JLPT BC 111 | Top 10 Things I Wish I had Known

JLPT BC 111 | Top 10 Things I Wish I had Known post image

Otsutomehin is your Friend.

If you are going to be staying or living in Japan for any length of time. You want to make the most of it. The problem is there are a few things that the natives know that don’t show up in too many guidebooks. Things that I found out about the hard way more often than not.

When I first moved to Japan, it was my first time abroad. My first time really anywhere outside of the States. I really didn’t have that much of a clue of what to expect or what to do, and I was going to live here for awhile. It was pretty fun to explore and find new things here and there.

But, there are a few things I wish I had known before coming. I give you the top 10 things I wish I knew before I came:

No Trash Cans

There is a complete and utter lack of trash cans in Japan. When I went to the Aichi Expo about 5 years ago, I stopped to get something to eat in the food court. But when I went to leave, there wasn’t a trash can in sight. I eventually found some hidden in a back corner.

What gives?

Well, I’ve heard the major reason for this is for counter-terrorism. After the 1995 Tokyo sarin gas attack, there were a lot less trash cans around. Nowadays the general use of trash cans you do see in train stations are usually clear with clear bags so that you can see what is inside.

Moral of the story is you’ll have to pack around your trash or sneak into McDonald’s to throw something away.

Respect the Food

People tend to respect the eating of food here. In general, you are suppose to sit at a restaurant and eat or eat at your desk at work. You don’t see a lot of people walking and eating, which is another reason why there aren’t a whole heck of a lot of trash cans around.

There are no rules against eating in public. People have explained that it seems a little disrespectful to the food like you don’t care enough about it to sit down and enjoy it. I can say that as an American, I didn’t really respect food that much (that’s why we are all fat), but since coming to Japan, I’ve started to respect food a wee bit more.

I should say that as a foreigner you can guiltily scarf down a rice ball or a Big Mac on the run here and there and no one is going to start a fight with you or anything. However, you will most likely feel a little weird and be frustrated by the fact that you can’t throw away the wrapper anywhere.

Sitting Fees

Bars don’t seem to like people just like hanging out for no reason, so they will sometimes charge you a ‘sitting fee’. This is essentially a fee for using the seat, hence the name. They will, of course, charge you for any beer you drink or anything else as well.

The problem with these sitting fees is that they really aren’t posted anywhere. So, you can go into a place, have a few drinks, and be smacked with a higher bill at the end. And the fees can range from 300 or so yen to 1000 or more depending on the place.

Your best bet is head to an Irish bar or another similar looking place like an English pub. I know this isn’t going to allow you to dive deep into the culture, but you will be able to mingle with local expats who will most likely have plenty of stories to tell you.

Buses are an Acceptable Mode of Transportation

Buses in some countries are sometimes a little scary. They are generally not the first choice for transportation unless you have no money and a lot of time on your hands. At least, that was my impression I had of them before I came to Japan.

In Japan though, they are an excellent way to see a lot of the country easily. Also, overnight buses can save you time and a hotel stay if you don’t mind the whole no-shower thing. I’ve taken in a lot more sights because I saved a lot of money taking buses around.

The other advantage of buses, especially overnight buses, is they go from point A to point B, so if you are nervous about listening for your stop (like on a train) this might be a better option for you, because they will only make pit stops, and then take you directly to where you need to go.


Looking for some cheap eats at the end of the day? Head to your local supermarket then because chances are they’ll have marked down food available for the taking. Sometimes you can get things 50% off their regular prices.

This marked down food is called ‘otsutomehin’ or working (mans) food. It’s marketed as a reward for those working late, but in realty it’s a way for the supermarket to get rid of its not so fresh sushi and fried goods before they have to close up shop.

Typically, they start marking down items around 8pm, so if you are hungry later in the evening, be sure to stop into a supermarket and pick something up.

That’s the First Half

There’s the first half of the top 10. I’ll be back next month with the rest of the list. In the meantime, I would love to hear what you wish you had known about Japan before you moved here. Let me know in the comments.


{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Jansen April 20, 2013, 12:02 am

    I actually somehow learned about a lot of these things before heading to Japan. Otsutomehin was something I did have to learn about there, though. Haven’t been to enough bars to get hit with a sitting fee, so thank you for the heads up!

