Five things expats wish Japan had, and why it’s sometimes a good thing it doesn’t

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RocketNews 24:

For the most part, Japan is a pretty great country to live in. Among a host of other positives, it’s clean and safe, with good infrastructure and reliable transportation.

Still, some people move to Japan and find that even if they like the overall package, it doesn’t quite have all the comforts of home. Today, we’re taking a look at a list compiled by blogger and internationalist Madame Riri of five things expats wish Japan had, plus adding our own explanation of why it’s sometimes a good thing that it doesn’t.

1. More convenient ATMs

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Starting off with the most legitimate complaint, and one that featured on our own list of 10 things Japan gets horribly wrong a while back, Japan does lag pretty far behind many other countries as far as letting you get to your cash. As you can see in the above photo, ATMs are often located inside banks, meaning that once the building closes up for the day, there’s no way to get to the machines. And while 24-hour ATMs are slowly becoming more common, you’ll often be charged a service fee if you make a withdrawal outside of normal business hours, even if you’re using your own bank’s machines.

So how do Japanese people deal with this? They just carry a lot of cash. The laughably low crime rate means there’s very little chance of someone swiping the yen you’ve got in your pocket, and the ubiquity of cash payments means you can walk into any convenience store, whip out a 10,000-yen (US$84) bill to pay for a 100-yen bottle of tea, and no one will ever make a fuss about making change for it.

As an added bonus, using cash comes with a couple of psychological influences that can help you make more responsible spending choices. It makes the financial ramifications of a purchase feel much more immediate, and can act as a safeguard against the sort of irresponsible splurging that many feel illogically comfortable engaging in with a credit card. Likewise, not being able to draw money out of your bank account whenever and wherever the impulse strikes you can be helpful if you’re trying to stick to a budget, since you can’t spend any more than have on hand until the next time you’re able to get to one of Japan’s less-than-convenient ATMs.

2. Central heating and air conditioning

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Another major complaint from expats living in Japan is that homes aren’t designed with central heating and air conditioning. If you’re used to the convenience and uniform temperatures of such systems, it can be a shock when you’re relaxing comfortably in your toasty living room with the heater on full blast, then get up to grab a snack and discover that your kitchen is freezing cold.

Except, centralized heating is really only a plus when everyone in the home wants it the same temperature. Got a house with one side that gets a lot of sun, and the other that’s shady during the winter? Sorry, with centralized heating that pumps the same temperature air into both areas, one of them is always going to be too hot or too cold.

While Japanese homes do have the drawback of needing to install a separate compact unit for each room, the upside is that you can set each one to whatever temperature you want, independent the others. The smaller, non-connected units also mean you’re not wasting energy (and money) heating a room no one’s currently using, and many Japanese homes are designed so that rooms can be completely closed off from one another. Not only does that make them easier to defend in the case of a zombie outbreak, it also means you can heat a smaller room up pretty easily with a compact space heater, since the warm air isn’t seeping out into the rest of the house.

3. “Skinship”

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Japan isn’t a touchy-feely society, so it’s kind of strange that it has its own catch-all term for signs of physical affection, “skinship.” For foreigners dating a Japanese national, the skinship discrepancy isn’t much of a problem, as most international couples establish a mutually amicable middle ground during the early stages of their relationship.

Where the real complaint comes in is the almost complete lack of casual physical contact between platonic friends. Used to giving your pals a hug when you see them for the first time in months? Feel like that awesome home run the Hiroshima Carps’ cleanup batter just hit deserves a high-five with your buddies you’re watching the game with? Probably not going to happen in Japan.

On the other hand, this cuts both ways. So while you may feel a little lonely at not having the skinship from friends you’d welcome it from, it also means your creepy, perpetually sweaty coworker probably won’t be looking for a good-bye squeeze at the end of the company New Year’s party.

4. A bigger selection of large-size clothing and shoes

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Obviously, not everyone in Japan is the same height and weight. Walk into Uniqlo, Beams, or any other clothing store, and you’ll find the standard small, medium, and large options.

On average, though, these tend to be smaller than their equivalents in the west. And while there are retailers that specialize in extra-large fashion (which in the case of men is often given the regal-sounding title “king-size”), they’re not as numerous, nor their options as diverse, as similar outlets overseas. If your need for large sizes is the result of being, by Japanese standards, particularly tall or muscular, or in possession of a large skeletal frame, this can make shopping tough, especially when buying business wear, as the fitted look is generally the most popular in Japan.

On the other hand, if you’re having trouble fitting into Japanese clothing options not because of your height or bulging biceps, but because you could stand to lose a few pounds, having your clothing options otherwise become severely limited is a pretty good incentive for getting in shape. And if everything still feels snug, you can at least take solace that once summer comes, you’ll be able to spend at least some of your time in a light, loose-fitting summer kimono, provided you brush up on how to tie the sash.

5. Inexpensive pizza

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Finally, we come to the last item on the list. Pizza is actually pretty popular in Japan, and you’re unlikely to find anyone outside the elderly who actually dislikes it. That said, pizza, and Italian food in general, occupies a slightly different part of the culinary landscape in Japan than it does in, say, the U.S.

While Italian food isn’t considered full-on ethnic cuisine in Japan, there’s a certain Continental cachet Italian restaurants enjoy here. This can in turn translate to higher prices, albeit with the payoff of high-quality pizza, often prepared by chefs who trained in Italy before coming back to Japan and opening their own restaurants.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have delivery outfits like Domino’s and Pizza-La. While neither tastes bad for delivery food, here the price can be a deal-breaker, with large pizzas often costing over 3,000 yen (US$25) a pie. So why are Japanese customers willing to pay so much? Well, pizza, especially in the home, is considered sort of a special occasion food. It’s much more likely that a Japanese family is calling up Domino’s because it’s someone’s birthday or some other celebration is going on than because no one wants to cook, which makes them that much more willing to splurge.

But while Japan may often assume that high price must equal high quality, the stigma that low price is the sign of a poor product is rapidly eroding. In recent years, a number of budget-priced casual pizzerias have opened up, such as Sempre Pizza and Napoli’s. Both have a wide variety of perfectly tasty individual-sized pizzas costing less than 1,000 yen, with Sempre’s starting at an amazingly low 380 yen.

Still, it’s true that finding reasonably priced pizza can require a bit of searching in Japan. Of course, while you’re searching, you’re also going to be surrounded by the biggest selection of authentic, inexpensive, and delicious Japanese food on the planet, and the fact that your go-to comfort food is looking a little pricy can just the push that gets you out of your dining rut and lets you discover a new favorite dish.

So to recap, would we sometimes prefer if these five things were more common in Japan? Sure, but with a willingness to adapt and look at things from a new perspective, sometimes you’re better off without them. Besides, if your primary goal was to get some cheap pizza and you ended up in Japan, we’re pretty sure you got on the wrong plane at the airport.

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