After living here for 6 months now, I can say that its sort of feeling like home. Sure, other people have lived here longer and have done more things and blah blah blah. But for now, I’ve gone through most of the stages of culture shock, and here I will give you the 10 things that really get on my tits about Japan. And so as not to seem too harsh, I’ll give you the 10 things that I really, really like!
1) The price of decent food
Food here in general is pretty cheap – rice is very cheap and very filling and very easy. But it’s not particularly nutritional, and if you eat too much too regularly you start loosing weight and feeling pretty crap. Combini food, whist being a little bit more pricy but still cheap, is also terrible for you and will probably make you fat if you eat too much. Anything with any semblance of vegetable or fruit in it will probably set you back half of whatever you’ve got in your wallet or more. Want a side salad? Be prepared for an onion salad. Fancy some cherry tomatoes for lunch? Have a good lunch with the 6 cherry tomatoes in your pack that you just forked out for. Fancy a nice juicy apple? 500 yen (£4) please. It’s just frustrating and difficult, and I can’t wait to be able to buy a bag of apples for a pound. Also – I’m not a veggie, but I don’t want to eat meat in every meal. However, it’s almost impossible to find something without meat in. “Margarita” pizzas have hidden ham, egg sandwiches have hidden bacon, “tomato sauce pasta” has hidden lumps of some kind of meat, etc. It’s never mentioned on the menu, but when it’s brought to you you discover it. I truly feel for the vegetarians here.
2) *snifffff* *SNORT* *cough cough cough* *attttishooo*
No one covers their mouth when they cough or sneeze, or blows their nose. Instead they snort and sniff their way through their 40 minute train journey next to me, even though I KNOW they have a pocket full of tissues because you get them for free everywhere (see number 3 of good things). Or if they do cover their mouths, it’s with their hand, not a tissue, so you’re in danger of touching other people’s sneeze spit everywhere. Funnily enough, I’ve only been ill here once, but others have been ill several times, and I think I know why.
3) Lines for escalators and general people traffic
Got a train to catch? Be prepared for a mario cart worthy speed walk through the station, dodging little old ladies who feel like the middle of the concourse is the perfect place for a leisurely walk. Also, despite more staircases being no more that 10 stairs, everyone feels the need to queue for the escalator. Ok if you’re feeling nimble and sprightly in the morning and can hop up the empty stairs, not so great when you’ve got a huge suitcase and the elevator is full with lazy salary men.
4) BUSY BUSY BUSY
Everything is busy. Always. Everyday. If it’s a holiday don’t even go out. Don’t. Just pass it off as a lazy day and stay in, it’s better, trust me.
5) Everyone assumes you speak english
Yes, I look foreign, and yes, I do speak English. But I don’t want to be reminded that I look different all the time. Sometimes, I do want to feel like I belong here, but it doesn’t happen often. More often then not a group of middle school students will spot you and shout out the three words of English that they feel comfortable saying “Hello!/Thank you!/Good Morning!”. Or servers will insist on speaking English to you despite you answering in Japanese. I feel for the people who don’t actually speak English, it must get so tiring. I’ll admit, sometimes it makes it easier, but most of the time it’s just awkward.
6) Smoking is allowed inside
Sorry smokers, but you make my clothes smell, my nose hurt and all your smoke gives me a headache. People with asthma as well probably don’t appreciate the clouds of smoke that linger about their heads either. Often smoking sections don’t even have a partition, the only different being the signs on the walls and the ashtrays on the tables.
7) It’s impossible to leave Tokyo.
This is a sort of Tokyo-centric one, but once you’re in Tokyo, you’re in. You can never leave. Ok, that’s a it dramatic but it feels like that sometimes. It’s just that Tokyo is so big, it’s almost impossible to get out of without a car, bullet train or plane. Even Mt Takao (a mountain about an hour away from central Tokyo) is still surrounded by a built up area. It seems like no matter how far you go out, it’s never far enough, and it’s still always BUSY.
8) The gender gap
It really does feel like Japan is 50 years behind in terms of gender equality sometimes. I (wearing skinny jeans, a t-shirt and a backpack) am always taken for a boy, which is fine with me, but not fine when I have to use the female toilets. Most of the girls I talk to, if asked what they want to do in the future, reply with “teacher” or “preschool teacher” or “get married”. The overwhelming majority of people in the government are men, and most of the office workers I see on the train are men.
