Travelers Share Their Weird And Wonderful Japan Stories

Travelers Share Their Weird And Wonderful Japan Stories

Of all countries on earth, Japan may have the most interesting and widely varied culture. From ancient traditions, to imported interests like golf and baseball, to the ultramodern, Japan seems to have something for everybody. Combine this with incredibly friendly people and a culinary scene that's second-to-none, and it's little wonder Japan is one of the world's most popular travel destinations.

Of course, just like any country, Japan also has its share of weird and downright unpleasant features too.

These travelers who have been to Japan recently went online to share their weird and wonderful Japan stories with us. Enjoy!

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20. The Friendly Giant

I stayed in a tiny rural Japanese town a few years back and it was very evident many of the people there had never met or seen a foreigner in person. Every day I would walk through the snow to a bakery to get my daily fix and have a lengthy conversation with a nice older lady who spoke no English, myself speaking no Japanese.

On the way back I would always walk past a dozen or so children leaving kindergarten who would have all been all under the age of 5. I would always smile, but they would all stop nervously, frozen as they watched the white, bearded, 6'2 "giant" pass. After a few days they would spot me from afar and pressure the 'leader' of their pack to greet me, and I replied in kind. For the next week they would all individually say "Konnichi-wa" and bow, and I would greet each of these tiny children one at a time while standing next to snowbanks taller than themselves. They were always very excited and it was hilariously adorable.

One day I slipped hard walking down an icy hill and they all came running. I was sitting on my butt after sliding a few feet quite comically and I remember the littlest girl asking "Kyojin, Daijobudesuka?" ("Giant, are you OK?")

I miss that little town a lot.

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19. Night Food

We had the best experience meeting someone in Japan.

It was 9 p.m. in Osaka, and my friends and I had had a few too many drinks. I said very loudly to my friend, "Let's get sushi for dinner! We haven't even had any while being here."

A random Japanese man interjected and said: "Sushi day time! Night time... RAMEN!"

He ended up pushing us into a small ramen shop on the corner of the street where I had the best pork ramen I'll ever have in my life.

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18. "I Felt Like A Minor Celebrity"

I went last November with a friend. The best thing about Japan was the people. They are SO friendly helpful and polite.

People actually went out of their way to help, which is something I'm just not used to. In fact it was a bit off-putting at first, because I thought everyone was out to scam me or something -- but they really just wanted to help.

I spent 5 days in Tokyo, then another 12 days travelling around the country. People outside of Tokyo were much friendlier than people in it, but less likely to speak English. I guess that's to be expected anyway.

They did try their hardest though. A young student came over to us when we were eating lunch in Kyoto and asked if he could sit beside us and practise speaking English. We were happy to oblige, and in return he showed us around the area and gave us tips on what to see and what to avoid.

My most memorable experience was sitting in a bar with my friend in Nagano. Some girl kept pointing to us, and then a guy came over and said the girl wanted to talk to me.

He acted as an interpreter as this Japanese girl asked me all sorts of questions about Ireland and Europe. She was amazed at how tall I was, and I'm not even that tall. We then had a darts competition and a dance-off, all without being able to even directly talk to each other. Everyone in the bar was getting in on it too, posing for photos with us and I felt like a minor celebrity.

It's a fantastic country and I will 100% be back.

One odd thing that I noticed was that so many people smoke, and there are designated areas everywhere. You can even light up in chain restaurants like Denny's. Coming from Europe where that kind of thing is pretty much banned in all indoor areas, that was a bit strange. But it's not at all a big deal.

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17. A Shower Before Your Bath

I lived in Japan for two years and honestly had countless positive experiences, but I will share the worst thing I ever experienced while I was living there.

I moved to Japan to teach English, and in the summer between my first and second year I set out on a road trip to visit the northern parts of Honshu. The northern prefectures have a lot of summer festivals I wanted to check out, so I set off to drive around and see as much of Honshu as I could. (Side note, if you're in Japan in the summer and can make it to the Kantou Matsuri, you should. It's one of the most incredible things I've ever witnessed.)

