15 Things Japan Does Sooo Much Better Than The U.S. (Sorry But I'm Not Sorry)

·11 min read

I love living in the U.S., but after visiting Japan, I noticed quite a few things we might want to adopt here ASAP. These are, IMHO, some of the best aspects of Japanese culture that I wish I could have brought home with me.

1.Sushi for breakfast

A piece of tuna sushi.

I ate lots of amazing sushi in Japan, but perhaps the best aspect of all is the fact that it's totally appropriate to eat sushi for breakfast. Walk to Toyosu Fish Market in Tokyo around 8 a.m., and you'll see people lining up outside sushi counters to eat a breakfast feast of nigiri. As someone who could happily eat sushi any time of day, I would like to please make this a thing in the U.S.

Hannah Loewentheil

2.Next-level vending machines

A soba vending machine in Japan

Vending machines in the US are pretty predictable: they're all stocked with popular sodas, Gatorade, some bottles of water, and then your run-of-the-mill junk food snacks like Doritos, Cheetos, Twix bars, maybe a granola bar or some bagged trail mix. In Japan, vending machines are a whole different world.

Drink vending machines offer both hot and cold beverages, so you can insert your coins and walk away with a piping hot green tea. Not to mention there's a vending machine on pretty much every other city block. And it goes way beyond beverages.

I saw vending machines selling just about everything in Japan from fast food burgers and condoms to underwear and farm fresh eggs. And of course, we can't forget about ramen vending machines. Insert your money, place your order, then sit down to a bowl of steaming hot tonkatsu complete with a soft boiled egg and all the works.

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3.Heated, fancy toilets with built-in washlets (and even music)

A Japanese toilet.

When I got home from Japan, one of the things I missed most were the fancy Japanese toilets. These high-tech, luxurious toilets are usually made by TOTO, and you'll find them literally everywhere in Japan from fancy hotel rooms to hole-in-the-wall ramen shops. You can heat the toilet seat, use the bidet function, or even play music if you want a little privacy. Whoa. 🤯

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4.Convenience store food — but not in the way you'd expect

An egg salad sandwich.

I could go on and on about Japanese convenience stores like 7-Eleven and Lawson's. Our convenience stores back in the states don't hold a candle to these wonderlands where you can stock up on anything and everything from beauty products to gourmet meals.

Pop into a 7-Eleven around lunch for fresh onigiri stuffed with spicy tuna or shrimp tempura, perfectly packed bento boxes filled with still-warm rice, chicken karaage, and fried mashed potato croquettes, and my favorite: creamy egg salad on delightfully fluffy white bread. All of these convenience store meals are not only affordable, but also fresh and delicious.

Hannah Loewentheil

5.Pizza, if you can believe it

A pizza in Japan.

I know I'm going to get a lot of slack in the comments for this one, but Japan has some pretty absurdly delicious pizza. In both Tokyo and Kyoto, I was delighted by the quality and taste of the Neapolitan-style pies. The crust was the perfect combination of slightly charred and chewy and the ingredients simple yet powerful. It probably has something to do with the fact that the Japanese are precise, focused, and dedicated to their craft.

In fact, there's a Japanese word "shokunin," which is basically the idea of dedicating one's life to perfecting a single skill. This made total sense to me as I watched the chef at Savoy flip pizza dough until it was as thin as paper, then layer it with toppings as if perfecting a work of art. The result: something like pizza heaven.

Hannah Loewentheil

6.Public transportation

A bullet train going past Mt. Fuji.

Japanese public transportation is far and away the best I have ever experienced. The trains are SUPER fast, timely (they leave on the second mark), squeaky clean, and cover basically the entire country, making it easy to travel around from city to city. Riding the shinkansen was actually enjoyable. The subways are also wonderful.

They are punctual and so clean you could pretty much eat off the floor...except no one eats or drinks or even really talks out loud while riding. Oh, and when you use Google Maps it tells you exactly what subway car to get on so that you can more quickly exit the station to your desired destination. Pretty darn neat.

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7.Fresh fruit

A fancy Japanese melon.

Imagine how delicious the fruit tasted like in the Garden of Eden. I have a feeling it's pretty similar to modern day fruit in Japan. The Japanese take fruit very seriously. In fact, there's a whole cultural phenomenon of luxury fruit gifting, and you can find specialty fruit markets like Sembikiya in Tokyo where one can buy melons, grapes, strawberries, peaches, etc... that look as if they were sculpted by the gods. I tasted a few grapes and strawberries and I simply had now words to describe the sweet, crunchy, nectar-y flavor.

Hannah Loewentheil

8.Craft cocktails

Two craft cocktails.

There are some pretty spectacular cocktail bars in the U.S., but Japanese bars are something else. The same level of perfection that goes into just about everything in Japan also goes into cocktail making. As a result, each cocktail is like a work of art — layered, complex, and a delightful combination of flavors. I don't even like whiskey, but a bartender handed me a version of an Old Fashioned and I immediately wanted three more.

Sitting down at a cocktail bar in Japan is a sophisticated affair — you're not just stopping for a casual drink but rather watching a bit of a spectacle. You'll likely have to pay a cover charge, which typically gets you a delicious bar snack (called otsumami) like seaweed tempura, various pickled vegetables, or mixed nuts you'll want to eat by the handful.

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9.Candy and snack foods — especially the savory variety

Japanese Kit Kats in many flavors.

