It took me a while to realize it, but apparently living in Japan is somewhat unique. I learned it from peoples’ reactions every time I introduced myself.
So although I didn’t think this status of living in Japan is something to be curious about, other people do. Therefore, I am not surprised anymore when I’m asked about it. And I’m being asked about it a lot!
At first, I didn’t like to be asked about Japan. I didn’t like it when people tried to simplify the depth of things because I felt like they were expecting a simple answer. But with time I realized that thinking of decent answers allows me not only to present the complexity of some realms of life here, but also I get an opportunity to observe myself, my thoughts and feelings about each topic, and put into words how Japan is seen through my eyes.
In this post I answer some of the questions I am asked the most about living in Japan. Some of the answers are general, some are personal, and some of them don’t necessarily answer the question but rather explain how this topic should be examined.
1. What are the Japanese like?
To be honest, this is the hardest question to answer.
There are more than 120 million Japanese people and each and every one of them is a separate soul with a distinctive and unique existence. Some are nice, some are tough, some gentle, grumpy, cheerful, gloomy, energetic, introvert, and whatever other human traits you can think of.
So, how can I generalize a whole nation?
The truth is, I can’t. But I was able to find some qualities that a lot of Japanese people share. Here are two of these similarities:
– The most interesting similarity for me is the social collectivism (which I could write a whole post about.) To summarize it into one sentence: the collective is more important than the individual. To avoid conflicts or disharmony, most Japanese people will put their thoughts and feelings aside for the sake of the group. Indeed, it is not true in 100% of cases (and it also depends greatly on the groups’ inner hierarchy), but that’s the general social expectation.
– Another interesting thing I’ve noticed that might just derive from the first one is this: The Japanese are very serious about what they’re doing. I can see it clearly when they work, and it doesn’t matter whether it’s a supreme position or a part-time job. They do things with great care and a sense of importance. They would never even imagine breaking any rule – anywhere. Being serious in your job is expected.
What I’ve noticed is that they’re also very serious when it comes to their hobbies. In Japan, a hobby is something you do in your free time, which you should also be very good at. I’ve met so many unbelievably talented people in sports, music, and art – who told me they’re just doing it as a hobby.
The expectation in Japan is that: If you do something – you should be extremely serious about it.
I will again mention, Japanese people are very different from each other.
Still, these are a couple of similarities that applied to most cases. I could probably find more of these similarities, but I’ve got to leave some space for other questions too 😉
2. Is Japan expensive?
A short question with a long answer.
It’s long since it requires deep analysis of various factors: housing price, basic health insurance, groceries, basic living expenses (gas, electricity, phone, internet), education, as well as many other expenses to consider.
Even after carefully researching all of these factors, there’s one more aspect we must not forget: standard of living. People who live downtown a major city, own a car, eat in restaurants frequently, and register their children to private education institutions will probably spend more than those who live in the countryside, grow and make their own food, and whose children attend public schools.
Makes sense, right?
It is important for me to stress this point since many people tend to think Japan is very expensive. It is true to some extent: Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world to rent an apartment, but on the other hand, you can also find houses given away for free in the Japanese countryside.
This price gap exists also when we discuss food, education, restaurants, and other realms. That’s why I find it very hard to state whether Japan is expensive or not. It depends on where in Japan and what choices people make.
3. There are many earthquakes, active volcanos, typhoons, and even tsunamis – are you not afraid?
You might think that someone who grew up in Israel where terror attacks are so prevailing and missiles fell near her house should be immune, right?
But the truth is… I’m not.
There’s something paralyzing about natural disasters. I will never forget the first earthquake I experienced in Japan – I was so shocked that I really didn’t know what to do with myself! The same thing happened to me in Typhoon Jebi in 2018. Despite the fact we knew a huge typhoon was coming – it was still hard to keep calm.
Japan has a few earthquakes every day. Although most of them are weak enough to not even sense them, the concern that a big one will occur is always present.
I’m not the kind of person who lets fear control her life, but if I have to answer yes or no – the answer is yes, I am afraid.
Natural disasters and their intensity are always present in the back of my head when thinking about Japan.
4. Do you eat a lot of sushi?
Actually, I don’t 😊
And it’s not only because I am vegan!
I think I’m asked that question so often because sushi is one of the most well-known Japanese foods. But if you move here you’ll realize how abundant Japanese cuisine is! Sushi will then become just another Japanese dish.
When I first came here I really liked to sit at the conveyor belt sushi (Kaiten sushi) and eat all the vegan options. It’s fast, it’s everywhere, and it’s inexpensive. But after a few times, the novelty wears off.
Fish eaters can expand their sushi experience depending on their budget – some sushi restaurants can be very expensive. However, I’ve never tried it myself so I can’t give any recommendations.
5. How’s Jackie Chan?
No kidding – I’m asked this question every now and then.
