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.
My graduation. March 2014. ^.^;;
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.
visiting laughing at my first humble abode, Excel Toritsukasei #104. February 2013.
Best friends (and +1 hehe) playing a very serious round of Monopoly Deal at the same #104. July 2013.
This was my humble abode when I started working, Leonext Shakujiidai #204. Some other fun things happened here.