The beautiful thing about culture is its distinction in relation to others. Though every culture has its own food, music, fashion, and language, there’s just something about Japan that makes it one of the most fascinating cultures in the world.
Maybe it’s their ability to make anything possible into a cute cartoon or their obsession with technology and futuristic cities. It could be the Harajuku girls or the infinite amount of vending machines available so you never have to interact with a human being. Or maybe your fascination is linked to an item on this list of 10 weird facts about Japan. Read on to discover even more radical characteristics about Japan you never knew.
Japan holds the record for having the longest running, independent business in the history of the world. Kongō Gumi was founded by an immigrant commissioned to build one of Japan's first Buddhist temples. The temple still contracts the company, almost exclusively, to make any needed repairs. As you might be able to guess, the firm specializes in building traditional Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines around the world but has branched out to include general contracting jobs, as well. Unfortunately, in 2006, Kongō Gumi was absorbed as a subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction Group.
Japan’s life expectancy is a whopping 85 years old, according to the CIA. That’s the second longest life expectancy in the world after Monaco. In 2017, over 2 million people living in Japan were over the age of 90. Diet is the main factor attributed to their long life expectancies - high in seafood that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and which carry a low risk for cancers often linked to red meat consumption. Their healthcare system is also one of the most accessible in the world with up to 90% of procedures covered by the government. Must be nice.
Japan holds a cultural superstition against the numbers four and nine. Why? For the simple reason that four sounds too much like the word “death” in Japanese, and nine sounds like "suffering, agony, or torture." Because of this deeply held superstition, you might not come across a fourth or ninth floor at all while visiting Japan's high rise buildings, and gifts should never be given in these quantities. The same is true for other numbers which sound like unfortunate words. For example, 49 sounds like “to run over,” and 24 which sounds like “two deaths.”
Many people are aware that Japan’s suicide rate is quite high compared to other countries. But between 2016 and 2017, there were more Japanese children and teenagers who committed suicide than any other year since 1986. Reasons reported include bullying, family issues, and stress. A spike in the suicide rate among teens was noted in September when children return to school from summer break. Japan plans to cut child suicide rates by 30% by 2026. Their plan includes in-school counselors and a 24/7 helpline. While suicide rates among the youth increased, the total number of suicides in Japan has decreased overall.
Every year, Japan experiences over 1,500 earthquakes. Most are mild and barely noticeable - at least not to the Japanese who are used to the minor tremors. But, Japan is no stranger to some of the most devastating earthquakes in earth’s history. Remember, the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 which caused a tsunami and killed an estimated 30,000 people? The frequent earthquakes that shake Japan are due to the country’s geographic location. Japan sits right on top of four tectonic plates which collide frequently beneath the surface, causing the earthquakes.
Leave it to the Japanese to create such efficiency to transport watermelons. As the story goes, traditionally oval watermelons were just too large to store in the Japanese markets. Well, one farmer wasn’t going to give up on his product. In order to keep his customers satisfied, the farmer found a way to grow square watermelons that would stack more efficiently, and save space in the supermarkets and at home. Simply, the farmer contained the watermelon’s growth by placing it into a square, tempered glass box. And, voila! Square watermelons were born. The fad went viral and cubed watermelons were spotted on the Russian market and sold for $860! More recently, heart-shaped watermelons have emerged and are now all the rave.
Globally, millennials are putting child rearing on the back burner. But Japan’s statistics state a clear preference for pets. In 2012, the country reported 21 million registered pets, compared to only 16.5 million children under the age of 15. Japan’s actual spending on pets and pet-related services have so far exceed estimated sales since 1994 by as much as $37 billion in 2016. Unfortunately, this leaves Japan’s demographic at one elderly person for every three citizens. It’s estimated that if trends continue, Japan will lose 40% of its workforce and will cause its gross domestic product to decline by more than 25%.
Japan is known for breaking some of the most curious world records. But 14 students from Fuji Municipal Harada Elementary School in Fuji impressively beat the record for Most skips over a single rope in one minute by a team. With 12 skippers running a figure eight, and two rope turners, the team managed to skip 225 times in a single minute. The record was previously held by rival Japanese students from Hiromi Elementary School who completed 217 jumps in 2013. Jumping rope is a common activity for most elementary aged children, but no one takes it as seriously as the Japanese.
A study found that 40% of Japanese adults sleep less than 6 hours per night. With such an inadequate amount of sleep, it’s common to see people taking short naps during their commutes, at the parks and coffee shops, and even at their desks. But unlike in the U.S, getting caught napping at work in Japan isn’t means for termination. Japan is probably the only country in the world where you can show your boss your loyalty and dedication by taking a nap in the middle of your workspace. For centuries, the Japanese have been practicing “inemuri” which literally translates to “sleeping while present.” Better there than not, right?
Adult men between the ages of 20 and 30 make up 98% of adoptions in Japan. The adoption of adult men began hundreds of years ago when Japan’s civil code mandated that generational wealth was only allowed to be passed down to a son. Families without sons adopted male adults to maintain the family name, businesses, and wealth. It’s also common for executives to adopt their employees. In this way, the company can still be considered “family-run.” Today, an adult male-adoption might be paired with an arranged marriage. Not only would this allow the wife’s family to “adopt” a male, but also to continue the family lineage.