I spent my first day hiking some mountain, and when I continued on the road I came across a public bath and figured, hey, I'm all disgusting and sweaty, might as well go get clean. So I head off to the bath area, shower to get all clean, and then head out to the outside bath to go sit and relax for a minute.

As I'm in the foyer between the inside and outside areas, I cross paths with some Japanese dude who took one look at me, snorted some phlegm into his mouth, and then spat on me. He spat on me while I was naked.

Speaking only very limited Japanese and being a foreigner in the country, I felt like I had no way to complain or speak up or call the police. I had never experienced anything like that, so I didn't say anything and I was too nervous to confront the guy. It was the first day of my trip, and I almost turned around and went home. It was one of the most dehumanizing experiences I've ever had.



16. Universal Language

I was in Shin Yokohama on business. On my last day there, before I departed, I bought one of those cardboard cameras to take some pictures. I was standing on the median (between two 4–5 cars wide boulevard lanes), and a local fellow dodged through live traffic to find out if I was okay. Just because I looked lost, apparently, standing there on the median strip.

A bit later, I was outside the subway station. Outside the station was a large bas-relief map of the entire Yokohama subway system in stainless steel. A very old man with a cane -- easily in his 80’s -- came up to me. He tapped the ground with the tip of his cane, then tapped a spot on the map. Without saying a word, he let me know where on the map we were.

Japanese people are just so darn nice!

John Griswold

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15. Friends In The Bath

I learned some very basic Japanese before going. Traveled there alone for 10 days.

Near the end of the trip, when I felt like I hadn't had a real conversation in weeks, I stayed at a ryokan in the mountains. I went to one of the ryokan's onsen (hot spring baths) that night, and a little old Japanese lady asked me (in Japanese) if I could speak Japanese. We had a very broken conversation, both sitting there in the hot spring, and it was the highlight of my trip.

By the way, I'm female... Onsen are strictly gender separated in Japan.

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14. A Great Karaoke Story

I studied abroad in Japan and live here now.

One night, five other Americans and I went to all-you-can-drink karaoke intending to celebrate a friend's 20th birthday. After about an hour, some hammered salaryman accidentally barged into our room with his friend in tow. He goes, "Eh? Gaijin?" ('Gaijin' means 'foreigners'.) Then he turned to his friend and shouted happily, "GAIJIN!" while the friend is trying to extract him and apologize to us.

We're a little taken aback but at least no one is angry. The hammered one then says, "GAIJIN. YOU MUST... SING, WITH US!" and gestures wildly to the room across from ours. We all look at each other and just kinda shrug and think, "Screw it, let's go." We stand up to go and the guy yells, "YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAH!" then bolts back into his own room.

The six of us follow his friend into the room and see it's the biggest in the place. There are maybe twelve to fifteen salarymen, all wearing their nice suits wondering who we are. Then the hammered guy yells, "WE GOING SING WITH THE GAIJINNNNNNN!" and puts on We Are The World. All of us are in our early 20s and aren't even that familiar with the song, but we sing anyway. The entire time we're still getting looks of "why are these gaijin kids in here?" from everyone.

At the end, my friends quickly shuffle out back into our room but the hammered guy yell-asks, "YOU KNOW... JAPANESE, SONG?" I nod and he hands me the karaoke selector. I put in リンダリンダ by the Blue Hearts and immediately everyone in the room loses their minds. They're just excited to sing this song, let alone the fact that I can sing it which blows their minds even further (it's not even that hard a song).

At the end of the song everyone is clapping and screaming, and I'm just wondering what dimension I've stepped into. The hammered grabs two drinks off the table (neither of which were mine or his) and says, "GAIJIN! KANPAI! TO... JAPAN!" and we cheers. I then go back to my own room and rejoin my friends.

I've got other good stories, but this one will always stick out since both parties were confused by what was happening, and only that one hammered guy thought it was all normal.


