5 Reasons That Prove Japan Is Stuck In The 90's

There is a lot of aspects of Japanese life that is stuck in the past compared to its western counterparts, and here are some of the biggest..

5 Reasons That Prove Japan Is Stuck In The 90’s

Japan, home to the ultra modern future city Tokyo.. When most people think of Japan they have this image of a country living in the future with robot restaurants and perfectly on time trains, so why wouldn’t everything else be just as futuristic?! After living in Japan you come to realise not everything is as it seems.. In fact there is a lot of aspects of Japanese life that is stuck in the past compared to its western counterparts, and here are some of the biggest..

1. free/easy phone number!? not in japan.

You know how in say, the UK, you can walk into most convenience stores and grab a free or very cheap pay-as-you-go sim card, stick it in your phone and within a few short activation steps you will be ready to receive calls? Well that’s not quite the case here in Japan..

Having a phone number is way more serious here and thus getting one requires a lot more legwork, not to mention there is no such thing as pay-as-you-go. Yes that’s right, to have the privilege of a number that can make and receive calls you must sign up to at least a year-long contract with heavy cancellation fees for those deciding it might be costing too much..

There are ways around this with newer smaller companies that understand not everyone is living in japan for years but would like to receive calls (and not to mention you need a Japanese number to open a bank account), they still charge you a monthly fee and you have to pay the same hefty cost for the initial sim-card, but it’s way cheaper than what the big names are offering.

2. Sorry what.. you don’t eat animals?!

It’s a well known fact that eating a vegetarian diet can be better for your health if you eat the right stuff, sorry, eating chips and greasy veggie burgers wont save you..

In Europe vegetarian and vegan diets have boomed in recent years seeing a plethora of dedicated restaurants open and almost every restaurant having at least 1 veggie option, this is also the same of supermarkets with growing sections dedicated to non-meat products as more and more variety appears it is a great time to try out a less meaty diet (coming from someone who has been vegetarian since around 1995).

But here in Japan it is almost unrecognised as a thing to not eat meat and even if you manage to find something with no ‘meat’ in it, it still might have fish hidden in there somewhere because it’s such a alien concept to not eat the two staples of the Japanese diet.

In big city’s like Tokyo you can often find a vegetarian restaurant if you do a little searching, but you definitely wont be finding veggie options in most eateries and food in convenience stores is not clearly marked as there is no need. Many a time have I bought a ‘cheese & onion roll’ only to bite into it and find a load of ham..

3. Smoking does what for my health?!

It may seem like the distant past when you think about smoking in a bar in the West or seeing an advert for a cigarette brand, but here in Japan it seems that the tobacco companies have still got a firm grasp on their presence in daily life here. Packaging does not have to abide by any laws involving displaying horrifying images, and smoking in bars is seen as just as normal as drinking in bars.

It’s almost as if the government hasn’t stepped in to inform people just how bad it is to smoke.. One of the biggest shocks I came across was seeing a cigarette shop owned by a famous company selling only their brand!

4. Would you like a straw, spoon, and a bag with that?

This was one of my biggest disappointments when I arrived in Japan, the amount of plastic that gets used is outrageous! If you go to a convenience store even to buy 1 item they will pop it into a bag without asking (Protip: “hukuro daijoubudes” means “I’m okay without a bag”), most items come in their own plastic packaging but the store will sometimes individually bag each item and then place them all into a bag and maybe double bag it just in case..

If you buy a drink, expect it to be bagged and coupled with a straw, if you buy a sandwich it will be bagged with plastic wrapped chopsticks and individually wrapped hand wipes. You will have a really hard time getting by trying to avoid it all and people will often find it strange when you don’t want a bag, I think it all boils down to a lack of awareness and naivety here, which is a shame as Japan is technically a 1st world country.

5. Cash Only, sorry..

Something that is tied very closely to the culture in Japan is the use of actual cash, their coins have symbolic meanings related to luck and they are used frequently at temples. For these reasons the whole conversion to cashless payments has been a much harder/slower transition for Japanese people, a lot of restaurants and bars still only operate in cash which can be quite a shock sometimes being that Japan is often seen as the technological frontier of the world.


But things are changing.. for the most part in big cities you can grab a IC card which will allow you to pay for transport and transactions in convenience store with a tap (admittedly you still need to top it up with cash though.. doh!).

While most supermarkets and better known shops accept credit cards, it is still necessary to carry around that emergency wad of cash just to be sure, but hey, at least you can be sure in the knowledge that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world.

Have your preconceptions about Japan been blown?! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below..

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Taran here, owner of Nomad'er How Far. I'm fond of psychedelic rock, photography & videography, anything to do with space and I'm also partial to the odd gaming session. Oh and I love to travel :P Get to know me here!

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