Let me say at first: Japan is a developed, amazing and beautiful country. And it is beloved by many tourists. And to collect even 10 negative facts about it is very difficult! But I still managed to do it.
After many years of traveling in this country, I realized that much of what I saw, not told in travel agencies, not shown on websites or in glossy magazines. These facts are trying to hide or at least be silent about them. Below I will talk about these facts. And I will proceed from the opinion of the tourist. Because people living in Japan have very different problems.
1. Visual chaos
If you are from Europe, where in most cities everything is sterile to the eye, Japan will first create a shock in your brain.
Japanese cities have an incredible concentration of visual garbage all over the place. The Japanese don’t care at all about the appearance of cities. There are signs, posters, and announcements all over the place. They can be duplicated or even piled on top of each other. If something prohibited to do, the information will be duplicated dozens of times on every corner.
The number of warnings here is off the charts. It’s unusual to the European eye. And sometimes you don’t know if you can even walk here.
2. Large crowds and lines
The area of the whole of Japan is slightly larger than Germany (377,944 km² vs. 357,021 km²). Yet it is home to 125.5 million people, roughly the same as Germany and Spain combined, or the United Kingdom and France combined. That is, there is a huge population density.
Most of population is concentrated in cities. So be prepared for constant lines of people.
In Japan, crowds and lines are everywhere. Be prepared to wait in line to board a train, wait in line to board an escalator, and wait in line for a restaurant.
It’s especially sad during rush hours when you can’t get out of the center and into your neighborhood. Add to that the millions of tourists who flock to Japan from all over the world!
3. Very expensive prices
Everything in Japan is very expensive! And this country is clearly not suitable for economical travel!
Let me give you some examples:
- A cab ride from Narita Airport to downtown Tokyo costs $200;
- A subway ride will cost an average of $3-4 (if changing trains), and $2 (if going in a straight line). It is important that the Japanese subway has several different companies, and transfers between them are paid!;
- A single trip on the high-speed train will cost hundreds of dollars!;
- Do you want to try the famous Japanese marble meat? Then prepare $200-300 for dinner per person;
- Japanese hotels will cost 2-3 times more than in Europe and 5 times more than in China.
So this is not a country where you can save money on travel. And when you come here, rest assured: Japan will seriously empty your bank account.
4. It’s cramped everywhere
Compared to European countries, everything in Japan is tiny: cars, hotel rooms, stores. It seems funny at first, but then it gets tense!
Because of overcrowding in Japanese cities, they save on space and ceiling heights of buildings. So if you plan to travel in Japan, forget about spacious hotel rooms! And look carefully at the size of the room, because in conventional hotels the rooms may not be the usual 20-30 meters, but a maximum of 15!
A separate joke with the Japanese with double rooms, because they have such a concept of a “small double bed”. You, not suspecting a trick, book a double room, and opening the door to find that it is at the wall is a bed width of just over a meter! Of course, you can share a bed there, if you love each other and are ready to sleep in each other’s arms.
Personally, I became annoyed by the end of the trip. I couldn’t get used to those narrow corridors, elevators, alleys, little cars, tiny bars. It makes me feel like a giant!
5. A peculiar attitude to design
Separately, it is worth mentioning the Japanese car design, and in general the design of everything they make and build. On the one hand, the Japanese are terrible perfectionists. They do perfect everything they touch. They made the best meat in the world, they created the most reliable econom-class cars, they conquered nature and invented bonsai, they make great machinery. But everything about design is a complete failure.
Look at the design of Japanese cars made for the domestic market. They are some kind of boxes on wheels. And then think about the design of cars that are exported… You like Toyotas and Lexuses, don’t you?
Look at the design of Japanese gadgets! It’s impossible to look at Nikon, Canon, Sony in comparison with their Apple or Xiaomi counterparts without crying. They have a bunch of buttons, everything is made through one place, they have horrible interfaces, because in Japan no one cares about the appearance of the product.
Also I don’t think there’s a single graphic designer in Japan either. Otherwise, how else do you explain these subway diagrams that make eyes bleed…
6. There’s nowhere to throw the trash
There are no urns in Japan! Not at all! For Europeans, who are used to throw away a bottle or a piece of paper somewhere, this is extremely inconvenient. Here you have to put your trash in a bag, buy a special sticker in a store and only then take it to the trash. You can’t just throw it in the dumpster (they are closed with nets against strangers).
Sometimes, of course, there are exceptions: garbage cans can be found at vending machines and in places where foreign tourists congregate. However, in most cases, it’s a real quest to throw away a paper coffee mug here.
In Japan, there are strict rules for garbage collection: it must be collected and can only be deposited in certain places and on certain days.
7. The attitude towards time
The Japanese just make fun of time. For example, Europeans are used to counting everything in hours. The price for parking can be indicated as per hour or per day. But what do the Japanese do? They don’t write the price that way, they write the price for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes, but not for an hour!
As a result, when you need to park or rent something, you constantly have to pull out a calculator to figure out how much it’s going to be per hour. You constantly have to think in terms of minutes, not hours. What is this mockery of time?
8. Boring architecture
The “separate hell” is Japanese architecture. And I’m not talking about historical architecture, but modern. Japanese cities are simply endless boxes of concrete. Yes, they bring them to perfection, they experiment with materials, proportions, light. But they’re still miserable boxes! All Japanese cities look incredibly depressing!
And here it’s worth going a little bit deeper into history.
After World War II, the world began to dispose of neoclassical building styles. Firstly, they were associated with the totalitarian regimes of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. Secondly, after the war, the governments had no money for all these decorations.
In Europe, the flowering of modernist architecture (not to be confused with art nouveau). After 1945, reinforced concrete becomes a symbol of hope for the new, post-war generation of architects. One of the formal techniques of Brutalism is considered emphasized texture of the concrete surfaces, not finished after stripping neither plaster, nor tiling, or painting (“concrete brut”) – a favorite method of Le Corbusier late 40’s – early 50’s. Brutalism was cheap and anti-bourgeois (which, again, was relevant to Europe at that time). And Japan was no exception in that matter.
By the early 1980s, a wave of protests against this kind of development swept through Western Europe. Brutalism did not take root in European countries. People saw it as soulless, inhuman, and cold. People wanted warmth, coziness, and imagery, which the new styles could not provide. And the Western world continued to experiment…
But the Japanese, as we know, if they cling to something, they will hold it like a bull terrier with a dead grip until it is perfect. Having started flirting with modernist architecture after the war, they are still moulding endless concrete boxes.
The perception of architecture is, of course, a very subjective thing. Some buildings people like, others don’t. But personally, I think the widespread modernism in Japan is more of a mistake in architecture. It’s a very soulless style. Yes, there are some strong architects in Japan who were able to curb that concrete monstrosity (for example Tadao Ando), but in general the architecture of buildings here is very sad!
9. Ubiquitous control and prohibitions
Be prepared for the fact that Japan is a country of prohibitions! Here is prohibited to drink and eat on the go. Here you cannot dip sushi in sauce with rice (it offends the Japanese), you cannot blow your nose in public, you cannot leave a tip in a restaurant, and you cannot litter in the streets (although there are no urns anywhere).
Here you can smoke only in the smoking room, enter rooms and bars only without shoes. And there are times when they won’t let you into a park or on a certain street if you’re on a kick scooter, bicycle or with pets. About pets I will not even say a word. With them here is another headache.
And that’s just the general rules in all cities! We do not touch the subject of private bans (which seem to be set by everyone who is not lazy). Don’t be surprised if you see a women-only subway car here, or a men-only section of a sex shop…
10. Driver’s license requirements
In Japan, only a driving license issued in accordance with the Geneva Convention is valid. In other words, if you want to rent a car, motorcycle, or scooter here, you must have an international driver’s license.
If you do not have such a license, you must obtain a Japanese driver’s license in order to drive legally in this country. It is issued in a simplified form: you have to pass a small theoretical exam and pass a test drive. It costs money and time.
Of course, you can travel around Japan without your own vehicle. But that is in the cities. If you want to admire the Japanese nature and remote attractions, without a car it will be difficult!