It’s been about three months since I left Japan behind to begin my life anew back where I came from, in sunny San Jose. Although it took me a while to do so, naturally, I’m beginning to miss things. At the same time, I’m re-experiencing things I’ve missed here and I’m wondering how I could’ve left some of these behind, so I decided to make two lists: one about things I miss about Japan, and one about things I’m glad to have back in America.
Things I Miss About Japan
- 10. Arcades/game centers.
Those of you who know me might be shocked to see this open up the list at number 10, but the arcade culture in Japan somehow doesn’t seem too conducive to making friends, unlike back in the States, where arcadegoers (or former arcadegoers) comprise a good chunk of my group of friends, and so that gets a mark down for me. (Maybe it’s because I’m a foreigner without much Japanese knowledge…?) It gets a mark up because most arcades are on the ball on maintenance, which means I never had to complain about keys sticking on pop’n music, ever. Also, the games are cool and I want to see all of them here, but ah, that dead, dead Western market…
- 9. Bath-house (sento/onsen) culture.
No, this isn’t as lewd as you think — not once did I think about doing that thing in anime where some main character gets egged on by his sidekick to go peep on the girls on the other side of the place. Sidekick aside — I always went alone, because it seemed I was the only dude in the dorm who really liked hitting up the sento — it’s too relaxing to do that. Yes, too relaxing — even though, as a patron of the men’s area, I was surrounded by men completely stripped down to their birthday suits. Screw that, these were great baths at a fairly cheap price, and I indulged so much in them I ended up becoming curious enough to write an entire paper on them to fulfill one of the requirements for studying abroad. As someone who likes his baths, they’re simply wonderful — especially in the winter — and act as a nice prelude, sometimes, to a really satisfying good night’s sleep. Mind, we’ve got a Korean bathhouse here, too, but that costs four times as much to get in ($20 here vs. $4.50 there) and their bath selection is limited and it’s all indoors and they don’t have fruit-flavored milk or milk coffee to chug afterward.
- 8. Karaoke.
Here’s a bit more social pastime: karaoke “free time”, from 10 PM to 5 AM (not a typo; this is, in fact, all-night), for prices starting at 780 yen (also not a typo; this is, in fact, roughly USD $8), with all-you-can-drink soft drinks. Oh, yes.
Let’s compare that to the karaoke place over here: hmm, at 9 PM, rates are…$8.25…an hour….Yo that be some expensive stuff. Do we even get dr- no? Not even water? We gotta pay for that, too?
But yes, this led to a lot of spur-of-the-moment weekend sessions that started out with an innocuous query of “…hey, you free? Feel like karaoke tonight?” At first, I wasn’t particularly thrilled about destroying my circadian rhythm to belt out some tunes, but I’d get acclimated to it fairly quickly. (As an aside, I also found out that I can sing for longer if I do all-night karaoke, as opposed to in the morning, which is when karaoke is cheapest here; when I wake up and immediately go to sing, I’ve not warmed up my vocal cords enough, so I hit my limit faster!)
- 7. Book-Off.
If you don’t know what Book-Off is, it’s a chain of used media stores. There are several varieties of Book-Off, including things like the Book-Off Super Bazaar (which also sells a bunch more things like, say, clothes) and the very unfortunately named Hard-Off (for selling used hardware). Because Japan takes really good care of their stuff, these used goods end up still in pretty dang decent condition.
That said, I hate it and I love it at the same time. I hate it because it sells things for cheap. I love it because it sells things for cheap — therefore forcing the prices of many books (and keep in mind most of these books actually start at fairly cheap prices to begin with — a volume of manga, for example, is 500-600 yen) down into hundred-five-yen impulse buy territory. Same went for video games: PS1 games started at 105, PS2 games started at 500 yen, and a handful of DS games were good bargains, as well. The markdowns on hardware meant a couple of friends ended up exporting systems out.
- 6. 100-yen stores.
As a member of the part of the population of the United States with access to a Daiso dollar(-fifty) store, I took their presence in Japan for granted. Only halfway through my trip did I realize just how much more complete Daiso in Japan is: in helping a dormmate sort out problems with the pipe infrastructure apparently rusting out on her, we were able to find a five-stage purifier at Daiso for 105 yen. And it worked. We pricechecked this against a super-legit Panasonic one and that one was like $300!
I took Daiso (and Seria) for granted to the point where when I came home I asked the guys at my local Daiso if they carried 4 different things, none of which were available in the US. Now I’m sorta sad I didn’t make sure I got everything I needed before I left.
- 5. Cleanliness.
