Beyond unique scenery, ancient temples, and the many bright lights of Tokyo you’ll find that Japan is overflowing with other fascinating cultural experiences. Toilets with self lifting lids, Kawaii or Japan’s cute culture, and unusual snack foods are just a few! We found surprise and delight around just about every corner!
The word Kawaii means cute, adorable, or lovable and is a major part of Japanese culture! It’s everywhere, painted on airplanes, bank logos, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, and even affects personal appearance and mannerisms.
Kawaii is also a very popular fashion look! Unlike many other cultures where women often want to look more glamorous or sexy, many young women are wanting to appear just the opposite. Trying hard to look and sound as sweet, young and cute as possible.
Takeshita Street, located in the Harajuku district of Tokyo, is a pedestrian street and a great place to see many examples of trendy Japanese fashion. Wandering around you might see Sweet Lolita, Gothic Lolita, Kawaii, and Cosplay. Many of these styles which seem more like costumes to Americans are not unusual as everyday attire for the young people in Japan. You’ll see women wearing what look to be little girl dresses complete with lace collars, petticoats and even parasols. I especially loved seeing the fun makeup and accessories and have even adopted a few of the fun ideas I saw during my visit!
Other popular things to do on Takeshita Street besides “seeing and being seen” are shopping and eating crepes. Though there are many crepe shops, the lines can be long. The crowds of Harajuku Girls are thick and they are moving fast. The day we visited It was raining incredibly hard and every single person had an umbrella! The moment we stepped into the street it was like being swept up into the tide and it was all we could do to “get over” to the side again and catch our breath! Not only was this an incredibly fun place to visit, it was truly a moment I will never forget!
Hello Kitty is everywhere in Japan! All the places you’d expect her to be like toy stores and clothing shops and many places you wouldn’t. Ancient medieval temples and shrines, yep, she’s there! Lingerie shop, check! Florists, food carts, the side of airplanes, she’s there too. She even has her very own shop in the airport. There isn’t anything you can’t get with Hello Kitty on it.
Of course with two boys in our house there was no way we were going all the way to Japan, the birthplace of Pokemon, and not going to the actual Pokemon store. There’s really not too much to say about this except that it was a dream come true for my boys and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we always try to make sure the boys get to pick some activities of their own while on vacation. Of course we picked up some Pokemon swag while there, Pokemon Pocky, a new lunch box, various coloring books and spent quite a long time just browsing around. If you have boys or girls who like Pokemon, good luck getting out of this one! 😉
The Japanese people love Kit Kat bars in fact believe it or not they are the number one candy in Japan! The name Kit Kat sounds very similar to a Japanese saying, “Kitto Katsu” or “Kitto Katto” which is a good luck term meaning “you will surely win” and it is often said to students before a big exam. The Kit Kat bar is so popular that not only does it come in all sorts of unusual and regional specialty flavors, but recently an actual Kit Kat shop was opened in Tokyo. The little shop is located on the dessert floor of the department store Seibu. They have limited flavors available at the shop so if you’re on the hunt for unusual flavors you might fare better at convenience stores or other shops which sell candy.
The boys and I decided that it would be fun to bring back as many flavors as we could find! We were on a mission! By the time our trip ended we had located 8 different flavors: cinnamon, green tea, strawberry, cheesecake, dark, chilli pepper, pudding, and sakura green tea. We brought them back and had our friends over for a Kit Kat tasting party! Everyone was pretty surprised at how much they liked all the flavors. The two favorites were pudding which we actually heated in the toaster oven and strawberry. Tim occasionally travels to Japan for business and at times brings us back new flavors. Our most recent tasting was rum raisin.
There are more than 5.52 million vending machines in Japan! 5.52 MILLION! WOW! That’s one per every 23 people! Most of them sell drinks, but you can buy just about anything from them! We saw a bread vending machine which was pretty weird and cool! Some restaurants require that you choose your entree from a vending machine and then bring your ticket to the server. This isn not an indication of how good the food will be!
A few days after arriving in Japan we realized that not only is getting food “to go” not really a thing, but there aren’t really any trash cans on the sidewalks. It’s considered rude to walk around eating and drinking so you’ll find that most vending machines have trashcans next to them as well as a spot to stand and drink or eat your purchase.
Lost In Translation
It’s a good chance that when you’re in a place where there is almost no english spoken or written you’re going to find a few places where things were “lost in translation”. We didn’t see too many examples of this, but we had a good natured laugh at the few we saw which were pretty tame.
Japanese toilets are really quite something and while I don’t have any personal photos of this particular subject, it is definitely worth mentioning! We did encounter a few places with squat toilets where there was little more than a hole in the ground (this seemed to be more common in men’s rooms as I never saw it), most of the time the toilets went way beyond standard and bordered on downright fancy. Some even had sensors that knew when you entered the room and the lid would automatically raise, while others had buttons for “fake flushing sounds” and also doubled as bidets complete with dryers. Even the public restrooms in the parks we visited had heated seats. I’m not sure I need all those other bells and whistles, but (no pun intended) I sure appreciated the heated seats!
When visiting Japan you’ll notice that many people wear surgical face masks in public. When we first arrived it seemed very obvious and foreign to us, but after a few days we got used to seeing it everywhere and it became a normal. There are many theories about why the Japanese people wear them. We asked our Kyoto guide Kenzo and he gave a number of reasons, allergies, the spread of germs, and not wanting to be social were just a few.