Here in the U.S., we have lots of snacks. In fact, when you walk into a grocery store it's straight-up overwhelming deciding on something. But snack foods and candy in Japan are even better. Take Kit Kats, for example. In the U.S., you have a handful of options like traditional milk chocolate, cookies 'n' cream, and mint and dark chocolate. But in Japan, you can choose from dozens of creative flavors like matcha, purple sweet potato, even Hokkaido cheese and chocolate for God's sake.

IMO, the savory snack options are also exponentially better than what we have back home. Walk through the snack aisle and you'll find items like Calbee shrimp chips, deep fried mochi snacks, crispy nori, camembert cheese crackers, and the soy sauce and mayo flavored potato chips...and that's just the beginning.

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10.Department store food courts

Boxes of fancy sushi.

I had heard legends of Japanese department store food courts, but nothing prepared me for seeing them for myself. Walk down to the lower level in a department store in any major Japanese city (such as Ginza Mitsukoshi in Tokyo or Takashimaya in Kyoto) and you'll find the most impressive and luxurious food court you've ever encountered. it's called a depachika, and I would venture to say it's my personal heaven.

There are seemingly endless stalls selling matcha powder, hundred-dollar melons, prepared sushi, artisan pastries, platters of vegetable tempura, caviar, and they stretch as far as the eye can see. If I had to be locked inside one place for the rest of my life, it would be a depachika.

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11.Crime rates and overall safety

A quiet Japanese street at night.

Japan is one of the 10 safest countries in the world, according to the Global Peace Index, and that fact becomes evident when you visit. As a female traveler, I felt completely safe walking everywhere, even alone at night. While I wouldn't dare walk alone in a quiet alleyway in New York City after dark, I wouldn't hesitate in Tokyo. They say you could leave a wallet on a Japanese subway and go back for it hours later untouched, and after visiting that felt very much true.

I got a very strong sense that Japanese culture values honesty and abiding by the laws. I saw plenty of locals leave belongings unattended at restaurants only to return to their things untouched. I even saw parents leave their young children alone at the table while they used to bathroom or ordered more food. It was a huge culture shock and something you don't see often back home.

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12.Photo booths.

A photo of me and my husband from a Japanese photo booth.

I was pretty blown away when I first saw a Japanese photo booth, aka purikura. First of all, these machines attract long lines, they're often located within arcades, and there are literal changing rooms available for people to get dolled up before taking their photos. I watched a group of teenage girls do several outfit changes, reapply their makeup a handful of times, and straighten their hair between photo booth sessions. Once you're in the booth, it's no joke either. You can choose between different templates, add stickers, and draw on your photo. It's like photo editing on steroids.

Hannah Loewentheil

13.The pets

A poodle wearing clothing.

One thing becomes immediately apparent when you spend some time in Japan: they love their pets, especially cats and dogs. There are cat and Shiba Inu cafés where you can go surround yourself with a bunch of adorable furry animals while sipping a coffee. Dogs are basically treated like royalty, and it's very common to see a pup dressed from head-to-toe in human quality clothing.

Bookstores sell magazines about specific dogs (like this Poodle magazine I brought home with me). I actually walked into a dog store strictly out of curiosity and saw "Japanese blood-line Poodles" that were selling for ¥1,150,000. That's about $10,000. Suffice it to say, the Japanese are not messing around when it comes to their pets.

Hannah Loewentheil

14.Street food

Onigiri street food.

I found it impossible to be full in Japan. Even after a giant meal, the smells of chicken yakitori sizzling, okonomiyaki frying on a griddle, and waygu beef skewers fresh off the grill make you think, "hmm, I guess I have room for some more." Street food is everywhere you look in Japan: in stalls on the side of the road, in tiny street-side ramen-yas, and in sprawling covered markets.

Here in New York we have dirty water hot dogs, roasted nuts chicken over rice, and breakfast cart bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. But in Japan the options are endless and sophisticated yet cheap: fried balls of dough filled with bite-sized pieces of octopus, mountains of stir-fried yakisoba noodles with pork and cabbage, corn on the cob served on sticks drowned in miso, butter and soy sauce, and taiyaki, those adorable fish-shaped cakes stuffed with red bean paste or custard. I found my stomach constantly rumbling and wanting more.

Hannah Loewentheil

15.Train cafe carts

A Japanese bento box lunch.

When I take Amtrak from New York City to Boston, I have a few cafe car options you know, classic things like Hebrew National hot dogs, a pretty meager cheese and cracker tray, Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches, etc... But let me transport you to a Shinkansen or bullet train in Japan. At every railway station right on the platform there are little kiosks where you can stock up on impressive eki-ben, boxes packed with regional specialties like fried octopus dumplings, flower-shaped vegetables, and shrimp tempura.

Once you're on board, push carts come around offering drinks like craft beer and exciting snacks. In other words, taking the bullet train in Japan is, like everything else in the country, a gourmet experience.

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16.Cherry blossoms and fall foliage

Cherry blossoms on a riverbank in Tokyo.

The changing of seasons in Japan has a certain religiosity to it. Cherry blossom aka sakura season, which occurs from late March to early April, brings tourists and locals to parks and river banks throughout Japan to gaze at the gorgeous rows of pastel-pink cherry blossoms. It's the most popular time to visit Japan, and for good season. But fall — when I visited Japan — is also pretty magical. The foliage is amazing in places from Hokkaido to Hakone and Kyoto. In fact, it's vibrant and colorful enough to rival New England for prime leaf peeping.

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Have you visited Japan? What was your favorite thing about it? Share in the comments!