Part of me expected to be regularly awed by Japan’s wild inventions like pancake-making robots, and bizarre vending machines that sell everything imaginable. Instead, I’ve found that it’s the little things about Japan that impress me the most; the simple innovations that make everyday life significantly more efficient, as well as the frivolous products that are so completely awesome I can’t figure out why they haven’t caught on in the West.
When I ask Japanese people how they stay warm in the winter, the answer is always the same: kotatsu. A kotatsu is a low table with an electric heater attached to its underside. In the winter, you turn on the heater, and drape a big blanket under the removable tabletop. You can then tuck your legs into the warm space under the table and work on the computer, watch TV, or do anything else you would normally do while sitting at a table. It surprised me to find that warming only my legs and feet actually makes my whole body feel warmer. The temperature has been steadily dropping over the last few weeks, and half my body is disappearing under the kotatsu on a nightly basis.
I’ve always been more of a shower person, but Japanese tubs are turning me into a bath-lover. Bath tubs in Japan are about twice as deep as Western-style tubs. They’re made for relaxing, rather than for washing. Because who really chooses a bath over a shower if all they want to do is get clean? Taking a bath is about lounging. I can totally get behind chilling out in the tub when the water level comes all the way up to my shoulders. All I need is a good book and a glass of wine.
Flavoured Kit Kats
If you follow me on Facebook, you know that I regularly post photos of all the interesting Kit Kat flavours we find during our travels in Japan. Our current collection includes chili, strawberry, matcha, red bean, and many more – plus there are dozens of other flavours that we haven’t even tried yet. Different regions in Japan carry different Kit Kats, and new flavours are introduced seasonally. For example, October marked the limited release of Pumpkin Pudding Kit Kats. They’re so fun, and tasty that I can’t imagine why these flavours aren’t available in other countries. Who wants plain chocolate Kit Kat when you could have blueberry cheesecake flavour instead?
Heated Vending Machines
It’s true that vending machines are everywhere in Japan, and some of them sell unusual items. My favourite vending machine feature, however, is pretty basic: The stuff you buy can be hot or cold. The heated cans of tea and coffee are fantastic in the winter; I sometimes even just buy them to use as hand-warmers.
You can tell which items in the vending machine are cold and which ones are hot based on the stripe above the button you press to order: Cold items have a blue stripe, and hot ones have a red stripe. Some vending machines also dispense hot foods like ramen or even French fries. It’s impressive, but I usually just stick to hot drinks because I still can’t help but question that quality of hamburger that comes out of a vending machine.
Most people know Japanese toilets have all kinds of quirky functions like seat warming, music, deodorization, and sprays that wash…..everything. However, I’m by far the most impressed with the water efficiency of Japanese toilets. When you flush, most toilets route the clean, incoming water through a faucet over the tank, so you can wash your hands over the tank instead of using the bathroom sink. Most toilets also allow you to choose between a big flush and a little flush, so you can regulate your water usage accordingly.
Admittedly, packaging is something that is often overdone in Japan. For example, when I buy a box of cookies, every single cookie is individually wrapped within the box. Setting aside these instances of environmentally questionable over-packaging, I love that everything in Japan is really easy to open. There are always little tabs or notches that allow any kind of packaging to open with a single movement. As a lefty who has often struggled with can openers (I know, first world problems, right?), I love that all cans in Japan open with a simple pull-back tab.
Wet Towels Before Dining
When we sit down in a restaurant, we’re almost always given a small, wet towel to wash our hands, called an oshibori. The towels are usually cool in the summer, and hot in the winter. I like to clean my hands before eating, so in Canada, I used to always carry little bottles of hand sanitizer in my purse. Now, I don’t have to bother with hand sanitizer because I can count on being given an oshibori wherever I go. Again, it’s so simple, but also so thoughtful and hygienic.
Do you have any other awesome everyday Japanese things to add to the list?
What cool ideas have you seen in your travels that you wish your home country would adapt?