5 Maddening Things About Japan

I’ve decided to dust off some of my writing cobwebs and make a post here on the BusanKevin/Just Japan Podcast blog. This site is normally home for the Just Japan Podcast show notes, but from time to time, some occasional guest writers and myself will post various things about Japan.

Japan is a great place. I have called this country home for more than 6 years and am for the most part pretty happy. I think a lot of that has to do with my easy-going attitude, years of experience abroad before I even came to Japan and trying to take the time to learn about the culture. It is important to read about the culture before you come here. It’s important to ask Japanese people questions about their culture once you are here.

When I say that it’s important to learn about Japanese culture, I’m not referring to things like tea ceremonies, how to wear a kimono or writing calligraphy. Those are important things for sure, but I am referring to understanding why Japanese people do the things they do and say the things they say. Not being Japanese, you’ll never fully understand why Japanese people are the way they are, but the more you know, the easier life for you in this country may be.

 

When I refer to understanding the culture I’m talking about questions such as:

Why do junior high school and senior high school kids go to school on weekends and during the holidays even when they have no classes?

Why is it so important for an office worker to go out and drink alcohol with colleagues after work, even if they have families at home?

Why is going to a “good” kindergarten and then a “good” elementary school followed by “good” junior and senior high schools so important to many parents?

When someone in your family dies, why don’t you give out the traditional New Years postcards?

Why don’t buildings in most of Japan have insulation?

What is the merit/importance of the sempai/kohai relationship?

This list could go on and on…

 

Alright, I’m going to address a few things that have driven me a bit bonkers in the past. This is by no means a “bitch fest” post, but more of a light-hearted poke at some things that have irritated me about the place I call home at the moment. By the way, no matter how much you like a place, it can have some warts! So….breathe deeply before you hit the comment section and throw a hissy fit in my direction cause I may have offended you.

 

 

5 Maddening Things About Japan

 

Meetings:

Meetings are an extremely time-consuming aspect of life in Japan. Whether you work for a large organization or a small one, meetings will be something you probably face on a daily basis. It’s part of the culture. People like to know what’s going on within the organization. You may find that some of these meetings you must attend have nothing to do with you, but you must go. Sometimes they can be about what you may deem as very minor if not inconsequential things, but you must go. The western saying, “Time is money!” simply doesn’t apply in Japan.

Get used to it. It’s just the way it is. Complaining about it won’t help you in anyway, especially in a culture where you are expected to keep your true feelings (especially the negative ones) under wraps. Bitching about meetings or the way work is done in Japan to your Japanese colleagues will make you persona non grata pretty quickly.

I still don’t like so many of them though…

Meetins in Japan are a very, very, very, very common thing!
Meetins in Japan are a very, very, very, very common thing!

 

Bureaucracy:

Think you know bureaucracy? You don’t know SQUAT until you come to Japan and deal with it. It’s everywhere and on every level. You’ll be pulling your hair out at banks, health clubs, immigration offices and even at fast food restaurants!

Go to Burger King and order a bacon double cheeseburger “without” pickles and see what happens. Soon there will be an emergency meeting between staff and probably a manager. They’ll have a quick serious meeting and then come to you to announce that you must have pickles on the burger because the burger comes with pickles! That is the only option. You quickly learn to just order the burger and take the pickles off yourself in order to prevent the entire staff from going into panic mode and needing to have a meeting (I know this from first-hand experience).

The slow moving bureaucracy seen in many aspects of Japanese life even irritates the crap out of Japanese people. I know because my Japanese friends and family complain about it too, but just not in public.

I recently watched a documentary about the 1995 Kobe Earthquake and one of the things that made the disaster worse were the levels of bureaucracy that slowed down all rescue and relief efforts. Decisions were being made at a snail’s pace while people were dying. Even international rescue teams complained that they had come with their specialized knowledge and equipment, but the Japanese government officials and red tape hampered their relief efforts greatly.

Order something "off menu" or "odd" and watch bureaucracy in action! (disclaimer...this may not always be the case!)
Order something “off menu” or “odd” and watch bureaucracy in action! (disclaimer…this may not always be the case!)

 

No insulation in building:

My apartment turns into a roasting pan in the summer as the afternoon sun heats up my building. My air conditioning units have to work overtime for hours to make my place a comfortable and livable temperature.

In the winter, although it doesn’t get extremely cold where I live, the inside of my apartment is often close to the outside temperature making it pretty uncomfortable at times.

DRESS IN LAYERS! Even inside your house!

Why is there no insulation in most buildings? Seems to be a mystery that only Fox Mulder and Dana Scully can hope to solve… (BTW…Just read that Fox is planning to reboot the X-Files!…yay!)

