☆ i heart japan,  ☆ life

What I DON’T miss about living in Japan

This post is not going to be anywhere as nice as yesterday’s. Obviously, there are a lot of reasons to love Japan, but everyone has something they don’t like about whatever country they call (or called) home, and for me, Japan is no exception at all. I loved it, but I also hated it.

☹ WHAT I DON’T MISS ABOUT LIVING IN JAPAN 

☹ SMOKING. This is the biggest one for me. Japan is the prince of smoking (China is the King, ugh). I’m not saying that it’s not in anyone’s right to smoke. Just that it’s my right to go anywhere and not have to breathe in smoke. But most restaurants, all bars, and even office buildings allow smoking. Not to mention the annoyance of trying to enjoy hanami (picnics beneath the sakura trees) without smoke being blown in my face.  Sadface. I just want clean lungs.


I was THIS excited to see a non-smoking sign in Japan. They’re rare. And by the way, a guy was smoking right behind this. Argh.

☹ Packed trains. Trains are great. Trains are awesome, even, But trains packed so full that you can’t breathe? Trains where you actually get lifted off your feet but don’t fall down because you’re held up by the sheer pressure of people pushing against your body? I am over 6 feet tall and this has happened to me. At least my head is out above the crowd. 🙁 (I’ll also add in trains that smell like B.O. which happens a lot during the summer, and trains that are so humid that the windows steam up, or frigid cold in the summer).

☹ Rude old ladies that go through your trash. I guess that because this is illegal in some parts of the world, including the one that I lived in for 24 years before coming to Japan, I found it really invasive that random old ladies will go through your trash and even go so far as to put it on your doorstep if they think you haven’t separated your plastics properly. No. None of your business.

☹ Absolutely NO freaking insulation (in most houses in Tokyo). Tokyo gets really, really REALLY REALLY REALLY cold in the winter. Some of my Canadian friends said that it’s nothing (it rarely dips below -5 C), but for me, anything below around 20C/70F is too cold. I am a desert baby. Anyways. When it’s -5 outside, inside is also -5 or even colder, because there is no protection from the elements. Most houses/apartments are made of wood and made specifically to allow drafts to go through (for the summer). SO, COLD. The kotatsu is really popular in the winter. Basically, it’s a table with a blanket attached and heaters underneath. The kotatsu feels like heaven, but heaven forbid that you don’t want to sit under the table all day. And what about the top half of your body? Screw cold. Oh, and hey, in the summer all of the cool air from your A/C unit on the wall goes right out the cracks. Yay.

☹ The humidity. In the summer it nears 100% humidity, and the sun is very strong. This makes it feel like you’re swimming rather than walking, and literally breathing in water. It’s like being in a sauna. While I’ll take that over Tokyo winters anytime, it’s not comfy at all. It’s sticky and muggy and full of bugs.

☹ Gaman spirit. Many Japanese people see this as a good thing, and indeed many foreigners do, too. I don’t. Nope. Sorry. “Gaman” is  a “put up with hardship” kind of attitude. And, yeah, sometimes you do have to grin and bear it. Sometimes it’s the better choice to put up with a temporarily bad situation. I did it for months while I worked with Konomi-sensei, even though it was driving me crazy. And that’s the point right there. By not speaking up for myself, I was miserable. It doesn’t always work out. When I spoke up, as you’ve read, I was almost fired. So, I tried to gaman again, and it made me miserable again. My old coworkers still complain all of the time, while I? I don’t have to deal with it anymore. I believe in speaking up for yourself (most of the time).

☹ Treating GLBT issues/people like a joke. From the proliferation of yaoi manga, you might think that being gay is acceptable in Japan. Not really. I have not heard many people speak openly against it, but I have heard people whisper disapprovingly about yaoi manga. There is next to no serious discussion about gay rights in Japan. If you are a foreigner legally married to your same-sex spouse, then you can be granted a spousal visa, which is great! But gays cannot marry within Japan. Gay marriage isn’t even a talking point. You might have heard about the lesbian couple that got (fake) married at Tokyo Disneyland. That’s the most serious media coverage that this topic has had, probably ever. One of the brides said, “Mostly, we just want people to know that gay people exist for real.” That says it right there, doesn’t it?

