What I Miss (and Don't Miss) About Living in Japan

Having been back in the States for just over two months now nearly four months now, I've thought quite a bit about what I miss and don't miss about life in Japan as I attempt to overcome reverse culture shock and settle in here. I'll be honest, though--I feel like an expat in my own country. I'm still overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choices, the variety of languages I hear when out and about, the inundation of a language I understand perfectly but hadn't heard much of for nearly five years.

And I'm missing Japan in a fierce way right now. We made the right decision, despite the fact we're still looking for jobs/source of income (but a blessing in disguise that David has been able to help with the toddler so I can try to rest and recover) and that my health took a turn for the worse with the culmination of a year and a half of stress, postpartum emotional/mental issues and a huge transition. I'm trying to take it one day at a time now, maybe accomplish one or two things if that includes doing some laundry and planning dinner, and not pine so much for the positive things about Japan that I miss.

But seriously, what I wouldn't give for a sento or onsen right now...

This list is, of course, subjective to me and if you're new to Japan or haven't yet visited, please don't assume these things are true of all expats. I've been adding things here and there since just before we left as they come to mind, so these aren't in any particular order, but I've numbered them for ease of reading.

What I Miss

1. Gorgeous landscapes
Mountains, cliffs, ocean, forests of all types. (We have these in Washington/US, too, and I love them just as much, but they just look a little bit different.)

2. Seasonal flavors (candy, drinks, etc.)

3. Muji 
Although the US does have some stores, and has online shopping. :)

4. Stores like Tokyu Hands and Loft

5. Expressway Service Areas
shin-tomei, expressway, Japan, service area

6. Onsen and sento
Stress relief at its finest.

7. Convenience stores

8. Trains
Don't really have them in my area of the States -- at least not the same.

9. Japanese curry
There are some Asian stores around to get curry roux, but it was nice to get yummy stuff easily. I haven't had the energy yet to make it from scratch. One day soon, I hope...

10. Okonomiyaki
At the little family-owned place we'd always get it from. Best I've ever had in Japan.

11. Freshness Burger

12. Cheap, but usually good, electronics

13. Yakiniku

14. Shizuoka green tea
It's possible to get in the States, but a bit more difficult and costs a little more. And all those tea fields...

15. Vending machines everywhere
Although I tried to always carry a water bottle with me, it was still a lifesaver at times.

16. Kappa-zushi

17. Soft cream at tourist trap areas

18. The Izu peninsula

19. Hanging my clothes outside to dry without the neighbors or landlord complaining. And the smell of sun-dried clothes. And in case you're wondering, here's how to find out how fast your laundry will dry.

20. Child payments

21. Greater use of bicycles and public transportation (this varies in the US depending on where you are)

22. Hanami
I know the UW has sakura trees, so do a lot of places in Washington, but it's not. the. same. Not even close. It's like trying to do all the seasonal Fall, cozy things of the US in Japan... would be weird. Also read: how to find a good hanami spot in Japan.

23. Fireworks Festivals
Different from the 4th of July. Summer is coming... how to find a fireworks festival this summer.

24. Winter Illuminations
A bit different from people outfitting their houses in Christmas/Holiday lights. I like both.

25. Nursing rooms all over the place and child-friendly areas.

26. Hardwood floors being more common in apartments.
(This may be more of a local thing.)

27. Warm (hot) summers 
The humidity usually didn't bother me much--except when I was nine months pregnant...

28. The attentiveness to seasons 
I love them before as we had four seasons where I'm from, but being in Japan made me appreciate them more.

29. Incredibly fast shipping
Shipping is SO SLOW in the States. Yes, I do realize the country is much larger than Japan... but even in the same state it sometimes takes longer than it usually does in Japan. Maybe that's different if you live in a smaller state.

30. The fact that strangers often offer rides or help when out and about.

31. Who am I kidding? The electronic toilets.
Not that I was that attached to them.

32. Seeing Fuji-san all the time
Now I see Mt. Baker all the time, which is nice in its own way. But I miss Fuji-san.

fuji, Japan, fujisan, mount fuji

33. That it's culturally acceptable to like cutesy things (even for guys)

34. Having regular adventures

35. Thunderstorms
We don't have them often in western Washington.

36. Komatsuna, daikon, kabocha, and other Japan-specific produce
They have these at Asian markets usually, but we're not currently in Seattle so more difficult to get.

37. The community
Both expats (not the jaded ones) and Japanese. It's not easy trying to fit back into a community here -- you feel like you should just somehow "fit" automatically, but I sure don't feel that way at all.

38. Festival food
yakisoba, festival food, Japan

39. Greeting cards

40. Takesumi (bamboo charcoal)
Can get it here at a few places, albeit it's much more expensive. Here are six reasons you should use bamboo charcoal.

41. The health insurance system, because in the US it (still) sucks.

42. Sunny Shizuoka winters
Gosh, I grew up with this constant gray and drizzle, but now it's just depressing. Probably because I'm also struggling with depression and anxiety.

43. High school festivals

What I don't miss

1. Lack of social acceptance to eat or drink while walking.

2. Crazy drivers almost killing me on a regular basis (whether driving, biking or walking).

3. Fake polite

4. Lack of cheap, delicious pizza 
But that said, there are places to get yummy pizza in Japan, just not always around where I was. And I stopped eating wheat once I got back to the US anyway.

5. Peer pressure to wear a mask when I was sick.

6. Doctors and dentists

7. The annoying background music played in grocery stores, drugstores, etc.

8. Cockroaches

9. Giant bugs in general

10. Drafty apartments and lack of insulation

11. Tatami
Although sometimes I miss having it around.

12. Aircon

13. Smoking
Including all the smoking restaurants and combined smoking/non-smoking places. And difficulty getting non-smoking rooms (on non-smoking floors, that weren't smoked in previously but just sprayed with air freshener before arriving). Also read: how to find a non-smoking restaurant in Japan.

14. Shipping some things from abroad to Japan

15. Fake Christmas tree

16. The rainy season

17. Carrying an umbrella everywhere

18. Standing out

19. More expensive/difficult to get healthy/organic food
Let me emphasize that it's not impossible, but it can be more difficult or expensive at times. I highly recommend farmer's markets!

20. People cutting in line, throwing bags in front of me on trains to reserve a seat, people shoving others out of the way when getting off a train, people not moving in elevators that are priority for handicapped folks and those with baby strollers, etc.
These are often exceptions, but I feel like whenever I went out the past few years I had just as many negative experiences as positive ones. And I've heard from other expats who have stayed in Japan longer than one or two years who have experienced similar. This is one reason why I don't believe Japanese "are the most polite" or anything like that. There are exceptionally polite/helpful people in Japan, many who have gone out of their way to help me, but for every good experience there has been a bad one.

21. Small freezer
Though it is possible to fix this situation.

22. Small kitchen cooking space

23. Not being able to use certain websites or order from them, especially without being charged more (yes, I should have set up a VPN long ago...)

24. Old men peeing in public

25. Jaded expats

26. People falling asleep on me on the train

27. Logistics. Red tape. Must-fill-out-thirty-forms-before-we-can-do-this way of thinking/doing.

28. Narrow streets
Can you say, "near death experience"?

29. Crazy winter winds in Shizuoka that blow clothes and futon away regularly. (I recommend not only clipping futon, but tying it down as well.)

Your turn. What would you miss, or not miss, if you left Japan? Or if you've lived in Japan in the past, what do you miss or not miss about it?


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