I’ve lived in Japan for almost 3 months now. In some ways aspects of life here are becoming normal, but I still have plenty of thrilling “Holy shit, I live in Japan!!!” moments. The country and culture certainly are different, but that’s what I love about it! Here’s some of my favorite things about life in Japan (so far):
- Heated Everything
Before coming to Japan, I lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Turkey, places that are known for having climates that vary from mild to hot as Hades. So for me, Japan in winter is actually quite cold (it’s even snowed a few times, as I wrote about here). Lucky for me, Japanese people love warmth, and in the endearing way that many normal, everyday items are more tech-saavy in Japan, many things are heated. You can purchase electric blankets, rugs, and kotatsus, a traditional low table that is ringed with blankets. On cold nights people walk around with instant heated pouches, like the kind that athletes use on sore muscles. Nothing beats a soak in a deep, wide Japanese bath, or a trip to an onsen. Seats on the trains are heated. The absolute best though, is that most toilet seats, whether in a house, restaurant, or train station, are heated, which makes for a pleasant surprise on a cold day or midnight trip to the bathroom.
2. The Food
Japan is definitely a foodie paradise, and I was prepared to eat well from the moment of my arrival. What I didn’t realize, however, is the sheer variety of Japanese food. Japan has so much more to offer than just sushi and teriyaki, and I’ve enjoyed exploring takoyaki, okonimiyai, yakitori, ramen, udon, onigiri, futomaki, nabe, curry – the list goes on and on. While you can find most types of Japanese food throughout the whole country, each region has it’s own particular specialty and point of pride. Nagoya, the city I’m currently living in, it’s famous for soba noodles, Osaka is famous for takoyaki (addicting octopus balls), and Kanazawa, where I’ll be living soon, is famous for crab. Discovering these specialties is one of the joys of travel in Japan.
3. Public Transportation
Japan is very well connected by public transportation, and to get anywhere in the country there are usually several options to choose from to fit your time, budget, and personal preferences. There are buses that are comfortable and quite cheap, but Japan is really, REALLY into it’s trains. Trains are even a hobby, and hobbyists enjoy researching, photographing, and collecting various train paraphernalia. There are many different train lines, both government-run like the JR (Japan Rail) trains and private like the Meitetsu railway, and you can choose from slow, local trains to express services to the fastest, sleekest of them all: the Shinkansen, aka, the Bullet Train. I’ve always loved train travel, so I fit right in! To add to the quaintness, many of the trains have special names (I’ve ridden both the Thunderbird Express and the Super Panorama Limited) and every train, from the local subway to the Shinkansen bound for Tokyo, has a different theme song that plays when it pulls into the station.
4. Fashion and Design
As a costume designer and makeup artist, I take a lot of notice in people’s dress and appearance, and lucky for me, Japanese people put a lot of care into these things! I’ve always found Asian design intriguing, and Japan is design heaven. Japanese style is clean and minimalist, with good lines and interesting textiles, but always with cool details. I was also surprised to discover that there is a strong vintage and secondhand culture as well. Holding myself back from shopping can be pretty difficult! Here’s some of my recent photos to try to capture some of the eye-catching fashion I see around me.
5. Polite Japanese Formalities
This one may sound a little strange, but bear with me for a second. I come from a notoriously casual culture, that of America (can we even call American culture a culture? Sometimes it feels so damn uncultured – but I digress). Japanese culture, by contrast, can be very formal, but I’ve really enjoyed discovering these formalities. For example, life in Japan comes with a lot of bowing. You bow when you meet people. You bow when you leave. You bow when you say “thank you”. You bow when you say “I’m sorry”. The language centers I work at are in shopping malls, and when I enter from the employees exit to the main part of the mall, I make a bow. Same thing when I’m leaving at the end of the day. The deepness of the bow depends on the context of the situation and the social standing of the two people bowing. I think many Americans might find this off-putting, but I love it. This is why I’m here, to experience and participate in a way of life that’s different from what I’ve known. And so I bow. A lot!
After 3 months, I’m still at the beginning of my journey in Japan. What else can I discover in the next 3 months?