☹ The staring. I get it. I stand out. But I can do without blatant staring. Many people don’t even try to hide it. There’s a really funny book cover that one guy made when he got sick of the stares, and you can read about it here: http://www.japanprobe.com/… It’s actually quite brilliant!

☹ Xenophobia. I met a lot of nice, wonderful people in Japan. But I also experienced a lot of “go back home, white girl!” Mostly from old men and punkish young boys. So, I don’t look like anyone else? Why does this mean that I can’t be Japanese? There are white people born in Japan, too. They must feel even more out of place.

☹ Nanpa. Blatantly hitting on girls, treating them like a piece of meat. It’s a problem all over the world, but oh man was it awful in Tokyo. I never felt particularly in danger like I might in the US, or I did this one time in London, but it was annoying and ubiquitous. It was almost a given that someone would call out to me, even if I was in no makeup and jeans. The culprits were usually “stylish” young boys, but one old man even went straight for my chest, palms up. I mean, come on.

☹ Legal discrimination while apartment hunting. You’ve heard me make a whole post about this one.

☹ SMOKING. Oh wait, I already mentioned this one. It deserves a second mention.

☹ The lack of health-food options. Sure, you can get cuisines from all over the world. But most supermarkets don’t carry a variety. You want packaged dried beans? Nope. You want almond milk? Okay, but only has that appeared in the last month or so. My favorite, nooch? I don’t know anyone who has seen that in Japan. I was never able to find it. A vegetarian friend who used to visit Tokyo used to get upset because she was told that ramen was vegetarian… although the broth was made out of fish/pork. It is getting better, but I feel like Tokyo is behind the times. I always wanted to eat healthy, but when white rice and fried food is the most popular cuisine….

☹ 出る釘は打たれる。Deru kugi wa utareru. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down. In other words, don’t you dare be different! F*** that. Stand out, you guys! Go for your dreams, and don’t let ANYONE tell you not to! Be yourself, and don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t. Of course you can.

☹ Squat toilets. (I miss the nice, seat-warming ones!) I don’t think anyone misses the squat toilets.

☹ Thin walls. There are apartments with thin walls in every city, but Tokyo has some of the thinnest walls I’ve ever encountered, and my first apartment as a teenager was a studio in public housing. I never once heard my neighbors there. I don’t like hearing my neighbor’s baby whining and crying all night long. Nobody wants to hear that. Or the neighbor’s TV. I also don’t want to smell the smoke wafting up somehow through the floor. This is my smoke-free apartment. Keep it in your own.

☹ Women’s rights. What rights? Girls are still taught that it’s best to aim for being a housewife and quit your job when you get married. While I don’t think that getting married or raising kids, or even taking time off for them is bad in any way, I think that it should be encouraged to aim for more. Aim for a career, a life of your own that doesn’t revolve around your husband and kids. Better yet, become a successful businesswoman in your own right before you get married. As a woman, to see women still expected to hold that traditional place at a man’s side just makes me sad.

There are other things, like lack of places to buy English books, but somehow I don’t really think that’s fair to complain about that. It is Japan after all, and there are a few bookstores that sell English books. Plus, there’s always Amazon.jp. So I’m just going to leave this one out.

I wanted photos for the rest, but I’m not sure what I should have chosen! Oooops. >.>;

What is is that you don’t miss (or don’t like) about living/visiting/looking at Japan?
It might sound like I was being harsh here. I was. I invite discussion about the bad points of any country just as much as I invite discussion of positive aspects. No place is perfect, and there is nothing wrong with being honest about what you don’t like.

