Things in Japan I Don't Miss

plroybal By plroybal, 11th Jul 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Travel>Asia>Japan>Tokyo & Around

Japan is a great place to live - but like any country, there are downsides too.


I lived in Tokyo, the capital city of Japan, famous for its buzzing technology, bright lights and speedy subway system. I liked Tokyo for its convenience, cleaniless, safety and its impeccable ability to have onigiri available at any time of the day or night - but there were plenty of things I really don't miss about living in Tokyo. There's way too many people (try riding the Hibiya line at rush hour and you'll see what I mean), it's expensive, and the summer was so hot that the thought of stepping outside reduced me almost to tears, especially during the exam season. Here's a few more specific examples of things that I and a couple of friends agreed we don't miss about Tokyo, or Japan in general.

The "traditional" toilets

I adore the futuristic, self-flushing, singing toilets that can often be found in modern buildings, universities and high-class restaurants. However, some more traditional restaurants and public toilets have THIS.
Yes, they exist. Yes, you're expected to use them. Yes, I have used one. When there's a long queue behind you at the local park's public loos and you're bursting, you really can't afford to be picky with what you pee into. I've used them several times in an emergency - I never got the hang of real squatting so I just sort of hung there, after pulling off not only my trousers but my entire bottom layer. Sometimes the cubicles don't even have toilet paper available. I've even seen shuffling little old ladies happily go into the cubicles to use them and think - how and why? When you have a toilet that will literally play music or a flushing sound whilst you pee, wash your bottom and flush itself, why do some insist on using holes? Tradition is tradition, but time passes and new things are invented. I definitely won't miss crossing my fingers as I get to the front of a line in a public bathroom, approaching the toilet door and hoping it's a "western" loo.

Lack of western food

Call me a dumb foreigner, but now and then I fancied a nice steak or pasta or a hamburger instead of the usual rice-and-or-fish concoction for my dinner. However, western food is ridiculously expensive in Japan. You'd pay around 500-800 yen for a Japanese meal whereas in some places a burger, burrito or steak can cost closer to 2000 or 3000 yen. I love Japanese food so it wasn't really an issue - but getting back to England and ordering a pizza or fish and chips without emptying my wallet was a relief. Still, sushi and ramen are rare or pricey at home, and I often find myself craving a nice big bowl of udon - the grass is always greener, I guess.

The weird porn culture

Hugging and kissing in public is considered extremely rude, flirting is almost unheard of (Japanese boys seem to confess to a girl they like by going from shy and polite to I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT YOU in a matter of minutes - it's happened to me more than once). However, displaying pornographic manga in a book shop is perfectly all right. I was once browsing a book store whilst waiting to meet a student I was teaching, when I happened to come to a manga that caught my eye - "Scumbag loser" (see picture). I think the front cover says it all. Around the books were fan art of anime girls tied up in short skirts and low-cut shirts... well, needless to say I scooted out of there pretty quick. What shocked me the most was that these books weren't on a high shelf - there wasn't even any sort of warning that I was about to stumble across porn. Maybe it's an aspect of culture I just don't understand. When I showed my student - who is Japanese - he picked up a manga featuring a rather large-chested woman tied up and gagged and flicked through it without a hint of shame. I just gaped at him. These are the same people that will act disgusted if you put your arm around your girlfriend on the street. Yeah, I really won't miss that.

People stare

People in Japan - even Tokyo, where there are a lot of foreigners - seem to find it perfectly okay to glare at you as you walk past them, especially older people. I couldn't tell you the amount of times I've walked down the street, minding my own business, when I've happened to catch someone's eye and they've just given me a long glare before they stroll past. Smiling at strangers seems to be a big no-no here too so it's not like a friendly or interested look, it's a genuinely terrifying "I'm going to kill you" death glare. I mentioned it to my friend and he roared with laughter before saying "It's because you're white." Right, so it's rude to hug in public, but it's perfectly okay to stare at people because they're not Asian? Something else I really won't miss - unwanted, negative attention.

Not being able to communicate properly

All right, I'll admit my Japanese really isn't that good. I can order food, I can buy stuff, I can have a conversation. But in Japan, I can't make a joke or be really friendly in a shop like I can at home. There's that vast culture difference where a waiter or a shopkeeper must use Keigo (polite Japanese), so although it's very professional, it can be quite robotic. Additionally, I found that I was usually quite reluctant to visit the doctor, ask for help or try to make friends with Japanese people because of the cultural difference. However I'm sure staying in Japan a bit longer and improving my language skills would cure me of that. Nevertheless, I looked forward to getting back to my own country and being able to get by without the language and cultural barrier.

Japan is a great place to live, and you'll grow and learn a lot if you decide to live there. Every country has its downsides and every country has things you won't like. Japan isn't an exception. There were also plenty of things I loved about the country, and I can't wait to go back.

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author avatar Mike Robbers
16th Jul 2013 (#)

Nice article and useful observations about Japanese culture.

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author avatar Nancy Czerwinski
27th Sep 2014 (#)

Plroybol, excellent article. I'm from the states and this is the only place I've ever been. It's very exciting to read about different ways of living.

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