Life in Japan

9 Things You Might Miss When Living in Japan

So, you’re finally in Japan. You’ve made it here and you’re the happiest being around town.
Great. But once this ‘honeymoon’ stage is over, you’ll start to see some of the “dark sides” as well.
You’ll miss certain things for sure. And I’m not talking about being homesick here!

Obviously what you’ll miss depends greatly on where you’re originally from and what kind of lifestyle you’re used to but I want to list a few common things that foreigners usually miss when living in Japan.
I’m mainly using my own point of view as a woman from Western Europe (Germany) here.

Things you might miss when living in Japan

If there’s something you miss, try to get your family or friends to send you some goodies from back home!

 

1. Housing: Proper Insulation and Central Heating

The majority of Japanese houses / apartments have very bad insulation.

This means that more often than not the temperature inside will be close to the temperature outside. In summer it will be boiling hot, in winter you’ll freeze to death.

Of course, there are several countermeasures you can take such as A/Cs, fans, heaters, kotatsu – but I’m sure we all would prefer houses with proper insulation.

It doesn’t get that cold in winter in Japan (outside of Hokkaido), but because of the bad insulation and the lack of central heating, it’s extremely cold inside. Most houses have thus only ONE room they keep warm. That means that you’ll freeze when you go to the toilet or brush your teeth.

It’s certainly something that takes time to get used to.

 

2. Certain Food Products (Beer, Bread, Cheese, Pizza)

First of all I want to mention the lack of certain dairy products. No worries, you can get milk, yogurt and even cheese in Japan – which mostly comes from Hokkaido. But the milk cow industry is not very big in Japan.

If you want a huge variety of dairy products (buttermilk, curd, kefir), you’ll have a hard time.

Also, if you’re into cheese, you’ll be disappointed. Either go with the local products (mainly camembert) or buy super expensive imported cheese (50g for 600 yen is quite normal …). Cheese is mainly imported from European countries such as Germany, France or Switzerland.

Being German I’m used to having a huge variety of good quality cheese to choose from without having to pay a fortune. Here in Japan I have to hold back, but every now and then I splurge on expensive imported cheese.

Dark bread and whole grain bread is also hard to find. However, this is not unique to Japan. I have to admit that I miss typical German dark bread almost everywhere I go – even when I just stay in Italy for 2 weeks. emoticon

But nowadays it’s rather easy to grab food from other countries within Europe. In Japan dark break, whole grain bread or lye products are hard to find outside of the big cities.

I heard some foreigners miss proper pizza. Japan actually has some really nice pizza, but it’s usually much smaller and more expensive than what we’re used to.

I guess some Germans might complain about the missing beer as Japanese beer is a joke – or so they say. Yes, I’m German, but don’t ask me!! I don’t drink beer. emoticon

 

3. Clothes / Shoes Your Size

I’ve mentioned this issue in other blog articles already.

If you’re tall, oversized or have large feet (especially as a woman) it might be tough or even impossible to find clothes / shoes in your size here in Japan.

There aren’t many XXL sizes, but even if you’re thin, you might struggle. If you’re tall then most trousers will be too short.

In my case I can find tops (especially those without sleeves as those are often too short) and skirts, but trousers are often too short for my “long” legs.

I cannot find shoes my size as my shoe size (27) doesn’t exist in Japan – not in the female shoes department anyway. And men shoes are too wide for me.

Common shoe sizes in Japan end at 25 (sometimes 26.5) for women and 28 (sometimes 30) for men (size comparison).

I miss being able to go into a shoe store knowing that they’ll have my size. And I know I’m not the only foreigner in Japan with this issue.

 

4. Toiletries

Japan has a lot of great toiletries. I’m especially fond of the skin care products here.

However, it’s always difficult to find certain products you’ve known from back home.

I really struggled getting used to Japanese paper tissues as they’re often only single-layered and super thin.

A lot of foreigners complain about the lack of good deodorant, so many suggest you bring enough from back home.

And for girls who tend to bleed heavily during “those days” the Japanese tampons might not be strong enough. I found that even the largest size available was not sufficient for “strong days”, so I tend to import the largest version from back home.

I also struggled finding a good make-up foundation. Most are too white / pale for my skin tone.

You can imagine that there are quite a few things missing. What is it for you?

