No place in the world is perfect– not even my favorite country, Japan. Every country and culture has its pros and cons, and things you may like or dislike depending on your personality. There are some things I don’t like about Japan, and I did begin to notice these things more after being in the country for a couple of years. But at the same time, I felt more at home there than I’ve ever felt anywhere else, and there’s a big part of me that will always be Japanese at heart. So today I thought I’d share some of the things I love so much about the land of the rising sun.
1. Japanese is a beautiful language. I first fell in love with Japan through its language, and I don’t think it’s very hard to see why. I’ll admit I’m a little biased, but still… I find the sound of it very pleasant, and much softer than a lot of other Asian languages. It feels so nice to speak it too, because the sounds are so simple and easy to pronounce. And yet the sounds are beautiful in their simplicity– there are really no harsh sounds. And the writing system, although difficult to learn, is beautiful in its complexity! Japanese also has so many nice words and expressions that are just impossible to translate into English. One of my favorites is the word natsukashii. It describes a feeling of nostalgia about something, of missing something or just looking back on it with fond memories. For example, when you pull out a dusty old photo album and see pictures of a much younger you with people you haven’t seen in ages, in a (now) silly looking outfit you’d completely forgotten you had– that’s natsukashii. And now, since I’ve been back in the states for a couple months I can say that Japan is natsukashii to me. There is just no single word in English to express this concept!
2. Japan has wonderful traditions. There’s nothing else like the Japanese tea ceremony, or the art of putting on a kimono (yes, it is an art!). Then there’s Japanese calligraphy, flower arrangement, martial arts, haiku… And the list goes on. Japan has so many nice ceremonies and art forms that really help you to relax and appreciate the beauty of the simple things in life. We just don’t have things like this in America. Then of course there are all the festivals (omatsuri) and the great firework shows in the summertime! It’s so natsukashii just thinking about it now. You really have to experience these things for yourself to appreciate them though, so I highly recommend you try them out if you ever get the chance!
3. Japan has the best customer service in the world. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t make such an unequivocal statement since I haven’t been to every country in the world. But somehow I don’t think the phrase “the customer is king” applies more anywhere else than Japan. Actually, in Japanese they say that the customer is God. Really. Japanese employees go out of their way to help you and make sure you get everything you need, and they are almost never rude. Any mistake or delay will get you a profuse apology, and they will do whatever they can to make it right! Once I spent over $100 on a new purse, only to find after using it for a couple of days that I didn’t like it because of the way the zipper scratched my hands when I reached into it. To my dismay though, I couldn’t find the receipt! I was almost certain I wouldn’t be able to get my money back, but I really wasn’t happy with the purse and thought I might as well give it a try. So I went back to the store and explained my situation. The employee was so nice, and she said that although they didn’t normally give refunds without a receipt, they would make an exception for me– and I got all my money back just like that, no questions asked! I’m not sure I could have gotten away with that in America (and I certainly couldn’t get away with it in a place like France where, from what I understand, the concept of customer service is virtually non-existent).
4. Japan’s transportation system is excellent. The trains in and around Japanese cities are amazingly convenient. They are very frequent and almost always on time– and of course, a delay of even just one minute will result in profuse apologies from the conductor! Train stations are always staffed with employees who are ready to answer your questions and do so very well. City buses are also great, and you can even pay their fares with the same card you use to ride the train. Naturally though, the transportation systems in rural areas aren’t quite as good. I lived in Gunma prefecture for two years, and most people there drove cars everywhere because you couldn’t get around town by train (trains were just used to travel to other towns or cities), and the buses weren’t very frequent. This actually didn’t bother me at all though, because I just rode a bicycle everywhere! Bicycles are much more common in Japan than they are in the US, and you can see people of all ages riding them everywhere. It isn’t considered “lame” to ride a bicycle to work like it is here in the states. I love riding a bike, and of course it’s much healthier and better for the environment than driving. Japan also has lots of special paths for bicycles, as well as bicycle parking lots!
5. Japan is very convenient. Japanese convenience stores (or combini) are open 24 hours a day and you can find one just about anywhere. A combini is a lot like one of those little stores we have next to gas stations in the states– except there’s no gas station. What you can find is some food, basic toiletry items and magazines. You can also do things like pay your bills, use the ATM or even send a package in the mail! Admittedly combini food doesn’t taste very good (it’s probably not very good for you either), but it’s great when you’re in a rush and didn’t have time to eat a proper breakfast. Another thing that’s very convenient in Japan is the vending machines. Vending machines are even more common than convenience stores, so if you don’t see one you’re sure to find one by just walking a block or two. Most of them just sell drinks like water, coffee, tea, juice and soda. They’re usually quite cheap (100 yen at the cheapest!), and you can get them hot in the winter or cold in the summer! I personally bought drinks from vending machines all the time, and probably ended up spending a good portion of my salary on them. But they were worth it. You also might be surprised how easy it is to find different kinds of foods in Japan, especially in the city. Looking for a special ingredient for some exotic Ethiopian dish? You can probably find it somewhere in Tokyo. Japan has everything.
