Having now passed the halfway hurdle of my time in Japan, I feel it’s time to reflect on the pros and cons of living in the Land of the Rising Sun. This is partly to allow me to get some things off my chest, but also remind myself why the hell I came here in the first place – because I know there must have been a reason.
I’ll start with the Pros, and if any of you reading this think I’ve missed something out I want to know about it.
Without a doubt The Number One Best Thing About Japan is the food. Oh the food, the food. Where do I even begin? Sushi, sashimi, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, chanko nabe, tempura, ramen, udon, yaki soba, donburi, steamed dumplings, teriyaki, taco rice, chinsuko, katsu curry… Half of those things may mean nothing to you, but let me tell you – Japanese food is nothing short of godly.
Not only is it mouthwateringly delicious, but Japanese food is also bloody cheap. Wagamama and Yo! Sushi eat your heart out – show me a place in England where you can get a massive, tasty bowl of noodles for as little as 2 quid, or plates of sushi for 60p each, and I’ll eat my damned hat.
2. Cheap Sleep
Manga cafes, Internet cafes, Capsule hotels, McDonalds and Karaoke rooms – as I discussed in my last post, there’s always room at the Inn in Japan. Other countries should learn from this.
3. 100 Yen Shops
100 Yen Shops kick seven shades of shit out of Pound Shops.
For a start – everything is ACTUALLY 100 yen, not secretly £2.39 or £3.50. Secondly, there is not a single thing you cannot buy in a 100 yen shop. There are all the usual things: notebooks, stationery, birthday cards, fake flowers, toiletries – but then there are also iPod chargers, phone cases, a thousand different types of ribbon and thread, lace, wool, a dazzling array of underwear, all the kinds of plates, bowls, cups and chopsticks you could ask for, boxes, buckets, baskets, tupperware, lunch boxes, everything you need to decorate a cake, kitchen implements, towels, coat hangers, toys, Christmas decorations, reading glasses, food, dressing up outfits, hair accessories, make-up, gardening tools … I could go on. And it’s mostly actually well designed – some of it even stylish.
Seria is probably the nicest of the 100yen shops, and there’s one right by my house. Every time I go in there I find at least ten different things I never knew I needed, and I managed to furnish my room for about a tenner. Not bad, I say!
Whilst on balance I’m pretty glad that the UK isn’t sitting on a bubbling mass of volcanic activity, it does make me a little sad that this means we don’t have the pleasure of onsen back at home. Onsen are naturally heated hot springs, and there are literally thousands of them throughout Japan. Many onsen have outdoor baths called ‘rotenburo’ where you can soak in the great outdoors, and bathing in onsen is a big part of Japanese culture.
Basically, the idea is that you wash yourself thoroughly in the shower first, then you get in the bath and just chillax in your birthday suit along with a bunch of total strangers.
A lot of foreigners baulk at this idea, but it’s actually one of my favourite things about Japan. Once you get used to the idea of being naked around other people (and apart from in rare cases it’s only people of the same sex anyway) it’s not really weird at all, and in fact it’s a nice, relaxing place to just sit and chat. There’s also nothing quite like being able to sit in a big, steamy bath under the stars with snow falling all around you!
5. Samurai, Ninjas and Martial Arts
OK, so there aren’t any samurai or ninjas in Japan any more – but you’ve got to admit, Japan’s history is pretty badass. Japan is also the birthplace of Karate, Judo, Jujutsu, Kendo, Sumo, Aikido, and a whole raft of other martial arts that I’ve never even heard of. Basically, Japan could kick everyone’s butt with its little finger if it wanted to, and I respect that.
6. Japanese Loos
No, I’m not talking about those squat ones – I’m talking about the ones with all the buttons. You know, the ones that sing you a song, do a little dance and then drive you to work in the morning.
The first time I came to Japan, I was too scared to try out the various functions on the Japanese loos, and they can be rather intimidating to the uninitiated. There are generally two types of spray jet, one for your arse and one for your front-bottom (usually there are also controls that allow you to alter the pressure and temperature of the jets too). There’s also a seat-warmer, a button that makes an artificial flushing noise or imitates the noise of running water to cover up your noises, a ‘power deodoriser’ button, and quite a range of other buttons whose purpose I can only guess at.
After getting over my initial trepidation, I find that I have become a total convert to the Japanese loo, and I don’t understand why it hasn’t caught on in the rest of the world. It’s hygienic, it saves paper, and it means you don’t have to sit down on an icy seat when you want a poo in the night. How lovely.
I tried to find the clip of the loo from the Simpsons Japan episode, but I could only find this weird toilet tutorial video. Enjoy.
7. Public Transport
You’ve got to hand it to ‘em: Japan’s public transport system is freaking efficient. This is probably because in this country, the majority of people seem to actually do their jobs properly, which is kind of awesome (there are exceptions, of course). The downside is perhaps that the Japanese have taken having a good work ethic a little too far.
8. Customer Service
There is a saying in Japan that goes like this: “Okyakusama wa kamisama desu.” It means “The customer is God,” and I couldn’t agree more with this approach to service (although there does come a point when you’re being escorted out of a shop after making a purchase and bowed at repeatedly as you walk down the road that you wonder when enough is enough).
But in any case, there’s nothing that pisses me off quite like rude and unhelpful staff and poor customer service. It’s not that hard! So smile and be nice, like the Japanese.
9. It’s Safe
Japan is a country with almost no personal crime – where you can drop a wallet full of cash on the subway and have it hand-delivered back to you, cash and all, the very next morning. If I thought about all the valuables and objects of sentimental significance that I have lost on my travels throughout the world because I am a careless, terminally forgetful idiot, I would probably have to sit down and cry – so it makes me feel wonderfully safe to be in a country where people will run after you to give you back the wad of cash you just left sticking out of the ATM.
10. Convenience Stores
Would you believe it, convenience stores in Japan (known as “Konbini”) are actually convenient. These are not your average shitty cornershops – they’re open 24 hours a day, they sell beer, hot coffee and ready meals, and they’ll microwave your food for you. You can even book plane tickets here. Yes – really.
11. Hayao Miyazaki
12. Pokemon, Mario, and all things Nintendo.
You must have known it was coming. Pokemon may be as dead and buried as the samurai, but not in my heart.
Nothing quite defines my childhood like Pokemon – unless it’s Super Mario or the Legend of Zelda. But wait! They’re from Japan too!! In fact, they’re all owned by the same life-giving, passion-inspiring, worship-deserving company: Nintendo. These were the things that made me love Japan in the first place.
Sometimes I get so cross with Japan and all its stupid little idiosyncrasies that I forget what’s really important in life: Japanese computer games.
Join me next week, when I let you know the SHITTEST things about Japan.