Japan is subject to one of the highest concentrations of earthquakes in the world. Once in a while, these can cause devastating damage, as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake did. Strong earthquakes can also cause tsunamis, which can cause floods and bad weather. Japan also suffers from intense typhoons. During typhoon season, wind and rain can be so strong that you’re advised to stay indoors.
Lack of English
Most Japanese people can’t speak English, and many restaurants, cafés, and other facilities, such as onsen, lack signage to guide tourists; this is slowly changing, though, especially as the country prepares for the 2020 Olympics. But it still pays to learn at least a few key phrases in Japanese before traveling, and the locals will definitely appreciate it.
Many Japanese still associate tattoos with being low-class or a criminal, or even having ties to the yakuza, the country’s largest crime syndicate. As a result, you’ll often find tatted patrons barred from anything that involves baring skin, such as sento (baths), onsen, and gyms.
The far right
Japan has an active community of far-right political activists. They believe in things such as ultra-nationalism and anti-foreigner sentiment and often demonstrate outside of media organizations and foreign embassies. In places such as Tokyo, they like to make their presence known by driving large, militaristic-looking vans around and blaring propaganda.
Asking for substitutions to your meal is not really something that is done in Japan. Some say it’s because it could be insulting to the chef, but it’s more likely because it just causes an inconvenience to the cooks. Inconveniencing others is something the Japanese like to avoid at all costs. If you need to make substitutions, many places will be happy to try and accommodate you, but just know there will be an equal number of places that won’t.
Japan is a country of smokers, with nearly half of the adult population admitting to lighting up. Lung cancer causes more deaths in Japan than any other cancer, and it is the fifth leading cause of death overall. Despite this, many restaurants have been slow to update their policies on smoking. Whereas smoking indoors has been completely banned in many foreign countries, that’s not the case in Japan.
Crowded streets, crowded trains
The rush hour crowds in Tokyo’s cities can be a little overwhelming for visitors, especially those who are coming from the suburbs or small towns back home. The Tokyo Metro and Toei Subway are the world’s busiest subway system, handling well over three billion passengers each year.
Despite America’s reputation as a liberated and open-minded society, the country is far more conservative than their European cousins, and most people would still balk at the idea of getting naked in front of two dozen strangers. For those who aren’t used to it, stripping down and baring it all for the onsen can take some getting used to, but it’s something the Japanese have been doing since they were little.
One size fits all
Many Japanese clothing stores often have only one or two size options when it comes to clothes. This one-size-fits-all policy can make it difficult to find clothes for people with different body types, especially if you’re tall or have large feet. For more choices, mainstream fast fashion stores are your best bet.
Despite all the signage in Japan aimed at educating people on the correct etiquette, foreigners often still find themselves offending the locals for one reason or another. Sometimes no matter what you do, it feels like you just can’t do anything right.