There are plenty of oddities to be discovered, but what are the weirdest things in Japan? Most things will seem pretty bizarre at first, but after a few days, you'll start to absolutely adore them. From high-tech toilets, capsule hotels, bizarre festivals, unusual foods and large amounts of kawaii, Japan will manage to provide you with the cultural shock of a lifetime. We spent 2 weeks in Japan trying to grasp the weirdest things in the country. And yes, we loved the Japanese culture so much, we came back every year since and even lived in Japan for a while.
We're here to reassure you that all these weird Japanese stuff make for the best photos, memories, and souvenirs. You'll be amazed and you'll love it.
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High tech toilets
High Tech toilets are the best thing I discovered in Japan. Self-cleaning, featuring warm seats and music for increased privacy, I'm surprised Japanese toilets haven't made it to the rest of the world. Some of the newest ones have a crazy number of buttons and functions to cater for everyone's needs.
Why are they weird? Because never in my life have I needed to press so many buttons to utilise the loo. But once you understand how they work (they really are easy, to be honest) you get to enjoy an array of awesome features.
Oh and did I mention to will need to wear toilet slipper when going to the toilet? You will mostly find them in traditional inns, restaurants, and some teahouses.
You'll find them just about everywhere in Japan. In hotels, restaurants, and even traditional ryokans. Smart toilets are the first funny thing I've encountered in Japan, right at the airport. All in all, weird but awesome, Japanese toilets need to make it to the rest of the world.
Unusual themed cafes
Japan has the weirdest cafes in the world. They are also pretty cool but with that uniquely Japanese twist, we all love to see. Cat cafés are extremely popular in Japan, and many Japanese people who can't adopt a pet in their small Tokyo flat, come to stroke cute furry kittens after work.
Wait, are you not a cat fan? Then go for hedgehogs and visit HARRY -- a Hedgehog Cafe in Tokyo. These may sound a little crazy, but they were so popular in Japan, many foreign countries decided to open pet cafés as well.
You usually pay an entrance fee, then you get a drink included in the price, and around an hour surrounded by pets.
But wait, there's more. There's an Eorzea Cafe, after the Final Fantasty role playing game series. There's the Sengoku cafe where you will enjoy Japanese cuisine while surrounded by Samurai armour statues.
My new favourite is the Vampire café in Tokyo, which is all gothic. The staff is dressed in Gothic motifs, there is a coffin room and the menu is as weird as it gets with monster themed dishes.
Creating space for real estate development in the centre of Tokyo can be a bit of a challenge. However, the Japanese cleverly found a way around it, by coming up with a great solution: the capsule hotel. These are an only in Japan type of thing, and they may look very weird at first, but they are super comfortable.
Although initially created for businessmen, the capsules hotels have recently become more popular for low-budget travellers and foreign tourists looking for a more daring experience.
Usually, a single capsule measures 1.2 meters wide, 2 meters long and 1 meter high and most people swear they are more comfortable than they look. Besides, you won't break the bank when you visit Japan, which is known to be quite an expensive country. Don't forget to check where to stay in Tokyo, as you may even discover some other accommodation options, like the crazy love hotels in Shinjuku.
Moomin Bakery and Cafe
When it comes to creativity, the Japanese are definitely light years away from the rest of the world. With so many distractions happening, it's becoming harder and harder to hang on to a relationship. This, however, doesn't mean you need to have brunch on your own.
Japan is going through a lonely epidemic, but luckily, there are many establishments with great ideas to improve that for the Japanese. Weird? Maybe, but I think it's super creative and unique.
Moomin cafes may seem weird and crazy, but they are the perfect anti-loneliness café with a plush toy as your partner. Always wanted to share some ice cream parfait with Moomin anyway...
In case you were wondering, this bizarre concept went so viral, that now many countries have Moomin cafes.
Weird food in Japan
I'm all about trying new and interesting food, and Japan doesn't disappoint.
The weirdest and most delicious food in the world, Takotamago is a small octopus served on a stick, with a cooked egg in its head. I found these in the markets in Kyoto and I fell in love with them.
These make for the perfect snack and sure are part of the best Japanese foods you will have to try in Japan. I suppose the weird part is how do they manage to add an egg in the head of the octopus?
Takotamago became very popular with tourists after being featured on several blogs and videos about how weird Japan can be.
Wait, is this not weird enough for you? How about Basashi, which is basically horsemeat sashimi. It is considered a delicacy, and it's not eaten as often as salmon sashimi, but most Japanese people would have tried it, that's for sure. And if you're not afraid of new challenges, head to a Yokocho (alleyway) and order the most bizarre yakitori, which are meat skewers. You might get some kawa (chicken skin), bonjiri (tail/parsons nose), nankotsu (cartilage).
Although they do sound odd, they actually taste fantastic, so do give them all a try.
