#3 Things I Don’t Miss and Things I Surprisingly Miss about Japan

Welcome to my second post about Japan! ‘Things I don’t miss about Japan’ in other words could be expressed as ‘Things I disliked about Japan’ so please be forewarned about the whininess of the first part.

★★★

Things I Don’t Miss about Japan

1. Travel times between Point A ⇔ Point B

Yes, this may seem a little contradictory to my previous post about loving the ease of moving about in Tokyo. However, you have to know that Tokyo is a massive urban sprawl with an intense center, which means that a large population of people living in Greater Tokyo travel from their homes in the suburban areas to the centers like Shinjuku, Shibuya, Tokyo station areas for work during the day and leave home after office hours. For example, when I was working, my door-to-door traveling time to my office smack in the middle of Shinjuku is exactly 1 hour. Even when I was in university, it takes about 50 minutes from the moment I lock my door until I step into my classroom.

Some people consider this a decent commuting time. In fact, I think a 1 hour commuting time is very close to the average commuting time of most people in Tokyo. I have friends who travel from outside of Tokyo, some even on the Shinkansen (yes, the bullet train) every single day to school / work. My colleague used to joke that his commuting time of 4 hours daily (round trip) is equivalent to watching 2 movies daily.

Another bad effect is the extended time needed to travel to a friend’s house or other places of interests. As I said before, traveling one hour to school is average. So let’s say my closest friend also lives one hour from school. But more often than not it is on the opposite side of the city, so 1 + 1 = 2 frigging hours of train time just to go visit a friend. When I was in Tokyo, most of my friends lived 1 ~ 1.5 hours away, and my boyfriend also lived about an hour away. If we go to a dinner party, some people have to leave at about 9:30pm just to get home at a decent hour.

2. The Plastic

In Japan, disposable plastic is used everywhere. When you buy a pack of Pocky from the convenience store, of course you need a plastic bag just for its handles to carry 100g of chocolate biscuit. When you buy croissants from the bakery, of course you need the staff to wrap it in individual plastic bags, and then put them together into another shopping bag. When you eat your bento, of course you need that piece of plastic grass to ironically remind you of ‘nature’. Even a family-sized bag of cookies come individually wrapped. I know Japan separates its trash and the recycling technology is top-notch, but it’s time to rethink the ubiquity of plastic in the country.

3. The Prices of Fruits and Vegetables

As I recall, these were the prices of fruits and vege from the Santoku supermarket near my home:

Bananas: 5 (average sized) for ¥198 or approx. RM7

Apples: 5 (Fuji, big sized) for ¥498 or approx RM17.50

Pineapple: 1 (average sized) for ¥298 or approx. RM10.50

Grapes: 1 small bunch for ¥398 or approx. RM14.00

2 bunches of bok-choy: ¥128 or approx. RM4.50

1 avocado: ¥158 or approx. RM5.20

1 cabbage: ¥150 or approx. RM5.20

1 pack of beansprouts: ¥28 or approx. RM1.20

Actually, I think because of the GST, the prices of fruits and vegetables have also gotten more expensive in Malaysia since the last time I came back. You can probably get cheaper fruits and vegetables at the morning market but my last shopping trip to the fruit store cost:

Grapes: 1 big bag (probably double the size of what you typically get in Japan): RM 26 or approx. ¥750

Apples: 10 small ones for RM10 or ¥285 yen

Bananas: Big bunch of mini bananas for RM6.40 or approx. 182 yen

Oh, and there are no wet markets in Tokyo. Everyone buys everything from the supermarket, where sometimes each broccoli, or even each banana is wrapped in pristine plastic.

4. The Prices of Transportation

This correlates to the massive size of Tokyo as described in No.1 but domestic travel in Japan is really expensive. Just within Greater Tokyo, for me to go to the furthest possible cool part of town like Yokohama, it would cost me about ¥1600 or approx. RM56. A round trip from Tokyo to Osaka on the bullet train is ¥27,240 or a little over RM900. Sometimes it’s cheaper to purchase a flight ticket to Korea from Tokyo than to go to Osaka. You do have alternatives like taking the night bus which costs as cheap as ¥6000 or RM210 both ways if booked early.

