Photo: Matee Meepian/Shutterstock

10 Things You'll Miss When You Leave Japan

by Sarah Katin May 19, 2014
1. How freakin’ cool it is

You know how you get this idea of how a place is going to be based on books? (By books I mean movies.) Then you leave the airport and drive past apartment buildings and shopping centers that are very much like the apartment buildings and shopping centers of your own country, just in a different language. Japan’s not like that. Japan’s just as cool as it is in the movies. Any minute you might expect a gaggle of geishas to shuffle past or Godzilla to rampage Roppongi’s vibrant neon nightlife.

2. How freakin’ clean it is

The streets smell of pancakes and honey, everyone rides a pedal bike, and the bus drivers don dainty white gloves. Like, seriously white. Like, how-is-that-even-possible white. Unless you live in a Clorox ad, or Japan, so it would seem.

Japan is so clean I’d lick the pavement. I say this partly because I’m trying to illustrate just how clean it is, but also because I’m secretly hoping one day someone will offer me money to actually lick it. Not that I make a habit out of licking things for money, but when you see an opportunity…

3. Not getting robbed

Not getting robbed is great. I highly recommend it. You won’t be robbed in Japan1. The Japanese code of honor is deeply ingrained and beautiful.

1On the off chance you do get robbed in Japan, I’m going to feel really bad. If it happens, send me a personal message. I won’t reimburse you for your stolen goods or anything, but I’ve heard the act of writing out your grievances can be quite cathartic. You’re welcome.

4. Weird flavored Kit Kats

I don’t actually eat Kit Kats. Mostly because I don’t like them, but also because my sister made me promise to boycott the Nestle corporation because they were killing babies somewhere in the world2. Now I get to not eat Kit Kats and feel smug and superior about it. Still, I’m always intrigued by the curious spin of flavors the Japanese manage to invent: red bean sandwich, wasabi, matcha green tea, purple sweet potato, edamame soybean, and shinshu apple, just to name a few.

2My sister made me add this link.

5. Wrapped books

Sales clerks hand wrap your newly purchased books in delicate paper with care and precision. It’s like watching art happen. Being that it’s the country that brought us origami, it’s not all that surprising. It makes me wish I could wrap these very words and bestow them to you. Imagine it so. But don’t imagine me folding you a paper snow crane. I always fuck those up.

6. The Ramen Museum

My only regret was that I didn’t purchase the year-long pass. My less-ramen-enthused pals talked me out of it. They didn’t understand the magic. It’s the Disneyland of the ramen world. Except without the rides and long lines and loads of people, because as it turns out not a lot of people visit the Ramen Museum.

The best part is the area is designed to resemble ye olde Japan circa 1958, the year ramen was invented (so says the website). In ye olde Japan, you can sample ramen from around the country. Each region has its own unique take on the iconic noodle dish. This is not that crunchy crap in a bag you ate in college. This stuff is love. Eat your feelings. Here, the website has directions.

7. The most amazing piece of meat you’ll ever put in your mouth

For me it was a succulent melt-in-your-mouth bite of beef yakitori I had whilst strolling along a river in Fukuoka. I’ve heard the cows in Japan are grass fed and massaged daily by virgin milkmaids. That might have something to do with it, but really I think it’s Japan’s simplicity with food that makes the experience so exquisite.

Take sushi. Here in America, we sauce it up and give it a powerful name like “dynamite roll!” In Japan, they let the food speak — or taste, I should say — for itself. They don’t make a pompous show of it. Just delicately sliced raw fish placed elegantly on a plate with a little wasabi and ginger. So regal. So clean. So perfect in its purity as you pop that piece of fleshy fish in your mouth and let it swim.

8. Fun toilets

Have you ever noticed your ass cheeks are usually cold? Reach into your pants and feel them. No one’s watching. I’m not sure why this is, and it doesn’t seem to have a negative impact on one’s life, but it does make the heated toilet seats of Japan really fun.

Not only is your seat toasty, it’s also super high tech. It’s pretty much like a space shuttle where you can launch a few rockets to the sound of birds singing or a pretend toilet constantly flushing. This is so that, while everyone knows exactly what you’re doing in there, you can pretend you’re actually playing with birds or wasting water. After you’ve finished, go ahead and test out the buttons. You won’t be able to read them, but you can’t go wrong with the smiley face one. It’s pretty much an enema. Sorry to spoil the surprise.

9. Trains

Riding the Tokyo trains during rush hour, I always wonder if the man my breasts are firmly pressed against has a girlfriend. Or what about the guy sandwiching me from behind? Who are these people? Do they think it’s weird that I can feel their body parts with my body parts? Yet we all pretend like it’s no biggie and go about listening to our podcasts.

And just when you think there’s no space left for your body to go, the doors open and more passengers are herded on with a stick. The guy with my breasts all over him falls asleep wedged tightly upright. Are my breasts that uninteresting? The whole situation is awkward. This isn’t something to be missed. I’m sorry for wasting your time with this one3.

3In defense of the trains, they’re ridiculously punctual. And the Shinkansen is a disorienting good time. They don’t call it a bullet train for nothing.

10. The Snow Monkeys of Nagano

Monkeys soaking in hot springs!

I don’t know what else to say. If I didn’t have you at “monkeys soaking in hot springs!” we’re just not the same kind of people. Frankly, I’m surprised you’ve read this far.

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