceremony is a Japanese tradition steeped in history. It is a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking green tea typically in a traditional tearoom with tatami floor. Booking a place on at a Japanese tea ceremony is a very popular thing to do when visiting Kyoto.
Kyoto is also the heart of Japan’s geisha world. In Kyoto, however, fully-fledged geisha are properly called geiko (pronounced “gay-ko”). Young ladies, usually between the ages of 15 and 20, train for five years to become a geiko. During this period, they are known as Maiko (pronounced “my-ko”).
Knowledgeable insiders estimate that there are about 100 Geiko and 100 Maiko in Kyoto. Other cities, like Tokyo, have some version of geisha, but they don’t usually undergo the strict training that defines Kyoto’s Maiko and Geiko.
Japan is famous for its capsule hotels. Instead of rooms on both sides of the corridor, bed-sized capsules are stacked on top of each other, side by side, in capsule hotels. The capsule’s dimensions are usually 1.2m wide, 2m long, and 1m high. So, they are not really suitable for standing – just sleeping!
Sumo is recognised as the national sport of Japan, although the most popular spectator sport is baseball.
In the past, tattoos were used to mark someone who committed a crime, and remnants of this culture still exist in various parts of Japan. This is the base for the rather widespread belief that “tattoos are a bit of a no-go in Japan’.
Today, you will not have many issues travelling in Japan as a tourist with tattoos.
The only place you may come across as issue is at an Onsen or public swimming bath, therefore, be sure to check the rules before visiting. There are some Onsens which allow people with tattoos and some which do not.
Gambling is illegal in Japan. However, Pachinko is a popular game for the Japanese and disguised so it’s not officially gambling. You purchase tiny metal balls which are then slotted into the machine. Balls that win are then exchanged for prizes or tokens which can then be exchanged for money.
Outside of most restaurants, you will find fake plastic replicas of the food that the restaurant serves to help you decide if you want to eat there.
Tokyo DisneySea and Tokyo Disneyland are owned by The Oriental Land Company. They are the only Disney parks in the world not owned by The Walt Disney Company. Instead, Oriental Land Company (OLC) owns and operates them and pays royalty and licensing fees to Walt Disney Company.
Tokyo DisneySea is the only ‘Ocean themed’ Disney park in the world, it has seven “ports of call,” including American Waterfront, Arabian Coast, Lost River Delta, Mediterranean Harbor, Mermaid Lagoon, Mysterious Island, and Port Discovery.
The worlds shortest escalator is in Japan. It has just 4 steps and can be found in the basement of More’s Department Store in Kawasaki.
Robotics is the main sphere of talent in Japan. They are known the world over for ASIMO – the world’s most advanced humanoid robot.
Japanese people have a tradition of visiting KFC on Christmas Eve.
It is considered rude to wear your shoes inside. Before entering a house, you will be asked to take off your shoes and given a pair of slippers instead. This Japanese custom was mainly a thing because back in the days the Japanese used to eat off the floor.
Here is a fact about Japan’s toilets! Japanese toilets are famous for their high-tech functionality, they often have heated seats, play music and some even have fake flushing noises!
Cash is king in Japan. Cash is the preferred method of payment across Japan and many places will not accept card payments. If you find yourself without cash, most 7-eleven stores have ATMs inside.
Wifi is not readily available for tourists in Japan and this is something you should prepare for before visiting, either by purchasing a Japanese sim card or through a portable wifi box.
Stay connected wherever you go in Japan with SkyRoam pocket WiFi. This handy little device will give you unlimited data for your trip to Japan, so you’ll never be without maps and a way to contact home. Save 10% with the code YOKOMESHI.
Tipping is not expected in Japan and in some circumstances can be seen as embarrassing. If you do try to tip, there’s a big chance your server will run after you to give you the money you accidentally left behind.
Skip the animal cafes in Japan. There are many animal cafes across the big cities of Japan, but sadly, many of these are unethical, so avoid them. I have a whole post on why you should not visit Japan’s animal cafes (as well as some better alternatives).
Many Japanese people wear surgical masks. People wear a mask when they aren’t feeling well so they can help stop the spread of germs to their friends, family, and colleagues.
If you are looking for a unique Japanese hotel experience, check into a traditional ryokan for a night. Originating in the early 17th century Edo period, Ryokans are Japanese inns where you’ll sleep on tatami mats rolled onto the floor, sample a traditional Japanese set breakfast, and probably have communal bathing facilities.
There is a small road in Shinjuku, Tokyo known as ‘Piss Alley’. Omoide Yokocho is the official name and it is a small street filled with many restaurants and bars.
Piss Alley is named for its early years when it was a shady destination for criminals to get their drink on. The place wasn’t very built-up back in those days, so instead of using a toilet, people just relieved themselves wherever they could.
What did you think about these facts about Japan? Can you think of any more random Japanese facts? Please get in touch if you can and I will add them in.
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If you enjoyed these interesting facts about Japan or if they have helped you to start planning your first trip, it would be great if you could share them on Facebook or Twitter, so more people can find out about this fantastic and interesting country!