6. Japan is a very safe country. I always felt like I was safer in Japan than I would be in the states. Of course, Japan does have its share of crime and you can never be completely safe anywhere, so you should definitely follow common sense safety rules wherever you go. But still, Japan’s crime rates are quite low compared to most other countries. Although this may not be advisable according to common sense and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to anyone, I often went out walking around or riding my bike in the middle of the night by myself and never felt any threat to my personal safety. I actually had several Japanese people tell me it was perfectly safe for me to do this even as a single young woman! And I know I would never be able to do such a thing in lots of other countries. What really amazes me, though, is that you almost never have to worry about getting anything stolen! If you accidentally leave your wallet somewhere, chances are someone will turn it in to the police station for you. Speaking of Japanese police stations, they’re really great too. For Japanese police officers, it’s actually part of their job description to help people who are lost. At any train station (and at a few other places around town too), you can find a place called a kouban, where a friendly officer will always be ready with maps and everything else you need to get you where you want to go! As someone who gets lost easily, I took advantage of this numerous times.
7. Japanese food is healthy and delicious! The Japanese don’t have the highest life expectancy in the world for no reason. A large part of it is due to their healthy diet. In fact, even in the West some doctors will recommend a Japanese-style diet to prevent things like heart problems. Japanese food isn’t just healthy, though. It also tastes great! Somehow I always felt more satisfied and energized after a Japanese meal than after a Western one. If you are in the mood for Western food, though (or any kind of food for that matter), you can always find it in Japan. There are plenty of Chinese, Italian, American, and Indian-style restaurants, as well as just about any other kind of ethnic restaurant you can think of.
8. Japanese people are very attractive. Okay, so beauty is in the eye of the beholder and this is partly just my personal opinion. And of course, there are both attractive and not-so-attractive people everywhere in the world. But personally I get the impression that there’s a higher ratio of attractive people in Japan than there is in the US! Japanese people also tend to be very stylish and pay a lot of attention to their appearance, which helps a lot. Another thing I like is that some things that are generally not considered attractive in Western countries (such as very pale skin on women, for instance) are actually considered very attractive in Japan! Different cultures have different ideas of what beauty means, and I think it’s very good for people– especially women– to be exposed to these different ideas.
9. Japan has four seasons– and the Japanese know how to appreciate them all. I grew up in Washington state, where there are pretty much only two seasons: rainy and rainier. So when I moved to Japan, I was entranced by the showers of cherry blossoms in spring, the beating sun and the lively festivals in summer, the changing colors of the leaves in fall, and the biting cold of winter. What makes these seasons really great, though, is that the Japanese have gotten their appreciation down to an art. In the spring and fall, almost everyone makes the trip to a good spot to see the cherry blossoms or the autumn leaves. (Granted, much of this is simply an excuse to sit around drinking on a blanket in the park with friends– but hey, why pass up any excuse to have a party?) Japanese summers are very hot and can be almost unbearable with their humidity, but this doesn’t stop the Japanese from enjoying themselves! Throughout the summer there are festivals and firework shows all over the country, and you can see girls (and some guys too) walking around in yukata (summer kimonos) with fans tucked into their obi (waistbands). And in the winter, the northern prefectures have snow festivals and ice sculpture exhibits. Every Japanese person who cooks also knows exactly what fruits, vegetables and fish are in season at exactly what times of the year, so they can prepare the freshest and best-tasting meals for their families. Oh, and the Japanese language also illustrates how important seasons are in this culture. Japanese letters are always begun with a (preferably eloquent!) description of the weather, and comments on the weather (i.e. “It’s hot, isn’t it?”) are often used just like greetings.
10. In Japan, you can be weird and no one will care. This might be a funny thing to say, but it’s so true! In Japan you can sometimes see people walking around dressed like anime characters, or just wearing really bizarre outfits, or maybe twitching and mumbling nonsensically. But no one around them will even blink an eye. In a lot of other Asian countries, you might get stared at or pointed at a lot if you don’t look Asian. This does still happen in Japan, especially in more rural areas. But living in the city, this hardly ever happened to me and most people just treated me normally– in other words, they just walked right on by. Sometimes I did “weird” things like studying Thai (using a book written in Japanese!) while sitting on the train, but no one ever gave me strange looks or interrupted me. Japanese people keep to themselves, and sometimes this is very nice– especially if you’re the sort of person who also likes to keep to yourself and have your own space. The downside of this, of course, is that it can be harder to make friends in Japan, and people coming from countries where it’s normal to interact with strangers can end up feeling lonely. Personally though, I liked having the space to just be myself and do my own thing. It helped me to stop caring so much about what others think of me.
There are even more things I love about Japan, so I could keep going… But ten is a nice round number. If you’re someone who loves Japan too, feel free to add your own reasons in the comments!
P.S.: This was actually inspired by a post I read on Fluent in 3 Months, about why Benny Lewis loves Brazilians. I thought this was a lovely post, and reading it made me want to go to Brazil and learn Portuguese! So I thought I’d write something to promote my favorite country, too. 😀