5. Smartphone Zombies

Globally and in Japan, the number of smartphone zombies are increasing. On a regular day in the train, if you took a brief break and looked up from your own smartphone, you will see that about 70~80% of the people in the car have their eyes glued to their devices too. So much so that a railway company and a phone company in Japan have collaborated to curb this problem with a funny and embarrassing interactive PSA campaign (link leads to a Japanese Youtube video). They would observe the platform to see which people were using their smartphones while walking and use the PA system to issue warnings by describing their outfits, eg ‘Girl in the pink jacket and beige skirt, walking while using a smartphone is very dangerous. Thank you.’

You can also check out a funny and brilliant simulation of what would happen if 1,500 pedestrians used their smartphones while passing the Shibuya crossing here.

6. The Crowd

At stations and trains: At rush hour, some trains run on on 200% capacity, meaning about 300 people can fit into a train car at one time. I was one of these sardines in a can back in uni when I would finish class at 7.15pm, the rush hour time of the train going towards Saitama on the Seibu Shinjuku line. At times, I didn’t even need to stand on my own, I could just lean on someone else beside me to support body weight. But of course I hated doing that, so I would twist and turn my body and limbs just to minimise skin contact with anyone and I always end up with a muscle ache in a weird part of my body after the 20 minute train ride.

Everywhere else: There is literally no solitary place outside of homes in Tokyo. There is always someone around, even in the alleys, at some random ‘deserted’ park (or so you thought), etc.

IMG_8648

My graduation. March 2014. ^.^;;

DSCF3208

Fuji Rock 2015. People mountain people sea.
But everyone is more chill here.

Things I Surprisingly Miss about Japan

1. Dressing up for no reason at all

Something that I couldn’t fathom when I first went to Japan was how my female Japanese friends could be dressed up and have perfect, on point make up every day. I use to think that they it must take a lot of time to look like that and I could never do what they did. In Malaysia, you can wear a big tshirt, shorts and flip-flops to literally anywhere! But in Japan, looking presentable is expected, and not putting on any make up is even considered rude. I even had a few friends who would don a mask (those used when you have a cold) when they woke up late and didn’t have time to put on makeup, or when they had a pimple near the mouth area. I remember thinking it was ingenious and so stressful at the same time. All the pressures just to look good in public! According to a survey, almost 70% of girls are unconfident with their すっぴん (pronounced ‘suppin’, meaning a person’s all natural, un-made up face)

It’s not just women who are expected to look nice all the time. The men generally also care a lot about their appearances. Eyebrow plucking and shaping for men is common and the girls actually like it. I once overheard a male student who said he could not take off his sweater even though it was right in the middle of summer and the heat was sweltering because if he took it off, he would ‘just be wearing a tshirt’.

On the other hand, what about in Malaysia? I have to say, Malaysians, especially the young people are getting more fashionable than ever nowadays, but a lot of us still like to dress cincai (Manglish for doing something without putting much thought into it, use ‘cincai bocai’ for even more effect). It’s totally acceptable to wear an oversized pyjama tshirt outside of the house as long as you’re not going anywhere fancy. I love that about Malaysia, but sometimes I wish I didn’t have to feel self conscious when I actually do dress up.

2. The ease of living as a Yellow Gaijin who speaks Japanese and English

I guess this has been replaced by the ease of living in Malaysia as a local who speaks the three main languages. Although sometimes I get weird looks now because of my apparently more proper English. Aiyo, go overseas must change my English a bit ma, if not the ang-mos how to understand me?? Wait for a while la I change back soon.

