My Boyfriend’s First Impression of Japan

japan temple

After two months of silence:  I’m finally back on U.S. soil.

After suffering through China’s excruciating internet (wow, did it get WAAAY worse in the last two years, and hats off to fellow expats still suffering through it), I am finally able to wordpress and Google photos freely (and thus update this little blog).

I traveled extensively for six weeks throughout China and Japan–and believe me, I have A LOT to write about.  I’m very excited to get some posts out in the upcoming days and weeks.  It was great to be a nomad traveler again, donning a backpack and whizzing from place to place for days on end.

But trust me, it does get tiring.  My last day in Japan I did nothing but lie in bed and drink cappuccinos.  We all need time to wind down.

I’m still writing up posts, but in the meantime, my boyfriend wrote up his thoughts regarding his impression of Japan.  I was really excited to take him to Japan and introduce him to my second home… and here are the results:

An Unbiased Outsider’s Perspective of Japan

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Hi there. Many of you may already know that Mary loves Japan. After all, it takes someone with intense interest and dedication to study a category V difficulty language (highest level, as rated by the State department) and live/work there and deal with the opaque culture with hidden meanings. It’s no surprise that she raves about it whenever she can (trust me, I can attest as someone who lives with her). So what were my reactions after visiting for two weeks?

Japan is Cheap (but still high quality)

All this for 12 bucks, no tip!

All this for 12 bucks, no tip!

Wipe away all your preconceived notions about Japan being expensive – it’s not. At least, not now while the exchange rate stays above 100 USD:JPY. For starters, consider food. On the low end, you can get a filling boxed bento at the nearby convenience store for $3, which come with meat, veggies, and rice. What’s the equivalent in the US? A basic McDonalds burger, without the combo deal, which is just a slab of meat and lettuce in between two buns.

Meal at our bed and breakfast, along with lodging, for 100 bucks!

Meal at our bed and breakfast, along with lodging, for 100 bucks!

The mid-range of dining is where Japan really shines. Most restaurants I went to featured filling and delicious meals between $6-$14. This is where you find the bulk of what salarymen eat – teishoku set meals, soba, udon, ramen, fried rice, tonkatsu, and sushi. In America, you can probably find a similar price range in restaurants, but you’d have to add on top of that a 15-20% tip. Yes, tips are neither expected nor required in Japan.

The other big expense in life is rent. Take the happening downtown metros in the US. If you want to live in New York or San Francisco as a young person, looking to be around the action and good jobs, be prepared to shell out $3000 or more for monthly rent. Even if you move out into the less desirable suburbs, prices are still in the $1000-$2000 range for a shack. In Tokyo, a world class city, you can have the equivalent lifestyle for $700.

I’ll defer talking about health care, since I haven’t had that experience in Japan, but Mary tells me that it’s much more convenient and cheaper than the equivalent in America.

Japan is Safe

Walking the Streets Safely

Walking the Streets Safely

You’ll never feel in danger in Japan. Seriously, you’ll see elementary school kids walking by themselves on the streets and taking the metro. No one bats an eyelash at that. Contrast that with my own experience as soon as I set foot in Los Angeles. Just by taking the local train (the Metrolink) home, I was surrounded by thuggish-looking young men with tattoos, loose tracksuits, yelling into their phones or at random people sitting beside them. Then, walking to my house from the station, there were police sirens all around me, and search helicopters scanning the streets doubtlessly for some fugitive.

Japan has one of the lowest rates of homicide, violence, theft, and rape. I could leave my backpack, phone, or computer somewhere, wander off, and it would still be where I left it hours later. Many acquaintances have misplaced items, only for some kind stranger to return it or to bring it to lost and found. Be warned, however… stay too long and you may pick up some bad habits of being too trusting.

Japan is Convenient

Even the bullet train comes every 15 minutes

Even the bullet train comes every 15 minutes

Oh let me count all the ways that Japan is convenient. Their society anticipates your needs and tries to accommodate them. Bathrooms are everywhere – in parks, museums, metro stations, restaurants – that you’ll never go wanting. Even in the most remote places like the top of Mount Fuji, you can find an automated drink dispenser to quench a thirst. Small restaurants are everywhere. The ubiquitous convenience store (or conbini for short in Japanese) lets you withdraw cash, buy most necessities, and ship your luggage… and best of all they’re on every street corner.

Finally, you won’t have to bother with driving since an excellent network of trains and metros link the whole country.

Best of all, Japan doesn’t try to screw you over, milking you for every drop of profit. Dispensing machines don’t really change in price from the big cities to the countryside. Prices at the airport convenience store aren’t higher than in the city itself. Taxi costs are reasonable and drivers don’t try to screw you over.

Japan is Subdued Elegance

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Some may take issue with Japanese homes. From the outside, apartments look a bit bland with uniform concrete and balcony spacing that reminds me of Soviet-style buildings. Even on the inside, there’s little in the way of interior decoration. Furnishing leans towards the practical, favouring multi-use rooms like a bedroom with roll up tatami mats that convert in the daytime to a dining room with a table. Space is at a premium because Japan is an island. That fact of life is unavoidable.

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However, for me it’s a benefit. I’m rather sick of mowing lawns and spending hours vacuuming and cleaning, facts of life for single family homes in the US.

