1. While it’s probably true all around the world, breasts are literally worshipped in Japan – the Jison-in temple in Wakayama is covered in boobs.
2. If you tell a Japanese person something unexpected, an involuntary noise will escape from them: “Eiiiiiiigghh!” If you tell them something truly extraordinary, it will become deeper and longer: “Euuuiiiiiiiiiiirrrrgghhhh!”.
3. There are many western foods that are actually easier to eat with chopsticks. Salads are one, noodles/spaghetti is another.
4. Slurping while eating eventually ceases to be nauseating and starts to be fun.
5. Because “smörgåsbord” is very difficult for the Japanese to say, an open selection of many dishes is known as “Viking style”.
6. There is presumably less bullying in Japanese elementary schools because everyone must carry the same little backpacks and wear the same tiny coloured caps.
7. In Japan, one “sleeps like mud”, and refers to something that’s disappointingly non-large as being “small as a cat’s forehead.”
8. This is perhaps the most irritating sound in the world.
9. It’s possible to earn a cheap round of applause by showing even a tiny bit of public chivalry. Jamie helped an old lady on with a life jacket and an entire boat of pensionable ladies started clapping.
10. Septuagenarians on a “lads holiday” can provide some deeply unflattering sights when drunk and wearing a yukata (but no underwear).
11. Surprisingly, because of its endless permutations, Tokyo’s train system is the hardest for a foreigner to navigate. Thankfully, there is no shortage of English-speaking natives willing to help the lost gaijin.
12. Hiking in Yakushima is one of the most challenging and rewarding activities available to the tourist in Japan.
13. There is a distinct kind of sign language in Japan. For example, when referring to themselves, people point at the end of their noses, like drivers performing a sobriety test for suspicious police officers. Similarly, when beckoning someone, they do a kind of paw-wave, like a welcoming cat.
14. In the UK, the red kite is a rare and endangered animal; in Japan, black kites are more abundant than pigeons.
15. A glass any less than 75% full is worthy of refilling, thus making it perilously easy to get drunk in the company of the Japanese.
16. Origami goes well beyond making little cranes to include present wrapping, and useful little knick-knacks like chopstick holders.
17. Three months is not enough time to adjust to the taste of natto.
18. Having been repulsed by dozens of varieties in more than 50 countries, it turns out Katy does like one beer – and it is Japanese.
19. For a Travel Volunteer, warm seafood egg-custard (chawanmushi) tastes as good as it sounds.
20. There are few things more thrilling than watching taiko drumming up close.
21. Three months and several conversations have, if anything, further cemented our position that whaling is wrong. We now also think it’s demonstrably bad for Japan, when so much money has to be spent to support a failed, moribund industry. It’s like an ancient pine tree, propped up and forced into more life by someone’s misguided idea of maintaining tradition.
22. Taxi doors seem to have a mind of their own; taxi seats are often decorated in dainty lace.
23. Japanese pensioners on tour groups make coordinate sounds of amazement when being told interesting facts by their guides. Every time we heard it, we couldn’t help think of this.
24. Of the dozens of mind-blowingly excellent Japanese foods we tried, simple tataki in Kochi was probably our favourite.
25. It rains “35 days a month” in Yakushima, and “eight days a week” in the prefectures of Hokuriku.
26. Sand baths are very intense experiences.
27. The best way to see rural Japan is to walk through it.
28. Japan is a photographer’s dream. With the reliable weather, stunning natural landscapes and widespread dedication to tradition, there aren’t many excuses for taking bad pictures here.
29. It’s possible to keep whale sharks in captivity. Three of them in the same tank, in fact.
30. No matter the supposed benefits, the ball/straw filled pillows in traditional ryokans are uncomfortable.
31. That said, a five star Ryokan is something every tourist should experience once in their life.
32. At its best, the autumnal Japanese maple provides nature’s reddest red.
33. Paper-making is a surprisingly relaxing pastime.
34. The people of Kochi are among the most friendly in the country. Coincidentally, they are also some of the biggest drinkers. (And yes, we do see the connection there.)
