While Americans think nothing can top life in the states (why would anyone move abroad?!), I would like to list some reasons why Japan still tempts me to drop everything here and run back to its loving, but poisonous embrace.
The Convenience Store
The first thing I do when I go back to Japan is run to 7-11 or Family Mart, fall to the linoleum floor and sob with joy as that familiar door jingle rings through my ears and welcomes me home.
For those who have never been to Japan, you may think: “it’s just a 7-11.”
No, my friends. It’s far more than just a 7-11. It’s a joyous wonderland of food, beverage, entertainment and convenience all wrapped up into one little store.
At the convenience store in Japan you can literally do everything. To be honest, I don’t even know why other establishments even exist because the convenience store has it all.
The conbini (short for convenient store) in Japan has an ATM that accepts most of the world’s major debt/credit cards, performs domestic and international shipping and mailing, offers ticketing and vendor services and has full-blown printing services.
Oh yes, did I mention all of this can be done 24/7?
Aside from the services listed above, the offerings at 7-11 are immense. New onigiri (rice ball) flavors are offered on a daily basis, with bentos galore, dozens of attractive and unusual drinks at your beckoning, and fresh servings of oden and fried chicken at the cashier to go with your ‘limited time’ seasonal beer. If you happen to need hosiery, underwear, toiletries, books, magazines, batteries—you name it, the conbini has it.
This one is only 920 kcalories…
The Dark Side: Prepare to get fat. Those seemingly “healthy” bentos will beef you up in no time. Think that box of fish and rice is healthy? Take another look at the 1,000 calorie sticker slapped on there. All those tall beers and wasabi flavored chips you eat with it don’t help, either Constraint within the conbini is difficult—or damn near impossible.
All the Food is Amazing
I know. This sounds extremely one-sided and subjective, but it’s actually a fact.
I dare you—no, I triple dare you—to find a bad meal in Japan. It just doesn’t exist.
The Japanese people take pride in what they do, and food is definitely a high priority on that list. No meal is ever half-assed in Japan. Hell, even Japanese McDonalds blows its USA counterpart out of the water in terms of quality and taste. The freshness of the rice, the fish, the vegetables; the cut of the meat, the marble of fat on the beef, the temperature of your hands when preparing fish—these may all seem like minor details to the American eye, but it’s these key components that the Japanese focus on which makes their food so damn delicious.
The Dark Side: While it’s all good, Japanese food can get old. You can only eat so much sushi, noodles, and rice. After a few Japanese meals, you’re going to start craving exotic Thai curries or even a big stack of waffles. Although Japanese food isn’t bland, it definitely doesn’t take the gold when it comes to variety.
Ok, there is some crime. But for the most part, Japan is one of, if not the safest place on Earth.
In Los Angeles? Yeah, there have been a few freeway shootings in my neighborhood. Go home after 9? Maybe if I want to get raped and killed on the train.
America. Come on.
The Dark Side: Nothing. There is no down side to being safe.
Best Public Transportation in the World
I did not live in a big city when I resided in Japan. I lived in Nou, a small village with 10,000 people. I lived in the absolute boondocks surrounded by the sea, the mountains, and pretty much nothing else.
Yet I didn’t buy a car, nor did I have a need for one.
Even in a town with such sparse population, there was an extensive bus system and a railway. While the buses weren’t many, they still got me to and from a remote elementary school in the mountains, a seaside junior high school and back to my apartment.
Plus, I was only a two-hour train ride form Tokyo.
Just think about it: In Japan, you can go ANYWHERE by train. Anywhere. Even Nou.
I can’t even get to the nearest grocery store in America without the aid of a car.
This makes not only travel for visitors easier, but it also cuts down immensely on costs for residents by eliminating the need for a car.
The Dark Side: Bullet trains aint cheap. A one-way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto can run you 150 bucks. That’s like a plane ticket. Still, I think it’s worth it.
Before I moved to Japan, I kind of knew from movies and anime that Japanese people like to take baths. I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and didn’t think too much on it; I mean, some people in the states take baths, too.
Then I realized that Japanese people don’t just like to take baths.
It’s a vital, necessary function of their day.
No Japanese person in their right mind goes to sleep without a dip in the tub. It’s like the ritualistic end to their day. Work, home, dinner, bath. That’s the dream.
My Japanese apartment came with a tub that looked like a giant boiling pot, like this:
In America we like to stretch our legs out and recline in the bath, but in Japan the baths are ‘deep’ and allow for total submersion of the body. Unlike the shallow baths in the States where you’re lucky if the water goes up to your ass and actually runs hot the entire time, the Japanese baths come with a control panel that remotely manages the temperature of the water in addition to a tub so deep, it covers you up neck to toe.
Needless to say, I became a bath addict. I converted into a bath-before-bed girl, and oh how I miss the loving embrace of that deep-dish tub.
Japanese people also make the bath an all-day activity by visiting their local ‘hot spring’ (onsen). Whether you want to bathe at home—or even better, in a public, natural spring with a bunch of strangers—Japan is your bath destination.
The Dark Side: While the bath is most commonly used to ‘wash away fatigue,’ it’s also used as a substitution for central heating. Believe it or not, Japanese houses are not equipped with central heating and they are C-O-L-D in winter. If you don’t take a bath, you might just freeze to death.
A place with Roman-esque baths, convenient transportation and a one-stop-destination called 7-11 where I can pay the bills, print out vacation photos, buy tickets to the concert next week all while getting dinner!?
Only in Japan.