12 things you wouldn’t expect to find in Japan

Five-storied red pagodas, carefully manicured gardens, geisha girls and futuristic skylines: just a few of the most popular images of Japan. During our month travelling around the country we saw all of the above. Yet Japan is a country we hear relatively little about and in the course of our travels we stumbled across plenty of surprises. Here are just a small selection:

Red London Bus, Matsuyama

This red London bus was parked permanently in a side street in Matsuyama and has been transformed into a cafe

Pasteis de nata, Kyoto

Pasteis de nata: this oh-so delicious treat is the signature dessert of Portugal. Imagine my surprise to find them on sale in a covered market in Kyoto

Oura Church, Nagasaki

Oura Church, Nagasaki. Japanese Christians endured three centuries of persecution. Nagasaki, the cradle of Christianity in Japan, is today home to dozens of churches

Hot bubbling mud, Beppu

Hot bubbling mud in the hells of Beppu. We saw similar in Rotorua and in Yellowstone but hadn't heard of Japan's equivalent until we stumbled across them on the island of Kyushu

Looking through bridge floor for giant whirlpools

Looking through bridge floor for giant whirlpools. The Naruto Straits are home to some of the world's largest whirlpools. Excited by this fact we travelled a long way to see them, to no avail. Here we are looking in hope for something to happen

Russian Orthodox Church in Hakodate

Russian Orthodox Church in Hakodate. Not something I expected to find. The whole city of Hakodate has the feel of a northern frontier town with a strong Russian influence

Polish memorial in Nagasaki

Polish memorial in Peace Park, Nagasaki. Being of Polish origin I look out for signs of Polishness wherever I am. I didn't expect to find a memorial donated in the 1980s by communist Poland

Rainy day in Kyoto by Golden Pavilion

Rainy day in Kyoto by Golden Pavilion. If you're travelling to Japan for the first time you'll probably have a picture in your mind of how it will look. If you're going in September, you mind want to add a little rain to that image

Signs that showed Japanese humour

Funny Japanese signs. Of course there were plenty of examples of twisted English. But I was more impressed by the ones that showed off the Japanese sense of humour

Flowers in the city - Tokyo garden

Flowers in the city - this Tokyo garden was just one example of the way that even the most congested and densely populated cities had their greenery and open spaces

Statue of Liberty, Tokyo

Statue of Liberty, Tokyo. We actually found two Lady Liberties in Japan; this one was the most impressive

Kyu Iwasaki-tei Teien House and Garden , Tokyo

Kyu Iwasaki-tei Teien House and Garden, Tokyo. A traditional English Victorian house built for a member of the Mitsubishi clan. Wandering around the house I could have easily been in a National Trust property back in England

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13 Responses to “12 things you wouldn’t expect to find in Japan”

  1. Japan is full of surprises. We didn’t see many of these but we did enjoy the cartoon signs. The Nara one is a classic and we found some weird ones on the trains too.

    December 1, 2011 at 10:58 am
  2. It sort of shows how different cultural stereotypes can be. I was definitely surprised to find out lots of things that was not part of my Japan stereotype collection, when we lived there for 5 years in the 90s. You mentioned a few of them; most are things that I just didn’t know of until I came to Japan. Things such as its history with Christianity in Nagasaki (hence the churches), to Portuguese merchants bringing those sweets you mentioned (a favorite of mine is a sponge cake called カステラ “castella”, derived from the Portuguese “pao de Castela”).

    December 1, 2011 at 11:17 am
  3. The ‘watch out for deer’ sign in Nara cracked us up too!
    Surprised you hadn’t heard about Beppu – I thought it was a well known/overly well known tourist thing? Just goes to show!

    December 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm
  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts folks. Natalia, I have to admit that my guidebook painted such a sordid picture of Beppu I just had to go and see for myself. They focussed more on its seedy side that on the geothermal sites.
    Jeruen, I hadn’t realised that although the country lived in isolation for 300 years they had the tiny Dutch trading area around Nagasaki that still allowing a glimpse of the outside world. And yes, the cakes of the world managed to creep it too!

    December 3, 2011 at 8:34 am
  5. Emm #

    What a lovely post! I’ve enjoyed all of your posts on Japan actually and would definitely like to visit there again. It has just the right balance of history, culture and natural beauty for me.

    December 3, 2011 at 11:22 am
  6. What a great post full of surprises!

    December 3, 2011 at 1:45 pm
  7. Ohhhhh Portuguese Egg Tarts – I ate them all the time in Macau, they beat Hong Kong egg tarts hands down!

    But I didn’t think you could actually find them much in Portugal – are they not more likely to be found in Japan (being closer to Macau) than in Europe? From what I learned, their origins are actually Macau, which is a Portuguese settlement, rather than Portugal. And they are an adaptation of the Chinese egg tart.

    But they DO sell them at Ho’s Bakery in Manchester China Town – so I can get a fix now and then 🙂

    December 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm
    • Thanks Andrea – I’ll have to look into this. They are known sometimes as Pasteis de Belem, named after the region of Lisbon from which they originate – or so I thought. Yes, you can get them also in Cafe Lisboa in London – I also get my occasional fix 🙂

      December 4, 2011 at 6:14 pm
  8. Wow! Pretty amazing sites you found in Japan! We had planned to go this past summer however the unfortunate circumstances led us to go elsewhere. When we do go (and we will soon) we’ll be sure to check out some of these locations.

    December 9, 2011 at 1:15 pm
  9. Wow, there are so many things from different countries! Surprising to see the London bus and the Statue of Liberty! But the boiling mud and whrlpools are definetely something to go see! Nice! 😉

    December 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm
  10. Wow who would think they would find the Statue of Liberty and the London Bus in Japan 🙂 Really neat!

    March 30, 2012 at 3:11 pm
  11. Dorinda #

    What an interesting post! I will certainly be visiting Japan in the future.

    I love reading your blog but was surprised that there are no posts about India. Do you have any trips planned?

    April 22, 2012 at 6:05 pm
    • Thanks Dorinda. Yes, although I was in India in 2008 I hadn’t started writing about my travels yet. There are a few posts on here from India but I haven’t organised the categories yet so they won’t show up on the tabs at the top. I must get organised soon 🙂

      April 22, 2012 at 6:35 pm