35. The lengthy list of supposed rules for acceptable behaviour in Japanese society found in most western guidebooks is out of date. Really you can do virtually anything and the locals will put it down to gaijin eccentricity/stupidity.
36. Sumo is a bloody and brutal sport – not, as we previously thought, a big fat pillow fight.
37. Japanese museums and galleries are often world class, and often hidden in the most unlikely places.
38. Satsuma is a Japanese word which is also used in English. However, it means something else altogether: in Japanese it’s a now-defunct region that corresponds roughly to modern Kagoshima, while in English it’s a small, sweet, highly-delicious cousin of the orange. The name of that same fruit in Japanese? Mikan.
39. Japanese lifts are ridiculously aggressive and will happily take your face off if you let your guard down.
40. There are more vending machines per head of capita in Japan than in any other country in the world. A ratio of one machine per 23 people, apparently.
41. People will rarely talk it up, but a drive along the east coast of Kyushu is one of the most scenic routes in Japan. Weird rock formations like the “devil’s washboard” (below) are just start of it.
42. After eating dozens of different types, we still reckon good-old yellowfin tuna is the best kind of sashimi.
43. When finding something inedible in kaiseki dining, empty crab claws and the aforementioned chawanmushi make for excellent hiding places.
44. Kokusai Street in Okinawa is the most Asian street in Japan.
45. The Hiroshima version of okonomiaki is better than the Osaka version.
46. You don’t have to be a cat to enjoy eating literally every part of a fish.
47. Many Japanese dogs have more extensive hair dye, make-up and wardrobe collections than Katy.
48. As an exercise in unfettered consumerism, Christmas is as big in Japan as it is anywhere in the world.
49. Seats on trains can rotate, allowing you do configure entire carriages as you like.
50. Because of the enormity of Russia and China, maps create an illusion that Japan is a small country. It absolutely is not. Being afraid of visiting, say, Kyoto because of what happened in the Tohoku Region is tantamount to refusing to visit California because of something that happened in Delaware, or shunning Milan because of an incident in London.
51. Once they reach adolescence, kids start to personalise their school bags. The rule seems to be: the more fluffy key-rings, the better.
52. The Japanese often choose wacky cartoons or mini manga to warn against hazardous and/or potentially fatal behaviour.
53. Listening to gaijin ex-pats floating in and out of English/Japanese as they talk is very strange.
54. Many ducks migrate to Japan during winter, only to soon find themselves on a plate next to a mound of soba. They should be consoled by knowing they are absolutely delicious.
55. The cleansing ritual before entering shrines and temples is an utter nuisance on cold days – especially if you don’t have anything with which to dry your hands.
56. There are several billions yen’s worth of porcelain on sale in Arita, Saga. Much of it is very nice, too.
57. Not all Japanese castles are worth a visit.
59. Picking the best garden is harder. We say it’s a coin-toss between Ritsurin, Takamatsu and Kenrokuen, Kanazawa.
60. It’s worth trying literally every food stuff in Japan, even when your brain screams at you: this will be revolting and/or might kill you.
61. A permanent career as a travel volunteer would likely result in an early trip to the boneyard, for the volunteers and coordinators alike.
62. Pound for pound, Japan is probably the most naturally beautiful country we’ve ever been to. Nowhere is as green and mountainous. Nowhere has such well defined seasons. Nowhere offers so many surprises over such short distances…
63. Considering how widely available it is, making soba is disproportionately difficult.
64. Golf in Japan is 70% about appearance, 20% bromance and 10% skill.
65. Japanese whisky is incredibly palatable.
66. Japan is easily one of the cleanest, quietest countries in the world. Hybrid cars probably have something to do with it, but they’re almost too quiet – it’s definitely worth looking left and right before crossing the street.