Modern Japan may be largely bereft of trash cans in public — and that’s supposedly due to them potentially being used as bomb depositories –but it’s largely litter-free, which is even more surprising when you consider how many packets of advertising napkins get passed out on the streets every day, combined with how many bottles of drinks get purchased from convenience stores and how many wrappers of street food get passed out every day.
Also, a bit TMI, but for the sake of emphasis, I do have to say: I — and quite a number of others, I reckon — am sort of afraid to sit my butt down on a public toilet…in America. They’re simply not as well-maintained. Even if I go to extreme lengths and take out, I dunno, four seat protectors or something there’s the chance that if I sit down my scrunched-up pants legs will end up touching some sort of liquid that I’m not sure is water or not. That’s just gross. I don’t think I ever experienced that while abroad. (BTW: Washlets are fantastic — yes, I know sensations like already-warm seats and the spraying of water up one’s dirty areas takes some getting used to, but man, I miss those.)
- 4. Food and drink.
I miss being able to make a convenience store run and grab a liter of something really nice (like, say, melon au lait or apple-flavored water) for 100~150 yen. I also miss fairly cheap meal options that were flavored far better than their American counterparts (Yoshinoya US, please step your game the awww up, because you’ve got a ways ’til I can actually respect you again.) Oh, and there was amazing 700-yen ramen that filled me up, thanks to Yoshimura-ya; the local abu-ramen place Nakaya was also fantastic and a favorite for practically the entire dorm. The same went for Yocchan-tei, the friendly okonomiyaki shop we’d gone to so often a couple of us started calling one of the owners mom. And I miss properly cooked gyoza, whether it be from Ohsho, Toshu, or any of the mom-and-pop places in the Kannon-dori. I miss filling up on rather heavy, thick slices of bread laden with Nutella. Fruits, though expensive, generally tasted better than their American counterparts, which led to some really good desserts, which I also miss quite dearly. I miss the variety of lunch options at the co-op. I miss Origin Bento runs at three in the morning because they were not only closer than the McDonald’s in Kamiooka, they also had tastier options. Oh, and I guess I miss Mos Burger. Just a little.
- 3. The people.
The Japanese people are simply really friendly. I honestly don’t get too much small talk around here in general, like, say, when I go to shops and stuff, so it’s always a surprise and a treat when the place makes an effort to show that it had a more of a cozy, personal feel. This happened more often than not in Japan. Perhaps it was because I was a foreigner. Regardless, I liked it.
On the flip side, I did endure quite a bit of the gaijin stare. Amusingly, since I at least look Asian, I didn’t get any ridiculous stories, like the one about where my friend went into the countryside with another friend and actually had a whole group of school kids talking about them out loud while on the same train car like they weren’t there and they weren’t capable of Japanese. Which they were. Which made for a great anecdote.
Lastly, despite all the posted warnings about thieves and whatnot, it felt safe to walk around, period. There were times in which, if I couldn’t manage to sleep any given night, I’d end up at the park on the hill at 2 AM simply enjoying a midsummer’s night alone. Here, public parks close at sunset, because enjoying a midsummer’s night alone in the park is hella shady and ill-advised.
- 2. Public transit.
Every time I slog onto traffic for my morning commute I think of the days where as long as I got on the train at 8:04 I could make it to my 9:00 class. Arguably, I can get on the freeway at 8:04 to make it to my 9:00 class here too, but only because traffic ebbs and flows in weird ways that make getting onto the freeway at 8 a necessity to ensure I get to class on time if traffic just happens to be truly terrible — sometimes they practically turn into parking lots, here, and what would normally be a 20-minute commute turns into a 50-minute one. It’s sort of nuts. On top of that, I can’t really do anything during my commute; on my way over to uni in Japan, I got quite a bit of reading and studying finished where I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Also: it’s sorta magical to be able to pay $115 to be able to just travel the entire country for five days straight.
- 1. The people.
This is a bit different than number 3 — I speak not just of the Japanese people, but of the many people I met and forged connections with and generally had fun hanging out with. I unfortunately didn’t get to make as many connections as others did, but the connections I did make still remain. I’m honestly jealous about how my friends in Europe are getting together over the New Year’s holiday. We keep in touch with each other over social networks and stuff. We promised to each other that we’d meet up again sometime within the next five years. My host mom chats with me over Line sometimes whenever she’s got a question about American culture or English grammar, and I ask her for advice on things Japanese. My friends and acquaintances are what made this year unique; my friends and acquaintances — at the very least, half of them — are going to be missing the next time I visit. Our time together as fellow students studying abroad are over, and I can only hope that we’ll meet again sooner than later. ◆