Japanese Customs, Quirks & Other Fascinating Oddities

japanese-customsOne of the things I love about traveling to new destinations is encountering new cultural oddities used in daily life. I’ve collected some things my friends and I found in our travels to Japan. See if you can guess what they are!

This is found in older locations in Japan. What is it?

  1. Sci-fi bidet.
  2. A machine for an oil change on a scooter.
  3. A sink for people with long hair.

I was not prepared for this.thowto It is a “squatter” toilet. You do just like it says. You would need strong thigh muscles to make this work. I usually have the “when in Rome” philosophy when I travel but I couldn’t try this out. Which made for severe bladder-testing periods as we traveled thru some small towns where this was the only toilet available! What’s amusing also is in places where they had put in “western toilets,” they also posted signs to tell perplexed Japanese how to use the new toilet.rb1
rb2In almost every restaurant you will see some variation of this curious creature. What is it?

  1. Japanese sasquatch
  2. Goldilock’s bear
  3. Raccoon Bear
  4. “Tonko,” a human who was turned into a bear in an ancient legend.

My brother (who lives in Japan) tells me this is the Tanuki, or raccoon bear. It’s supposed to bring good luck. No one knows what’s up with its huge…sack though.. EDIT: Read Joanne’s comment below for more info on the Tanuki! Apparently the Japanese don’t have scrotum issues!moneyplatmoneyplat3
moneypad3Variations of these plastic things are found wherever cashiers are found. What are they?. It’s the “money pad.”When I was in Japan, I saw many variations of this contraption. The Money tray, the money platform, the money pad. The purpose is for the cashier to return your change to you. At first I thought it was because they didn’t like touching hands exchanging money, but somehow GIVING the money to them isn’t a problem – no tray required. Can anyone shed light on this?lovehotel
What is this building?

  1. A brothel
  2. Love hotel!
  3. Hansel & Gretel’s far eastern house.
  4. Where Raggedy Ann and Andy live

In much of Japan, kids in college still live with their parents because its prohibitively expensive to live on their own. So unlike their counterparts in the U.S., Japanese kids who want to have a little “private time” with their significant other must book time in a “love hotel.” This is a great article on the love hotel.
yellowIn Nagasaki, we found his rubber yellow line on many sidewalks. What does it mean?

  1. It’s the yellow brick road, silly.
  2. It’s a gender dividing line. Women walk on one side, men on the other.
  3. A track for carts that many Japanese roll with them during the day.

Your guess is as good as mine on this one- we saw this raised rubber yellow stripe snake across sidewalks in Nagasaki. Someone thought perhaps it was to assist the blind in feeing their way on the sidewalk but it was never confirmed.MAGICAL COMMENTER tslipperANSWER: This is indeed for the blind!

What about this picture tells you you are in a Japanese bathroom?. Toilet slippers. It’s customary in Japan to wear these simple slippers only while using the bathroom. Note how they are facing inwards for the visitor to slip on as he enters the bathroom. Just don’t forget to take them off again as you leave or you will experience a look of horror on the face of your host!

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: , ,

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. R Says:

    The raccoon bear is called a tanuki.

  2. Cory Says:

    The yellow strips ARE for the blind. They’re all over Tokyo and I saw them being used several times.

  3. Chris Says:

    I use the money pads for handing over money if they have them. My guess is there is a cultural reason behind this, but it also makes it easier to pick up coins as the pads have raised bumps.

  4. Chris Says:

    Oh and the yellow raised lines are for the blind. They have them in train stations too.

  5. Joanna Says:

    (I’m not an expert on Tanuki, so error in my knowledge is possible, but I do know a bit. I hope this helps)

    The “sacks” on Tanuki are their oversized testicles. Yep. Wild tanuki were rampant in rural Japan and they (like the meerkat) have huge testicles. The legend began long ago that they are magic and can grow. There are ancient pictures of tanuki standing on their hind legs like humans and beating enemies into submission with their testicles! Tanuki are also supposed to be very smart and jolly. Another legend is that they can turn into statues of monks that are often found around temples. If you remember Super Mario 3, in World 5, Mario can turn into Tanuki Mario. Although the character’s missing the massive scrotum, Mario CAN turn into a statue! Unlike us stuck-up Americans, the Japanese have no problem with informing children about the legend of the tanuki and their testicles. Tanuki love to eat, which is why they’re fat and can be seen outside restaraunts. They are also often portrayed as travelers, which is why they can be seen with the hats and maybe a bag to hold his things.

