10 Things I Didn’t Realize I Would Love About Japan

Because I feel like it’s time.

10. Incredible Natural Beauty

So beautiful!

Okay, maybe this is a no-brainer. Everyone knows that Japan is beautiful.

The forests...

I just didn’t realize that it was mind-blowingly…

The ocean!


The waterfalls!

heart-achingly beautiful. I wish I could just gather up the green mountains and the black sand beaches and bring them home with me. It’s not that there aren’t beautiful landscapes in America – there are. I’ve just never seen a place that basically stood up and demanded that you acknowledge how beautiful it was. Which, come to think of it, might explain…

9. Respect for Nature

I think I’ve commented before about how in the context of the gorgeous landscapes here, Shintoism makes absolute sense. How could you not feel awe when confronted by these incredible vistas?

A torii gate across from an aquarium.

This deep-seated cultural respect for the land is visible all over, in ways both small and large. Roads wind over hills and around mountains (or in small tunnels through them) instead of just being blasted flat and level. Bridges extend carefully over entire valleys to avoid disturbing them, and even in densely developed city,

Another torii gate!

you’re likely to see a well-preserved patch of forest as a shrine to nature. In fact, anywhere you see a particularly beautiful view…

A torii gate on an island!

you’re likely to see the awe for that beauty expressed by a shrine.

8. History and Traditions

Pictured: history.

As someone who grew up in the Midwest, my idea of an old building has always been something about 100 years old. If it was a really old building, it was closer to 200 years old. So, it is quite an experience to get to visit sites that are closer to 400 years old.

An old Japanese castle

These festivals we’ve been going to? Some of them have literally been going on, year after year, for hundreds of years.

Festival dances

The clothes they wear, the songs they sing, the dances they perform – they all mean something, and they’ve meant something for centuries. I just wish I had more time to learn what that is.

Gigantic ancient Japanese statue

7. Safety

Kids at a festival parade

I don’t have any cool pictures for this one (how does one show pictures of general safety?), but I couldn’t ignore it. Cars and homes are constantly unlocked. Toddlers are left in (unlocked, remember) cars while moms duck into stores. (This is legal.) Five-year-olds walk home from school unsupervised and alone, crossing four-lane roads when the crosswalk light turns green. I frequently let my preschool-aged children wander a few aisles over in stores we were shopping. I’ve had people say, “Oh, that’s just because you’re living in a rural area,” (and this is true), but Japan is consistently marked #5 or better on lists of the safest countries in the world. Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index has it listed as #3 – the third safest place in the entire world! The United States is #85 on that list…and I’ve seen it as low as #97 on others. (Just for comparison, Canada is #14 on the GPI, and Mexico is #107. Oh, dear.)

6. Ubiquitous Courtesy

Construction worker traffic directing

Another seemingly obvious point – Japanese people are polite! Undoubtedly this influences the low crime rates. It is culturally unacceptable to behave badly or do anything that would bring shame on your family or community. However, until you’ve lived in it, all that that entails doesn’t really sink in. For example; you can be driving 10k under the speed limit and be straddling both lanes, and you will not be honked at. (If you are, look quickly! Chances are good that you’ll see an American driving the car that did it.) The other drivers may well pass you, but they will do it politely. I have seen with my own eyes two old women bicycling out in the street, taking up the entire lane, and a line of cars slowly and politely following behind them, without so much as a single honk or tailgater. I’ve never seen a place where drivers were more careful of pedestrians and bicyclists – and when you let a gaggle of seven-year-olds cross in front of your car, every one of them will bow on the way across. As much as we grumble about tiny ‘roads’ and creative parking, courtesy on the road makes driving much more relaxed.

Moshi Moshi!

Of course we don’t just see politeness when driving, but boy – am I going to miss that.

Now, this post has gone on long enough, so go here for the next five things I didn’t realize I would love about Japan!

giant piles of snow

What? I wanted to use that picture.


  1. Abi says:

    I’m dying to visit Japan since I’ve been reading your blog…someday. Your photos are all so amazing and don’t we all need a picture of a huge pile of snow bigger than your car?

  2. Felisha says:

    been following your blog for awhile now.
    We are Navy, stationed in Sasebo on Kyushu Island. We are prepping to PCS in Jan. I am terribly sad to leave and this post just totally reinforced all the wonderful things about this country.

  3. Melissa says:

    Felisha, I’m sorry you have to leave! It’s not as though I never want to leave, I just wish I had a little more time!

    I feel like I’m trying to cram so much in the last little bit of our time here. If you guys ever get an opportunity to visit Japan, take it!

  4. Felisha says:

    A little more time would be nice.
    My 4 yr old is already plotting on coming back when she “grows up.” She is very heartbroken and confused that there won’t be any Japanese people in our new town. To her, base is where the Americans are and town is where the Japanese are. She doesn’t remember America at all.

    • Melissa says:

      Yes, my oldest son remembers America a little, but for the most part Japan is all they know. I’m sure it’s going to be a rough transition – and they’re going to try and speak Japanese to the servers at restaurants!

  5. Marisa says:

    Ha ha ha! The polite drivers must all be in the south! They are crazy up near Tokyo! I often fear for my life… and I am in a car!

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge