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Weird and Wonderful Japan

Five things you never knew about Japan

1. Automatic taxi doors

Ever got out of a taxi and thought “goodness me, closing the door took a bit of effort”? Us neither, but in Japan all taxis have automatic doors. Once you get used this invisible chauffeur, it can feel like a bit of a chore to get in and out of a car when you get home.

Word of advice: Don’t try to open it yourself. If there’s an error of any kind, the driver will open the door for you – you need never touch a handle again. Until you leave Japan that is.

2. Christmas with KFC

Think Christmas dinner is all about turkey and the trimmings? Not in Japan. Most Japanese people follow Buddhism or Shinto, so Christmas isn’t a national holiday – many even presume it’s Santa Claus’s birthday! So, festive traditions are relatively new, not least of all the prevalence of fried chicken.

In the 1970s an excellently executed campaign by KFC marketed their red and white buckets of fried chicken as the ultimate Christmas dinner, with Colonel Sanders dressing up in a red and white Santa suit to match – no doubt conflating the Father Christmas birthday misunderstanding even more. Fried chicken is now such a treasured tradition, KFC orders are placed weeks in advance.

3. Train station theme tunes

In the UK we’re used to standard, often unwelcome, announcements at train stations. An automated voice about arrivals is the one everyone crosses their fingers for. But more often, it’s a half-hearted alert about indefinite delays; leaves on the track throwing everything into disarray; or a last-minute platform change (it leaves in 10 seconds, so you better be quick if you don’t want to wait 5 hours until the next service).

In Japan, trains are never late. Ever. In fact, an official apology had to be issued this year when one left 25 seconds early. Rather than these disappointing rambling announcements, they play a plinky-piano ditty, unique to each station. While it might take you by surprise the first time, frequent the same station more than once and you’ll find yourself singing along in no time. Fortunately, Japanese people are really polite and won’t stare at you too much.

4. Clever toilets

Talking of tunes, prepare to be overwhelmed the first time you use a Japanese toilet. While they do vary, general features apply. Firstly, buttons. You thought a flush was enough? Think again. Take your pick of sounds – maybe bird noises or a waterfall – before using the bidet, setting the nozzle direction, temperature, water pressure and drying function as you go. There’s also a sensor that opens the lid when you walk into the cubicle and a heated seat, so you can get comfy while you listen to that waterfall.

5. Incredible vending machines

If you need to parch your thirst or grab a sugar hit when you’re out and about, vending machines are always handy. But have they ever presented you with a spare t-shirt, surgical mask or prayer card? In Japan, vending machines are at your every beck and call. If you need a hot coffee, bouquet of flowers, flask of fish soup or bottle of chilled champagne, they are never far away, even in the remotest outposts.