When we westerners think of Japan, we see cherry blossoms next to Mount Fuji, hear the never-ending nightlife in Tokyo, and taste sushi, of course. We idolize this country and its unique culture, dreaming of visiting it one day or even moving there, if only for a little while.
But as the online project Japan On shows, living in the Land of the Rising Sun can take some time to get used to. While sharing pictures and videos submitted by the locals, it reveals all the (little) things that are normal in Japan but rather unusual in other places around the world. Continue scrolling and check them out!
To learn more about Japan, I contacted the person behind Japan On, Vazer, and Gina Bear, a travel blogger who taught English in this mysterious country.
Vazer said they have been to many places around the world but no country amazed them as much as Japan. "It is very difficult to point out a moment in my life where my fascination for Japan started but I can say that I was interested in Asian culture since I was very little when watching anime, movies and having many Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Philippine friends who introduced me to many things from traditional to pop culture things from these countries," they told Bored Panda.
When Vazer came to Japan, they were supposed to be there for three months but one week before leaving, they ended up in Kyoto during the cherry blossom season.
"Walking through the Gion district and the famous temples ... filled with cherry blossoms as well as watching the energy and happiness of people enjoying Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) was the most beautiful scene I have ever seen. So a trip that was supposed to be 3 months ended up being a permanent stay."
After moving to Japan, Vazer traveled to many places but they kept getting surprised every time they went somewhere they had never been to before. "Even though it is the same country, every prefecture and city has its own uniqueness (food, architecture, history, traditions, festivals, etc). Also, since Japan (mainly in bigger cities) keeps changing day by day and it has many small and hidden things that most people around the world do not know about, it is very difficult to get bored in Japan if you keep exploring every corner."
Vazer said single-handedly running Japan On (with the occasional help of their friends) has been a fun, interesting, and extremely busy ride.
"I never expected that this small project which is just filmed from my phone would become so big, especially in a short time, so I am very thankful to everyone that has supported JapanON. Everyone's support is what keeps me going, even though, currently, I have been focusing on Instagram and TikTok only. I have bigger projects coming that will be revealed in time to give my supporters a better experience of Japan.
Gina Bear was 12 years old when she fell in love with this special corner of the world. "I was surfing the internet after I realized the animations I was watching were from Japan," Gina told Bored Panda. "I went to my local library and checked out a travel book on Japan. I was amazed by all the beautiful places in the country and fell head over heels in love with the Land of the Rising Sun."
"When I was 17, I had a student economics teacher who told me about the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. He told me they invited teachers from all over the world to live and work in Japan. I set my sights on university and graduated with a bachelor's degree in English and a minor in TESOL. After graduation, I was invited to teach English on the JET Program and lived in Okinawa from July 2012 to July 2015."
During her 3 years there, Gina had noticed so many differences between Japan and the Western World. "I lived in Okinawa and even though it was the cheapest prefecture to live in, Japan is still very expensive. Since it is mostly a 'cash is king' society, it's also a bit harder to keep track of your expenditures," she explained.
"Another big difference is with so many cultural and societal expectations, I often felt like a bull in an expensive China shop."
"I was also not okay with some of the safety precautions that didn't exist," Gina added. "Okinawa constantly gets hit with typhoons. We had a typhoon so bad one year it blew over cars, knocked down trees, killed people, destroyed power lines, and caused landslides. But the logic behind going to work is, 'If the buses are running, we should go to work.' That was one of the most dangerous times I had to walk to school and even then, it was still storming. Honestly, I feel in America, if a situation was that bad and people had to go to work in those conditions, that is a lawsuit waiting to happen."
When it comes to romance, Gina said something that immediately reminded me of Earthquake Bird, a 2019 movie based on a novel of the same name by Susanna Jones in which Alicia Vikander plays a young Swedish female expat living in Tokyo.
"As a foreign woman, dating in Japan was a major culture shock to me. I came to find Japanese men aren't very assertive," the travel blogger recalled. "They also prefer to date Japanese women (not all, but most). If you didn't fit the bill of a stereotypical very thin foreigner, with blonde hair and blue eyes, they also weren't interested. Dating in Japan as a foreign woman is a huge nightmare."
Another thing Gina couldn't get used to as a woman was if she wore tops (like she normally would in America), passers-by would look at her "as a piece of meat."
"Most Japanese women cover their tops to their necks and cover their shoulders," she explained. "In addition, they also wear very short shorts. I didn't feel comfortable dressing like this and I could never find clothes that fit me in the country."
Throughout her stay, Gina could also never get used to people refusing to get involved in a dire situation. "One time, my 16-year-old sister and I were being followed by a perverted old man at a public festival in Kyoto. Every time we walked away from him, he would come closer and closer. There was even a point where he was breathing down my back and it was super traumatizing because people created a ring around us to distance themselves from the situation, but never helped," she said.
"It would have helped us greatly if someone had told the creep to back away from us and not be so close."
Now that she has had time to reflect, Gina thinks being quiet was actually what took her the longest to adapt to. "Japanese speak very quietly even at pubs and izakayas. Even in public, you're expected to keep your voice down so you don't disturb others. At first, it really freaked me out Japan was so quiet, but I eventually got used to it and I learned to like and appreciate the consideration Japanese have for others."
The traveler also remembered how the Japanese save energy. "When I arrived at Narita International Airport, I didn't expect there not to be air conditioning in certain places in the airport. Also, at my school, instead of running the A/C as most buildings would in America, they would turn it off when they weren't in the room. This meant that when it finally came time to use the classroom, they would turn on the air five minutes before and we would all melt during the morning meeting."
If you want to learn more about Japan, visit Gina Bear's blog where she has extensively described her experience of living there.