Things that have surprised me about Japan (and things that probably shouldn't have)
I considered myself fairly well informed about Japanese culture before I came to Japan. I watched anime and read manga, attended Japanese cultural activities at my university, and had gotten a decent amount of cultural knowledge through language classes. I figured that I wouldn't have too many problems with culture shock.
I was partially right. I did know about some things to expect, such as the crowded Tokyo trains, capsule vending machines selling all sorts of things (some less savory than others), onsen, emphasis on politeness, crazy commercials...even so, some things took me by surprise.
1. The ticket machines at many restaurants. Instead of ordering your food from a person, you put coins into a machine and it gives you a ticket with your order printed on it, which you then give to the person behind the counter. It's mostly in small noodle shops and food courts. Somehow, this failed to come up in my years of being immersed in anime culture. I think it's quite convenient, really, especially when there's a kanji character I don't know how to pronounce in the name of the dish I want.
2. After being warned about the hot Tokyo summers....it hasn't actually been that bad. In fact, from what I hear from people back home, it's better than Minnesota right now.
3. Apparently, squirrels are a tourist attraction in the Japanese countryside. I don't know what they see in them. They're pure evil. (The squirrels, that is, not the tourists.)
4. The train station bathrooms don't have soap. (I was prepared for the lack of towels, but not that.)
5. Just how much kanji I've forgotten in my year off from Japanese class.
6. Dear Japanese Domino's Pizza: What in the world is mayo-jaga pizza? I might have to order it just so I can find out.
7. People not only drive on the other side of the road, they walk that way, too. (Except when the street is busy; then all bets are off.)
8. In many public bathrooms, there's this thing that makes a loud rushing water noise as soon as you sit down on the toilet. Seems to me that makes it more conspicuous, but...
9. The rarity of trash cans.
10. The corresponding level of litter---I haven't seen ANY. There's a trash can every twenty feet in Minneapolis, and people still fling their garbage on the ground.
12. The popularity of hip-hop clothes stores.
13. The prevalence of 7-Eleven. I'd never seen one back in the States, but they're everywhere in Japan.
14. How often they play American music in Japanese stores and restaurants. The most jarring was sitting in a ramen shop and hearing country music.
15. The touch screen vending machines that flash up a little happy emoticon after you buy something from them. Welcome to the future. Thank you, Japan. ^_^