The title of these boutique or fashion hotels is quite self-explanatory. Love hotels offer double rooms for short periods of time. You can choose between a rest (one-three hours) or a stay (whole night starting at 10 pm).
Most rooms are equipped with erotic programmes and also facilities to buy or rent costumes. Select your desired room from a board by pressing a button, then pay at the window where you won't be able to see the receptionist. Privacy is key here. These are definitely features of the adult guide for Tokyo.
As appealing as they may seem, a word of caution here, as many hotels are run by the Japanese mafia. So unless you know your way around, have a proper recommendation for one of these hotels or know at least some Japanese, better to stay safe.
Penis Time at Kanamara Matsuri
Excuse me, but I don't think you can get more weird than a whole festival dedicated to the male reproductive system.
April is the time to be amazed in Japan (and one of the best times to visit the country). No, not because of the blooming sakura trees, but because of the craziest event on the planet: the Kanamara Matsuri. This is a Shinto fertility festival and probably not the time to spend a day out with your parents. You will be surrounded by plenty of penis-shaped things, including, of course, lollies.
I mean, I can't imagine anything weirder than walking around surrounded by giant pink phalluses.
The best thing about Japan is all the vending machines everywhere. You will find one in your hotel, at the subway station, next to the postal office, next to the restaurant, on the street, next to the bus stop ... EVERYWHERE. They are cheap and amazing. You can buy hot and cold beverages, bananas, milk, noodles, ramen and what not. If you don't have change, use your IC card.
There are currently approximately 2.25 million vending machines in Japan. That's a lot! That's basically a vending machine for every 23 people.
Do you know what else I find weird? How come that foreign countries didn't adopt this scheme? This is an only in Japan type of situation, as never have I found so many vending machines for everything. And they are so convenient and incredible! Simple but great idea!
If you thought cute cats or maids cafés are out of the ordinary, wait until you check this out. The Soine-ya cafés in Akihabara allow male customers to sleep right next to other women.
Strictly no funny business is permitted, although men are allowed to purchased extras such as stroking the girls' hair or looking deep into her eyes. Again, this shows that Japan is seriously going through a lonely epidemic, and it really needs to be addressed.
The cuddle cafes are a way of releasing stress and anxiety by getting a warm hug at the end of the day. Since this became popular in Japan, services now include the possibility for women to co-sleep with a nice man as well.
This is definitely a little out of ordinary, but it seems to be working in Japan.
Since we are on the topic of weird Japanese stuff, let's touch base on maid cafes.
Here you can enjoy cute pancakes, teddy shaped ice cream and all sort of colourful sundaes. All these will be served to you by innocent looking Japanese ladies dressed as maids. Akihabara is the best place for these types of cafés. There are always girls dressed in lolita outfits stopping men on the streets and taking them to the cafés.
You will find kids having birthday parties here, but also these being booked by middle-ages Japanese men looking for some kawaii. Weird? Creepy? We asked a local about these, and they said that they are fine for foreigners and tourists, but Japanese men should not go there as it can be considered really creepy and inappropriate.
The fastest bullet train cleaning
This is one of those weird things I wish we'd have everyone in the world. Japanese bullet trains (shinkansen) are cleaned and sanitized in under 10 minutes by a whole crew of speedy workers. Not only that, but they also turn the seats 180 degrees around to ensure most passengers face forward. That's amazing!
The cleaning crew is called Tessei and is a JR service subsidiary. The cleaning crew consists of 22 members and is only given 7 minutes to clean and each is assigned to 100 seats. If you look closely you will realise that each row takes approximately 12 seconds to clean, which is probably the fastest cleaning I've ever seen. And the last minute is spent for final quality check to ensure everything really is done to perfection.
Even more reasons to purchase a JR Pass and take the shinkansen all over the country. It's fast, it's clean, comfortable and pretty epic all around.
Pachinko is an arcade game, a combination of slot machine and pinball. These places are bright, colourful, extremely loud and very smoky. We found several of them in Akihabara.
What's weird about them? Well, gambling is illegal in Japan so technically while these arcades are considered gambling places, they are not...really. You see the Japanese thought of a great way of by-passing the laws. They earn useless tokens which can be taken out of the pachinko without anyone breaking the law. Because the law states that you can gamble for money.
However, a few metres away from the parlours, there are cashiers who essentially "buy" these tokens for money. Again, that is not forbidden by law.
Harajuku is the perfect place if you like cute stuff. This is where you'll find crazy and colourful outfits and a tone of shops, full of super cute fluffy and tiny things. I love this place. Visiting Harajuku is one of the best things to do in Tokyo.
But you see, everything in Japan is a bit kawaii crazy. Not just merchandise or specific stores, but even food or government posters. Everything has an unusual element of cute. Drawings telling us to not step in front of others, or to keep distance on the subway platforms, all were made to look cute.