But really, I’ll be honest and tell you, life is easy as a yellow gaijin (Asian foreigner) with a good command of English living in Japan. One, because you can blend in with the locals inconspicuously. I’ve heard of some subtle or even outright racist behaviour against people who are foreigners or just look like foreigners. Two, Japanese people are just ridiculously impressed with people who can speak English. Every time I say something in English to my Japanese friends, they would exclaim ‘Sugoi! or ‘Kakkoii’ (Wow! or So cool!), followed with a ‘I wish I could speak English fluently’ with what would appear to be embarrassed expression but I never think they mean it. Lastly, you can easily earn some pocket money on the side literally just by chit-chatting with the locals at casual ‘English conversation lessons’. And trust me, the pay could be pretty lucrative.

3. Living alone

This is probably something that people who have lived overseas for a period of time will understand. It’s like reverse homesickness. I live with my family here so I have some family responsibilities, errands to run, less personal space for my own mess, etc. I also must listen to mum’s nagging and family members bickering, sometimes participating as well, of course.  Living alone was easy. I could do whatever I liked or go wherever I wanted to at my own pace.

But I shudder when I recall the sporadic lonely days binging on cookies in my Tokyo apartment. Maybe I don’t actually miss this thing after all lol. Just sometimes.

IMG_0332

Family visiting laughing at my first humble abode, Excel Toritsukasei #104. February 2013.

IMG_2268

Best friends (and +1 hehe) playing a very serious round of Monopoly Deal at the same #104. July 2013.

IMG_4878

This was my humble abode when I started working, Leonext Shakujiidai #204. Some other fun things happened here.

★★★

 

Advertisements

#2 No Reading at the Casino

I’m in Singapore for four days with my mum and 2 sisters over a long Christmas weekend but my trip so far hasn’t been all happy and Christmassy with twinkly lights and countdowns like you would imagine. Why? Because mum wants to go to the casino all day err-day!! And she doesn’t feel comfortable being alone there so we end up having to mumsit her.

So much of the past two days have been spent killing time while my mum inserts bills after bills into the electronic roulette machine.

Yesterday evening we walked around the harbor front area because my mum was at the casino near Sentosa Island, which was incidentally where the Peace Boat docked on 8/31, not even four months ago!

image

Look, there’s even a Star Cruise Gemini ship docked there, pretending to be Peace Boat.

Today we are at the casino at the Marina Bay Sands hotel. I am literally typing and uploading this from the casino wifi.

I wanted to read my book at a corner near my mum and my sister told me not to do that because mum would flip out. I’m like why? Because 書 (‘book’ in Chinese) has the same pronunciation ‘shu’ as 輸 (‘to lose’ in Chinese) so it isn’t auspicious. I laughed so hard but then I realised she was serious. If I were to read a book there inside the casino, I think not just my mum, other aunties and uncles will most probably chase me away.

image

At least the surrounding areas of these casinos are nice and walkable. Too bad the Gardens by the Bay was so crowded though. Hopefully Monday!

image

#1: 日本の恋しいことと、意外と恋しくないこと

先週の火曜日(12月15日)に、ついに東京からクアラルンプールに帰りました。丁度一週間が経ちましたので、そろそろブログを始めようかなと思います。5年半の日本での暮らしや国内、海外旅行の経験を振り返って、感じたことや印象に残ったことを共有したいので、ブログを書いています。皆さん、最初の投稿にようこそ!

★★★

日本の恋しいこと:

  1. 交通の利便性

運転免許を持っていない人(例えば、私)にとって、クアラルンプール街中の移動は本当に大変です。日本に帰ってきてから、兄弟や友達やお母さんに運転してもらっています。新しくて、最近人気を集めているとても便利な「uber」というシステムがあると聞いていますし、そして公共バスや路面電車やモノレールがあると知っていますが、日本と比べては遥かに不便だと感じます。

