10 Strange Things About Japan That Baffle Foreigners
By Nathan Gibson, Toptenz, 6 August 2014.
By Nathan Gibson, Toptenz, 6 August 2014.
Japan has long had a reputation for being somewhat bizarre. Over the top TV programs, a keen interest in technology and a love of the odd has given the impression that Japan is a very different world compared to the West. While that reputation is a little unfair, a number of Japanese customs and practices can completely baffle any foreigners who happen to be traveling through Japan.
10. Banishment Rooms
Many countries have strong labour laws that prevent companies from sacking employees without good reason. In Japan, this has led to a problem for large companies that want to get rid of certain people but can’t fire them without paying out huge benefit packages.
The solution many have come up with, including the likes of Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba, is to use banishment rooms. Employees are sent to do tasks that serve no purpose or are mind numbingly boring. A prime example includes asking staff to stare at a TV monitor for up to 10 hours a day.
The companies who employ this tactic hope that people will become so despondent from carrying out such menial work that they’ll eventually quit. A voluntary resignation means that they’re no longer entitled to benefits, saving the business money.
9. No Janitors In School
Children in the West are used to seeing janitors cleaning and carrying out maintenance tasks in their school. It’s a necessary job due to the mess that kids have a tendency of leaving behind them.
That isn’t the case in Japan though. Instead of employing someone to clean up other people’s trash, the schools teach students to clean up after themselves. Dedicated time is set aside for children to work together to clean classrooms, scrub floors and keep the bathroom spotless. It also extends to eating lunch. Rather than a cafeteria, students eat in their own classroom with their teacher and hand out the food themselves.
The idea is that all of this teaches a sense of responsibility and of working together - learning to be selfless rather than selfish. While these are definitely good morals to be teaching children, it’s a practice that appears completely alien outside of Japan.
8. Sleeping On The Job
Getting caught napping at work is something that generally gets you in trouble. Any boss would likely not be pleased to walk in on you sleeping when they’re paying you to do a job. However this action, which is known as inemuri, is completely acceptable in Japan.
The custom dictates that if you’re sleeping at work it means you’ve been working so hard you haven’t been able to get enough sleep at home. This leads employers to believe that the worker is simply exhausted as they’re incredibly dedicated to their job.
The practice has such positive connotations attached that some people even pretend to be asleep to gain favour. It seems they may be onto something - research from NASA has shown that a nap at work may well help you to work harder.
7. Adult Adoption
Adoption is carried out all over the world, but while the USA and Japan are at the top of the world when it comes to adoption rates, the type of adoption in Japan is completely different.
An incredible 98% of all adoptions in Japan involve adults aged 20 to 30, the vast majority of these being men. If the owner of a family business doesn’t have a son to keep the family name alive, a suitable heir will be found and adopted into the family. The custom is also employed if a father deems his son incapable of running the business. Companies such as Suzuki, Toyota and Canon have practiced what’s called mukoyoshi.
Its allowed family businesses to survive and thrive for much longer than would normally be the case. One example is the Zengoro Hoshi hotel, which the Guinness World Records list as the oldest family run business in the world at 1,300 years old. That’s 46 generations.
Over the past two decades, Japan has developed a unique phenomenon that involves young men locking themselves away and becoming entirely isolated. Agoraphobia manifests all around the world in many different cultures, but the problem in Japan is unique because of how widespread it is.
So prevalent is the condition that there exist specialist facilities and counsellors to help rehabilitate sufferers, whose number is estimated to be between 700,000 and 1 million. Men lock themselves away in small rooms and have almost no contact with the outside world, relying entirely on their parents to provide food. Cases usually last for several years but some have continued indefinitely, remaining isolated for over a decade.
Doctors and psychiatrists believe the issue may have become so frequent because of Japan’s culture and customs. Parents are willing to look after their children until they reach the age of 30, while many see solitude as a valuable tradition.
5. Novelty Food
While novelty foods are something you can find in dedicated candy shops, they’re not particularly popular amongst Americans and Europeans. Most people usually buy them as a joke for family and friends.
But Japan has built up an obsession with novelty food, making it a huge industry. It’s difficult to explain how this phenomenon came about, but many brands will put out far ranging alternatives for people to try. Kit Kat, for example, has hundreds of different varieties of their standard chocolate bar, leading to the brand becoming incredibly popular. Flavours include soy sauce, royal tea, corn and strawberry cheesecake.
It is not just candy - fast food places and fancy restaurants all offer a variety of themed or limited edition food that they introduce on a regular basis. From watermelon-flavoured soda to pumpkin burgers, the list goes on and on.
4. Capsule Hotels
Have you ever wanted a place to sleep while traveling but don’t have need for all the facilities that come with a traditional hotel? If you’re not going to use them then it can seem like a waste of money.
Japan has come up with an answer for those seeking just a bed for the night. Capsule hotels are exactly what they sound like - rooms big enough to fit just a bed and perhaps a small mounted television. The capsules are stacked two high like lockers, often feature Wi-Fi and only cost around US$15 to US$30 a night.
Vending machines, snack bars and washrooms are all shared public amenities to save space. This allows hotels to have up to 700 capsules in only a small area. Most of these facilities only cater for men, although a select few do offer separate floors for women.
3. Christmas Eve KFC Tradition
Most countries in the West have their own Christmas traditions because they’re predominantly Christian nations. In Japan only around 1% of the population is Christian, yet they have one of the most dedicated and bizarre Christmas tradition in the world.
Every year on Christmas Eve, KFC becomes the prime place to be. People will wait in line for up to two hours to get their hands on some fried chicken, cake and champagne from the Colonel. Some even book their meals months in advance in order to avoid having to wait in line.
It all started in 1974 thanks to an advertising campaign inspired by the fact that tourists who couldn’t get hold of turkey for Christmas dinner instead went for fried chicken. The huge popularity is believed to have come about because of the positive American connotations with the fast food restaurant, and the fact that there are no religious messages associated with the campaign.
2. Cosmetic Surgery For Teeth
Around the world, having teeth that aren’t perfectly straight is often seen as a sign of imperfection. Children are encouraged to have braces fit to fix misaligned teeth. However, over the last couple of years in Japan a new craze has been growing where people do the exact opposite. Many women and girls are having cosmetic surgery done to their teeth in order to make them deliberately imperfect.
The procedure involves capping the canine teeth so that they appear to be more fang-like than normal. It’s something that occurs naturally when the molars crowd the teeth, pushing the canines outwards. The style supposedly looks youthful but has been helped greatly by celebrities and pop stars having the procedure. It can cost around US$400 to have the teeth altered, and dental clinics also offer temporary versions that patients can remove later.
Tipping is a common practice in North America, although it can sometimes be a controversial subject, especially over who should be tipped and how much they should get. In Europe there are far fewer times when it’s appropriate to tip, but tipping in some form is seen in most parts of the world.
In Japan though, tipping is almost non-existent. Waiters, hotel workers, taxi drivers and others do not expect to be tipped at all. In fact, many will consider it rude for you to attempt to give them extra cash. There have even been reports of workers chasing after tourists who have left tips to return their money. Some tourism businesses will accept tips, but most companies and businesses in Japan will not expect anyone to offer them money for good service, as they believe that should be part of the price you’re paying.
Top image: Hikikomori from the film “Shaking Tokyo” (2008), via Retro Insomniac.
[Source: Toptenz. Edited. Top image added.]