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Good and Bad things about Living in Japan
Five good things and five bad things about living in Japan
In this Hub I would like to tell you from experience what are the good things and bad things about living in Japan. Please note I am doing so from my own experience, as a Belgian in my 20s. Other people might have different opinions, depending on their background. By no means am I trying to put Japan in a better or worse picture than it really is. I am just writing my opinion.
Five Good Things about Living in Japan
1. The experience of living in a country with a culture which is totally different from your own. By this I mean just, in general, that living some time in a completely different culture will enrich your life a lot. It can be shocking and annoying at times, but also very interesting and stimulating. You learn things about life that you cannot learn without leaving the comfort of your own culture.
You don't necessarily have to go live in Japan to experience another culture, you say? You are right, there are so many interesting countries in the world! But Japan is a special case. Japan has, throughout history, been a country which was basically isolated from the rest of the world for long periods of time. Through this it has developed very unique and interesting traditions. And, in addition to that, over the last half century, Japan has become the second economy in the world (now the third?).
Together, this results in a country that has old traditions one the one hand, yet is very technologically advanced on the other hand. I believe that this combination is unique in the world. Where else can you see old temples right in the middle of modern business districts? Where else can you see women wearing traditional Kimono on the subway? Where else do you see students walking around with their long bow for traditional archery? Only in Japan.
In that sense I feel that the cultural experience of living in Japan is more interesting compared to many other countries.
2. Japan is safe. Granted, lately there are many reports in the news about murders, abuse, and rapes. But compared to other developed countries, I still have the impression that Japan is a very safe country. The region around Tokyo and Yokohama is a huge metropolis where more than 30 million people live. Yet, you can walk around late at night alone without any problem. This is not something I would do in many parts of Paris, London, or New York, for example.
3. Japanese are correct, and polite. I don't want to pretend that all Japanese are polite and have good manners (I know it is not true, I see many impolite people here very day), but in general people are polite, helpful and correct.
I also don't want to say that Japanese are more polite than Western people, but I do feel that there is a different kind of politeness here. For example, people here in Japan will normally not hold open a door for someone else, and many Japanese do not cover their mouth with their hands when they cough or sneeze. These are both things that would be considered impolite in the West. But on the other hand I feel expressions of gratitude are much more polite here, and Japanese often think deeper about how they should behave in order to please (or not offend) other people.
You will have to accept that things are different here. But overall I think Japanese ar more polite (at least at the surface) than people in the West.
4. Great Japanese food. I think everyone has heard about Sushi and Sashimi by now. In Japan people refer to the recent increase in popularity of Japanese food abroad as "the Sushi boom". While I like Sushi and Sashimi, Japan has much more to offer. Take Japanese "nabe", "tonkatsu", all kinds of "donburi", noodles, Japanese sweets, osake, umeshu (plum whine), miso soup, all kinds of fish dishes, etc. Eating here is a pleasure, even at affordable prices.
5. Other culture and tourism. In Japan you can live in a wealthy country, with a living standard comparable to or higher than that of many Western countries, and at the same time enjoy an Asian culture.
This includes visits to various tourist spots all over the country. My personal number one favorite is of course Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. Kyoto has hundreds and hundreds of old temples, and is an absolute must for any visitor (long term or short term) of Japan. But there is much more. Nikko with its gorgeous and colorful temple complexes in the mountain forest, Kamakura, a "small Kyoto" with temples and a giant Buddha statue close to the beach, Yokohama with its China town and futuristic buildings, Nara with its huge Buddha statue and deers, and Tokyo, the capital of the country.
And don't forget that Japan is a very long country, with plenty of snow to ski in the north in Hokkaido, all the way to a tropical islands in the south in Okinawa.
But even without traveling around you can enjoy Japanese culture. There is Japanese food, as I mentioned above, and Japanese arts, caligraphy, Bonsai, Wabi and Sabi, Japanese traditional sports like Karate, Judo, Kyudo, and so on. There is Noh and Kabuki theater, some might like anime and manga.
There is something for everyone here.
Five Bad Things about Living in Japan
1. Japan is Japan, it will not change. As a foreigner here, you will feel frustrated. I can assure you, you will. Everything is nice and interesting at first, even the annoying things. But when you have to face them everyday, it quickly gets old and annoying. In Japan rules are rules, not because they are correct, but because they are rules. If conditions change and a rule or regulation is no longer valid, in the West we will change the regulations. Not in Japan. In Japan, nothing ever changes. Ever.
Japanese are used to this situation. They no longer question the need or validity of many stupid regulations. I guess they are trained not to complain about them during their childhood. But you, the foreign visitor are not. You will get frustrated, you will complain. Don't count on your complaints changing anything. The only reply you will get is "this is Japan" as if this explain everything, and if you keep complaining you will quickly be ignored completely.
2. Japan is not used to having foreigners in Japan. Japan has always been a country isolated from the rest of the world. This is one reason why Japan is not used to foreigners. Okay, that being said, this country was "opened" more than 100 years ago, so you would expect Japan being used to foreigners by now, right? Wrong. Please read again point 1 above: Japan does not change.
