With our poem about Leaving Japan, we had quite a few comments from readers who previously lived – or currently live – in Japan, and what they love or hated about the place. In fact, some of the comments were longer than the article as many people expressed reasons for their deep attachments with Japan and its residents, even while they are aware of the fact that they will never melt in to their surrounds, remaining eternally gaijin. Just what is it that keeps us here? Why do we find living here so convenient, despite the logarithmic learning curve of the language and the awkward culture clashes. Could it be a simple matter of that many things in Japan just work? The lack of Western egos, and the suffocating Western business ethos that suffocates the more important things in life? A friend of mine from the UK thought exactly that. He shared the reason why he fell in love with Japan, and why it is now his home. Here is his account of why Living in Japan is utopia (it should ring a couple of bells for many of you reading this I expect):
Setting foot upon Japanese soil for the first time was an unforgettable experience for me. Traveling from the UK, I was used to dreary cold gray days by this time of year, with the prospect of months more of it growing only darker and colder still. I remember the embracing heat that enveloped me as I alighted from the plane. I buzzed with excitement at the prospect of spending 2 weeks with my girlfriend in the late September heat of Japan.
We spent a week on the Izu peninsula, where I, the crazed, ocean starved foreigner, was a source of amusement to the local surfers, charging headlong into the 23 degrees C ocean water in my undies! I spent every day in the ocean, and temporarily lost the need for shoes. I felt real freedom for the first time in years and was glad to share this with my future wife.
I had grown accustomed to living in “The Big Smoke” of London, striving to manage a business through the onslaught of crooked utility service providers (who were, and still are privatized, fragmented, outsourcing messes), busy trying to extort money for previous tenants’ bills that were left unpaid. I would battle with the property management company to get leaks fixed and windows repaired, claiming insurance for yet another break in, tending to the wounds about my head inflicted by the butt of a revolver. As if I hadn’t experienced enough violence and stress, as if I wanted to devote 50% of my time to making phone calls and writing letters to nullify my company from liability to pay bills that weren’t even ours, bills that damaged our ability to take out a loan, to expand when we needed to.
I wasn’t the only one in this boat either, many others were also suffering, and some a great deal more than me. Many even collapsed under the pressure, some even paid money they didn’t owe. Some just ran away leaving their debts behind, but I’m sure they still suffered bouts of paranoia, constantly looking over their shoulder. In the city’s never ending struggle with crime, constantly looking over your shoulder is a part of life in London, no matter where you are in the city, you just can’t shrug off the fear of getting mugged, or the fear of racial or bipartisan hatred, or just drunken stupidity.
Despite all that, I still loved many aspects of the multicultural city. I just despised the shortsighted system, riddled with holes, akin to a rusty old sieve succeeding in only separating the classes and races, while letting any history and culture fall through the holes of it’s substandard education system.
It was Japan that rebuilt itself so efficiently after America defeated and began occupying it six decades ago. It was through team spirit and great education that Japan succeeded in being one of the wealthiest nations in the world. Other nations secretly envied its strength.
Even through it’s economic slumps, Japan still retains a standard of and quality of life that America and the U.K. would find hard to maintain in times of crises. I really felt those differences when I decided to settle with my girlfriend, get married and have children with her. I didn’t want my children to be brought up in a country that had forgotten it’s ancestors, that favored individualism, that could only offer quality education to those that could afford it.
I know Japan’s system is not perfect, but it’s in a different league to that of UK or America. Things work in Japan, transport runs on time and is highly maintained, education is of a high standard, one of the highest in the world, even in the state sector.
The countries culture and tradition is still a great part of everyone’s life. People still look up to their elders and have roots deep in their ancestry. This is something that I find endearing, and I only hope Japan can keep a tight grip on itself, and not let these important aspects slip away with the scourge of foreign companies and influences coming into it’s bubble.
My friends thought I was crazy to go and live in a country where I could not yet read or speak the language, to settle in a city commonly misconceived to be among the most expensive to live in the world. They still don’t believe me when I tell them that the cost of living is actually roughly half of that in the UK and that the boundaries of class are significantly blurred. Violence and crime rates are among the worlds’ lowest and I think this is largely to do with the fact that people have a relatively high base standard of living, education and health care, and abide by group ethos. It was pleasing however to notice during the World Cup (when it was hosted in Japan and Korea) that a newfound respect for Japan went home with many of the England fans. I remember watching touching stories on TV of fans crying when Englands time was up, not only for their team and country, but about leaving Japan. The hospitality that they had been starved of back home, had been applied liberally during their stay by the Japanese, and obviously made its mark on them.
While growing up in Japan, I like the fact that my children will have an equal chance in their education and that they will be taught how to work as part of a team, devoid of egotism. To me that is essential if you want to succeed in life, work, and remain happy at the same time. To me, egotism only causes pain and breeds contempt. That I’ve learnt through experience… the hard way!
When I made the decision to come here and settle with my wife to have our first child, I was not sure about what options I would have career wise. Because of the language barrier, my skills in audio engineering and multi-media could not be transferred. I felt as though my days as a musician, composer and engineer were over and my only option was teaching English.
It was easy enough to get a job, yet I found the English language market in Japan to be riddled with people who’s command of the language was sub-standard, and a lot of positions on offer only paid by the day or hour and offered no securities such as health and employment insurance. However, the Job I got was well remunerated compared with teaching positions in the UK and the state income tax was 75% less than that of the UK. In fact, my salary was comparable to an entry level job in a law firm, but my tax wasn’t as high and teaching work was both engaging and rewarding for me, plus my cost of living was roughly 50% of that in London. This combined with the well organized infrastructure of the city, it’s convenience, and it’s clean landscaped park land was already enough to make me feel as though there was a future for me living in Japan. It’s definitely, easier, safer and cleaner than living in the UK.
However, one thing I had been somewhat apprehensive about was the Japanese diet. Initially, I was inclined to shrink away from eating many of the seafood dishes that were offered. I had read that in Japan, refusing food is deemed as rude, if at first you don’t even try it.
So with that in mind, and out of respect for my hosts, I tried all that was offered and much to my surprise I found 90% of it to be thoroughly delicious and very healthy; yet another reason why I love Japan!
I also love Japan’s geography, its spine of mountains and its craggy, densely vegetated peninsulas projecting out into the pacific on its eastern coast. I love the fact that one can travel only an hour on the train from Tokyo and reach the mountains or just two and a half hours on the plane to the tropical delights of Okinawa. Everything is so accessible.
I often feel as though Japan is close to Utopia, (even though I know its system is tainted with corruption and various other problems), and this is a feeling I cannot imagine having about America or the UK. Since coming here I have not wanted to turn back. As a matter of fact, when I visited family in London last year, it just served as a reminder of how inconvenient and stressful life is there. I stayed in a hotel who’s service was poor, where the elevator didn’t work, where the lock on our room door was broken and the window wouldn’t shut properly…. and all this pandemonium on Queensway – Unbelievable! And what’s more, the hotel manager only pointed the finger of blame elsewhere and didn’t even offer an apology for these inconveniences. Traditional English hospitality – no. Typical – yes!
In the short space of time that I had single handedly lugged heavy suitcases up two flights of stairs, (because the elevator was broken), I had incurred a 75 pound parking fine! That just wouldn’t happen in Tokyo. The elevator in the Queensway hotel was not Swiss or Japanese made – it was British of course!
Be sure to let us know if there are other things that keep you in Japan in the comment section below!