    The animated movie “Pom Poko” is a great movie about Tanuki. I’m sure you can catch the whole thing on YouTube. Both English dubbed and Japanese with English subtitles should be available. The subbed is definately better. Disney was in charge of the English language release for America, and whenever the testicles were mentioned, they were refered to as “pouches.”

  6. John Says:

    The “money pads” go back to an old cultural tradition where money is always exchanged in some sort of “package.” You could say that your [payment] offering is somehow considered to be devalued if not treated with that kind of respect, though “dirty” or “unclean” is probably too strong a word for it. This is why you will generally see money–especially when intended as a gift–neatly placed inside an envelope. This is customary in the West as well, though generally more for security and privacy than for cultural reasons.

    Of course this custom is eroding for the sake of convenience, as good as concept as any to the Japanese to break tradition. Money is sometimes exchanged directly, especially when buying train tickets or using their nifty ATMs.

  7. misch Says:

    the yellow stripes can be found in europe too. it’s acutally fairly comon. and it really is for the blind. actually a good thing, they also indicate stairs or streetcrossings by changing the pattern.

  8. Justin Says:

    The yellow stripes are for carts/blind. The yellow stripes are everywhere. By a warehouse we have on of those pads. Its so the carts don’t roam into the parking lot and so the blind know where they are going. They aren’t always yellow either. If you’re blind who cares LOL.

  9. Charlene Jaszewski Says:

    Joanna: “not an expert on Tanuki,” – you could have fooled me! Thanks for the info!

  10. tricia Says:

    the hotel called “casa di due” is a love hotel. japanese college students and youn professionals often live in dorms that are single sex (not even your father is allowed in if you are in a girl dorm). so you go to a love hotel to have sex. it’s pretty fun.

  11. funky Says:

    Sometimes I wish we have squatting toilets in the US. They are good in public places, which means your butt doesn’t have to touch where some other stranger’s butt have been.

    Here in the US, the paper rings for the sit down toilets are a pain to put down, and stick to your ass, which means a slight move results in butt cheek molestation by proxy. It doesn’t matter anyway, every other toilet in US public restrooms (guys) has pee stains on the seat because ppl don’t bother to lift the seat up when they use it for peeing.

  12. sir jorge Says:

    that’s awesome, thank you for this post.

  13. chris Says:

    we also have those stripes in the netherlands (but they are white), at trainstations in particular so the visually impaired/older people don’t fall in front of the train.. lol

  14. Peter Says:

    Your references to the Japanese and Asian style of toilet were condescending, colonial and antiquated and your quote ‘when in Rome..’ was stupid because you didn’t do what the Romans do – instead you did what prudish ignorant people do – judged negatively and held on when its easy to squat and do your business in this style of toilet. Stay at home and keep your foolish comments to yourself we’ve been there and no you are wrong!

  15. SCHATZI Says:

    PETER you need to chill the FUCK OUT!

    It was educating to me!!!

  16. Armani Says:

    All of this is quite interesting. As far as Peter’s comment about antiquated colonialism, I wouldn’t worry too much. Opinions are just like eyes, everyone’s got a set. Unfortunately you can’t say anything without bothering someone, and living by the philosophy that you should keep to yourself if you may offend, doesn’t sit right. Especially when your post was obviously of the inoffensive, informative sort. If you had meant to offend I’m sure you would have been much more vulgar.

    As for the squatting toilets, I would be shocked too by the difference in culture. Kind of like port-o-potties are strange for some people because of cultural differences, this is in that same ball park. It’s just different, that’s all. Nothing wrong with it.

    Thanks for the Tanuki information (whoever posted addn’l info on it)! I saw Pom Poko (or a portion) and was very shocked to see such a different type of entertainment. We’re so accustomed to our movies that seeing anything below the waist is shocking as child entertainment. Then again, had we not changed some of our fairy tales we would probably have some good tales ourself.

  17. vic Says:

    Holy shit! Relax, man! All of this angst can only upset the bowels!! I’ve traveled far and wide so trust me on this: when you first start out you may be somewhat picky – but soon enough you’ll drop a turd anywhere that’s even halfway accommodating. I’d squat, stand, sit, roll over… whatever – I just need to drop a turd – trust me – I ain’t picky, friend!!We all are just trying to get a little relief after all.

  18. Nic Says:

    They also have the yellow line on most of the sidewalks in South Korea (Well, Seoul, at least).

  19. Estera Favalora Says:

    I have seen the money tray at restaurants in Prague. I think it’s for when coins tend to roll off the counter, or get into places that are hard to reach. Therefore, with a tray, one’s change is all in one place, in a nice, neat little container. That, or because of the dirtiness of money-handling (germs).

  20. gecko Says:

    The rubber stripes are almost every in large Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai!

