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10 Surprising Things About Japan
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10 Surprising Things About Japan

Discover 10 fun and fascinating facts about Japan which might surprise you!
Ten Surprising Facts About Japan
Bonus Recommendations


Japan is full of surprises! It may be one of the world’s most popular destinations to visit, but Japan is anything but predictable. It is a country of incredible contrasts, from its vast, futuristic cities to its historic, rural villages, its snow-capped mountains to its sub-tropical sandy beaches, the serenity of its temples and shrines, to the quirkiness of its contemporary culture; Japan is truly unique. It’s also guaranteed to surprise you in all kinds of different ways. If you’re planning a trip to Japan with the JR Pass and want to learn more about this amazing country, then you’ve come to the right place. From the serious to the sublime, fun to fascinating, let’s take a look at ten surprising things you may not know about Japan. 

Ten Surprising Facts About Japan

While it isn’t a surprise that Japan is an amazing place to visit, the country still has plenty to discover, including lots of facts you may not know.     

  1. More than 80% of Japan is Mountainous

While Japan is an archipelago consisting of four main islands and between 6,000-7,000 smaller ones, it’s also surprisingly mountainous. Most people probably know about Japan being an island nation but given that it has a reputation for its vast, futuristic cities, you might be surprised by how mountainous Japan is. Around 4/5th of Japan is mountainous, making it one of the most rugged and spectacular countries in the world as well as a wonderland for outdoor enthusiasts, walkers, and climbers. The country’s many peaks and mountain ranges, combined with its exceptionally high snowfall, also means it’s an amazing place to enjoy winter sports. Japan has hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice as a result and has a wealth of winter resorts for lovers of skiing and snowboarding (or just bathing in a hot spring and enjoying the views!). Speaking of hot springs, Japan is also one of the world’s most actively volcanic countries. Mt. Fuji is a great symbol of Japan, but did you know it’s more than just a mountain? Yes, that’s right - it’s an active volcano! This activity gives Japan a huge number of geothermal hot springs, which are enjoyed by millions of Japanese people and international visitors in the form of onsen and bathhouses.    

2.  Slurping is Good

Japan may be famous for its good manners, etiquette, and focus on traditional customs, but you might also be surprised to learn that slurping your ramen and noodles while eating is absolutely fine. It may even be taken as a compliment by the chef! For more on food etiquette, read our guide to Japanese table manners. 

3.  No Tipping Necessary

There are a few money-related facts about Japan that may surprise you. When eating out, there is no need to leave a tip. While this is customary in western countries, it could cause confusion or offence in Japan. Instead, you can end a meal by saying ‘gochisōsama deshita’, which means ‘Thank you for the feast’. Then, cross one finger over the other to create an ‘X’, which is a common way to signify you are ready for the bill. Want to know another surprising fact about money in Japan? Cash is still king and remains the primary method of paying for goods and services. So much so, we recommend every traveller carries a good quantity of cash while in Japan. While the country is becoming more open to the use of electronic payment methods such as credit cards and contactless, cash remains the most common method of payment and many retailers and services you come across could be cash only, especially in towns, villages, and more rural areas, so it definitely pays to have plenty of Japanese yen on you at all times. If you need to take out money while in Japan look for 7-Eleven branches with 24/7 ATMs. 

4.  Business Cards Will Help You Make Friends

While it may seem a little old-school to Westerners (or at least those outside the business world), business cards are still a big thing in Japan and not just in professional life. Exchanging business cards is a big thing in Japan, a token of respect, and a way of making friends. We’ve even heard of international travellers having their own business cards printed in Japanese and handing them out to people they meet as a greeting.  

5.  Music for Every Occasion

Japan has a quirky relationship to music and likes to use it in some interesting (and unusual ways). This includes a special musical tune played at road crossings and music (and other sound effects) being part of the country’s futuristic, electronic toilets to cover up any potentially embarrassing sounds. This is a country where being polite is important - even in the bathroom! 

6.  Five Million Vending Machines

Vending machines are BIG in Japan! Japan reportedly has around five million vending machines across the country - that’s one for roughly every 24 people in Japan! They’re also typically much better than anything you’ll find at home and stock a much wider range of items, including good quality food and drink, toiletries, umbrellas, ramen, toys, and more.

7.  Take Your Litter With You

Japan is one of the cleanest countries in the world and yet you might struggle to find litter bins in public. How are those two things possible? Well, Japan considers cleanliness a personal responsibility and the Japanese people take this very seriously - so much so, they clean up after themselves at all times and take their litter with them. As a result, public litter bins are something of a rarity. 

8.  There’s a Baby Crying Festival (Yes, really!)

Japan’s traditional festivals are known as ‘matsuri’. There are literally thousands across the country, from centuries old festivals linked to sacred temples and shrines to quirky, contemporary festivals celebrating almost everything, frankly! One of the most surprising has to be the annual baby crying festival. Known as The Naki Sumo Matsuri, it involves two sumo wrestlers holding a baby each. A referee puts on a scary mask and tries to frighten the babies, with the child who cries the loudest being declared the winner! The reason for this seemingly strange 400-year-old custom? The Japanese proverb ‘naku ko wa sodatsu’, which means "crying babies grow fastest"! Babies who cry are believed to have good health and in ancient folklore, had the power to scare off evil spirits!

9.  Longest Life Expectancy

Perhaps it’s the seafood, the vegetables, or just the island living, but Japanese people currently have one of the longest life expectancies in the world, an average of 84, something that might seem at odds in such a technologically advanced and industrialised country. Japan also has one of the oldest populations in the world with 85,000 people over the age of 100 in its 126 million population! Speaking of age, here’s a bonus fact: the oldest company in the world is from Japan. Kongo Gumi, which manufactures temples, was founded in the year 578!  

10.  Japan’s Trains Are Record-Breaking

From the fastest trains in the world to the safest, from the busiest train station on the planet to the quietest (opening just twice a year!), from 30 different types of trainspotters to the best train food you’ve ever eaten, Japan’s trains are record-breaking and surrounded by surprising facts. Japan’s vast, interconnected train network stretches right across the country’s four main islands, from the north to the south, east to west, and back again. If there’s somewhere you want to go in Japan, then the country’s trains can get you there. They’re also fast, clean, safe, efficient, and enjoyable to use. And paired with a JRailPass for unlimited travel on the majority of trains, you can hop on and off at your leisure, giving you the freedom and flexibility to have the holiday of a lifetime. 

Bonus Recommendations

We have many more astonishing facts about Japan and a wealth of useful information in our many in-depth travel guides on the JR Pass blog. Here are a few suggestions for further reading as well as some extra advice: 

  • Learn more about Japan’s world-leading domestic rail network with Top 10 Amazing Facts About Japan’s Trains.
  • Meanwhile for more on Japan’s colourful and spectacular festivals, read our guide to The Best Festivals To Experience in Japan. 
  • First time visiting Japan? Read our Top Ten Tips for First Time Visitors in Japan
  • Need a helping hand on arrival? Our dedicated Meet and Greet Service is like having a personal assistant for your holiday who happens to be an expert on Japan. We’ll take care of you from the moment you arrive in Japan. 
  • Want to use Google Translate to support your language skills? Or Google Maps for live train updates? What about posting photos to social media or keeping in touch with home? For all this and more, you’ll need a PocketWifi device. With unlimited data, support for five devices simultaneously, the ability to share your Wifi with your travel companions, and more, renting a PocketWifi is highly recommended.   

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