    Weirdly, one thing I wish I’d known about Japan was all the rules for recycling, like what is burnable vs. non-burnable, etc. I did enough research to learn about stuff like respect for food and no trashcans, and yet every website or book I looked at failed to mention something as important and obvious as the recycling! That actually wound up stressing me out A LOT when I went to Japan for the first time, so it’s probably one of the first things I mention to people looking for general “stuff to know about Japan” advice.

    • Clayton MacKnight April 21, 2013, 2:35 pm

      Yeah, recycling and sorting trash can be a real hassle. I think maybe why you didn’t find a whole lot of info on it is because each prefecture has different rules. For example, Osaka-fu doesn’t separate at all, just throw everything together. Most places will have bins for bottles, cans, and paper, but it isn’t mandatory per se.

      Meanwhile, when I first came to Japan I lived in a rural area and we separated absolutely everything, burnable, nonburnable, paper recyclable (with that little mark on it), plastic recyclable (with that other mark on it), then glass and cans. That’s 6 different bins in your house! Luckily, I had a pretty big place, but still.

      Another thing is you have to pay to throw away a lot of bigger items. For example, if a car has over 100,000km on it, dealers won’t accept it as a trade in. Instead, you have to pay to dispose of it! 🙂

  • Jennifer Schmidt April 20, 2013, 1:29 am

    I just got back Tuesday from my first trip to Japan. I wish you had written this a few days sooner. 😉 I hope the continuation of the list includes the lack of hand towels. Half the time after washing my hands I had to leave the restroom shaking them like a wet dog—the other half of the time there were blow dryers, but it was a tossup. I even bought a towel to carry around and then forgot to put it in my purse… And the people handing out packages of tissue on the street often didn’t give them to foreigners.

    I was curious whether it was considered acceptable to eat and drink on trains while I was there (shinkansen notwithstanding). I never saw anyone eating on the train, but neither did I see any signs prohibiting it. Although on the weekend I did see someone downing a sake while riding.

    Thanks for the tips! I’m sure they’ll be handy when I get the opportunity to visit again.

    • Clayton MacKnight April 21, 2013, 2:51 pm

      yeah, hand towels. I’ve resorted to what I call ‘eco dry’ which just involves me moving my arms in an exaggerated swinging motion to air dry them as I walk out of the restroom.

      Depending on where you went, they might have removed the blow dryers to save energy. Some of the country is still trying to conserve electricity, especially during the summer months.

      That’s a bit strange about them not giving you tissues on the street, usually they are all over me trying to give me those tissues. Maybe they were afraid you would start speaking English with them or something. 🙂

      I’ve heard that eating on express trains like the Shinkansen is obviously more acceptable. I should have added that in the post. In commuter trains though it is generally considered bad form, except for the beer on the ride home. I saw one lady recently eating a pastry out of her bag. She kept leaning down into her bag and taking a bite. Then, she would sit up straight and chew on it. 🙂

      • Cure Dolly June 7, 2014, 5:10 am

        They always seem to hand out tissues to me.

        However – Japanese restrooms do supply lavatory paper, so that suggests a strategy to me. It is the one I use when there is no dryer.

  • Mika April 22, 2013, 4:31 am

    Regarding lack of hand towels, in general, Japanese people always take a handkerchief and a pocket tissus with them whenever they go outside. We were taught to do so since we are kids.
    Hope my English is understandable for native speakers…(^ ^;)

    • Clayton MacKnight April 22, 2013, 11:26 pm

      I think it is a little more eco friendly to have your own towel with you, but I always forget.

  • Nelson July 5, 2014, 2:25 am

    This and the things to do in Japan are good for those who desire to go to Japan. Still studying Japanese, and I am now going through the Kanji and words in コンテンツとマルチナディアで学ぶ日本語上級へのとびら and its companions by Kurosio Publishers. One thing I do have to work on is the grammar. Good to know that there are not many trash cans around in Japan, sitting fees, and that moths tend to lay eggs in bags of rice. I will try to keep these things in mind for when I decide to come over to Japan.

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