Kawaii is the Japanese word for cute. But Japanese kawaii is a whole new level of cute. In fact, you will notice that everything is, in a way, cutified in Japan. It all started in 1970s when it was initially associated with a new style of writing. I wrote an entire article about Kawaii in Japan because I find the subject really fascinating.
Shinjuku & Akihabara 18+
The electronic district of Tokyo doesn't shock enough with its maid cafés, pachinko parlours and multi-story department stores, but it has yet another weird one up its sleeve. 18+ anime rentals. There are withdrawn areas where you can go in only if you are over the legal age and find the right erotic anime entertainment. Oh, Sailor Moon ...
But what's even more bizarre is that there are dedicated shops with floors where women can't even visit. They are strictly for men only.
And beyond Akihabara, you can also head to the adult district in Kabukicho which is known to be Asian's largest red district. And there, you can find even weirder things, beyond our innocent comprehension. There are plenty of adult only things in Tokyo and honestly, I advise that you go and check it out, but don't try any funky business. Many of these establishments are not as safe for tourists, so ideally you'll watch but not touch.
You love weird things, that's why you decided to visit Japan. But what if I tell you that even food can be a little strange? You can purchase rainbow candy floss, colourful ice cream and even animal-shaped doughnuts. Cat, frog, dog and bear-shaped doughnuts are on the menu, only in Japan, of course.
For the rainbow cotton candy head to Totti Candy Factory in Harajuku. For animal shaped doughnuts, head to Floresta Kōenji.
And my personal favourite? The Shiro-Hige's Cream Puff Factory where you can buy totoro shaped cream puffs.
The great thing about cute food is that you just want to try everything. They even created something called crazy pancakes, which are literally a calorie bomb that looks so appetising, it's unreal. You may even find cute food on menus at some restaurants. For example, some kids menus have rice with ketchup drawings in the shape of various bears or bunnies.
Whether you are an adult visiting alone or travelling to Japan with your family, you will definitely enjoy all the cute food in the country.
Public Baths (Onsen)
Nothing screams weirder than the idea of a public bath. Why? Because in Japan this is a perfect way to relax and socialise after a hard day at work...naked.
Public baths are separated by gender, and swimsuits are not to be worn. I guess this is what you call conversation without boundaries. These are perfectly normal in Japan, and foreigners can use them too.
There is a whole etiquette around entering an onsen so make sure you learn a bit about how to behave in Japan. For example, you do need to wash really well before entering the public bath. Make sure your towel or hair doesn't touch the water. And yes, you do need to be fully naked. There are some mixed gender onsen as well.
However, there might be some public baths which refuse entry if you wear a body tattoo.
How many times in this lifetime have you come across a melon with a bow? This is what I call added value. In fact, pretty much every delicious fruit in Japan come with extra packaging, made to look like a present. These fruits are usually expensive and wrapped like this to be given as a present.
I once saw a mango in Japan which costed the equivalent of £75 ($102). That's one expensive mango! There are also white strawberries, which you can only find in Japan. They cost around £20 each, and they are super sweet. Check it out in the photo below. (10,800 Japanese yen is about £75)
Plastic sample dishes
One of my favourite odd things in Japan is that many restaurants display their menu in real size plastic format. This makes it so much easier and exciting to pick a dish, especially if you don't speak Japanese or don't understand the menu.
It's also a fantastic way to make people want to enter your restaurant and see what you serve before they even get the chance to see the menu.
Food models (shokuhin sampuru) are extremely popular and considered by some an art form. In the Edo Period, food sellers used to use real food to display their written menu. Later on, restaurant began to use paraffin and in mid-1980, manufacturers switched to plastic.
KFC Christmas Dinner
My first visit to Japan was just before Christmas in December. I was surprised to see how many locals now embrace and celebrate Christmas. Major cities also are great in December as many places get the winter illuminations on.
So, you're probably wondering, what's weird about Christmas in Japan. Well, Japanese people typically eat KFC as Christmas dinner. When I asked my Japanese friend Kota about it, he said it's because it's the closest thing to eating turkey. This seems incredible, but it is the most normal thing in Japan.
Now you know all the weird Japanese things I came across during my visit. What was the weirdest stuff you saw in Japan? Please let me know in the comment section below!
Are you falling in love with Japan and want to visit Japan as soon as possible? I put together an array of great resources for you to make it easier to plan. Start with the Japan itinerary page. I put together 7 days in Japan, 2 weeks in Japan and 3 weeks in Japan itinerary for those keen to really see more of this fantastic country. There are many beautiful things to see in Japan you will want to add to your wishlist.
When you start planning, check what to pack for Japan and what to wear in Japan. I also wrote a book on how to behave in Japan, which contains a lot of cute manga style illustration done in partnership with a Japanese artist. Until next time, matane!