13. The Customer Is Always Right

I bought a laptop on my second visit to Japan. I was asking really stupid technical questions, because Windows 7 was about to launch (some laptops came with an upgrade) and because I had specific technical requirements for school. When we hit a language barrier, the sales guy went to get an electronic dictionary and started translating things for me. It was absolutely amazing, and would never happen in North America.

I have a similar experience, sans electronic dictionary, when buying a printer last year. Customer service is a real thing that people take pride in in Japan, and employees (and random people) will go to great extents to help you.

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12. Only In Japan

My phone was stolen when I was visiting Japan last spring. I speak a little Japanese, but I was seriously relying on my phone for translation, as well as directions and booking hotels.

As I was walking around the train station hoping to find it and crying, a businessman saw me and with very limited English asked me to wait as he called one of his employees who was fluent in English to help. They were incredible. The lady helped me ask the stationmaster and others if my phone had been turned in, and directed me to the lost and found at another station.

Once I emailed her from my laptop to let her know I hadn’t had any luck, she and her boss took me out for lunch and let me stay at their office (a fashion company!) for the rest of the day while I figured out hotels and transportation with my laptop. Two other employees treated me to the best ramen I've ever had and showed me around Osaka that evening. They also got me to the hotel I had booked. The boss even lent me his pocket translator for the rest of my trip.

I can’t imagine encountering that much kindness and hospitality anywhere but Japan, but even there it was absolutely incredible. I got their address and sent them thank you gifts once I got back home, but there’s no way I could repay them for all the ways they helped me and absolutely saved the rest of my trip from disaster.

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11. No, You Make Less Sense!

I was waiting outside Osaka Castle one night for it to get dark so I could take some pictures. While waiting I got talking to a retired older gentleman from Osaka named Kenji. We were later joined on the bench by a middle aged man from Tokyo in town on business. The two of them got into an argument about who had the more incomprehensible Japanese accent. (Both claimed they could barely understand the other person.)

They then started pressuring me to state whose Japanese accent sounded better. But to me, a Canadian whose understanding of Japanese extended no further than basic hellos, goodbyes, and thank-yous, there was no noticeable difference at all. They were both quite offended I couldn't differentiate between the two and insisted the other was speaking gibberish (in the most polite and respectful way possible though -- because Japan).

It was that day I learned there was a rivalry between Osaka and Tokyo.

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10. An English Teacher

I went to Japan with my mom and dad just about 3 years ago as a sophomore in high school, and it was one of the greatest times of my life.

The one tiny yet touching instant that sticks with me was when I was in the Nara temple in Kyoto. Note that I am a pretty tall person at 6'5", so combine that with blonde hair and green eyes, and it draws a lot of attention in Japan.

I was walking around the temple taking pictures and getting head-butted in the crotch by hungry deer when I heard a quiet voice say, "Hello, I am learning how to speak in English. May I ask you a couple questions?" I turned around to find a young Japanese girl who looked about 10-12 surrounded by her classmates all staring up at me like I was some sort of exotic animal.

It was very cute and funny to answer their questions because they all had gathered around me to listen to me talk about what my name was, where I'm from, what I do for fun, and what I eat, and there would be little laughs after every sentence. When it was time for me to start leaving, the one girl asking the questions ran up to my dad and asked if he could take a group photo of her and some of her friends with me.

I love the photo because it was a brief encounter of maybe 2 or 3 minutes that I still remember very vividly.

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9. Not Everyone Is Friendly

I live in Japan. The best thing that I've done here is volunteered at an Elementary school. It was as much fun for me as it was for the kids. I pretty much just played games and let them ask me questions about America (I speak Japanese) and they all told me their favorite things about Japan.

My worst experience was in a public bath. I washed myself and entered the bath and some old guy started making pretty rude comments towards me (about how foreign people should stay out of their spaces). After I told him I understood what he was saying he wanted to talk to me about WWII. The whole thing was pretty uncomfortable.

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8. A Spiritual Experience

I went to Japan twice, and on both trips I visited the Koya-San, a mountain with a cemetery in the forest, a very calm and spiritual place.