日本でどこかに出かけたい時の流れ:
①行き先をググる→②最寄駅を確認する→③家の最寄駅へ行く→④出発する

クアラルンプールでどこかに出かけたい時の流れ:
①行き先をググる→②家族や友人に運転してもらえるかどうか聞いてみる※

※家族や友人が都合が悪くて運転してもらえなければ、予定を再調整する。

IMG_8730

電車の窓から見た桜。2014年3月。

  1. 治安の良さ

近年、クアラルンプールの治安がだんだん悪くなってきています。1年前はなぜか特に深刻で、当時は知り合いか、知り合いの知り合いのだれかが必ず盗難の被害者になったことがあります。ところが平和な日本ではどうでしょう。私が日本に5年間住んでいましたが、スマホを何回か公共場所で忘れたことがありますが、毎回24時間以内に戻ってきます。しかし、1点だけ気になったことがあります。それは、日本では、盗難や軽犯罪などよりも、計画性のある殺人事件などがよく起こるではないかということです。例えば、酒鬼薔薇聖斗の事件や、東京駅のコインロッカーで遺体が見つかった事件のような怖い事件が上げられます。

日本で女性としてランニングする際:
夜0時スポーツブラを着て走っても全然問題ありません。

クアラルンプールで女性としてランニングする際(やや誇張):
本当におすすめしません。どうしてもしたい場合は、朝や夕方でのまだ明るい時にすること。そして、ボディラインが見えない緩い服や髪の毛を全部結んだり極力魅力を押さえた方が良いです。最後に、アクセサリーとして棒か怖いわんちゃんを連れてください。

IMG_2306

昔、鷺宮でランニングした時によく見かけるライオン。

  1. プライバシーの自分の時間

これは多分私個人的な意見だけかもしれませんが、日本では、自分の時間、それからボーとする時間が多かったです。やはりクアラルンプールでまだ実家ですし、兄弟も多いので、家事や家族のことで頭がいっぱいになります。ちなみに、クアラルンプールでは、一人で外食することは増えてはいますが、まだ珍しいではないかと思います。一人で外食することは「変わっている」、「かわいそう」というイメージがまだあります。一方、日本では一人で食べるのはごく普通なことで、レストランも一人用のテーブルが一般的です。

また、日本では他人のプライバシーを尊敬することが基本的なマナーというか、あまり個人的なことを細かく聞く文化がありません。誰か(上司ではない場合に限って)に誘われる時に、「ちょっと。。。」と答えたら放っておかれます。

 

日本では(理想なシナリオ):

ジョン:シェンティン、新しいスターウォーズの映画見に行かない?

私:ちょっと。。。

ジョン:あ、良いよ。次回行きましょうね!

 

マレーシアでは:

ジョン:シェンティン、新しいスターウォーズの映画見に行きません?

私:ちょっと。。。

ジョン:どうした?今日もしかしてデーと?

私:いや、でも

ジョン:じゃ、行こうよ!

私:今日は忙しいかも。。。

ジョン:他の予定あるの?何あるの?

私:ただ家で休もうかなと思って

ジョン:家で休む?つまらないな。そもそも何で疲れたの?昨日どこか行った?

私:うん、ジム行ってきた。

ジョン:シェンティンジム通っているんだ!ダイエット?筋トレ?

私:そうね、健康維持のためね。

ジョン:へえ、でもさスターウォーズ本当に行かない?人数あ多いほど楽しいじゃん!

私:いいや、行かないかな。スターウォーズ実はあまり好きではないんだ。

ジョン:ええ?!そうなの?!何で?!

私:前編見たことないし。。。

ジョン:マジ?!じゃ、なおさら行かないと!

 

  1. 温泉

温泉は本当に最高です。友人や知らない人と裸で暑いお湯に浸かるのが比類のないことです。大好きです。特に仕事や旅行で疲れきったときに。夏か冬か、季節は関係なし!