So: Jackie Chan is originally from Hong Kong… which is not in Japan…
And if I had a dollar for every time someone mistakenly asked me a question about China (again – I live in Japan), I’d have enough money for a nice trip there!
6. Do you need to know the Japanese language when living in Japan? Is it difficult to learn?
That’s a great question.
Personally, I recommend learning some Japanese if you want to move here.
English is not well-spoken and most Japanese people will not be able to communicate with you if you don’t have a few basic words in your mouth. You can always ask for help from a local friend, but it’s much easier to be independent.
Indeed, in this technological world we live in, you’d probably be just fine without it. Translation apps and the like really help, but it’s still a lot easier when you can speak naturally.
Although Japanese is not an easy language (to say the least!), it’s not impossible to learn how to have a daily conversation. Reading and writing is a whole different story, but not mandatory if you only want to live here for a couple of years. Definitely – the more you learn the better, but I wouldn’t call it a necessary skill you cannot live here without.
7. Is it true that you are not allowed to eat on the street?
You can eat on the street, but it is true that you don’t see it often in Japan.
When it comes to ice-cream, food stall dishes, and snacks, people often do eat in the street, and some parks have areas for you to sit and eat an obento (lunch box). If you mean “walking and eating”, I guess it’s not as common to see… but it’s also not very convenient, is it?
To give an example of what Japanese people think about this “not eating on the street” rule, let me tell you a short story:
About a year ago I went to a meeting between Japanese and international students. The Japanese were very curious to know what surprised us when we came to Japan. One of the students said: “What surprised me is that you can’t eat on the street!”
There was a short silence. At the end of it, one of the Japanese women said: “Actually I eat on the street quite often. To tell the truth – I really like it.”
8. Is it true that the trains are always on time?
Let me break the myth here, too.
Japan is indeed a country where being precise is highly valued. You can see it in all realms of life, and also in public transportation – most trains are on time.
But there are always exceptions.
There might be faults or accidents that cause trains to be late. Although they always do try to be on time – I guess you can’t be precise all the time. I have experienced Japanese trains that were delayed, even by one hour!
One more important note to mention: Unfortunately Japan has a lot of suicides by jumping on the railroads. Clearly, in such cases, the train will be late. It’s a very sad fact, I know, but I think it should be acknowledged.
9. What surprised you the most when coming to Japan?
As I wrote in this post, the Japanese, especially the women, are quite strict when it comes to protecting their skin from the sun.
It seems like something small, but it actually affects many realms of life. The behavior patterns derived from that became a part of the Japanese culture.
For example, did you know that almost all balconies in Japanese houses are for laundry? I mean – only laundry.
Be my guest to try to find a balcony with a coffee table and places to sit around it. I won’t even mention sun loungers.
Balconies are used mainly for two things: to hang wet laundry and to take off dry laundry.
Another behavior that was new to me was bathing with your clothes on. When swimming in the ocean, rivers, or any other water source, most adults will go in wearing their clothes. Some have a long swimming suit (which I first thought was a diving suit – but it isn’t).
I won’t say all Japanese people do this, but a high percentage of them do.
10. What do you like most about Japan?
Everything is so clean and organized.
I’m not pretending to know what happens in private houses, but when looking at public places: the street, shops, official institutions, schools, etc. – everything is so well organized. I guess that cleanliness, then, only comes naturally.
Japan is the cleanest country I have ever visited. You might find rubbish on the street but it’s not nearly as it is in other places I’ve visited. The expectation for sanitary is very high – and everyone tries to keep up with it.
One of my friends who worked as a gardener told me that even when they went to eat lunch, they had to make sure that the road in front of the house they’re working on was completely tidy and that no dirt was left behind. Clearly, when they finished the work for the day they also had to make sure that not even a single leaf was forgotten, neither on the road nor in the garden itself.
Now tell the truth – does your gardener do that too?
11. What do you hate the most about Japan?
I don’t often use the word ‘hate’, and generally speaking, I try to refrain from it. I would switch “things I hate” to “things that challenge me”.
So first let me say – all my challenges in Japan have the basis of a fundamentally different cultural background. I cannot think of one that is not related to this issue.
In fact, many things challenge me when living in Japan. So many that I dedicated a post just to that. You can find it here.
12. Do you miss home?
Oh… that question!
Of course I miss home. Especially my family and friends.
But when you move to Japan, maybe more than any other country, an interesting process happens:
Moving here, obviously, does not make me Japanese. But when I go back home to visit, I don’t feel completely Israeli either (despite the fact that that’s exactly what I am!). It’s as if something in me has changed.
There’s something about living between these two worlds that makes you feel constantly torn. I don’t feel like I’m 100% me in either country.
Essentially what I feel is constant yearning: when I’m in Japan I miss home, and when I’m home I miss Japan.
However, I cannot complain. I chose this path with eyes wide open and I do not regret it.
This was so much fun!
I hope I answered most of your questions.
If you have any others – don’t be shy!
Write to me in the comments 😃
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