After nearly five years MIA, Tokyo Podcast is back with Season 2. If you’re one of the listeners who stuck around – thank you! Much of Season 1 is still relevant, but let’s be honest, a lot can happen in half a decade.
Our host, Anthony Joh, will be leaving Japan next year, so now seemed like the perfect time to bring you some fresh, updated content. In this episode, Anthony reflects upon his time in Japan by talking about his 5 favourite – and least favourite – things about living in Japan.
Five Things I Hate…
1. The Smoking
Why I Hate It: The Japanese love to smoke and have no thought about smoking indoors. In fact most indoor smoking areas are often not separated-off with physical barriers. So, all of the non-smokers – and their food and clothes – are affected by cigarette stench. After five years in Japan, I’ve had enough! What’s more frustrating though, is the Japanese government’s lack of decisive action to resolve this. For a country that values cohesiveness, this seems counterintuitive – until you realize that the people making the rules are some of the nation’s biggest smokers.
Why You Might Not Hate It: You’re a smoker, a willing passive smoker, or you can avoid eating and drinking out!
2. The Weather
Why I Hate It: To be specific, summer is the season that I detest. It’s clammier than your sweatiest post-horror movie nightmare and it seems to last for months. And months. And months. Sometimes it’s not even possible to seek refuge indoors because buildings set their air-conditioning at 28°C to “conserve energy”. On the plus side, autumn and cherry blossom season are beautiful, and winter isn’t too bad – except the wind. I mean, is it too much to ask to have some wind in the summer?
Why You Might Not Hate It: You’re accustomed to a hot humid climate, or you can stay indoors – with proper air-conditioning (away from smokers).
3. The “Japanese Way”
Why I Hate It: Excessively rigid procedures combined with hierarchical business structures makes life unnecessarily complicated and painstaking. Whilst these formalities are all well and good when working only with Japanese companies, or in Japan, many businesses are now trying to expand internationally. In my opinion, this framework just won’t cut it.
Why You Might Not Hate It: If you’re process-orientated and prefer fixed structures. Or you’re used to working in a similar environment in your home country.
4. The Technology Cluelessness
Why I Hate It: Sure, Japan was technologically advanced around 20 years ago, but now – in the digital age – it seems to be falling behind. With most of Japan’s restaurants still using fax machines, some ATM machines closing at 9pm and companies often failing to make use of digital resources, the country’s hesitation to catch-up can be frustrating.
Why You Might Not Hate It: If you prefer paperwork or “attention to detail”, more than electronic efficiency.
5. The Lack of “Internationalness”
Why I Hate It: Japan’s homogenous nature and low immigration frequently leads to poor understanding of foreigners and their markets. This amplifies the pain felt in Hate #3 (The “Japanese Way”), because some people can’t see that there are alternative ways of doing things. Robots will fix all of this though – won’t they?
Why You Might Not Hate It: One man’s struggle is another man’s triumph. You may well be able to use these culture clashes to your advantage – especially if your Japanese is up to par.
Five Things I Love…
1. The Cleanliness
Why I Love It: For such a vast, densely-populated city, Tokyo still looks so fresh, and so clean. Around-the-clock, people work hard to keep the streets, trains, buildings and yes – even public toilets spotless. Tokyo isn’t an exception either, it’s like this everywhere in Japan – and I love it!
Why You Might Not Love It: Er, why wouldn’t you? One common complaint from foreigners though, is Japan’s distinct lack of rubbish bins. Convenience when it comes to trash isn’t a thing here. But, this is hardly worth complaining about if it means having a cleaner, greener environment.
2. The Super Fast Internet
Why I Love It: The only time my internet wasn’t crazy-fast was when it stopped working… Because I forgot to pay my bill. This point may seem contradictory to Hate #3 (The Technology Cluelessness), but somehow, the internet speed and reliability here is astonishing. So if you rely on it for a living – or your Netflix addiction – you’re in good hands in Japan.
Why You Might Not Love It: If you can arrange your own internet package you too will experience this internet-based elation. However, if you rely on a landlord for your internet, or live in shared accommodation you may need to buffer your way through that film.
3. The Efficiency and Attention to Quality
Why I Love It: One positive aspect of Hate #3 (The “Japanese Way”) is that when processes work in Japan – they work well. Although Japan is not always set-up to deal with change, or exceptions to the rules, you can rely on companies to honour their commitments – and even be charming when they do it. The Japanese are renowned for their attention to detail and exceptional service for good reason. And when you’re more accustomed to receiving poor service, this is a breath of fresh air.
Why You Might Not Love It: Unlike in the West, Japanese efficiency doesn’t always mean saving time. It usually means delivering the best service possible – which can take longer. If you’d rather save the niceties and just get on with it, you may become impatient.
4. The Honesty and Politeness of Japanese People
Why I Love It: There’s a feeling of trust between strangers in Japan that you can’t help but love: it’s one of the safest countries in the world. Your biggest daily “safety” concern is that you exit the 7-11 to find your 400-yen umbrella has been stolen. And if you do happen to lose something valuable, it’s pretty likely that it will find its way back to you somehow.
Why You Might Not Love It: Some people may see this level of trust as naïve, but wouldn’t we all prefer to live life with less fear and more trust?
5. The Low Living Costs
Why I Love It: Contrary to what the media may have us think, Tokyo is not that expensive. If you want to live like a Westerner in Tokyo – expat style – complete with a 3-bedroom house, a car and a garden, it will be expensive. But if you live like a Japanese person lives, in Tokyo, it’s surprisingly affordable. Tokyo is set-up for convenience for the majority of people, i.e. office workers. Single room apartments are inexpensive, commuting is cheap and eating out is almost dirt cheap. And if you’re able to live outside of Tokyo – ideally in the countryside – that’s a whole new wonderful level of frugality to explore.
Why You Might Not Love It: Most of us probably love the idea of cheap Japanese-style living in Tokyo, it’s just adjusting to it that can be hard. Still, where’s the harm in trying?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on our first episode of Season 2. If you want to request a topic for us to cover in future, contact me!