I was thinking about this the other day, and once next year rolls around I will basically have spent a quarter of my life in this country. You always hear about how clean and safe Japan is – and that is perhaps the biggest draw to living here – but there are also so many other little benefits that you may not have even realised.
Of course, many of these things may also be available to you in other countries, but because I have only actually lived in Northern Ireland and Japan, I can’t really say. All I know is that a culmination of all these things – along with the great food and reasonably predictable weather – makes Japan a great place to live. Below are just some random everyday things that popped into my head!
You can pay for most things with your train card. To travel in Japan, everyone uses a prepaid card that you simply charge up at the station and then swipe at the ticket gate. But the great thing about this card is that it almost acts like a debit card – accepted in convenience stores, supermarkets and restaurants to pay for things. So as long as you have some money loaded on your train card, you never really need cash.
You can book a cinema seat and then cancel it without paying if you decide not to go. Perfect if you don’t really know what you wanna do at the weekend, cinemas such as Wald9 in Shinjuku allow you to reserve a seat online for free up to three days in advance which you then pay for when you arrive. If you decide not to go, you won’t be charged and the seat simply becomes free again.
¥100 coffee from the konbini (convenience store). I know it’s not gourmet shit, but it’s properly ground coffee from a machine for under $1 or £0.70. I don’t know anywhere in the world you can get proper coffee that cheap.
National Holidays. There are usually one of these a month – and sometimes even two – meaning that a long weekend is never far away. I always start the year with big plans and intentions, intending to travel heavily during these breaks. When the time comes, however, you’ll usually find me chilling.
You will rarely (almost never) have a bad meal. All down to the Japanese work ethic, if something looks or tastes bad it simply won’t be served. Japan prides itself on service, and so you’ll never have to send anything back or complain. At least I haven’t ever had to anyway.
Community gyms. Each ward in the city has a public gym that costs about ¥300 ($3 or about £2 a time) meaning you don’t have to commit to full – and expensive – membership if you don’t want to. The locker rooms are always a bit more grubby, and they are busy at the weekends, but if you can manage to go at about 4pm like I do then it is convenient and cheap.
You can go to the doctor and get medicine within 20 minutes. This one will divide opinion. Coming from the UK, the NHS was something to be proud of. I grew up with free healthcare, and while I now have to pay for health insurance monthly, it also means I can be seen instantly by any clinic and get a prescription the same day. In Northern Ireland, if I needed to see a doctor about something, I often had to wait about three or four days minimum for an appointment.
No talking on the train. A huge one for me, this one. The trains over here, for the most part, are silent. Everyone works hard, so the last thing they want to do when they are travelling to and from work is listen to other people’s bullshit. Many visitors to Japan comment how weird it is, but I love it. I can’t stand it now when I am on public transport somewhere else and people are yakking away.
Seasonal food and limited edition items. Coming from Ireland we only ever had one season: rain. Now, each season is not only distinct in terms of weather, but also in terms of food. Cherry blossom season is nearly here, and so coffee shops will start selling pink themed items such as sakura cakes and coffees. My favourite watermelon ice lolly is only sold during the summer months, and likewise my favourite chocolate ice cream is only sold during the winter months. I am always pissed when things I like stop being sold, but it makes me look forward to them more when the time comes round again.
¥100yen shops. Everything in here is sold for $1 or £0.70. Bowls, plates, craft supplies, cleaning products, cosmetics, stuff for the house, travel items etc. If you ever need something, this is your first port of call. They are also great places to buy souvenirs that are cheap but don’t look it.
Hot drinks in the vending machines. On a cold winter morning I sometimes get a warm honey lemon drink to soothe my throat and also act as something to warm my hands! You can buy cans of warm coffee and even warm soup. During the summer months you can only buy cold drinks but one morning during the year, as if by magic, the blue buttons turn to red meaning the hot drinks are now available.
Trains are rarely late, and in Tokyo they come every five minutes. I obviously look at train routes a fair bit here, but I rarely check what time the train is coming as they are so often. Back in my hometown the train used to come every 30 minutes on weekdays and every HOUR at the weekend. Now, if I have to wait longer than ten minutes it is a major pain in the ass.
There’s a nerd culture for everything. I’m not into anime, nor do I live in Japan for any of that stuff. But I do appreciate that there is always a nerd culture devoted to nearly everything. I like ramen, and so there are websites devoted to to the best places, and magazines showing the newest shops. Japanese people seem to be obsessed with documenting new items and reviewing stuff, so there’s always info about the best coffee shops, highest rated sushi places etc.
Heat pads. Boy, oh boy, how did I go so many years without hokkairo: disposable, personal heating pads that you stick to your clothes to keep you warm in winter. Hokkairo are dirt cheap and provide up to eight hours of continuous heat. You can also get ones to stick in your shoes to keep your feet warm, and non-sticky ones to put in your pockets.
My bath runs itself at the press of a button and an electronic voice tells me when it has finished. Between this and a heated toilet seat, I am spoiled by robots in my own home. There is even an electronic sensor in my apartment that informs us when the air is too dry, suggesting that we humidify the place.
Every station feels different. Thousands of train stations (ie. neighbourhoods) in Tokyo, each with their own distinct personalities. Even the big and popular stations such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku, Ikebukuro etc all feel different. Once you have lived here for a long time, you can instantly visualise a map of Tokyo in your head, knowing where all these stations are and the train lines that connect them. Regular readers of this blog will know of my adoration of the little stations.
What about you?
Why do you love living in or visiting Japan?
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