3 years ago I arrived in Japan. I like to think that everything happens for a reason and particular events in life lead me to the place I am right now. Coming to Japan was definitely a new beginning. I got a job, I met amazing people, I became completely independent. I started my adult life right here in Japan, 9000 kilometers away from home.
After 3 years, I feel a lot of routine in my life. Work, home, PC, sleep, work, home, PC, sleep. That initial enthusiasm and interest in everything around me has gradually disappeared. I got used to being here, I know all the things you won’t read about in guidebooks with pretty pictures. Sometimes I miss that feeling of bliss when I opened my eyes in the morning and thought “Wow, I’m in Japan, this is amazing”. I’ve been a bit grumpy lately, for a bunch of reasons it was hard for me to find much positiveness in the daily grind.
I needed to see the good things again, so I sat down and wrote down all the things I like about Japan and how it changed me and my life.
(photos by Chris https://instagram.com/ghostdances )
1. Living here is like a never-ending treasure hunt
Downtown Tokyo is exactly how you imagine it — full of neon lights, skyscrapers, busy people who never let go of their phones. But once you realize that you’ve been to all the touristy places, you start exploring. You can wander around Tokyo for hours, days, months and I am absolutely sure you will find new things every few steps. Hidden cafes with clientele with an average age of over 70, unique street art splattered all around, lovely tiny stray cats, little shops with handmade or vintage items that can’t sadly compete with the monolithic vast department stores and gradually disappear. Don’t think too much about the weird Japan you know from TV or newspapers. Forget the supposed forehead bagel ‘trend’ (the biggest nonsense I’ve seen in my life I swear), forget otaku and idol culture, underwear vending machines (they probably exist in some deep dirty underground, but trust me — regular people don’t think it’s okay) don’t think too much about Harajuku fashion — that’s all part of Japan I suppose , but it is not how Japan really is.
2. Everything is organized
People queue and rarely cut in lines, no one’s business is more or less important than others’. There are instructions, notifications, warnings and signs everywhere. Though sometimes you might feel it’s really patronizing, you will always know what to do, how to use things, how to get somewhere — because it is all written and explained somewhere for your convenience. For that reason I think I am more gullible and take things for granted. In the UK I took some yen to the city center in order to exchange it to pounds. I found a legit looking currency exchange point, handed money to a good-looking cashier, got my money, counted it and was a bit surprised I received much less than I expected. But I thought I must have made a mistake calculating. It just didn’t cross my mind to ask about anything. When I went back home I checked the receipt I got and that’s when I saw I was charged a 10% service fee. There was no information on the counter. There would be a notice on the counter and the cashier would *probably* inform me about it — if it was Japan.
3. Japan taught me to care more about the environment
I still can’t stop myself from cringing whenever I open a bag of snacks and I find that each little piece is packed in a separate paper creating mountains of trash. However! I can’t imagine throwing trash on the street or leaving it on the train, now I can carry it in my bag all day if I need to do that. If I had a dog, I would clean after it thoroughly. I sort garbage: burnables, non-burnables, plastics, cans, glass, household items, batteries… I can’t say I don’t make sorting mistakes anymore, but I do my best. As you may know a few weeks ago I visited my family and friends in the UK and Poland, and let me just say that clean Japanese streets never looked better than the moment I saw them again after 2 weeks of being away.
4. Tokyo is where my friends are
I have met lots of amazing people, I probably would have never met any of them if I hadn’t come to Japan. I have friends from places all around the world: US, Canada, UK, Chile, Singapore, France, Germany… and we all met here in Tokyo. I just want to mention one thing: I’ve seen comments like “All foreigners in Japan hang out only with other foreigners tsk tsk”. What is wrong with that? Just let us have it. We interact with Japanese people on a daily basis, we all have Japanese acquaintances, coworkers, neighbours, partners. But it feels good to meet someone, who can relate to things you say, who will listen to your “I live in a foreign country” complaints until you feel better about being away from home, someone you can ask for relevant advice etc
5. One can lead a comfortable and rather stable life here
Despite all the bureaucracy that will make you cry at some point, life in Japan is very comfortable. Restaurants, convenience stores, karaoke booths, video rental stores open 24 hours. Vending machines (with drinks, alcohol, cigarettes, sometimes even canned soup) every 50 steps. Buses and trains, which are rarely late (but it DOES happen, usually because of bad weather conditions or sad ‘human accidents’) and most commutes are super fast.
