From a practical perspective, Japan is an island nation with limited resources and a high population — big is often unworkable. Japan is also a Buddhist country that has been influenced by Buddhist minimalism.
Japan's preference for all things small shows up in dozens of ways.
1. ElectronicsJapanese electronics companies grew rapidly from 1955 - 1995. This success was commonly attributed to Japan's ability to miniaturize designs. For example, Sony's highly successful walkman (1979) was less than half the size of its competition.
2. Three Seat BarsTokyo restaurants and bars can be tiny — some have as few as 3 seats. It's common to go to such bars alone. The attraction is conversation with the bartender and the other customers.
3. Kei CarsThe Japanese government taxes cars under a certain size at a lower rate. This policy is intended to reduce urban crowding (i.e. small cars take up less space). Cars that meet the standard are known as kei cars.
When the standard was introduced after WWII, kei cars had to be under 360 cc. Over the years, the standard has increased to 660 cc. Modern kei cars are giants compared with classic kei cars.
4. DishwashersJapanese appliances are available in small sizes for Japanese apartments. The smallest Japanese table top dishwashers only have capacity for 6 plates and 6 cups.
5. KaisekiKaiseki is fine Japanese cuisine that's served in many tiny, aesthetically pleasing courses.
6. One Million Tiny GodsJizo is a Japanese god (Bodhisattva) who's thought to protect children who die before their parents.
There more than 1 million small Jizo statues spread throughout Japan at temples or along the side of roads. The Japanese care for these statues — giving them hats and bibs.
Jizo statues are almost always small (because he protects children).
7. Small DessertsWhen the Japanese travel abroad (especially North America) they're shocked at the size of cake slices at restaurants and cafes.
Traditional Japanese desserts are tiny. Western desserts are also served in small portions in Japan.
8. Small DoorsIn the Edo-era, some Japanese taxes were calculated based on the width of your house or storefront. As a result, many old Japanese buildings are narrow but long (to minimize taxes).
In some cases, storefronts have a tiny facade designed to conceal the actual size of a building. Tiny doors were built into such designs to convince the taxman that a building was small.
9. MotorcyclesJapanese motorcycle manufacturers build monster bikes for the North American market of up to 1800 cc. In Japan, motorcycles over 750 cc are generally not available.
Over 95% of motorcycles in Japan are 250 cc or less (considered tiny in North America).
10. EscalatorsA department store in Kawasaki is in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the smallest escalator in the world (vertical rise of 83 centimeters ~ 33 inches).
The fact is — short escalators are fairly common in Japan.
11. Capsule HotelsCapsule hotels have tiny rooms that resemble torpedo tubes. They're popular with salary men who miss their last train. The average capsule room is just 2 square meters (21 square feet).
12. Small BeerMost major labels of Japanese beer sell a 135 ml can (4.5 ounces). It's possible to comfortably drink these mini cans in one gulp. Inexplicably, they're sometimes more expensive than larger cans of the same brand.
13. Tokyo CitiesIf you think Tokyo is a big city you're wrong — it's 49 small to medium sized cities.
Tokyo is a prefecture (similar to a state or province). It's broken up into 23 "special wards" and 26 cities.
Tokyo has a total of 49 small city halls.
14. OkinotorishimaJapan lays claim to the world's smallest island.
Okinotorishima is an atoll 1,740 kilometers (1,080 miles) south of Tokyo. Actually, it's little more than a coral reef that just barely sticks out of the water. Its highest point is only 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) above the sea.
Strangely, the island is considered part of Tokyo. Tokyo has spent large sums of money trying to build the island out. Much of what was built was destroyed by typhoons.
Typhoons have also damaged the atoll's natural formations — it's getting smaller despite billions of yen spent fortifying it.
Japan claims an exclusive economic zone around the island of 400,000 square kilometers (154,500 square miles). This is disputed.
15. HousesIn Tokyo, a 3 storey house can be as small as 46 square meters (500 square feet). In such houses stairways take up much of the available area — the stairs tend to be steep like a ladder.
16. Rescue ChihuahuaThe Nara Police Force employee a Chihuahua as a rescue dog.
Momo (Peach) is a 7 year old Chihuahua who weighs 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds). Police say she can fit into spots that bigger dogs can't. She had to compete with larger breeds such as German Shepherds for her spot on the force.
Momo was first recruited in 2010. She has started a trend in Japan. Other police forces have since added small dogs to their ranks.
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