Uniquely Japanese

Every country has its cultural quirks.  Here’s a few endearing ones from Japan.

Japanese trains are brilliant.  Punctual to the minute, clean and roomy.  The conductor bows to the passengers every time he enters or leaves a carriage.   The Shinkansen ‘bullet trains’ were the world’s first dedicated high speed rail lines, and the Tokyo-Nagoya-Osaka line is one of the world’s busiest.  At a top speed of almost 320kph, we hurtled from Kyoto to Tokyo in just over two hours.

Only in Japan would you find a Hello Kitty themed bullet train.

English signage is much more widespread than when we were last in Japan, 12 years ago.  But there’s still humour to be found in some translations.

Japanese toilets are famous for the range of options on offer for the comfort of users.  Every place we stayed had one and each was slightly different.  For the avoidance of doubt, sometimes English language instructions were provided.

That was one of the simpler ones.  Some play music, have heat settings for the seat, temperature control for the water sprays, and one even had an option to release puffs of toilet deodoriser.

All over the developed world we have turned our pets into fur children and dress dogs in human clothes.  So it’s only fitting that Japanese canines can get their own kimonos.

Sukiyaki, a dish of meat and vegetables simmered in a pot, is a staple in Japanese restaurants world wide.  In a riff on that name, here you can also get Snoopy Yaki, wafer-like snacks in the shape of the famous Peanuts cartoon character, filled with custard or red bean paste.

From the late 1800s, food sellers displayed a plate of real food, cooked fresh each day, to show what was on offer.  Printed menus didn’t exist.  In the late 1920s, Japanese artisans started making food models for restaurants so real food wasn’t wasted.  Initially they used paraffin, but since the 1980s most are PVC.

Called shokuhin sampuru, from the English word ‘sample’, these models are big business.  More than 95% are still hand made and craftsmen jealously guard their secret techniques, in an industry worth billions of yen per year.  It’s not unusual to cost over $AUS10,000 for a modest set of dishes.

In part, the high cost is because each model is individual.  The artisan takes an actual dish from the restaurant and dips it in silicone.  Once it’s set, the model is trimmed and painted by hand or airbrush.  If the item has several components, like a sushi roll, each is made separately and assembled by hand.  No mass production here.

Food models are ubiquitous in Japan.  You’ve probably seen them in Japanese restaurants at home, too.  But we’d bet you’ve never seen these:  ice cream sundaes with French fries, crumbed chicken or prawns, or pork cutlet on top.

Another dubious example of fusion cuisine  – wasabi flavoured KitKats.

And we really aren’t convinced about the merits of fruit and cream sandwiches.

After all those snacks you might need to clean your teeth.  This shop sold only one thing – decorated toothbrushes and brush kits.

And as we mentioned in our Kyoto post, if you’re in need of a small furry creature to lavish with affection, you can visit Mipig Cafes in Kyoto and Osaka to spend quality time with micro pigs.

So delightful. So Japanese.

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1 Comment

  1. Chris Cameron
    July 3, 2024 / 7:37 am

    Loved this blog with all the quirky aspects of Japanese culture. Now I have to add patting a minipig and seeing pups in kimonos to my bucket list 😀

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