A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post called 18 Things I Don’t Understand and Can’t Get Used to About Japanese Culture (read it here). The culture shock and homesickness was hitting me hard. I was at my lowest point since arriving in Japan, and I found it very therapeutic to write about everything I’m struggling with. And while the struggle continues (everyday), I’m happy to say that I’m feeling a lot better now. And there are plenty of things I really do like about living here. Japan, for all of its oddities, really knows what its doing in a lot of ways. And there are many things about the culture that I find charming, endearing, and fun. And I’m trying to focus on the positive. So, without further ado, here is my list of everything I like about living in Japan.
18 Things I Enjoy & Appreciate About Japanese Culture
- How kawaii everything is! If there’s one word you need to know in Japanese, it’s kawaii, or cute. Everything in Japan is cute. Like literally everything. Normal, everyday objects, from backpacks cell phone cases to umbrellas and even food are made cute. Why does this sponge have an adorable face on it? Why is this pastry shaped like a teddy bear? I don’t know, but I love it, and I want it!
- All the cartoon characters. Going right along with the kawaii culture is the character culture. Japan is the land of characters. Sure, in the US we’ve got Snoopy, but here all the characters are a much bigger deal (and Snoopy is pretty big here too). They are everywhere and they are on Like my school’s mascot is an adorable cartoon monkey. There are the characters everyone knows and loves, like Doraemon, Hello Kitty, and Anpanman, and there are many others that I’m continuing to learn about each day. My new favorite is Gudetama, a lazy egg who is having an existential crisis. He’s pretty much the best thing ever.
- The amazing public transit system. Japan’s public transportation network is huge, fast, reliable, and convenient. It’s pretty amazing. In Tokyo, trains run every few minutes, are usually exactly on time, and are very clean (albeit crowded). I can get to almost any corner of Japan by train, on some of the most advanced high-speed trains in the world. I love the fact that I don’t need a car to go to the mountains and ski resorts or to the beach, because everything is accessible by public transit.
- The seafood. Obviously, the seafood in Japan is fantastic, and I love it. It’s cheap, fresh, and delicious. From sashimi to takoyaki, all of the seafood that I’ve tried has been great. I love that I can go to a conveyer belt sushi restaurant for lunch, and spend less than $8 to get filled up on bomb ass-sushi.
- All of the temples, shrines, parks, and green space in the city. I love that even though I live in one of the largest cities in the world, it’s incredibly easy for me to go to a park or a shrine, and get my nature fix. There are thousands of little temples and shrines tucked into random places in the city, and it’s always a delight to happen upon them. I love the old/new and city/nature contrasts in Tokyo.
- The politeness. The stereotype is true – Japanese people are generally very polite and considerate. Everyone is so kind and helpful, even to me as a gaijin. Even with my limited Japanese, and even if they don’t speak English, people will go above and beyond to help me. When an American clerk would lazily point you in the right general direction, a Japanese clerk will walk you to the section in the store and help you pick you the best option.
- Karaoke! I love Japanese Karaoke, and much prefer it to the Americanized version, where just one person sings at a time, in front of a crowd. The Japanese way, you are in a private room with just your friends. You sing sitting down and two at a time, so there is less pressure, and we can all sing our hearts out together. Plus, most Karaoke places have awesome nomihoudai (all you can drink) deals.
- The aesthetics and attention to detail in the way things are packaged and presented. When you buy something at a store, they tape the plastic bag together for you, and turn the handles towards you so it is easy to pick up. Food is presented artfully, even when it’s just from a cheap ramen shop. Bentos (premade lunches) are perfectly prepared and arranged. If you go to a nicer restaurant, the food is downright beautiful, so much so that I (almost) feel bad eating it. It’s like ikebana, but for food.
- Japanese babies and children. They are just SO DAMN CUTE!!! I don’t know what it is, they are somehow just cuter than other babies. I find myself trying not to stare at Japanese kiddos like a weirdo. The elementary school children, in their uniforms with little hats, are pretty much the most precious thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Green tea everything. Matcha is huge in Japan, and I’m all about it. There are all kinds of fun things, such as oreos, pancakes, and pastries, which are matcha flavored. My new favorite thing is green tea ice cream.
- The general trustworthiness of people. In Japan, the honor system actually works. I can leave my bike unlocked everywhere I go, and it won’t be stolen. When I’m at a café, I can leave my laptop and phone sitting on the table when I go to the restroom, and they will still be there when I get back. If I ever lost my wallet, I know it would most likely be returned to me instead of stolen. And while I don’t particularly love that I need to carry around large amounts of cash, I know that I can safely, without fear of being robbed or pickpocketed.
- 100円 stores. So much better than their American dollar store counterparts, these awesome little stores have a fantastic selection of pretty much everything: household goods, toiletries, food, school and art supplies, cosmetics, decorations, clothing, electronics, toys, and other random kawaii things. I’m amazed at some of the stuff you can get for only 100円.
- The bike culture. A ton of people (including me now!) bike in Tokyo, and I think it’s fantastic. And it’s actually really feasible to get around only by bike. There are bike parking lots and even underground bike parking garages. I love the “mom bikes” with child-seats and baskets attached. It’s like the equivalent of a mini-van for a soccer mom, but on a bike, which is awesome.
- The healthcare system. Everyone in Japan is required to have health insurance, and most people are enrolled in the Japanese National Insurance System, which covers 70% of all medical costs. Healthcare costs are lower in general, because there are regulations keeping them affordable. I needed to go to the doctor a few weeks ago, and it was fast, easy, and incredibly cheap. I needed to get a CAT scan, and the cost of the entire visit, with the CAT scan, was less than $70 USD. (The average cost of a CAT scan in the United States is $1,200, for comparison).
- Konbinis, or convenience stores. These handy little shops are literally everywhere, open 24/7, and have pretty much anything you could need, including a wide selection of affordable, actually good pre-made meals. In the States I would never dream of eating sushi (or any food really) from a 7/11, but here, I do it all the time. It’s nice that, in a pinch, I can always grab a quick, cheap meal from a konbini, and it will actually be good.
- The incredible safety. I live in one of the biggest cities in the world, but I have never felt unsafe. I go out by myself, late at night, and I don’t need to worry. There are no areas of the city that I need to avoid. I go running after dark all the time, which I would never do in the States. Police here don’t carry guns, because they don’t need to. Being caught in a shooting is never something I need to worry about (when sadly that has become a genuine concern in the States).
- No open container laws. This makes summer firework festivals and picnics pretty nice.
- The ease of life and walkability in my neighborhood. In the United States, you pretty much need a car to do anything or get anywhere. Here, I have literally everything I need within walking distance. I have a grocery store 3 minutes away, a liquor store 2 minutes away, and an abundance of shops and restaurants less than 10 minutes away. My commute to school on my bike is only 7 minutes. I’m probably never going to have such a short commute again in my life, and I appreciate the hell out of it.