10 Unexpected Things I Learned About Japan Only by Visiting

  • Tokyo
  • 7/11 is the Spot

    If you have ever listened to the song “Tokyo Drift” from the Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift movie then you’ve heard the line “7/11 is the spot”. And it quite honestly is THE spot anywhere in Japan.

    Back home in the U.S., I know 7/11 to be the kind of gas station I only stop at if I’m on a road trip and driving down a highway, it’s never one of the nicer gas stations you see in a neighborhood. I really can’t even remember the last time I saw a 7/11 in the states. However, the second I landed in Japan, that could not be farther from the truth.

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    Here, it is nearly around every corner. 7/11 in Japan isn’t a gas station it is simply just a convenience store, but it is the go-to convenience store for almost everyone. From hot sandwiches to sushi and candy, you can pick up almost any kind of snack or quick meal you could want here, and its all pretty good quality food.

    It seems that there is never a dull moment at 7/11. It is always busy with customers, especially around lunchtime. I can’t lie, I’ve gotten my own lunch there every day for the past week.

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    They are Very Accommodating for the Blind

    When you walk around Japan, you will notice parts of the sidewalk are raised and textured. Sometimes it is colored yellow and sometimes it is the same color as the sidewalk. I had no idea what its purpose was for.

    Then, someone finally explained to me it is a walking guide for the blind. These guides are placed on every sidewalk, and even in every subway station as a way to help blind people get around easier. There are different textures that I suppose mean different things. For example, in front of a crosswalk the texture is raised, round circles, but on a normal sidewalk, it is four continuous raised lines.

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    Another thing I’ve noticed that is done to help guide the blind is birds chirping. At a major intersection, when the signal turns green to walk across, a bird chirping noise will also sound off until the light turns red for crossing the street. It serves as a signal to the blind when they can and can’t cross.

    Japan is Cash-Based

    So, I found this out before going on my trip only because I’m going through an internship abroad program, and they notified me that Japan is a very cash-only country. Had I not traveled here through a program, I wouldn’t have known until I got to Japan and would have been extremely confused and scrambling to find an ATM.

    Japan is a country that still values cash over card. It isn’t uncommon to not be able to use a credit card at a shop or restaurant. In fact, even if you can use your card somewhere it’s almost a nuisance because their card readers are not as advanced and quick as in western culture.


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    It’s also not uncommon for someone to be carrying around thousands of yen (hundreds of dollars) on them at any given time. Also, to reload money on your metro card to use the trains and subways here, you can only use cash.

    At first, I thought it as going to be a hassle to only use cash, but I’ve found that it helps me keep track of my spending a lot better than if I was swiping a card, it makes me more conscious of how much money I’m spending

    No Crust on Sandwiches

    Plain and simple, if you are getting a sandwich from a convenience store, grocery store, or cafe, the crust is cut off making every sandwich a perfect little triangle or square.
    The only exception to this is if you are buying a sub-type sandwich or if you make it yourself and keep the crust on.

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    There are No Phone Cases for an iPhone 7 or 8 Pluss

    Not that I really needed to buy a new phone case anyway, it’s still just fun to look at cute phone cases. But, in nearly every store I’ve gone to that sells phone cases I cannot find a case for an iPhone 7 plus or an 8 plus. The ranges of cases are for a regular 6, 7, or 8 or for the iPhone X.

    I’ve only found one store so far that had a few cases for a 7 plus and it was a phone repair shop. Even then, the selection of cases for a plus was far smaller than for any other kind of phone.

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    Dogs in Strollers

    I’ve seen more dogs on walks in strollers than actually walking around Tokyo. I honestly don’t know what the reason for this is, or if there is a reason, but Japanese people seem to love taking their dogs for walks in strollers.


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    Gifting in the Office

    This one I was also given a heads up on because of the program I am in, otherwise I would not have known about this Japanese office etiquette. It is customary to bring gifts, usually food, to the office when you are coming from somewhere far away or coming back from a trip somewhere far.

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    I was encouraged to bring a little something for my new boss here as a way to show thanks and appreciation, as well as a food item that could be shared with coworkers in the office like a box of chocolates. I brought a wild rice mix as a representation of Minnesota for my boss and a couple of bags of caramels and chocolates to share with everyone else. For the Japanese, it isn’t the price or extravagance of the gift that matters, it really is the thought that matters.

    Checks are Not Split

    Going out to eat with friends is something I do a lot back home, and when it comes time to pay we all just pay our own bill. But, if you go out to eat with friends here be ready to pool your cash together or pay some people back.

    Restaurants here don’t split checks for a group of people. Some will give a receipt with a breakdown of what was ordered and how much, but some places just give the total for everything ordered. So it’s on you to calculate how much you ordered and either pool in your exact amount or you may have to pay someone back later or have people pay you back.


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    Vending Machines Everywhere

    I’d say there are at least three or four vending machines on every block. I think I pass one almost ever 100 ft. going to work. It is honestly really convenient though to have a drink available at any moment. And each machine has some different choices from the next. Some have for coffee option, some have more pop and tea, and some even have beers. Each machine has a different theme too, like this one I found in Ginza that has Pikachus all over it.

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    You Do Not Hand the Cashier Money

    There have been a handful of times now where I have gone to pay for something, hand the cashier a bill, and they won’t take it from my hands. This was really confusing to me at first, and I didn’t understand what I was doing wrong. But, I soon realized that there is a tray at every register that you are supposed to put the money in. I think it is for sanitary reasons that they do this, but either way both the cashier and I touch the money so I’m not really sure why they do this.


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    You can read about the places you want to visit all you want, but you truly don’t know a place until you go there and experience it for yourself. Get out, take as many adventures as you can, and find out more about this world for yourself.