もちろん、私も初めて温泉に行くのはハードルがありました。マレーシア人は、人の前で裸になるのはあり得ないことだからです。私が初めて温泉に行ったのは、サークルの合宿でした。泊まっていた施設(ホステルだったかな?)にお風呂かシャワーがなかったので、試合後、近くの銭湯以外は他の体を洗うことができる場所がありませんでした。その時は超恥ずかしくて、サークルの仲間から一番離れたところでさっさとシャワーを済みました。しかし、その後何回か他の銭湯や温泉に行って、はまりました。今は一番好きなことの一つです。

 

  1. 街の歩きやすさ

クアラルンプールは車社会です。熱帯気候の発展途上国は皆そうでしょう。それに比べて、日本での街は歩行者のことを配慮して設計されます。下記はクアラルンプールは歩きにくい理由のいくつです:

・日中は蒸し暑い(東京の夏よりはましけれども)

・歩道が整備されていない

・盗難やセクハラに遭う危険性

・車の排気ガスがきつい

・歩くよりも運転する文化

しかし、東京や他の都会ではどこでも歩きやすいです!歩行者が優先されますし、一日簡単に1万歩が歩けます。健康的かつ渋滞のストレスもありません。ただし、ラッシューの時間はちょっと怖いです。朝は、スーツをしているサラリーマンが皆戦争に行進しているように感じます。それに、夕方になると酔っぱらいや汗臭い人が多いです。

IMG_6045

渋谷スクランブル交差点。2014年10月。

  1. たくさんの友達と繋がり

当然、日本に住んでいる友達と、これから簡単に会えないと考えるととても寂しくなります(涙)。大学の友達、寮の友達、インターン先の友達、仕事お友達、ホームステイファミリー、そしてピースボートの友達。彼らは直接に、または間接的に私に色々教えて、それによって私は世界に対する視野や価値観が変わり、今の私まで至りました。

 

日本の生活について意外と恋しくないこと:

  1. 日本の気候や天気

日本というと、桜を連想するでしょう。豆知識:桜は日本の2つの国花の1つです。もう1つは日本のパスポートの表紙に描いている菊だと聞いています。5年間日本の四季を経験しましたが、もちろん奇麗ですが、ピースボートでたくさんの国を回った結論は、やはりマレーシアのような熱帯気候が一番暮らしやすいと思います。日中は確かに暑いですが、朝と夕方以降は涼しくて快適です。また、露天式のレストランでの食事も一年中楽しめます。暑くておしゃれできないと言われるけれども、オフィスやデパートなどは空調が強く効いていますので、理由になりません。最後に、一年中ビーチに行けますよ!

IMG_9134

雨の日にお母さんとお花見!長崎の平和公園、2014年3月。

2.日本の食べ物

お寿司、ラーメン、すきやき、牛丼など、すべて大好きですが、またピースボートに乗って学んだことは、一番おいしい食べ物は、それぞれ国の地元のローカル料理です。ピースボートで寄港地を次々と回りますが、もちろん毎回その国の名物を食べてみるようにします。そして、どこが一番おいしい!というのはなかなか決められませんでした。というか、言う必要もありませんでした。ある寄港地で料理を食べて楽しくなって、もう戻らないのでこれからなかなか食べる機会はないでしょうと悲しむのではなくて、次の寄港地の料理が食べられることでわくわくします。また、東南アジアで穫りやすい果物、例えばマンゴー、パパヤなどは日本では高くて貴重とされるので、この果物に改めて魅力を感じ直した気もします。

ですので、今の私にとって、一番おいしい食べ物はローカルマレーシア料理です。マレーシアで収穫された作物で作られたら更によし。それから、今後の投稿で家の野菜ガーデンを紹介したいと思います。