6. Most of the time it’s actually very quiet here!
Talking on the phone on any public means of transportation is forbidden and basically people follow along with that. Surprisingly enough, if you’re not on one of the main streets, sometimes you might even forget you’re in Tokyo. Apart from summer festivals, shopping stores during sales where shopping assistants shout so loud you start wondering how is it humanly possible to produce those decibels and maybe izakaya drinking spots, where groups of young professionals or salarymen forget they should keep it down after a few pints of liquid courage… Apart from all that, it’s actually REALLY quiet. Drivers don’t honk and I even have a feeling I don’t hear ambulance or fire trucks sirens that often either!
7. Japan is safe, it’s true
I don’t worry about being mugged on the street, I rather worry about being ran into by cyclists, who think all of the pavement is completely their territory. Sometimes I read comments under articles like this one about a girl getting stabbed in the back on the street at about 11PM. I remember one of the comments said “What was a 17-year old girl doing at this time of night alone on the street?” and that’s when I knew that person has never been to Japan and has no idea about this country whatsoever. Everyday I see high school or even junior high school students going back home at 10-11PM… or even later. Walking slowly with their eyes glued to their smartphones, exhausted after cram school, club activities, piano lessons, secret dates maybe… I finish work at 10PM and go back home around 11PM much more often than I care to admit. Except a few rare nanpa pick-up attempts, no one has ever bothered me on my way back home and trust me, I have a bit of walking to do to get there. Unfortunately I can’t also say that absolutely nothing weird has ever happened on the streets of Tokyo (or should I say trains *cough*), but there’s enough crazy people anywhere in this world and it’s a whole other story anyway.
8. It’s okay to be an introvert (or just get your own space from time to time!)
It is a good point for me, but I will understand if you think otherwise: interactions between people are kept to a minimum in this country. There are single seats in every restaurant, sometimes you don’t even have to talk to the staff member to order — you just buy a food ticket from a machine and hand it in. People won’t talk to you on the train or the plane and cashiers won’t try to be all too friendly as in “Oh, I like your flesh tunnels, how big are they? You know I have a friend, who has flesh tunnels too and a few tattoos as well…” as often happened in the UK. I’m not saying it is bad — though personally, I never know how to respond to such banter. I get all awkward and say stuff like “Oh I see, ha, that’s nice hehe..he”. Well, they might make some comments about you being a foreigner, but most of the time they’ll lack the courage to do so. It’s rare for people to start conversations here and because I am not a person who enjoys a casual chat with a stranger in the park, I appreciate that most of the time the Japanese mind their own business.
9. All the cute stuff!
Everyone knows that Japan has all kinds of cool stuff going on. Interesting gadgets, cute accessories, cutting edge toilets, silly useless stuff you don’t need, but want to have. Cute characters, themed cafes, lots of merchandise for manga and anime characters as well as adorable Sanrio creations. My most ridiculous purchase up to date has to be a futon for my phone. Have I used it? Nope, but I took a fun photo of it.
10. Japan taught me how to be a shakaijin
…which literally means “a member of society”. In this homogeneous country everyone has their role to fulfill and playing by the rules is really important. Avoiding conflicts, confrontations, hiding what one really thinks — I honestly think this is why Japan is seen as such peaceful country. I came to understand how to be a part of it, or at least how to try to be a part of it. I’m more of a listener than a speaker. It might be because of my job, where what I basically do is listen to what others tell me about their life, job, hobbies etc and I always react appropriately. I am more careful about making bold statements and expressing personal opinions. I won’t talk about controversial topics unless asked. Is it good? I don’t know, but I know it saves you trouble in cases when your conversation partner has completely opposite views on politics, society etc. Japan teaches you how to co-exist peacefully with all kinds of people.
After 3 years, do I consider Japan to be my home? It’s a very difficult question I’ve asked myself many times. I’ve never lived in a foreign country for so long. Japan is where I started my adult life, I came here after graduation, got a job, rented an apartment, started paying taxes and caring about stuff like health insurance, holidays, paperwork, savings…The rose-coloured glasses I wore when I first came here are long gone. I see a lot of flaws and get really bitter sometimes so please bear with me, until I get through this phase. People say “If you don’t like it, then just leave?” and I cannot say they’re wrong. But the point is…
…I don’t want to leave yet. These days, I don’t see Japan so much as the dream I had when I was a teenager. Although there’s no way for us to know where life will take us, for now I can be sure of one thing. For now, I’m not going anywhere, so stay with me for a while and come by sometimes to read more about some of my new Tokyo adventures! 🙂
Thank you for reading!♥