A lot of the cultural weirdness of Japan is pretty well known: food is weird (they have a fetish for raw eggs apparently), they are very reserved people (people would rarely talk during a subway ride), and men are very dominant and women subservient, etc.
However, there were some things that caught me by surprise.
First, their society is amazingly homogenous. During my five days there I think I saw less than 10 white people and maybe 3 black. Considering that we were in Tokyo and that we walked around the city a lot, this was really shocking.
They speak very little English. The front desk at our hotel could give us the basic info, but when it got to shop clerks or people on the streets, we could only get through hand signs and pointing. Considering the enormous trade between both countries and the American presence after WW2 this is really surprising.
Just like I expected, Japan has a few homeless people on the streets (pretty much like Canada and the US). But something that happens here that I rarely see in the US is to see ‘regular’ people (mostly young) sleeping on the streets. Looks like it was just too much partying but I might be wrong.
Smoking is really out of control. They have these “smoking stations” all over the place but that seems to cause no enforcement in not smoking in other places. People in Canada also smoke quite a bit, but the Japanese were just walking chimneys. The contrast to the US (where smoking is almost a crime nowadays) is huge.
Sex is also treated there in very weird ways. They don’t have playboy billboards like in Brazil, or sluts on TV like the US. But they have a beauty standard that is really close to pedophilia. Besides that, even though you still see women dressed in very traditional kimonos on the streets (they seem to be always wealthy) you can find some weird displays of sex, like this penis “thing” in a toy store or the boob candy that was being sold in from of the Sensō-ji Temple, Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple.
Creepy toy and boob candy
Now, probably the biggest difference between the Japanese culture and the American is the lack of political correctness (which in many cases would be criminal here in the US) . For instance, at one point we ran out of Yen and were looking for an ATM. We couldn’t find one easily so we decided to go into a hotel to ask for info. It was a small one with an American name (Meridian I think). For our surprise, the front desk guy didn’t even wait to see what we wanted, and started to say “Japanese only! Japanese only!”. We tried to explain that we were not interested in staying but just wanted some information, but he was resolute. He got up, yelled yet again “Japanese only!” and pointed at the door.
Somehow I think the ACLU would quickly run out of business in the Land of the Rising Sun.