IMG_9977

帰国する前日の最後のランチをやすべえのつけ麺にしました!2015年12月。

  1. 日本の顧客サービス

日本はどこのお店に行ってもサービスが抜群と世界的に有名です。すべての従業員は礼儀正しくて、笑顔もすてきです。お辞儀、レジでは商品を読み上げたり、おつりはいくらになるかすべて教えてくれます。数分ごとに「いらっしゃいませ!」「ありがとうございます!」「ぜひ手にとってごらんくださいませ!」と叫ばれます。私自身も、夏休みなどで一時的にマレーシアに帰国した時に逆カルチャーショックを受けたことがはっきり覚えています。空港でドーナツを頼んだら、スタッフに無愛想な態度にされたら一瞬イラっとしました。イラっとした自分に可笑しく思いました。なぜならば、20年間このようなサービスを受けてきましたので今更イライラするか?と思ったからです。1、2年間日本で暮らしてトップレベルのサービスに慣れたので、当たり前だと思うようになってしまいました。言いたいのは、それに慣れてしまうと、わがままになってしまう恐れがあるし、スタッフも感情がある人間であることさえ忘れる可能性があります。今は、クアラルンプールで良いサービスをしてくれたスタッフに感謝し、元気よき「ありがとう!」と言うようにしています。

★★★

以上、日本の恋しいこと、そして意外と恋しくないことをまとめてみました。日本の方、または日本に行ったことがある方、意見やコメントをぜひ共有してください!次のトピックは「日本の恋しくないことと意外と恋しいこと」をまとめていきたいと思いますので、お楽しみに!

 

#1: Things I Miss and Things I Surprisingly Don’t Miss About Japan

I came back to Kuala Lumpur from Tokyo last Tuesday on December 15th 2015. It’s been exactly a week now so I thought it’s about time I started my blog so I can reflect and share the experiences I’ve had in Japan and also those I had while traveling within and outside of Japan for the last five and a half years. Welcome to my pilot post!

★★★

Things I miss about life in Japan:

 

  1. Easy Access to Places

For a person who doesn’t own a valid driving license, it is really, really difficult to get around town. Since I’ve been back I’ve been relying on my siblings, friends, and mum to drive me around in their personal cars. I know there is this new and popular service called uber (https://www.uber.com) which I have yet to try and also obviously there are other public transports like buses and LRTs/monorails which I can use here in Kuala Lumpur, but they are far from being as reliable as those in Japan.

Getting around in Japan:
①Google destination name → ②take down the name of the closest train or bus station and information on which trains to get on to get there  → ③head to the nearest train or bus station near you (usually within 10-15 minutes from home) → start journey as planned in Step ②

Getting around in Kuala Lumpur for a person without a driving license:
①Google destination name → ②make appointment with family or friend to drive you there*

*If no family or friend is free, reschedule engagement

 

IMG_8730

Picture taken from inside a train in Japan by one of two artistic sisters. March 2014.

  1. The Safety

The crime rate has been increasing for the past few years in Kuala Lumpur. I think it was especially scary about a year ago for some reason and everyone would at least have one friend or one friend of a friend who was a victim of robbery or housebreaking. Whereas in the land of peaceful Japan, in the past five years, every single time I misplaced my iPhone I got it back within 24 hours. However, one thing I did notice is that bizarre crimes of passion occur more in Japan, eg. one family member kills the other and buries him in cement or other disturbing cases like that.

Jogging outside as a girl in Japan:
At 12:00 am in a sports bra = OK.

Jogging outside as a girl in Kuala Lumpur:
Strongly discouraged. If you absolutely have to do it, it has to be either in the morning or evening, preferably with loose clothing and bad hair to minimize your attractiveness, whilst carrying a stick or with a big German Shepherd.

IMG_2306

A lion painted on the road says ‘STOP’ at a junction in suburban Tokyo. I used to jog here a lot. Picture taken pobably sometime in 2011 / 2012.

  1. The Privacy and Time for Myself

Maybe I speak for myself on this one, but in Japan, I found I had lots of time just for myself and my thoughts either when commuting or in my room doing nothing. But back home in KL, as I still live with my family with so many siblings, most of my time is spent thinking about or doing household chores or interacting with someone else in the room that I hardly have had time for myself. Also, in KL, although on the increase, eating out at a restaurant alone is perceived as weird and perhaps even sad but in Japan it is so common to do that that they have tables and individual booths for people who choose to dine alone.

In addition, one thing I’ve noticed that is unique to Japanese culture is the respect of others’ privacy. There’s this very convenient word in Japanese you can use to answer someone when you get invited to something you have no interest in going, Just say ‘chotto…’ with a troubled face and you would be left alone (in most cases).

