10 surprising facts about Japan

Japan is a place that never fails to surprise us. A country where futuristic technologies meet ancient traditions, where cat-themed cafés are the norm and peculiar menu items are considered revered delicacies—its culture continues to captivate the imagination with its eclectic quips and quirks, and here are ten surprising facts to prove it.

Nachi Taisha Shrine Pagoda and waterfall in japan


1. Raw delights

Sushi is a raw food celebrated for its health benefits and loved by gourmands the world over. But in southern Japan, you can try another raw delicacy. Basashi (raw horse meat) is a dish well-lauded for being low in calories but high in protein. Served carpaccio-style in very thin slices, it’s hugely popular.

2. Musical motorways

Next time you find yourself driving through North-West Japan, remember to turn off your radio. There are more than 30 so-called ‘musical’ roads across the country, each of which play a different tune. Caused by vibrations, as you drive over small grooves in the road, these different pitched notes create quite the melody.

3. Slurp away

While slurping your noodle soup may be considered bad table manners in most countries, the Japanese actually take it as a compliment. Slurping on your soba noodles is an indication that you are enjoying the food.

4. Hats off to Norway

It’s hard to imagine a Japan without thinking sushi, but your favourite salmon nigiri wasn’t always on the menu. Thanks to Norway, salmon sushi was introduced in the 1980’s after a Norwegian government initiative called Project Japan encouraged Japan to import salmon from the Atlantic. So raise a toast to the land of the midnight sun for giving us this popular sushi staple.

5. Eat your way to old age

Want to know the secret to long life? Ask an Okinawan. The small Japanese island proudly lays claim to having the oldest demographic in the world, with residents often living well over 100. The secret lies in their diet, full of antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables, as well as plenty of fish, soy and tofu.

6. Slowly does it

While slurping your noodles is all OK, one thing that the Japanese consider rather rude is to rip the wrapping paper when opening a present. This shows disrespect to the present bearer. So try and keep your eager excitement contained if you ever receive a gift.

castle in japan with cherry blossom

7. Sumo tears

While most parents go to great lengths to stop their babies from crying, sumo wrestlers in Tokyo compete to see who can make a baby cry first, by pulling faces and making loud noises. Dating back over five hundred years, this celebrated ritual is said to ward off evil spirits and aid healthy child growth.

8. A helping hand

With delays of a mere 18 seconds a cause for complaint, Japanese trains are renowned as being some of the most punctual in the world. The secret to their successful commutes? Train stations actually hire staff as ‘helpers’ to help pack passengers into crowded trains during rush hour.

9. Square fruit

Bending the laws of nature in the name of efficiency is something that shouldn’t really come as a surprise in Japan. But we didn’t see square watermelons coming. Japanese farmers have developed cube-shaped watermelons to make storing and stacking the fruit easier. But be warned, they come with a price tag—a whopping 10,000 Yen, almost four times the cost of a normal watermelon.

10. Ban on the boogie

In was only recently in 2015 that Japan finally lifted its 67-year ban on dancing in venues without a ‘dance licence’—much to the delight of the country’s late night revellers. Initially put into place post Second World War, the ban was abolished after Japanese famous artists, including renowned musician Ryuichi Sakamoto collected 150,000 signatures.


Feeling intrigued and inspired? Click to try our ultimate cultural trip through Japan.