Last time I was there with my girlfriend and weather was cloudy with a chance of rain. We were sleeping in a temple, so after an early dinner (it was winter, so the sun was already out by 5PM) and a onsen, we decided to dress up again and walk through the cemetery by night.

There was this thin rain drizzling on us, and we were sharing an umbrella. In front of us there was only a lone man; no one else seemed to be interested in that place at night.

Since we felt like stalkers, we chose a different path than the man ahead of us so we could both enjoy the silence of the graveyard at night.

At the end of both paths (they reunited) there was this big temple, full of lighted lanterns. We walked up to the stairs together with the man. He went left, we went right to walk around the temple under the light of the lanterns.

And then we heard the thing that made this the most memorable night. The impenetrable silence was broke by a girl singing inside the temple. Her voice resonated all around us; it was something magical and everything was amplified -- the lanterns, the light rain.

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7. Is This Japan Or Footloose?

We didn't know about the (former) no dancing after midnight law. A friend of mine was trying to organize a party for us adults still on site after the World Scouts Jamboree in 2015, and was threatened with arrest three times, with no explanation of what he was doing wrong, most likely due to the language barrier.

The party eventually got the okay, but at 10pm a group of Japanese men showed up and surrounded us. A man pushed through to the DJ and started ripping out cables and yelling at us in Japanese. Eventually everything got sorted, and the party was allowed to continue to 11 pm, but it was still really strange.

We didn't know we were doing anything wrong and the escalation went from not caring to yelling and damaging things. It was a bit of a shock.

I'd still recommend Japan to anyone who asked though. It's an amazing place. And now you're allowed to dance after midnight.

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6. Japanese Ink

We got tattooed by a traditional Japanese artist. It was a bit of a process since we had to get a referral from a friend who knew him. But once we met up with him, he tattooed us and then took us out of dinner and drinks at a bunch of restaurants and bars we'd never be able to get to on our own because of our American-ness and lack of Japanese language skills.

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5. All To Save A Jacket

Tokyo was always a stopover in a lot of my international flights. I didn't mind; I love the airport, they have day rooms where I can sleep and shower. Haneda airport had capsule hotels and an Edo style mall. That was perfect for me since every one of my friends and family who are fans of Japanese culture like myself wanted the Wasabi Kit-Kat only sold at the airport.

One flight I took with All Nippon Airways, I was travelling alone. Severely jet-lagged and tired, I realized I had left my jacket on the plane after I already disembarked. This was a gift given to me and was a limited edition gaming jacket which happens to be very comfy and somewhat water proof.

With very limited Japanese, I asked if I could retrieve my jacket. The whole crew in the baggage check area passed along the message util it reached whoever was still on the plane. I only had a few minutes before I had to catch my connecting flight, so I was ready to give up but felt guilty for inconveniencing so many people.

Just in the nick of time, a lady walked out with my jacket and was apologizing to me. I said " No, no, no. I'm sorry!" We exchanged barrages of apologies and bows.

I've never seen people go so far above and beyond to help me.

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4. Maid Man

My partner and I visited something called a maid café in Tokyo.

“First time?” asked a stern-faced woman at the reception desk.

“Y-yeah,” I stammered.

The woman thrust a set of rules into my hand and pointed us to a bench back near the entrance so we could read them.

This was the last opportunity we could decide it was too weird and get out of there.

“When in Rome…” my partner reminded me yet again. This had become something of a catchphrase throughout our visit to Japan. It did the trick. We decided to stay and read the rules.

The list, complete with little cartoony pictures, was comprised of things like: “Don’t touch the maids”, “Don’t ask the maids for their phone numbers”, “Don’t ask the maids their real names”, “Don’t take pictures of the maids,” and “Don’t follow the maids home.”

They were the sort of rules that would apply to an exotic dancer. But unlike dancers, the maids are not meant to be a sensual experience. As we were led to our table, we eyed up the rest of the clientele. All male, generally in small groups, some alone. It wasn’t a huge place, but managed to fit in a stage area towards the back.

“Welcome home, master. Welcome home, princess.”