In Japan (ideally):
John: Hey Sheng, wanna go see the new Star Wars film?

Sheng: Chotto…

John: Oh ok, maybe next time then! Bye!

In Malaysia:
John: Hey Sheng, wanna go see the new Star Wars film?

Sheng: Chotto….

John: Huh, why you speaking Japanese?

HAHA, I kid.

In Malaysia, take #2:
John: Hey Sheng, wanna go see the new Star Wars film?

Sheng: Umm…

John: What? Got date ah?? (translation: Do you have a date?)

Sheng: No, but…

John: Then?? Let’s go lah!

Sheng: Ha, I don’t think I can. Think I’m busy tonight.

John: Ohh.. got other plans is it. What you doing tonight? (translation: Oh, you have other plans? What are you planning to do tonight?)

Sheng: Nola, I think I just want to rest at home.

John: Rest at home? So boring. Why you so tired until you need to rest at home? What did you do last night?

Sheng: Nothing, just went gym only. (translation: Nothing, I just went to the gym.)

John: Wah, so cool go gym. You dieting or trying to bulk up? (translation: Wow, it’s so cool that you go to the gym. Are you trying to lose weight or trying to bulk up?)

Sheng: Nola, just trying to stay healthy.

John: Ohhh, ey but seriously la, let’s go watch Star Wars. The more, the merrier!

Sheng: Don’t want la! To be honest, I just don’t like Star Wars, OK?

John: What! How can? (translation: how is that possible?)

Sheng: I never watch before la OK.

John: Haa??? Oh my God then all the more you must come!! 

 

  1. The Onsens (Hot Springs)

I don’t know if any other experience can compare with soaking in hot water completely naked with friends and strangers. I love it. Especially after a long, tiring week of traveling or working. Summer or winter, it doesn’t matter!

Of course, at first I hesitated to go to the onsen too. I mean, for a Malaysian, it’s unthinkable to be nude in front of people and I really did not feel comfortable doing that during my first few years in Japan. I still remember my memorable first experience at an onsen, I was traveling out of Tokyo with my friends from the ultimate frisbee team in my second year in uni and the little lodging facility we stayed at didn’t have a shower / bathroom. It was only after our frisbee match (naturally, we were all sweaty and in need of a shower) that I found out we were going to a sentou which means a public bathhouse in Japanese and I had no other choice to get clean so there was no way out. It was uncomfortable and I chose a shower booth really far away from all of my friends and didn’t even soak in the hot bath. But after several visits, I was hooked! Now, it is one of my favorite things in Japan.

 

  1. The Walkability

Kuala Lumpur, as are many other cities in developing countries with hot and humid weather, is a very car-centric city, whereas in Japan, the urban environments are designed with pedestrians in mind. I can think of a few reasons why it’s not fun walking in Kuala Lumpur:

  • it’s hot during the day
  • unsafe in terms of paths that are unpaved or only paved partially with cheapskate concrete
  • unsafe in terms of snatch theft and catcalls
  • too much exhaust fumes from the cars
  • ‘why should i walk? driving is much easier’ mentality.
  • not many places to actually walk to, eg, my next destination is always a car’s ride away

On the other hand, in Tokyo and other big cities in Japan, one can walk anywhere! The pedestrians are king and I can easily walk more than 10,000 steps in a day. It’s healthier and much less stressful than being stuck in a traffic jam or road rage. However, there’s a caveat, rush hour at train stations in the mornings in Tokyo feels like soldiers in suits or black office clothes marching to war, and rush hour at train stations in the evenings is smelly and sometimes full of tired, grumpy and/or drunk people.

IMG_6045

The famous Shibuya scramble crossing, where 3,000 people cross it at every green light making the total pedestrians crossing daily to be 500,000 people. Picture taken by Evana on my phone in October 2014.

