If you are planning a trip to Japan, I’m sure most of you will probably visit a famous temple, visit an old castle and perhaps a famous museum or two. However, visiting these places alone will not give you a well rounded look into Japan and its culture. After visiting Japan every year for the past ten years, I’ve come up with a list of things you should check out. It shouldn’t cost much and you may not have to go out of your way to find them. These are common places, places that you would find in your area. The fun part is to compare the differences between the two.
Disclaimer: This article makes comparisons between Japan and the U.S, because I’m from the U.S. However, I think the general idea should apply to everyone from all countries.
1. Convenience stores
There are several different companies, including Circle K, Lawson, Sankus (pronounced sanks) and, of course, 7-Eleven. On the surface, they look like your ordinary convenience store in the U.S. but look at what is offered.
First off is the take-out food. In the U.S., you’ll find sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers and maybe a burrito of some kind. In Japan, you’ll have sandwiches and burgers, but you’ll also have fried noodles, cold noodles, bento lunches (full meal, with chicken or fish as the main course, rice, pickles and veggies), and a variety of desserts like Mont blanc, custard pudding or black sesame seed pudding (yum).
If you want a pastry, you are not limited to donuts or Danishes, you also got curry filled buns, buns with fried noodles baked in, ham and cheese buns and the list goes on and on.
You won’t find slurpees or self-serve drinks or even a hot pot of coffee. Everything is in a can, even hot coffee.
The surprising thing is that most of the food I’ve tried is pretty good even better than some of the restaurants I’ve dined.
2. Family Restaurant
The family restaurant is not fine dining but not fast food either; a place where the whole family can go. The U.S. equivalent would be Denny’s or Chili’s. In Japan, like the U.S., there are several chains including Denny’s and Coco’s (which claims to be a California restaurant.)
Like the U.S. counterparts, the food isn’t great but you know what to expect. The food ranges from hamburger steak to udon noodles to club sandwiches. All the restaurants give you the option to turn a standard plate into a meal set of some kind for an extra two hundred or three hundred. Usually it includes a drink, soup or salad and a plate (not a bowl) of rice.
The kid’s meals are great fun. They offer small portions, of course, but it comes with a kiddy plate, a bib with a popular children’s anime character and sometimes a toy. Like the U.S., the restaurants also provide crayons and coloring paper to keep the children preoccupied until the food comes.
3. Starbucks, McDonald’s or other chains that you have at home
One of the fun things to do in Japan is to visit a store or restaurant that you have in your home country. Since I’m from the U.S., I visited Starbucks, McDonald’s and even Pizza Hut. The fun is comparing how they differ from what you are used to.
For example, McDonald’s Japan used to (or still may serve) hot dogs for breakfast. I don’t know why hot dogs, but there it is. They also have teriyaki burgers, which you won’t find in the U.S. except Hawaii. And McDonald’s serves up one of my favorite burgers, the super Tsukimi Burger (translation: Moon Burger). It has two beef patties, cheese, poached egg and bacon. mmmm good.
Another example is Starbucks. First thing you’ll notice is the service. Like most places in Japan, the baristas are very polite, mechanical and very proper. Quite different from the Starbucks I’ve been to in the U.S., where they don’t smile, talk amongst themselves, usually about some personal problem and follows Bohemian chic. Another difference is the sizes are smaller. The Grande in the U.S. is the large in Japan, the Tall is the medium and the small doesn’t exist in the U.S. but they all cost about the same.
That’s just three of the many fun things you can do in Japan. Other places you could check out would be the neighborhood supermarket, hardware store or even a Japanese school. The key is go in with an open mind and appreciate how we as world are different and yet so much alike. While temples and Mount Fuji are nice, you will get more by checking out the everyday things.