My fiancee was dying to write a post about travel, and the both of us just couldn’t get memories of our trip to Japan out of our heads (and trust me, Japan tends to do that to people), so he offered to write a great piece on Japan. Unlike me, my fiancee has yet to live or study in Japan, so it has been fascinating to read his account of discovering Japan through the eyes of a tourist. Enjoy! (PS, if you enjoy my fiancee’s writing take a look at his finance blog, Millennial Lifehacker).
Mary has already written a fabulous article on Japan, but aside from the one week that we spent together there, I also wandered across part of the country with my parents while she acted as a tour guide for some other friends. Here are some things that I noted. Apologies in advance as I am not nearly as captivating a writer as Mary.
1. There are so many Chinese in Japan
Yeah, I know, Mary made this observation already, I know, but I still could not get over it. Seriously, everywhere you go in Japan has tons of stealth Chinese people. One particularly memorable encounter was at the hotel. After we checked in, there was a maid who came by with extra sheets and to do some supplemental cleaning. She was Chinese! I guess Chinese maids are the equivalent to Hispanic maids in southern California; they’re everywhere! Apparently they all have the same story as well. They moved to Japan after China started to open up but was still kind of poor (think most of the 1990s). They usually worked in low skill employment but stayed on even as China became wealthy because they got used to the environment and made their circle of friends.
2. The convenience of everyday life
Speaking of a cozy environment, that word can be used to describe almost everything in Japan. The country is known for being considerate and taking others’ feelings and needs into account, such that even needs that you never thought you had are being met. One example of this are the vending machines for all sorts of things everywhere you turn. Feel in the mood for a drink? You can get alcohol from these dispensaries. What about food? Yes! There are lunch cafes for busy salarymen where you pick the food from a vending machine, and then get dispensed a ticket which you can then use to pick up your hot food once it’s ready.
Of course, Japan is a stickler for environmentalism, which leads to a dearth of trash cans in public spaces. This would normally feel limiting, except for the ubiquitous 7/11s, which can process your trash.
3. Japan is not out to intentionally rip you off
Putting on my social theorist hat on for a second, I think that Japan just isn’t that materialistic. They care more about comfort, stability, and social cohesion than squeezing every last yen they can out of you. Case in point: vending machines (I keep going back to this) don’t vary in price depending on where you are. You can be on top of Mount Fuji and the botle of Calpis will be the exact same price (+/- 10 yen) as the vending machine in the heart of Tokyo. Similarly, food stands at the hottest tourist sites and even in the airport charge reasonable prices, as opposed to American airports, which tend to charge double price for half the quality in food.
4. No one eats fruits and vegetables
This really blew my mind. My entire family got severe constipation because of the lack of fiber in our diet. We had to run to a local grocery store (not a 7/11) just to get some fresh fruit (and this was the only thing in Japan that was overpriced). In the restaurants, there is usually a generous portion of noodle or rice, a small bit of protein (meat or eggs), and a tiny smattering of vegetables. Maybe Mary knows more about why this came to be, but as a tourist who doesn’t have the luxury of home cooking, I was literally scrambling to get a reasonable amount of greens in my diet.
So all in all, I had a fantastic time there. Everything Mary tells you is true (or maybe I just think this way because she keeps saying that stuff to me). The food is universally excellent, even (or maybe especially) the bentos they sell on the train and in the station. The sights are to die for; Japan has done a great job preserving its own unique culture. People are generally helpful but reserved. My only regret is not being able to travel longer, see more sights, or even live there. Even with my two week exposure, I can see why so many westerners find innovative ways of living in the country. As long as you don’t have to work in a Japanese company (again, Mary’s influence), I think you can have a great life on an expat package or as an English teacher.