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Ten Things You Can Get in Japan You Can’t Get in China

Op-Ed Commentary: Chris Devonshire-Ellis

Feb. 22 – As part of the recent news that China has just overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economy and our comments on that here, let us now take the opportunity to run another of our occasional, tongue firmly in cheek pieces on the 10 things you can get…and this time, featuring Japan and China. We’ll run the 10 things in China you can’t get in Japan in a couple of days.

Useful coins

Apart from the useless aluminum 1 jiao and the mighty 1RMB disc, China has dispensed with coins. Not so in Japan, where the four lines of the Tokyo Metro almost seem to have their own, separate currency. JPY260 to Shinjuko? Drop them right in the slot and a ticket comes out. Hell, you can even buy a bowl of lunchtime noodles with the JPY1,000. Try giving your average Shanghai noodle seller a fistful of jiao for his cooking and he’ll show you the door, followed by a bowl aimed at your head.

Imperial Family

Bernardo Bertolucci’s film “The Last Emperor” showed us what happened to poor old Pu Yi, the Dalai Lama of his day. Abdicating 99 years ago in 1912, we wonder if any 100 year anniversaries will be planned by the Chinese government in 12 months’ time – the deed being a catalyst for their eventual victory of control of power in China. Not so in Japan, where despite being defeated and made to admit being humans after all following their surrender in World War II, the Imperial Family is still going strong. The world’s oldest surviving monarchy, with an unbroken chain of ancestors dating back 125 generations, they live in the seclusion of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Decent cartoons

From Manga to Anime and Hentai, Japanese cartoons rule. Chinese and other Asian copies are just that – pale imitations. From Pokemon, Doraemon, and my favorite, Dragonballz, not to mention the astounding animation of Hayao Miyazaki, Japanese animation and art is pretty much globally unrivalled. Check out the films My Neighbor Totoro and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away for confirmation.

The kimono

Only the Japanese could come up with something as bizarre as the kimono. Platform sandals, wings, yards of embroidered silk…these magnificent, yet utterly dysfunctional items of clothing are a far cry from the Mao suit. One can still see older ladies wearing them in fashionable areas of Japan today, while advice on how to actually put the thing on can be found here. Which brings us to geishas….


The exquisite arts of singing, dancing and pouring tea? Or an up-market form of prostitution? Off limits to the barbarians of the West, geishas are an ancient tradition in Japan (mind you, so is sex). The word geisha itself literally means “person of the arts” – indeed the earliest geisha were men – and it is as performers of dance, music and poetry that they actually spend most of their working time. Hiring a geisha these days though is serious money – you’re talking about US$700 an hour per person, for a minimum four hours, four guest evening. Japanese only spoken.

Hello Kitty

Ok, you can get plenty of Hello Kitty in China, but only the knockoffs. The world’s only feline with no mouth, she is beloved by every Japanese female aged from 5 to 150. A weird staple of five-year-old kids’ innocence that seems somehow to have morphed into a fashion icon for the late twenties, Hello Kitty is to be found dangling from Louis Vuitton bags, as iPhone skins and (presumably not skinned and furred) as handbags. Weird, slightly creepy, but with the added advantage of not talking, many men globally think the latter trait should be taken up by women – well, everywhere.

Sumo wrestlers

For a nation of people only across the Sea of Japan, the Japanese can sure grow their menfolk to supersized proportions compared to China. Even though the sport has recently begun to include the occasional Hawaiian and Mongolian bruisers, it’s hard to imagine any Chinese male being able to attain such bulk. Although some of the little emperors, fed a diet of Big Mac’s to make them “smart like the Americans,” may come close in about 10 years’ time. No, it’s the Japanese who reign supreme, and all that salt chucking and blubbering collision of homo leviathans means if it were an Olympic sport, the Japanese would gain revenge for being excluded from Ping-Pong.