 

Things you might miss when living in Japan

5. Hot Water Washing Machines

Ok, I admit that this again depends on where you’re originally from.

But when I first moved to Japan it was driving me crazy that pretty much every washing machine was not capable of using hot water. I struggled at first to get my laundry clean. There are still days when I wish I could just throw in certain pieces and get them done at 60°C.

Of course, it’s probably “healthier” for your laundry if you don’t boil it all the time, but not having that option at all is inconvenient.

Actually there are certain ways, but it’s a lot more complicated than just having a washing machine that can wash with hot water as is.

 

6. People Who Speak Their Mind

This is a difficult one. And I certainly don’t want to say that in Japan you’ll only find people who never truly tell you what’s on their mind.

But if you’ve lived here for a while, you’ll figure out that there are a lot of people who won’t tell you what they really think (especially at work).

They even have proper expressions for it in Japanese: honne (本音, your true voice) and tatemae (建前, your public attitude).

You’re not supposed to show your true feelings in public or speak up your mind – unless it fits the situation (but most of the time it doesn’t).

For someone like me who wears her heart on her sleeve, this is VERY difficult.

It gets even more complicated in your private life and relationships.

Observing my students I’ve also noticed that they cannot (and don’t want to) speak up in front of their classmates to share their own opinion about a topic. It’s really sad. There are exceptions, but most people are too afraid of what others could think of them, so they rather keep quiet.

In most Western countries it’s encouraged to speak up your mind, so this is certainly something a lot of foreigners miss when they’re living in Japan.

 

7. Blending In

In my “A German Alien in Japan” series I’ve discussed this topic in detail.

As a foreigner with a “gaijin face” you’ll stand out no matter what you do. If you don’t look the slightest bit Japanese, there’s no way you could ever blend in. And thus people might stare at you or treat you as an outsider.

Especially if you don’t like being the center of attention, this can become troublesome and annoying.

It’s only natural that most of us miss the “anonymity” of blending in.

 

8. Outdoor Street Cafés / Beer Garden

Japanese summers are insanely hot and humid. Nobody with a sane mind would want to sit outside and watch his / her ice cream melt.

In many Western countries you can sit outside in front of a café or in a beer garden. It’s one of the best things in summer.

But due to the heat in Japan this street café culture doesn’t exist at all.

I miss sitting outside with friends until the late evening in summer, enjoying some cold drinks. But then again, I would not want to that in Japan. I’d melt!

 

9. Daylight Until the Late Evening in Summer

Maybe it’s just me, but I miss having long daylight hours in summer.

The sunset is ALWAYS quite early in Japan, even in summer it’s around 7 p.m. (though it depends whether you’re in Okinawa = late sunset, or in Hokkaido = early sunset).

In many Western European countries the sun won’t set until 9-10 p.m. in summer.

No matter how late you come back from work, you still can enjoy some daylight.

And for travelling it’s also very inconvenient. Everything closes rather early in Japan. Most tourist facilities close around 4-5 p.m. – and they have to because soon after that it gets dark anyway.

 

And what is it that you’re missing?

I’d love to hear about what people from different countries are missing when they’re living in Japan. I’m sure your list would be a bit different from mine. So, don’t be shy and tell us! ^__^

31 Comments

  • I really like your post (and your blog as a whole).
    I’m from Belgium and I can relate to each point you mentioned! I’m going to Japan again this summer and I’ll really miss number 9. ;) The sun also rises way too early in Japan… :(

    • Thank you!! :D
      Japan has abandoned switching between summer and winter time adjusting the clock twice a year. I’m not a fan of it as it’s annoying, but at least we could have more daylight in the evening this way in Japan. ;)

  • こんにちは
    純日本人だから、寂しいものはないですけどunmber 6 については仰る通りです。本音を隠さなければのけ者にされますからね。何とかこの文化を変えるべきだと思うのですが、こればかりは国民性なので仕方がないですね。

    When I went to Germany in August I still remembered that daylight is so long. Every people talks so much over beer. That is a nice culture. ;P

    • 本音隠すことは大勢の日本人もあまり好きじゃないよね。

      また「ビール」が出ました!まるで、ドイツはビールばっかり・・・(汗)
      まぁ、でも確かにビール好きなドイツ人多いですね。好きじゃないのは私だけかもしれません。www

      Isn’t it nice when you have daylight until 9 or even 10 p.m.? I miss that a lot!