  1. The Friends and Connections!!

Last but not least, I know this is an obvious one, but I miss all the friends I made in Japan so dearly. Friends from university, friends from the dorm, friends from my internships, friends from my job, both homestay families, and finally, friends from Peace Boat! These are the people who have directly or indirectly taught me so many things to widen my perspectives about myself and the world. It is also thanks to them that I had such a valuable and one-and-only experience in Japan.

 

Things I Surprisingly Don’t Miss about Life in Japan

  1. The Weather

When you think of Japan, one of the first things that come to mind is the cherry blossom, or the sakura tree! Fun fact: Sakura is one of the two national flowers of Japan. The other is the chrysanthemum, the motive on the front page of the Japanese passport. The cherry blossoms blooming in late March or early April in the spring marks the start of the year and paints the whole town in a pretty pink for a week. Then the weather turns warm into a humid summer, a cool and crispy autumn, then finally to a cold winter where it occasionally snows. I know a lot of people who like the four seasons for the ability to dress up for each weather and because each season brings with it the specific things to do and eat. But personally, after 5 years of living in Japan and traveling to the different countries to experience some different climates for myself, I think the good old Malaysian tropical climate is the most livable. I mean, although the afternoons may be hot, the mornings and nights are cool and we have alfresco mamaks (affordable eateries serving halal Indian food that often set up portable tables outside on the roads) all year long!! We don’t have to change our wardrobe throughout the year. And if you want to dress up, all the offices, malls and fancy restaurants in town are fully air conditioned so there’s actually nothing stopping you!

Another bonus point is that any time is suitable for going to the beach!! (except during the rainy season that happens sometime between the monsoon from November to March)

IMG_9134

Sakura in the rain with my mummy! March 2014.

   2. The Food

Sushi, ramen, sukiyaki, gyudon, etc.. Are you drooling yet? Actually, I’m not. Of course, I love good food but one thing that I learned on Peace Boat is that each country’s local food is the most delicious. As we sailed from one port to another on Peace Boat, even though each port had its own delicious delicacies, it’s impossible to compare and pinpoint the ‘best’ food. We also didn’t miss the food from the previous port to the point of yearning to eat it again because we were excited about the local food we can try at the next port. I also started to appreciate more the fruits that are so widely available in Southeast Asia. For example, mangoes, bananas, papayas, mangosteens, and of course durians and others are considered exotic tropical fruits sold at exorbitant prices in Japan.

So for me, right now, the most delicious food would be local Malaysian food, preferably made with ingredients grown on local soil! I might even feature my sister’s vegetable and fruit garden right in our front yard in a future post!

IMG_9977

My last lunch in Japan before leaving: Yasubee Tsukemen. My favourite tsukemen out there. December 2015.

  3. The Service

Japan is also well known for its impeccable service by the staff whether at convenience stores, restaurants, or every public place you can imagine, down to the facility cleaner or janitor. They bow, they recite every single thing you buy, they tell you how much your change is. They say ‘Welcome!’, ‘Thank you!’, and ‘Try it on!’ every few minutes. I remember my reverse culture shock experience back when I first came back to Malaysia over summer or spring break from university. I was at a counter ordering a donut or some kind of snack at KL International Airport and expected a polite and professional service (without tipping, of course) but what I got was just a curt ‘thank you’ when I was handed the donut. I felt stupid for feeling shocked because that was what I was used to for almost 20 years before I lived for just one year in Japan. What I’m trying to say is, after getting good service regularly for a long period of time, it’s easy to be spoiled and also, in a way forget that the staff providing the service is actually a human being with feelings. Now, in KL, I appreciate any kind of good service I get and try not to forget to say ‘Thank you!’ back to them.

★★★

Alright, that wraps up the list of things that I miss and surprisingly don’t miss about Japan. To anyone who has been in Japan before, either for a short trip or long trip, feel free to share your opinions or comments! There must be so much more things to miss about Japan that I didn’t cover. A little preview: my next post will be about – you guessed it, the opposite ie. Things I Don’t Miss and Surprisingly Miss about Japan. Hope to see you then!