9) The lack of general diversity
When I went to back to the UK and then off to New Zealand, the first thing I noticed was the Diversity. That’s Diversity with a capital D Diversity. There are so many different different people in the world, but in Japan, I’m the different one. Whereas in New Zealand, me and Morgan were more often as not taken as residents in NZ, in Japan we’re perpetually tourists. But it’s more than that. You never see open LGBT people in Japan, but in New Zealand every other couple seemed gay. Every nationality, race, ethnicity, country was incorporated into New Zealand, England welcomes all types of people but sometimes in Japan it feels like you’re the only non-Japanese person in the room (and often are)
10) No decent milk
This seems like a trivial matter after the previous few, but for the life of me I cannot find a decent milk to put in my tea. For an English person, tea is life. Not only life, but a hangover cure, a morning pick-me-up, a thank you, a hello, a goodbye … a friend. *gets teary* I just want to have a decent cup of tea dammit.
AND NOW FOR THE GOOD ONES! 😀
1) 100 Yen Shop
If £1 shops were as good as 100 Yen Shops, half of my student loan would be in the banks of Pound Land. As it is, half of this years is probably swimming around in the “Can Do” 100 Yen shop down the road. They’re seriously amazing. Whereas pound shop stuff usually breaks after you touch it, 100 yen stuff holds up and more. They have everything you’ll ever need – you could probably kit your house out with Daiso and then some, as well as feed yourself and your family. They also have tons of junk, but there are some gems! (look out for the weird erasers in Daiso, they’re great little pressies. Just stationary in general)
Combinis are also great. They’re open most of the time, and also have most anything you could need. Sometimes a little pricey, but great for a lazy student. They’re sort of like a ever-present Tescos express, only more of them. You know the saying that you’re always withing 5 feet of a rat in London (or something like that), it’s a similar story for combinis in Tokyo
3) FREE TISSUES
Free tissues. Free tissues! They’re useful, and free! What’s not to like?
4) Public toilets
Apart from the whole “looking like a boy thing”, public toilets are actually really good in Japan. Ok, some of them are mostly Japanese style (aka squat) toilets, but almost always they have a western style toilet and they’re almost always pretty clean. Subways/train stations always have a toilet, and there are often public toilets around parks as well. If you’re in a shop, the toilets will probably have lots of buttons and light up, this is expected. A much different story from the UK. Some toilets even have toilet paper, but if not you’ve got a pocket full of free tissues!
5) Japanese TV
“WTF” is probably the suitable word here. Japanese telly is crazy, strange, and I’m pretty sure Japanese people have no idea what’s going on half the time as well. One time, I was watching a program about divorced women, and why they were divorced (thrilling, I know). After about 20 minutes, and thought “WTF”, turned it off and watched something on my laptop. Turning the TV back on an hour later, the same program was still on. Japanese game shows are even crazier. Think lots of shouting, people catching balls on their heads, and great reaction shots from the hosts. There was also once a detailed, seemingly never ending program about a spider that lives in water. I loved it.
6) The scenery
Despite living in the middle of a concrete rat run, I have actually seen some beautiful Japanese scenery. Japanese shrines are stunning, and the mountains are lovely. Tokyo has it’s fair share of pretty moats and castle-type-things. The seasons are also pretty accurately over-exaggerated. Having a street full of sakura trees blowing their petals like snow into the wind, just while walking to the train station, is something I’m not likely to forget. Also, the preservation of historical sites and customs in Japan is an extremely important part of Japanese culture, and although sometimes I think it can be restrictive, it gives Japan it’s flavour of being both “now” and “then”.
8) Izakaya nomihoudai (Japanese bar all you can drink)
2 hours of all you can drink for 1000 Yen (£8)? Count me in!! The love-child of a bar booth and a Japanese restaurant, izakayas are awesome. Most nomihoudai include a list of all sorts of drinks, although beer is the best, and also have a menu full of yummy food. Great for a quick night of drinking, a definite must for any students out there.
9) The politeness and diligence to their jobs
For all it’s formalities and coldness, sometimes the politeness of Japanese people is very nice. They respect their jobs, whatever they do, and will go to great lengths to please you. There are exceptions to every rule (like the woman at the post office who, when I asked if she could check where my package was, filled the printer with paper and came back and told me she couldn’t find it), but on the whole it’s nice to feel like you have someone’s full attention, even if it is slightly feigned.
10) The Engrish
As a native English speaker, the Engrish here is great entertainment. You can find it most everywhere, from the map that helpfully labelled “Elevertors” in Shinjuku station, to the hair gel that some Japanese marketer thought to name “Cock Grease: Xtra Hard”. It keeps things from getting too cold, and creates a really good game when you go out.
That’s not all, I could go on about the weirdness of Japan, the great people, the AMAZING food, the fashion, the oh, so reliable train system, the cool regional differences…. there are so many things that I really like about Japan. So yeah, some things may annoy you like a mosquito just as you’re about to go to bed, but there are lots of good things too!