Nicola Spendlove

  • The truth of the matter is tattoos are becoming increasingly socially acceptable in Japanese society. It is unlikely that you will receive anything other than polite interest in your tattoos from the general public when traveling around Japan. However, in certain places – particularly onsens (hot springs), ryokans (traditional guesthouses), temples and public pools, you will still see blanket bans on tattoos.

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  • Tourists often have a skewed image in their heads of what a maid café actually is – and this can lead to some awkward moments. If you go into a maid café with expectations of having some sort of sexual fetish realized, you’re likely to be sorely disappointed. A maid café does exactly what it says on the tin, really – it’s a café, where you are attended to by servers who either dress and act like exaggerated versions of old-school French maids, or like exaggerated versions of Victorian maids.

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  • Dog parks in Japan offer dogs the opportunity to run free in a safe outdoor environment and interact with other dogs. This is an incredible facility, particularly for those living in apartments (fun fact though – some apartment blocks have dog gyms). However, certain etiquette and rules must be followed to ensure that using the dog park is a positive experience for everyone involved. Doing a bit of research before visiting will go a long way towards avoiding any potentially embarrassing missteps.

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  • The Japanese diet is lauded as being extremely healthy, with experts drawing strong correlations between what the Japanese eat and their increased life expectancy. Sushi is no exception to this rule – most variations boast a winning combination of fish, vegetables and rice; ingredients which get two thumbs up from nutritional specialists. Of course, as with any food, there are unhealthy variants of sushi – for example, the deep-fried varieties (tempura) are high in saturated fat, and not suited for every day consumption (unless you’re hankering after a heart attack). It is also worth noting that sushi is not necessarily low in calories – oily fish can pack a caloric punch, so don’t confuse “health-boosting” with “weight loss promoting”.

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  • The Kanreki, rather than being seen as getting older, is viewed as a rebirth. The reason for this is when a person turns 60, they have gone through the Chinese zodiac cycle (Jikkan Junishi) a total of five times and are now back at their original birth zodiac. The word “Kanreki” itself derives its meaning from the words kan (return) and reki (calendar). Simply put, turning 60 is viewed as your chance to start over again.

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  • Because of this, even when us Western tourists (who I will henceforth refer to as “foreigners”) believe ourselves to be on our best behaviour when travelling in Japan, we can still make numerous social faux-pas and unintentionally annoy or offend the locals. While the habits of a lifetime can be difficult to break, having a bit of insight into the type of behaviours that Japanese people tend to find jarring will go a long way towards finding favour on your trip.

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  • The simple answer to this is no. People are not personally punished for their weight in Japan – at least, not in a legal sense. There is, however, something known colloquially as Metabo Law that has been in place nationwide since the year 2008. Metabo Law aims to eradicate obesity and other metabolic disorders in Japan through the systematic monitoring of waist sizes of citizens between the ages of 40 and 74.

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  • What you may not realize is that many commonly used legal drugs in Western countries are out-lawed in Japan, and innocently packing these in your luggage can land you in some serious hot water. Even carrying prescription drugs taken for chronic conditions is not as black and white as you might imagine. The use of recreational drugs, with the exception of alcohol, is heavily frowned upon by both society and the law in Japan. While casual drug use might have formed an enjoyable part of traveling in the past for you, my strong advice would be not to even consider using drugs in Japan.

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  • If you have the money and see Japan as your long-term home, the temptation to buy might be strong. After all, many of us have been raised to view rent as “dead money”. Japan is different. Buying a house in Japan is, to put it frankly, a really poor financial move – as evidenced by the fact that Japanese home-ownership rates are approximately thirty percent lower than other similarly developed Asian countries. In this article, I will go into detail on the various points that make the property a depreciating asset in Japan – and why renting is a far more clever idea.

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