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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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! ^__^