Our maid had arrived, ready to serve us. I was taken aback by being called “master” for probably the first time in my life.

We exchanged pleasantries with our maid, who was called Mikuru. She talked us through the menu and explained the three packages we could choose. Our pick entitled us to a magical, mystery gift, and our pancakes were going to be made with real fairy dust.

We were left to uncomfortably await a pair of loved-filled coffees. The maids floated around the tables, spending time with their “masters.” Evidently the main patrons of the vast maid café industry were those just looking for a bit of company and trivial conversation.

This was all a fascinating, alien concept, but as Westerners it was difficult to depart from the mentality that young women wearing French maid outfits were not trying to do more than bring us treats. Looking at them felt wrong.

Our maid soon bounded over with the two coffees the princess and I had ordered, but we weren’t allowed to drink them yet.

No, no, first we needed to participate in a magic spell to make the coffee taste nice. Our maid led us into a ‘shaking salt’ kind of hand movement. “Nyom nyom”, “Moy moy”, “Moo moo,” we repeated.

The spell worked! The love inside the coffee had manifested into a heart shape on the top that would make it taste yummy. Or so we were told.

This time our maid sat down and joined us.

“Where are you from Master?”

“The United Kingdom.”

“Ah, close to the United States!”

“Err, it’s quite far away from there actually.”

“No, close to the sound!”

The conversation was hardly riveting.

It turned out our package also granted us a photo with a maid of our choice. We’d been more interested in the pancakes. Mikuru handed us an album and intently observed, doe-eyed and smiling, as we flicked through. Maids in the park, in the street, in the kitchen. Maids on a car.

“Who would you like your photo with master? You can choose any maid.”

We picked Mikuru herself.

“Aaaah, thank you, Master!” she said excitedly, hopping over to a board recording an ongoing competition between the maids. Mikuru was now only two behind the leader.

Honestly, we felt a bit coerced but it would have felt odd (well, odder) to pick a maid we hadn’t met or spoken to at all. Some people must do it, and I wondered how crestfallen the maids must look when it happens.

Mikuru departed for a while to get our pancakes. They arrived, and we performed another magic spell on these. It worked again.

The pancakes were quite nice, but at this point we felt we’d rather outstayed our welcome. It had been interesting and a little fun but we couldn’t quite settle into it.

Then we heard some microphone feedback screech through the room, followed by Mikuru’s booming voice.

“Can Princess Sara and Master Tom come to the stage?” That was us. We looked at each other, eyes wide open in alarm.


It seemed the photograph was meant to be taken on the stage in front of everyone. Mikuru was so excited that we couldn’t exactly back out now.

Heads down in pure shame, we shuffled up to the stage to face our punishment. It felt as though all eyes had turned in our direction. Not only were we the only foreigners, but my partner was still the only female customer in there.

Then things got even worse.

“Master Tom, Princess Sara, please choose an item from the box to wear.”

The box contained a selection of ridiculous hats, ribbons and props. We chose the least outrageous items we could find: a pair of bunny ears and cat ears respectively.

Mikuru lodged herself between us and directed us towards a Polaroid camera held by one of her maid colleagues.

Once again a series of childish phrases had to be repeated. Since I was wearing bunny ears, I was told to imitate a bunny. My partner had to make cat claws.

Thinking about the life choices that had led to this dignity-sapping ordeal, we obliged with as little enthusiasm as possible. Mikuru didn’t seem to mind.

“Meow meow!” “Moy moy!” “Moshi moshi!”

Click, click, click.

And there it was. Tangible, pictorial evidence of this moment existed in the world.

We thrust the props back into the box and retreated to our table. We asked for the bill as soon as possible, but it wasn’t over yet. There was still the special gift from the maids to come.

Mikuru came and hand-delivered it herself. Wondering what wacky item would be forced upon us, we were pleasantly surprised to find they were… normal biscuits. Of course, these biscuits were packed full of magical ingredients, which Mikuru recounted one by one. I think unicorns, fairies and elves may have featured a lot but I wasn’t really listening. It was time to go.