Senkaku islands

The Japanese control ‘em, the Chinese want them, and fishing vessels, submarines and the Japanese coast guard all play quasi cat and mouse games around them. Known as the Diaoyu Islands in Chinese, the weird thing is that Beijing recognizes they actually belong to Taiwan. Meanwhile, the earliest recorded map identifies them in both Chinese and Japanese languages. Who cares? They’re mainly uninhabited apart from a load of squid swimming around them, although they do possess a creature found nowhere else on the planet. Step (or burrow) forward – the Senkaku mole. Whichever side you’re on, the Senkaku have in fact been under Japanese control since 1895. Leave those moles in peace, the Chinese would only eat them.

Katana swords
Despite its often warlike periods, Chinese military weapons never seemed to match the honing of the more sophisticated Japanese counterparts. The katana sword, as used exclusively by Samurai, is a case in point. Renowned for its sharpness and cutting ability, the katana has an almost mythical status about it – an object of beauty as well as death. Best of the best though are the Meitou swords. A rare class of katana, Meitou means “Celebrated Sword” or “Named Sword.” They are prized swords typically handmade by renowned sword-smiths and passed on through generations, won in battle, or given as a gift out of respect. Meitou are superior to ordinary katana in most aspects: cutting, endurance, and so on. Meitou are more expensive, due to their quality. The Chinese, meanwhile, used to sharpen up the bamboo.


More refined in their drinking habits, the Japanese have sake, which can be served either hot (good in winter) or chilled (excellent with sushi). Made from milled rice grains, it’s actually made in a process not dissimilar to brewing beer. Cool, light and refreshing, it’s great in a saketini. Meanwhile, its more alcoholic cousin, shochu packs a more powerful punch at about 25 percent proof. The world guide to sake is here. Somehow, maotai or baijiu just don’t have that elegance.

Related “Ten Things” Reading

Ten Things You Can Get in China You Can’t Get in India

Ten Things You Can Get in India You Can’t Get in China

Ten Marvelous Things You Can Get in China You Can’t Get in India

Ten Marvelous Things You Can Get in India You Can’t Get in China

Ten Sporting Things You Can Get in China You Can’t Get in India

Ten Sporting Things You Can Get in India You Can’t Get in China

Ten Naughty Things You Can Get in China You Can’t Get in India

Ten Naughty Things You Can Get in India You Can’t Get in China

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3 Responses to Ten Things You Can Get in Japan You Can’t Get in China

  1. Rohit Shrivastava says:

    Nice Article. I love to read all your articles related to “Ten Things” again and again.

  2. sigh... says:

    I have to say… while this article is interesting in many aspects, some things talked about on here are severely derogatory and misguided.

    1) Senkaku islands: this is a very hot political topic that I feel this article should just leave out. Why? If this article is written for travelers, please refrain from actually mixing in politics. People just want to enjoy themselves in Japan or China, and if they claim that Senkaku islands belong to either one of them, I am 100% sure that one side will get upset … thus causing an unpleasant experience for the traveler. Each country has its own claims for wanting the island, and let’s just leave for the political leaders to figure this shit out.

    2) Katana Sword: Katana sword is top notch in terms of the technology and the quality it has. HOWEVER, I feel that the author should not have put down the Chinese by saying “The Chinese, meanwhile, used to sharpen up the bamboo.”
    1) Chinese made high quality weapons before the Japanese started their Katana. The history of weapon smithing in China has dated way back in Qing Dynasty. In fact, Dao is actually where katana is derived from. The technology is then refined by the Japanese to create the unique katana.

    2) Chinese Jian and Dao are the main blades back in China. They were made in top quality as well since the Chinese did have the technology to create them. Jian was made for stabbing and Dao was made for hacking (similar to Kanata).
    If you don’t believe me, please do some research.

    I hope the author changes the way he writes and presents facts, because some “facts” are put-downs, and false.

  3. @Sigh: thanks for your lecture. However, I think you missed the beginning part where I said to read “with tongue firmly in cheek” – which is another way of suggesting not to take the comments too seriously. – Chris

Comments are closed.

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