  • That’s why they have the summertime. Yes, it is nice. But I’m sure that we cannot drink outside because it is always humid and with mosquitos in August. :notamused:

    今度、蚊について詳しくまとめつくったほうが良いのでは?既に記事お有りでしたら申し訳ないです。

    • 虫についてはもう詳しく書いてありますね。
      蚊についてはまだぜんぜん何も・・・
      あまり面白くないと思うんですが。日本の蚊とヨーロッパの蚊はそんなに違わないと思います。?!?

      Having to switch between summer and winter time is very annoying, though. ;)

  • そうですね。気温差30度とか普通ですからね。実家然り。
    蚊同じなんですね。彼方にいた時、蚊による被害が皆無だったので、相当心地よっかたのをよく記憶してます。
    では日本の蚊取り線香特集とかいかがでしょう?A katorisenkou pig I love most in August. ;P

    • 私はブタのやつかわいいと思いますが、使ったことないんです。
      必ず何時か、蚊について、そして蚊取り線香について記事を書きます!
      楽しみに待っていて下さいね!♪

      Those pigs are cute, but I’ve never ever used one myself. ^__^;

  • こんばんは!

    僕ライ麦パン好きなんですけど、おいしいのあんまり置いてないですよね!
    チーズも輸入品は高くて、日本のプロセスチーズはあんまり好きじゃないです。
    バターも高すぎだし、ピザも高すぎ!

    本音と建前は僕もずっと苦労してきました!
    というか、日本には西洋的な罪と赦しみたいな精神性がないどころか、
    自己犠牲を強要して咎人を抑圧して社会を管理するようなカルチャーなので、
    本音を言う奴は必然、危険因子になってしまうんだと思います
    (抑圧に抵抗力がある奴扱いされるんでしょう!)

    一方で、passive-aggressivenessの技術だけは発達してきたみたいな感じで、
    もっと日本人の精神性は、僕もぶっちゃけよく分かってないです!笑

    • モトさん、こんばんは!

      玄米パン食べたことあります。悪くないと思いますが、やっぱりドイツパンの方が食べたいですね。(汗)
      確かに、バターは高いですがあまり気にしません。しかし、バターの種類は少ないと思います。

      本音はっきり言える人は少ないでしょう。
      私は本音ばかり、建前めちゃくちゃ苦手なのです。(ーー;)・・・
      場合によって、建前のほうがいいかもしれません。(10%建前、90%本音 ← そのほうがいいんじゃないですか。)

  • I missed peanut butter the most. The thing I tried to eat was definitely NOT peanut butter, more like grease oil with sugar added. Cheese and dark bread were also my kryptonite while in Japan, as well as affordable fruits. But I loved how much fattier the milk was compared to home.

    Lack of central heating was also something I struggled to understand. I lived in Hokkaido and you’d think they would have something figured out. Even in summer I had to set the timer on my heater an hour ahead, so that the room wouldn’t be an ice box by the time I got up. Showering and brushing teeth was an affair to remember. And that’s me as Canadian talking.

    Don’t get me started on clothing. :rainy: I’m a 5’11” tall girl, with size 10 US shoes. By the time I was leaving the country I had a single pair of beat up shoes left, with no options for replacement. I was severely limited to a few items for work clothes, as there was nothing out there to fit me. Even though I am only a size M in Canada, I felt like a giant in Japan, unable to even button my blouse. *sigh*

    I laugh about it now, but I was quite stressed about these issues at the time :hihi:

    Another great post you’ve got there!

    • Oh, yes, apart from bananas, I have the feeling that most fruits are insanely expensive.
      EVEN the ones that don’t have to be imported like apples. It’s true that the apples are huge, but I’d rather had smaller apples for a chaper price. ;)

      Haha, I’m glad to hear I’m not the only one who struggles with clothes and shoes in Japan – though it’s really sad, isn’t it? T___T ….

      I’m glad you can laugh about it now. I think those are all things one can get used to anyway, but sometimes we all just miss them after all.

      Thank you! ^____^

    • Hey Andrea! I’m also 5’11 and size 9.5 feet! I’m moving to Japan August 12 and definitely have done my research so I know that my size will be limited. I also wear medium tops in Canada but have broad shoulders. Aren’t there still some western sized stores in large centre’s like tokyo?