67. Everything can be “kawaii” (cute). The longer someone says it, the cuter it is.
68. Fake eyelashes and bizarre contact lenses are big business among young girls. Looking like a demented anime character is evidently fashionable.
69. Takoyaki are best when made by other people.
70. You should not stand on the bit between tatami mats. Dunno why, but it’s a no-no.
71. So ingrained is bowing to Japanese society that people frequently do it while on the phone.
72. Attempting to tip often ends in an awkward stand off, and sometimes with a mild argument.
73. Some gaijins are more Japanese many natives.
74. After three months, we have developed new ears to tell when the letter R and L are being swapped. Regal matters don’t necessarily involve the monarchy etc and so on.
75. Each Japanese city has its own unique manhole cover. They’re often very pretty.
76. Pumpkin flavoured ice cream is great.
77. Green tea ice cream is not (says Jamie, Katy disagrees).
78. As a gaijin, if you flutter big, stupid blue eyes at a ticket attendant long enough and claim not to understand the difference between reserved and non-reserved seating on trains, you can expect some clemency.
79. People have found it necessary to repeatedly apologise for the disappointing showing of Autumn colours this year. If this was a poor show, we’re definitely coming back for a good year.
80. Pocky might just be the best chocolate snack in the world.
81. There’s not much good about eating squid, and gutting them is worse.
82. On entering train carriages, conductors bow. No one reciprocates.
83. People imagine the extreme ends of Japan – the historical side (Kyoto) and the futuristic side (Tokyo). In truth, the majority of the country is found in the very normal middle, and is much more complex than any preconception.
84. Japan may have been trading with the west for several hundred years, but there are still parts of the country where people react to blonde hair the same way they might to a five-headed monster.
85. In the west, saying: “yeah, yeah, yeah” is often taken as rude. It translates as: “There’s nothing you can’t tell me that I don’t already know”. In Japan people do it all the time, but sincerely for a kind of Shakespearean emphasis.
86. Without Buddha’s warm, comforting embrace, Buddhist temples are incredibly uncomfortable places to stay.
87. Like Tokyo and Kyoto, Kobe beef definitely lives up to the hype.
88. There are few places in the country more romantic than a private onsen in the mountains.
89. Apparently if you eat enough seaweed, it keeps your hair from going grey.
90. Kyogen shows are more entertaining than Kabuki. We know this by counting the number of people asleep in both shows.
91. The deer in Nara are biters, and sadly protected from retaliation.
92. Many Studio Ghibli films are based on real, highly accessible locations.
93. For the Japanese, literally anything that swims in the sea is a potential meal. Apparently there are even some people who eat the ultra-poisonous liver of the fugu as a “delicacy”, though any of them end up in hospital or morgue.
94. Japanese economy is in a state of extremis, but pachinko remains wildly popular.
96. During the Second World War, America deliberately excluded Hiroshima from their wide-spread fire-bombing campaign so they could better measure the effects of Little Boy, the world’s first atomic bomb.
97. Japanese guides are typically a quarter helpful, a quarter punctual, a quarter knowledgeable and a quarter eccentric.
98. “Igilisu/Igirisu” is the Japanese for English and British. Working out how Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales fit into the equation is often quite challenging.
99. Almost everything that is traditionally Japanese (Buddhism, the alphabet, paper, money, noodles) actually came from China first, before it was refined and improved.
100. We’ve frequently been asked: “What’s your impression of Japan?” It’s a pretty tough question, like asking someone to define themselves. We’ve generated 1,500 photos, half a dozen videos and approximately 70,000 words to give our impression of Japan, and we still don’t have a definite answer. The country is too big, too varied and too complex to sum up; its people too varied, its marvels too numerous, its beauty too enormous. While we can’t say precisely what our impression is, but we do know that the country has left a big impression on us, that we’ve fallen in love with it, and that we’ll miss it terribly.