  21. RomeLOL Says:

    Peter, settle down. And it’s not like you actually have been there otherwise you would know these are for women, they have regular urinals for men. And you def do not do number 2 in these!

  22. Rachel Says:

    Tanuki are funny – but when applied to a person, the term can be insulting in a “Ha-ha, you’re it” kind of way. I heard a person called a “tanuki” once and it was because they ate and drank and then didn’t pay their share at the end of the evening!

  23. Rocket Says:

    About the Squatting Toilets: They have these all throughout Europe as well. When I traveled to Italy, I was first puzzled, then shocked, & finally I laughed about it. I never touch toilet seats anyway – I have strong muscles, so I hover. If I need to do a number 2, I put down copious amounts of T.P. first. On a related note, I recently went to Spain, & saw an innovative feature in some Ladies’ Rooms. It’s a little hand-pump next to a toilet, with directions/pictures instructing you to spray antibacterial solution onto some toilet paper, & wipe the seat before use. Cool, huh?

  24. Charlene Jaszewski Says:

    Peter: did you forget to take your happy pill today? I said one must need strong thigh muscles to use the squat toilet. I did not at the time have strong thigh muscles – thus, i did not use the squatting toilet. What’s condescending about that?

  25. TV SPy Says:

    BS the money pads are actually for efficiency, they do that so that you get your money faster and leave quicker. Rather then scooping each penny off the desk, you can just dump it in your hand. Also it allows them to deal with several customers at once, your transaction takes place in one pad, while someone elses takes place in the other. So money problems aren’t mixed – get it?

  26. richard Says:

    The money tray is a way to show respect and also it keeps both parties honest. As money is handed over, no one can play the money changers game as they do in the U.S. These money trays are also in use in many places across Europe. I could go one, I hope I’ve said enough so people understand.

  27. Charlene Jaszewski Says:

    richard:what do you mean the “money changers’ game in the us?”
    The weird thing about the money pad is that it was only used for giving change back to the buyer. When I handed over money to pay, they took it in their hands…it just seems odd that it’s a one way thing.

  28. jean Says:

    “cultural oddities”?! That’s funny, really.

  29. glitter Says:

    We have the yellow tiles with raised lines in Brisbane Australia too – a worldwide phenomena!

  30. Alan Underwood Says:

    The Japanese are a little bit funny about money. They didn’t respond when you handed them the bills because it would be rude to criticize the way you handled the transaction. When you hand a vendor money in Japan, it’s considered polite to order the bills and present them in a proper way. Dirty, crumpled or torn bills are generally not used when conducting ‘honorable’ business.

    What everyone said about honor is right about accurate. They hand you the bills back neatly stacked, ordered, with no dirt and grime on a tray to give the transaction orderliness and honor. They accept your bills any way you hand them because they respect you and your decision.

    I’m open to a real Japanese person to explain that more clearly, but that was the impression that I got when I visited.

  31. Takako Says:

    I’m a Japanese person. Can I say about this?

    About the money tray, it is respectful way to change money to another person. The customer can see it return money and the amount quickly. It is not a Japanese way touch a strange person. That is more proper way to use money tray.

    In old Japan, it was disrespect and arrogant to show money in public. And is not smart to show money in public because of theif. Money coins had a hole or square in middle, so a person can put coins on a string. The person can count off money coin like abacus to pay another person.

    Later, there is paper money. The Japanese custom was to put money in rice paper wrap to make a payment. The rice paper envelope has a colour and artwork to show a person’s status, but amount of payment is hidden. I remember my parents to making payments in rice paper envelope. I have collected and saved the envelopes from my grandparents gifts, the envelopes are very special gifts to me (more than money gift). This envelopes are not used here now Japan.

    Now, it is not really custom this way to change money in envelope or tray. It depend on business and reputation of company. It depend on type of customer too. Some customer want to use tray to pass money, another doesn’t care about that. A Japanese customer put money in tray, the clerk will use it too. If there is doubt, the clerk will put money in the tray.

    OK. Hope understand about this.

  32. Taking Off Travel Blog - This Year’s Popular Posts | Taking off Travel blog Says:

    [...] Japanese Customs, Quirks & Other Fascinating Oddities – One of the things I love about traveling to new destinations is encountering new cultural oddities used in daily life. I’ve collected some things my friends and I found in our travels to Japan. See if you can guess what they are! [...]

  33. Charlene Jaszewski Says:

    Takako, I am the author of the post – thank you so much for explaining about the money tray, and the Japanese handling of money. I learned so much! I like the idea of using beautiful rice paper envelopes for payment. How lovely that you saved them!