(899 geeks have read this)

Hi! This is Jamie Lynn Lano! I am a Washington State (USA) native who: ☆ Holds a Bachelors of the Arts in Media Arts & Animation from AiPx. ☆ Worked as an assistant mangaka in Japan for Konomi Takeshi on The Prince of Tennis. ☆ Was an essay columnist for Asahi Weekly from 2008-2013. ☆ Was the star of Asahi Pop'n Press on Asahi TV (Japan) from 2009-2013 ☆ Was a write for Metropolis magazine in 2010. ☆ Has kept a blog foreeeeeeeeever! First and Current blogs.

17 Comments

  • Robin Fox

    I really agree with this post. The thing I don’t miss about Japan? The work attitude. You touched on it with the “gaman spirit” – but I think it can’t be stressed enough that this really is an entrenched social attitude. It’s so far-reaching that most Japanese companies have started to employ human resources (HR) departments in only the last decade or so. The way my superiors handled an HR conflict case basically led to the complete deterioration of my mental health and I quit my job.

    Mental health is also majorly stigmatized in Japan. It’s only super recently – and only in some smaller cities really – that you can seek help and not fear being labeled as a danger, or as weak. I was appalled to find out that if I wanted to raise my hand for a counseling subsidy, that there was zero confidentiality and my superiors would know that I was getting therapy. That alone is a huge problem. There are a *ton* of Japanese attitudes, like “gaman suru”, that really destroy mental health, but their only response is “This is Japan,” and they get on with life. Meanwhile, the suicide rate continues to climb and birthrates continue to plummet – and they wonder why!!

    And lastly, I really don’t miss that Japanese exceptionalism. “This is Japan” became my second-most hated phrase, next to 出るくぎは打たれる and “gaman”. It just seems like the entire country became excessively prideful from their successes in the 80’s and 90’s and completely forgot to continue innovating.

  • Mona

    I hate the smell of smoking a lot thank god my country doesn’t allow people to smoke in public palaces. I hope Japan can stop smoking in public areas.

  • Hei

    Hallo~
    I’ve been living in Tokyo for 3 years and what I really don’t like about Japan is how STIFF they are. I mean I know they’re trying to be formal and polite specially when you first meet but my classmates are still so damn COLD towards each other like they mind their own business and can’t even afford a good morning for the fear of being ignored? RELEH!?!? >__> I talk to everyone and try to be friendly and a lot of people appreciate it but I can’t believe the nerve of some others who see that as tactless. I’m just trying to be friendly and apparently that’s a big shocker and a nono to them. They were brought up to be quiet and submissive (and very vague). So I know I can’t complain about their culture but I just feel like there are a lot of Japanese who tend to come across as “emotionless”. Oh you wrote that down up there about the Gaman attitude. I really hate that too. I think you should speak out your opinions and be open to change. It’s not like you’re starting a war, you just want to make sure you guys can compromise and understand each other right? Oh wellz~ Somethings can’t be changed immediately eh.

    Oh also, I’m a Canadian but of Asian heritage so I’m also tired of the question “Why aren’t you caucasian?” -facepalm- lol. It’s also quite awkward sometimes that caucasian people are treated as “product” because of the stereotypes they have all over media. Kids these days, a lot of them still say, Chinese? Oh Jackie Chan! America? Oh Brad Pitt! Hmmm yeah…………(O_O) I’m sure they all are. -swt-

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      I totally understand what you mean! The cold thing is really interesting in that I’ve seen boys be much m ore touchy-feely with each other and more emotional, less macho than in the States. But on the other hand, you’re right in that people will do anything to “save face.” I don’t understand a person who is afraid to be friendly. :(And of course you can complain about a culture that you don’t like! It’s as if that is taboo or anything, but I don’t believe that at all. Sometimes all it takes is someone speaking out to help a culture change, and change can be good! 🙂

      And yeah. I am white with blue eyes, so I fit the stereotypical “American” look, unless you count my height. But what I’ve noticed is how when you ask about Japanese celebrities here, a lot of people will say that Jackie Chan is their favorite. *facepalms*

  • GnS

    Look’s like Japan isn’t as advanced as I thought, I know about their Xenophobia and how most of the guys still think Women should stay home and stuffs, but is it up to a very serious extend? Like, is it sort of engraved into their culture/personality and stuffs?