As for the subdued aspect, you’ll notice that Japanese people are not flashy with spending. Everyone looks well-dressed, but it’s evenly well-dressed. For a culture that values conformity and has a high degree of equality, even the few who are rich don’t like to advertise that fact with designer clothing, bling bling German-made cars, or ostentatious jewelry.

Conclusion

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Am I biased? Undoubtedly yes. I use America as a comparison because it’s the exact opposite of Japan in many respects. America is a high cost, dangerous, and inconvenient country whose saving grace is that it’s a good place to make lots of money quickly.

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Truly, I was able to experience most of Japan’s benefits without having to live through the negative aspects. Unfortunately, most Japanese people suffer through long hours and low pay at their jobs. A generation of young people unable to find full-time employment at the big corporations become “freeters” working at convenience stores or other low-paid service jobs. Even those who do land a corporate job find that it’s not so cushy. Given the Japanese love of equality and fairness, a promotion is more dependent on loyalty to the company and time spent rather than credentials, productivity, and results. Even if you move up to become the CEO, pay is much lower than equivalent positions abroad.

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If you can avoid that big negative aspect of Japan, it’s almost the perfect country to live in (assuming of course you can master the tricky language). Try being an English teacher (you won’t be expected to put in Japanese hours), work on an expat package, or make your money elsewhere and retire in the country.

12 thoughts on “My Boyfriend’s First Impression of Japan

  1. autumnashbough says:

    Sounds so reasonable, especially the food.

    I’m bummed, though — I can’t see the pictures, and I really want to see the one of the garden. (Okay, I want to see food pictures also, but those will make me hungry.)

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      Ok! I fixed the photos! I tried something new with Google Photos and it totally didn’t work, haha… Back to the drawing board…

      You and Andy should go to Japan!

      • autumnashbough says:

        Oh, yay! The garden is lovely. So green.

        A savory breakfast like yours might take some getting used to…for me. Andy can eat anything. Anytime.

        I’m with Richard. Lots of time can be spent on mowing awns and cleaning big houses in the U.S. It gets to be a bit much.

  2. Ruth - China Elevator Stories says:

    Can’t see the pictures either.

    Sounds like you didn’t promise your bf too much when you talked about Japan! It does sound reasonably priced. No wonder Chinese love going there now, what with life in many bigger Chinese cities not being as cheap as it used to.

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      Yeah I just fixed the photos 🙁 I was trying something new and it really didn’t work. I learned my lesson!

      Shanghai was alarmingly expensive, I was very shocked at the up in cost there. I think a good meal in Shanghai is almost the same cost as Japan…!!! There’s so many Chinese tourists in Japan it’s crazy… they were buying up entire drug stores across the country! haha

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      I fixed the photos…!!!

      You should definitely go to Japan with your husband and child. It’s a really easy country to travel in, it’s super clean and friendly and.. just… a nice “break” from the hectic pace of Chinese life. I think I heard more Chinese than Japanese while traveling in Japan thanks to the spike in Chinese tourists. Really crazy. When I went to Japan 5 years ago there were almost no Chinese tourists. Such big changes in so little time…

  3. Lani says:

    I can see the pictures! 😀 And they are as dreamy as I imagined. Japan is one of those places that I’ve been wanting to go to since childhood. Hawaii is one of the premiere destinations for Japanese + their culture is everywhere, so I feel like I know it, but of course, I don’t at all. I’m so happy to hear that the food is affortable and bathrooms everywhere? My dream come true. Maybe teaching will be in the cards in the future…I wonder though, do they still need English teachers? It isn’t exactly a growing population.

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      Oh, man Lani, Japan totally needs English teachers… and they love experienced ones like you. I have a friend that lives in Shikoku and he’s been working for an English company for 7 years. Let me know if you ever do make the move to Japan! I imagine it will be loooaaadds different from Cambodia, haha. Japan really is *too* comfortable. It’s hard to escape the expat life of… comfort, but no growth. Complacency. They do want English teachers though, I would give it a shot! And if not, you should definitely go visit. Flights to Japan are really cheap now and with airbnb, it’s super cheap!

  4. Marta says:

    Now I see the pictures too!

    I also thought Japan was not that expensive, even comparing with Shanghai/Suzhou. Transportation is more expensive, but the rest… not so much.

    Is there a big difference in the internet speed in China? I guess I got gradually used to it. Or maybe because I upgraded to the fastest package available (100 MB, which in real speed must be about 5 MB).
    But at least wordpress.com is not censored now, I can access without vpn!

    Looking forward to reading your trip stories!

    • rubymary says:
      Profile photo of rubymary

      Duuuuuude I couldn’t use wordpress in China! I think my biggest gripe was being unable to access anything Google. I use google hangouts to talk to my bf and google photos to do blog updates on here, so it was kind of a handicap for me. I just feel like there are more restrictions on certain websites than before. When I was in China 2 years ago, google was still accessible (although spotty), whereas this time it was completely gone.

      And yes, Japan is cheap! I was actually shocked at Shanghai prices–they went way up! I think a Shanghai trip could be just as much or more than a Japan trip, depending on the way you plan it. Shanghai aint cheap!

      I’m so sorry I couldn’t see you this time around Marta! But don’t worry, I’ll be back 😉

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