As we thanked Mikuru for her service, she gave me another thing – a loyalty card confirming my status as a Level 1 Master. Not the proudest moment of my life, but certainly up there.

All of the maids waved us goodbye together, and then we were finally out. We felt we could breathe again.

The Polaroid picture was in with the biscuits. Our first instinct was to find the nearest grill and burn it, but it was all packaged together so nicely we couldn’t bring ourselves to open it. Our second instinct was to get a drink, which we did.

To this day, though the unicorn/fairy/elf biscuits are long gone, we have never destroyed the photo and I couldn’t quite tell you why. But there is one thing I know for certain – I won’t be becoming a Level 2 Master, ever.

Thomas Sean


3. It's The Thought That Counts

My two favorite Japan stories came from miscommunications.

I was staying with a host family, and after 2 weeks I was missing American food. I guess my host mother realized what was happening, so she went out and researched American foods. One morning, I was sitting at breakfast and she asked if I would like a piece of corn bread. Normally, being from up north, we don't eat a lot of corn bread, but I was ecstatic. My host mother then proceeded to give me a piece of white bread with whole corn niblets cooked into it. I really appreciated the thought though.

Another time, we were going to go kayaking. However, the weather turned much warmer than anticipated and the jellyfish started to breed. We finally got to the ocean park, and our tour guide spoke in Japanese for a minute or two and then switched to English. "Unfortunately due to high jellyfish population, we can't go kayaking. We will go scuba diving instead." Then, with a satisfied smile, he turned and walked out of the room. All 10 American students immediately turned to our teacher and asked her to get that nice man back in here. We explained we'd rather be in a boat with a weapon.  Turns out the Kayaking location and the scuba diving location were completely different.

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2. Missing Finger

Back when I was 21, I was living in Japan on my own and was moving from Kyoto to this backwater rural town in Tochigi province. My info for my train transfer was wrong and I missed the last train to my new place and got stranded overnight in Utsunomoya (a town in the middle of nowhere). Having no budget and no place to stay, I went around to a bunch of capsule hotels in the area but none of them accepted women.

Defeated, I spoke in my terrible broken Japanese to a security guard at the train station who offered to let me stay with a bunch of other stranded travellers in the station by where the security guards had their camera monitoring stuff.

I took him up on the offer and joined the five other travellers (all guys, no other foreigners) in this little glass box of a room. Knowing I wasn't going to sleep, I started reading a book I had brought along.

An hour or two later, this sketchy, weedy looking guy wanders over and starts practicing his English on me and interspersing it with Japanese. It was summer and while all the other guys in the room had unbuttoned their shirts and rolled up their sleeves this guy had not, which I thought was strange. Sure enough, when I glanced at his hands, he was missing a little chunk of pinky.

So probably Yakuza then.

No reason to panic. Gangsters are people too and I wasn't going anywhere with this dude. Furthermore I could tell he thought I was a guy. I was flat as a board, had short hair, and most people thought I looked like Harry Potter.


At one point in our utterly bizarre conversation after he, made a grab for my groin. Being a fencing nerd, I parried his hand and shouted, "Dame!" (no/stop). He just laughed and said,  "Extra big size!"

Thankfully, the quick-thinking security guard came over from his station, pulled me aside, and told us that he can't have me making a disturbance for the others. Then he led me over to the area behind his desk .

I thanked him quietly and proceeded to spend the next six hours before the first train behind his desk.

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1. A Stranger's Just A Friend You Haven't Met

It was my last day in Tokyo before leaving for Hokkaido and my buddy and I went to a Tokyo Verdy soccer (football?) game. We watched the game while having a few drinks.

At the end, a few rows in front of us, 4 Japanese turned around and started waiving at us. So we went down and started to talk to them and they brought us to one of the nicest restaurant ever. Plus they took care of most of the bill! We then agreed to meet again on Halloween, and that's what we did. My new Japanese friend even invited us to sleep at his grandma's place and she cooked breakfast for us and everything haha. Japanese people are really the kindest and most generous I've seen!

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