    Sometimes I feel Japan is so contradicting.
    Like, I heard about cases where students walk into shops and read M18 or M21 Manga freely, but then from what I know Japan is a very conservative country.
    Just like the yaoi thing, though it is quite popular in Japan, but not many really approve of it, or rather, they are still very sensitive about that topic.
    Yeah, they are very contradicting ._.

    P.S. Squat toilet, they’re still using it?! X.X

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      I’d say that things are changing, but there was a public official who said a few years ago that “women are just baby factories.” It was met with criticism, but there are a lot of people who still think like that. I never once heard a little girl tell me that she wanted to be a CEO or businesswoman. It was always “mother.” “pastry chef/clerk,” or “person on tv.” Never even got “astronaut.” 🙁

      Well, in Japan there are usually adult magazines and manga with very graphic covers right next to Shonen Jump. You can’t open them (they’re taped closed), but they are right there, in your face. It’s weird for sure. And people say that it’s conservative, but EVERYONE parades around in a tiny bikini at the beach and women wear strapless tube tops all of the time in Shibuya. Also, even for girls that look really innocent, a skirt so short that they have to hold it down when going up stairs is normal dress. It depends on where you go, I guess.

      Yep, squat toilets are still all over, especially train stations. And they’re ALWAYS wet all over the floor with I-don’t-know-what. x.x;;

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      I bet you won’t! 😀 I definitely don’t!

      Germany must be really bad, because I can’t imagine a place dealing with smoking worse than Japan, aside from China. In China, some ass started smoking ON THE BUS and there was nothing I could do about it! Then a cab driver lit up without even asking! I was like wtf!!! The hotel lobby reeked of smoke, but in Japan I’ve often had the same experience at hotels. Oh, and on a train in a non-smoking car, it was filled with smoke from down the hall, so that I could not sleep a wink. And then a guy in our compartment lit up, too! When I tried to stop him, he got really violent. That’s why I say that China is worse, but Japan is sure a close second. Smoking inside restaurants and offices is completely unheard of to me. This is the 21st century, after all. I don’t understand.

      • zoomingjapan

        I know they changed a few laws when I was about to leave, so I’m not 100% sure how much it has improved, but whenever I visit back home I always have to deal with smoking.
        I RARELY have to here in Japan.
        I remember having a part-time job in Germany as a university student where my co-workers were smoking in the office, right in front of me. IT WAS HELL! ;___;

        *sigh*

        • Jamie Lynn Lano

          I remember having to bow out of so many restaurant trips and izakaya trips with coworkers because there is always smoking. When I was alone, I only had to deal with neighbors and people smoking on the street thankfully (although when you’re within a block of a pachinko parlor, ewwww!). Oh, and karaoke, the rooms ALWAYS smell of stale smoke. It’s soooooo gross.

          Omg that’s terrible!!!! It’s getting better in Japan, but the number of people that I saw smoking in offices right around others without a care made me cringe. Thankfully I didn’t have to WORK in most of those offices.

  • Chrouya

    I currently reside in Kumamoto on the souther island Kyushu, what metropolitan people usually refer to as countryside (which is partially correct depending on which city you live in), and I also encountered a lot of stuff I didn’t particularly fancy.

    While I don’t really have any troubles with packed trains, the rest of your troubles are shared. I /totally/ agree with the insulation. From what I know, only houses in Hokkaido come with standard insulation. Apparently, insulation is major expensive and you’d have to change your house to become earthquake resistant as well. Guess Japanese take it too far as a risk because of natural disasters, as well as it’s unnecessary if Japanese people are those that have the “gaman” spirit anyway. Kotatsu all the way. Yeah, as if that ain’t expensive on your electricity bill.

    I bet my parents would love the fact that they could smoke whenever they want to, but I absolutely get disgusted whenever I sense the smell of smoke. That said, I think they countermeasures they took here are acceptable. You’re not allowed to smoke anywhere in public except for places that have these public ash trays. However, smoking inside clubs, or awkwardly placed smoking zones where the smoke still leaks into the main halls is a bit of a shame.