Of course I am exaggerating somewhat. There are improvements every now and then. Hey, some documents in universities are actually sometimes available in English, Chinese and Korean. And in big cities station names are written in Roman characters. But don't count on much more. This is Japan.
Count on people and shop keepers panicking when you ask them something, even if it is in fluent Japanese. Count on people asking your Japanese friend what you will have in restaurants. Count on people answering to your Japanese friend when it was you who asked a question. Count on banks not being able to open an account for you because they do not accept signatures, but only seals. Count on people thinking you are having parties at your house every single night (hey, this is how foreigners are like, right?), count on people thinking you have dozens of girlfriends, even when you don't even have a single one. Count on people treating you very suspiciously, land owners refusing you just because you are a foreigner.
3. Bad housing conditions. Japan is not a particularly small country, but a large part of it is mountains. This means that a large part of the population is living in a relatively small area of land. Expect your house here to be small, unless you are going to live in the countryside. Even more, if you are thinking about living in Tokyo: expect your house to be VERY small, and VERY expensive. Other cities are relatively okay compared with Tokyo, but still...
But there is more. Houses here, for some reason - is it because of the many earthquakes? - are not very nice. They have very thin walls, which means your room will have bad insulation. This can affect your quality of life in 2 ways:
1. You can often hear your neighbour's television or radio in your room. If you are unlucky you will hear it until late at night...
2. In the winter your room will be cold, and in summer it will be hot. Very hot. Even if you use the air conditioning, your room will be cold in winter and warm in summer. Turn off your air conditioner for half an hour and your room will have the same temperature as outside your room. This is not only because of the thin walls, but also because Japanese houses typically use single layer glass for the windows. Also, heating is often done using air conditioning. This means that warm air is blown into your room. Warm air is lighter than cold air, so the warm air stays on top in your room, and cold air stays at the bottom. Therefore, even though you keep your air conditioner on all the time, your feet will be cold.
But the best I kept for last... Japan has a system where you are required to give "key money", "thank you money", and a deposit to your landowner at the first month of your stay. This can get up to like 6 months worth of rent. Some of it you will get back when you move out, some you won't. This is probably a very old system, and all (non-land owner) Japanese hate it. But, "this is Japan", so don't count on it changing any time soon. So, your first months here are VERY expensive. In addition to that, land owners often want you to find a guarantor. If you can't pay the rent, the guarantor has to pay it. Of course, this has to be a Japanese person in 99% of the cases. How can you find someone willing to take this responsibility for you as a fresh foreigner in Japan? Your only hope in most cases are your university or company...
4. Japan discriminates against foreigners. From some of the points above, you might already understand that the Japanese system is not really foreigner-friendly. Yet, I would not call them "discriminating" yet, as they are often also tough and annoying for the Japanese themselves. However, there is more...
Look, in all countries there are racists. But in many countries racism is a crime which will be punished by law. Not in Japan. While most Japanese will treat you in a friendly way, when you get into trouble you have the system against you. Your rights are not guaranteed. This means that the police can question you without any need, and they can arrest you for a period of several weeks when they suspect you are guilty of a crime, without stating anything in detail. When you have troubles with your Japanese spouse, keep in mind that in most cases the law will protect the interests of the Japanese side. If your spouse runs of with your children, there is nothing you can do about it. Japan does not respect international treaties on such matters. Your basic rights will not be respected.
In Japan, even though individual Japanese will treat you in a friendly way, the general public opinion sees foreigners as potential troublemakers or even criminals. Therefore, you will often be treated as such. When you enter Japan you are photographed and your fingerprints are taken. Shop keepers and landlords can refuse to serve you "because you are a foreigner", and the general public will not think there is anything wrong with that "because there are many foreign criminals" or "foreign crime is rising". Quite on the contrary, many Japanese will argue that foreigners are often treated well, so they have no right to complain. In that sense Japanese have a very backward opinion concerning human rights and racial discrimination.
You are warned. As long as all is well all is well. But once you get into trouble, nothing is guaranteed in Japan. Expect more chances of being faced with racism if you are not Caucasian.
5. In Japan women are second class citizens. This is one that really annoys me. Women here are treated the way women were treated in the West 60 years ago. Women can go to university, but they will still end up making tea in a company, no matter how intelligent they are. Moreover, once married, Japanese women are more or less expected to quit their job.
Women here should be cute, behave almost like a child, and no more than that. Japan is still very much a men's society. This is also strongly reflected in the language, with some honorific forms being used only by women and not by men. Domestic violence is quite common here, but in many cases the women can't really do anything about it.
I have seen husbands yell "TEA!!!" and "BEER!!" when ordering their wives to bring them something to drink. I have seen male students treating female students like servants ("Here, hold my bag for me a while, will you?").
There, that was it, my honest opinion. he conclusion is that Japan has - like all countries - good and bad things. But there are many points where Japan needs improvement, and I am not holding my breath.
Also, with the recent economical problems, i honestly fear that things will become worse before they get better.
Anyway, I know that these are sensitive topics. If you want to comment on anything I wrote, do please do so. I am looking forward to any comments. But, if you disagree with some of my criticism regarding Japan, do please consider that I am living here for several years now, and I am likely to be living here for many years to come. Do not call me a "Japan basher", because I am not. What I wrote is my honest opinion.