Toilets that sing to you, talking robots and gorgeous historical sites are just a few of the things, that make Japan a special country that is unforgettable to visit. If you have the opportunity to stay in Japan with a homestay family, keep these differences in mind. This article looks at five super convenient things Japan has to offer that most other countries do not.
#1 Convenience Stores Everywhere
Photo: jpellgen on FlickrNot only are convenience stores open 24-7, but they are everywhere; almost every street boasts either a Family Mart, 7/11, Lawson's or Circle K (also known as Sunkus). At a Japanese convenience store, you can almost always find:
Food: As well as the standard snacks, cup soup, cup noodles and microwave meals, most stores offer ready-to-eat Japanese food such as nikuman (pork buns) or onirigi (rice balls), as well as pretty decent meals such as noodles, meat and sandwiches.
Alcohol: Because it's always important to be within walking distance of beer, whiskey, sake and Chu-Hi.
Newspapers and magazines: As well as plenty of manga, Japanese comic books.
Stationery: Pens, pencils, notebooks and the like.
Gift cards and vouchers: Particularly useful if you want to send money abroad or get credit for Amazon.jp.
Toileteries and cleaning products: Toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, bleach and bug spray are all available.
Beauty products: If you're out of eyeshadow, eyeliner or bobbles/hair ties, there's usually a beauty section in the store. They also offer great scented wet wipes for the hotter months. They are a Godsend during the summer.
Photo: David Shackelford on Flickr
Many people who see streets of Japan on TV or visit for the first time say that masks people wear are "creepy" or "make them look like surgeons". Whilst the whole effect can be a bit alarming at first, masks are actually super convenient.
People wear them when:
a. They're getting sick, especially something that spreads easily like a cold. When they absolutely have to go outside, they pop on a mask to keep their germs to themselves.
b. When they're worried about others turning them sick. If you have to go to the hospital for some reason, it's good to give yourself a little protection against sick people.
c. To protect from dust and pollution.
I actually find them extremely useful for when I have a cold. It's comforting to know that no one can see my red cheeks and runny nose! It's also a polite thing - I feel a lot better, coughing into my mask rather than openly in public.
#3 Vending Machines Everywhere
Photo: Eric Brochu on Flickr
Photo: jpellgen on FlickrI could talk all day about Japanese vending machines. They are simply everywhere - inside public buildings, out on the streets, even in fairly remote places or in the middle of residential areas. They offer mostly drinks, although tabacco and beer machines are also out now.
These are especially useful in the hot summer months, and even if you're lost you're bound to find a vending machine somewhere - they're on almost every corner, offering drinks from as cheap as 80 or 90 yen up to 300 yen for larger sizes. There are so many that there are even "Happy Drink Shops" on roadsides, which is just a long line of vending machines of the same company. At these great little machines you can get:
Coffee: Hot or cold. Japanese canned cold coffee is delicious.
Soda: Usually Cola, Pepsi or Grape Fanta.
Tea: Hot or cold. Mugi-cha (wheat tea), Ocha (green tea) and black tea is available.
Water: Of course. Especially great on a hot day.
Pocari Sweat: An electrolyte-boosting energy drink.
There are more hot drinks around in winter, and cold ones in the summer.
You may have vending machines in your country, but do you have them on almost every street? I'm guessing not! I heard that it takes an entire nuclear power generator to keep all the machines in Japan at the right temperature. Insane, but convenient!
#4 Public Transport Cards
PASMO, Suica and other public transport cards
Source: Karl Baron on FlickrSuica cards (PASMO cards serve the same purpose) are fantastic little cards that you can get at most train stations. They can be used to travel by train, and are particularly useful in Tokyo's underground subway system.
A more detailed way to buy and use a Suica card can be seen here, but they're basically cards that will fit into your wallet that you can use instead of having to buy train tickets. You simply scan the card at the ticket barriers and it charges you accordingly. You can also use Suica and PASMO in some convenience stores. Did I mention there are convenience stores everywhere?
#5 "Ding-Dong" Buttons in Restaurants
Photo: akaitori on FlickrWe've all been there - you're at a restaurant, you need the staff's attention and you have to do that awkward show of trying to catch a waiter's eye so you can beckon them to come over. In most restaurant in Japan, each table has a button that you simply press when you're ready to order or when you need something. This way, the waiting staff don't have to constantly eyeball the tables to see if they're needed, and you can simply push your button and wait for service rather than having to wave or say "excuse me". Simple, but extremely effective and convenient.
There are many things in Japan that you look at and just think "Damn, why don't we have these at home?"