    Also, don’t even mention the squat toilets. I’ll never get used to those. Thank god they have washlets (the modern heated toilets) in most luxury buildings.

    I actually have no real problems with the xenophobia or anything, most likely because I’m an Asian looking guy (my mom comes from Indonesia). No stares, but store people always talking in fast Japanese so I don’t understand a thing they’re saying. So while I’m being accepted in their society in a sense, it’s basically just plain discrimination. But yeah, it’s not as if there’s something stopping them from doing so, so I guess you’ll just have to live with it. However, they’re not as harmful as opposed to how Europeans would discriminate, in general. But that’s my opinion.

    “Women’s rights. What rights? Girls are still taught that it’s best to aim for being a housewife and quit your job when you get married.”
    I’m not sure if you’re a 100% correct on this one. As a Japanese Studies Student, I’ve been researching the Japanese society as well, and while it is true that since the Meiji Restoration, women now have the choice of becoming a housewife (they actually worked on the land in the past!), it’s not entirely true that it’s best to aim for being a housewife. Surely, it’s their ideal to find a man who’s able to upkeep the house with his earnings while the woman takes care of the kids, the reality is harsh. In recent statistics, only 1/3rd of the Japanese men actually get to marry, and to face the reality, the girls are also trying to save up money their own way. So in the end, it’s gradually becoming a society where success in business is seen as the best thing in life, whereas marriage and such matters are dropping down in the list.
    However, it really conflicts with their traditions that the male would’ve been at the top of the ranking, so for example, women will still earn less for the same job a man would do (somewhat related to “don’t be different”). A point where culture and modernization (read=”Westernization”) are clashing… And it’s not getting any better soon.

    One thing that ticks me off in particular is the uchi/soto cultural aspect. Whenever I meet new Japanese people, it usually doesn’t continue past the generic basic information. And they really hold on to this wall. I don’t know what’s your opinion on it, but from my perspective, Japanese people have a really different opinion on whose their “friend” or not. I guess relationship levels can differ between cultures.

    But despite writing this commenting as if I’m really hating this country, I still love it.

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      I used to run my kotatsu AND my wall heater and a kerosene heater all at the same time. Just to keep the room at a chilly 70 degrees. Switch it off and it was freezing in minutes, if that. It was so insane!

      Wow, Kumamoto has much better smoking policies than Tokyo! There are only some streets where smoking is banned. Inside of restaurants most of them (aside from fast food) are all smoking, and even the ones that are “separated” have no separation at all. It’s literally “this seat is smoking. This seat right behind it isn’t.” As if that is ANY different from the restaurant being non-smoking. Ugh.

      Ah yeah, uchi/soto. THat whole us/them mentality can be particularly frustrating. I was lucky enough to work in a Japanese environment (the manga studio) where people didn’t consider me as a friend-for-show that I sometimes got when meeting regular people. Also, the “don’t like it, go home!” attitude (which is here in the US as well) has always ticked me off. As if I don’t have any rights to try to effect positive change in the country I’m living in. I have just as much right as a citizen and more right than a citizen who doesn’t even live there anymore. Oftentimes if I dared complain to anyone, it was met with that response. RAWR.

  • Sally

    Great to have a balanced insight to the Japanese life, I agree the smoking would drive me crazy and the thought of being sandwiched like that in a train simply doesn’t appeal, reminds me a little of London tube stations!!

    You mentioned LGBT rights in Japan, I was wondering if you were ever going to blog about your own experience and coming out (if I remember your tweets right?!) Will be an interesting story I reckon if you’re willing to share it 🙂

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      Well, there’s not a lot to tell. 🙂 I think most of my friends just found out when I mentioned it casually (never had one that cared that much, either). Well, okay, some Japanese friends did go “Ehhhh?” but after I explained it, seemed to be fine with it. Some people probably never knew, but it was because they didn’t ask. I never specifically hid liking girls, but I’m not one of those people that just has to announce it, so my “coming out” story is quite boring, I guess, haha.

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