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27 Things About Japan That Totally Blew Me Away When I Visited

So much thoughtful design! So many delicious bento boxes!

Hi, I'm Juliane, and I'm a reporter for BuzzFeed Germany. Recently, I spent three weeks in Japan, and I was so impressed by my trip that I want to tell you about all of the "wow" moments I had while experiencing daily life in Japan:

1. Let's start with the most important thing: toilets. Almost all of the toilets I encountered in Japan had features like sound effects (including water sounds for added privacy) and bidet shower jets positioned at different heights (handy, in all honesty). Most importantly, they were all unbelievably clean – even in train stations. This toilet has a motion sensor which lifts up the lid:

Juliane Löffler

(Here's a little selection of the buttons available on one toilet, so you know what I'm talking about.).

2. Have you ever been out with a baby or small child and needed to use the bathroom? I've been in this situation countless times, which is why this simple bathroom stall fixture was SO obviously genius!

3. This is the well-designed restroom in a Tokyo train station, where you can easily see which stalls are occupied.

Juliane Löffler

4. Now, let's get to the issue of food. The first thing I noticed in Japan was that, to prevent you from getting confused by Japanese menus, the restaurants simply display plastic versions of their dishes in the window. Brilliant!

(Here's a picture of me with the real (and very delicious) version:)

5. This is a type of potato fritter on a stick — a very tasty type of fast food. I didn't quite catch the name, but we should ALL get to eat potatoes on a stick, every day. It's genius.

I also encountered other types of food on a stick, like this pineapple: 😍

6. We need to talk about the drink vending machines: each one has a little light that blinks under each drink if it's sold out. If the strip under the drink is blue, the drink's cold, and if it's red, then it's hot. Smart!

7. This is a mini coffee filter you rip open, hang inside the cup and then pour hot water through. It tastes a thousand times better than instant coffee and is available in every supermarket. I always had two of them in my bag, just in case.

8. These are edible flowers sold in supermarkets — AKA, the key to beautifying almost any meal you make at home!

Like so!

9. OK, let's talk about design for a second. Japanese design permeates daily life entirely. There's a great deal of precision to it, and it's just as well thought out as everything else. This is the Katsura Villa, an imperial villa built about 400 years ago near Kyoto, and I just think it looks incredibly beautiful.

10. Gardens in Japan are really beautiful too — really lush and also carefully designed. This tree here has been allowed to grow a bit crookedly, so it's been given a little support to keep it toppling over. Cute!

Here's another view of a garden I visited:

11. Here's how Tokyo adds a little more greenery to daily city life:

12. And here's a picture of a natural bamboo forest on the small island of Teshima. So gorgeous!

13. More unexpected design elements: I discovered these enchanting manhole covers in Uno and Odawara.

Put a panda on the sidewalk? Honestly, why not?! 😍

14. OK, let's talk about the signs. In Japan, people are big fans of signs (just like we Germans are, though maybe even more so). Standing on toilets is clearly a thing – and not something you're meant to do. By the way, there are also very simple toilets on the floor to squat over.

15. I've no idea what this says, but the message is clear. A great deal of signs feature little anime figures so that pretty much everyone can understand what they mean. Also, it keeps the sign from coming off too aggressively, imo.

16. If Germans think they've already perfected the information sign culture – think again! Japan is light years ahead. Just take a look at everything that's been done to call attention to this uneven step:

17. Here's a picture of some light-up stairs, which can either be used to display ads or just add a lil' fun to your day! 🚠

Juliane Löffler

18. Before trying on clothes in the changing room, you'll be asked to cover yourself with a semi-transparent bag. This is to keep the clothes clean and free from hair and make-up stains.

19. Another really clever detail: There are often little baskets next to outdoor seats where you can put your backpack or purse to keep them getting dirty. Why has no one thought of this anywhere else??

20. This is a fence on wheels, which can be moved around for all kinds of uses:

21. And if you ever had your doubts about Japanese umbrellas...well, here's all the proof you'll ever need that they'll hold up (and how some of them even reveal a cute floral design when they get wet!)

Juliane Löffler

(Thanks to our readers for pointing out what the sign said!)

22. Speaking of umbrellas, many museums and public spaces have these little umbrella lockers:

23. And while rush hour on the Tokyo subway isn't much fun, at least it's got cooling fans.

Juliane Löffler

24. This is a bento box, a type of cold lunchbox. You can get them on every train, and they are (obviously) very tasty.

(You can also eat well in supermarkets, by the way. Tons of supermarkets are always open, especially on Sundays, and usually have self-service microwaves and some form of small food bar. Here, I grabbed a noodle soup from the chilled shelf and ate it right in the supermarket.

25. Traveling by train in Japan is a lot of fun. Namely, the trains are unbelievably punctual, and secondly, you can find your way around really easily in the train stations thanks to the colored codes. Thirdly, the trains have VERY clean toilets and VERY tasty food.

The bullet train is also lightning fast (reaching speeds of up to 320km/h, to be precise). You can travel from Kyoto to Hiroshima in absolutely no time at all.

Juliane Löffler

26. This is very important to me: I found public spaces in Japan to be well-designed for accessibility, especially when it came to the commuter and mainline transport system. For example, this is a station in Tokyo, where yellow strips on the ground are for people who with impaired vision. These strips can be found absolutely everywhere, in every walkway. And wherever there's no elevator, you'll find a stair lift, which is also in this picture:

27. This is an art exhibit from TeamLab Borderless's Digital Art Museum in Tokyo. It's a little like Disneyland, but a lot of the interactive art and technology on display are incredibly advanced. The walls are interactive, and animals and magical figures run and fly in the walls — when you touch them, they look at you.

Here's another shot from the exhibit:

Juliane Löffler

Anyway, I could go on raving about Japan forever, but I'll save a little something for next time (because there will DEFINITELY be a next time). In the meantime, keep up with all things Japanese via BuzzFeed Japan here. KAWAI!

This post was translated from German.

UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect what the sign says in Japanese for #21 — i.e., that the umbrella's floral pattern becomes visible when it gets wet. Genius!