  • I’m definitely with you on No. 1 and 6. No. 8 is a good one, too. That said, in Tokyo I really enjoy the roof-top beer gardens that they open over the summer. Being on the roof as well, it’s one of the best chances to catch a bit of breeze.

    I miss supermarkets with big trolleys and a cashier system where you pack your stuff yourself instead of having to wait for someone to neatly and slowly move your stuff from one basket to another. Infuriating!! Or maybe it’s just me!

    Great post. Cheers!

    I’m Guilty..Of Taking Japan For Granted – City-Cost

    • Actually there are some supermarkets that offer you to pack your stuff yourself / be your own cashier (e.g. some huge AEON supermarkets). I’ve personally never tried it, though. :)

  • The nine things I missed when I living in Japan:
    1. Streetcars in Yokohama
    2. Playground in Honmoku Moto machi in Yokohama
    3. Saint Joseph College the school that I attended
    4. Miss my friends when I went to calligraphy school
    5. Tea Ceremony School
    6. Playing music with all kinds of people
    7. Eating junk snacks
    8. Working part time in Japan
    9. Speaking Japanese.

    I missed those nine things, because I have done those things for 17 years
    and I really miss them, if I were to go back to do again, I would like remember
    my good old days in Japan when I was young. |t brings me lots of happiness
    and tears to my eyes. Right at this moment, I have organize a band to play
    some Japanese music, which will bring me much joy. At times, it comes in
    my dreams and I can feel happiness in my heart Living in Japan was the most
    happiest time of my life. So, if you are 63 years old today and you are foreigner
    for born in Japan and being part Japanese you feel the sense as though you
    are able to understand the Japanese people and their proud heritage I once
    experience. Nippon no kuni ni koishii desu, matta au ne.(I love you, Japan,
    we shall meet again)

    • I guess our lists are much longer when it’s about things we miss in Japan and not things we miss abroad while living in Japan.
      Thanks for sharing your list with us, Frederico.

      I’m sure a lot of people feel the same who have basically “two homes”. :)

  • Sounds like, Home is where your Heart is, all those things reminds you of the Country where you
    grown up, seems to me that you miss Germany itself.

    I live in another Country too since 7 Years now, so i understand excatly how you feel, what bothers me the most is that you allways will be the ” Outsider ” from a foreign country, no matter how long you will stay there, but in my case i deccide to Stay cause it was my decission in the first Place, there was a reason why i leave Germany, i was unhappy with my Daily Life.

    And yes, it is different now, but is it realy better …i guess Life is too short to Stay in one Place, so i Travel a lot, to See what the World has to offer. : )

    • Hey Matthew,

      I wonder if you’re the eternal outsider everywhere or if it depends on the country. I can only speak for Japan and there it is sadly true.

      There are people who prefer to settle down in one place. Actually that’s the majority. I fear I don’t belong to that kind of species. ^^

  • Two things out of my regular day-to-day that I miss would be ready access to fresh herbs like cilantro (coriander) and dill, and clothing in my size. To correct this I’ve got a small culinary herb garden growing on the balcony of our mansion (a mansion is an apartment building made of concrete and steel), and do most of my clothes shopping online.

    There is however a ‘gaikokujin’ section in the local Aeon mall’s department store where I can find clothes that are roughly my size, but I’m 187cm with a pot belly, whereas most of the clothing that would actually fit my long legs and arms are made for plus-sized (or ‘proportionately obese’ as some of my fellow Americans have called it) people, and so are also too wide at the limbs and billow around me like a tent. So I mostly buy actual Westerner clothing online, as these fit me better.

    I also miss doorways that don’t strike me in the forehead if I carelessly step through them! I miss wearing black clothing, spikes and dying my hair, but that’s less of a thing that I can’t actually have, and more of a genuine effort to blend in with my neighborhood’s semi-rural and traditionalist culture… as best I can with my light colored hair, green eyes, height and girth.

    I also miss having more than two burners on the stove, and an oven that I can fit several trays of baking items into.

    I miss my dog most of all though, but being able to live with my lovely and kind wife here more than makes up for that!

    • Hi Gabriel,

      Thanks for sharing what you’re missing. It was an interesting read.
      I hear you on the “more than two burners on the stove” part. In my last apartment one of them was broken, so I only had one. Cooking is just no fun then.
      And of course having almost no space in your kitchen in general. ;)