 

 

EXPENSIVE produce:

Japan has an aging and shrinking population. The average farmer in Japan is between 65-70 years old and younger generations are turning their backs on the rural and agrarian life. Japan’s agricultural sector is certainly nowhere big enough to support the population so a lot of the fruit and vegetables consumed here must be shipped in from other countries. That’s expensive! That makes what we buy in the supermarket expensive. Japan also has an over abundance of natural disasters that really don’t do local farmers and favors either!

Fruit and veggies cost a lot! I don’t like that.

EXPENSIVE veggies and fruit!
EXPENSIVE veggies and fruit!

 

 

Japan iTunes Store:

It SUCKS! I can’t buy TV shows. Even though I have an iTunes Canada account I still can’t buy TV shows here in Japan. I know there are other ways to see the shows I want using VPN clients and whatnot, but still….come on!!!!! iTunes Japan…get with the rest of the world!

Japan iTunes (shakes head)...
Japan iTunes (shakes head)…

 

 

There you go. A little blog post about some thing Japanish! Hope you learned a thing or two. Also, don’t take what I wrote too seriously 😉

 

 

You can reach me on Twitter: @jlandkev

Check out my Podcast on…the U.S. iTunes store (also in Japan as well)

 

 

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23 comments

  1. “When someone in your family dies, why don’t you give out the traditional New Years postcards?”

    Because you’re mourning. Why is that hard to understand?

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    • That’s why i didnt send anybthis year. My family is in mourning. I understand because I’ve been here for some time, but others who are newer to Japan may not know. My blog posts are for them!

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    • I didn’t know about the New Year thing prior to reading this. I doubt I’d be aware of it once I’ve moved to Japan. It’s not something that would normally come up in conversation, I imagine. “hey, you know those New Year cards I usually send?” “yeah?” “well, I’m not sending you one this year. ” “Oh, ok :'(” “no, we don’t do it here when we are mourning”.

      I don’t see that conversation happening, do you?

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      • I live in Japan and have some food allergies- wanting to try their food but just holding a single ingredient can be an embarrassing and time consuming experience. Also, I’m sure Kevin is perfectly okay with taking off his own pickles, but again it’s just an unexpected issue that his readers may not have previously known about. (and it’s a really funny story! He even said this post was for light-hearted purposes) People from other countries don’t necessarily expect the system to collapse for holding the pickles, and now they can avoid the embarrassment. I do understand where you’re coming from though, that many people in the world do such things out of their sense entitlement, and those ungrateful people bother me to no end also. I just highly doubt Kevin is one of them hehe.

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      • Obviously he already learnt that lesson the hard way? Sheesh let him complain about something that would be considered acceptable in North America…

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      • John…ACTUALLY they usually send out a card at some point that tells you they won’t be able to send out New Years cards…at lest in the area we lived in.

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  2. The Burger King problem can be solved easily. Don’t feel so entitled to make the workers your personal chiefs and just take the food as made. You don’t like pickles, don’t like having to take off the pickles? Go someone else then. Those “meetings” might be a result of them not expecting someone so ungrateful to come up and tell them the food they provide isn’t good enough.

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    • Calm down there buddy. Nobody is ungrateful because they have to take pickles off their burger. It’s just a pretty common request that should not send everyone into a frenzy, not to mention how wasteful it is to get pickles just to throw them in the garbage.

      Like

    • This is simply a cultural difference. In American restaurants and fast food (I should point out that Burger King is an American company), If you don’t want the food exactly the way it is usually made, you put in your order how you’d like it. This is not considered impolite. This is an expectation of working in fast food, to create each order the way it appears on the order screen. It is wasteful to order food that you will not eat and some people have allergies. You can’t simply “pick off” items that you are allergic to. The residue from them can still cause you an allergic reaction. If every food item had to be made exactly the same way, we wouldn’t need human employees. A machine could make the food. From experience working in fast food, following the instructions for an order is not difficult in the least. It’s part of your job and what you’re being paid to do. Simple requests like not including an item or adding an item to a meal are not “making the workers your personal chefs”. It’s personalizing your order. You can’t expect every customer, with all the wide variance in tastes we have, to like the exact same foods. And, seriously? Ungrateful? You’re showing more gratitude by asking them to withhold an item you won’t eat instead of tossing it in the trash can. That’s money saved for them, which will ultimately help the company and it’s employees financially. Sounds like Japanese fast food workers are the ones that feel “entitled” to do a simple repetitive assembly job without showing a tiny bit more effort to personalize some orders.

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    • Well he did warn us prior to reading the article that chops like you will have a lot to say,,,and guess what he WAS!!! F@ck some people just cant help themselves OMG!!

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    • The reason he chose Burger King because their corporate slogan and company policy is “have it your way.” McDonalds is about uniform service. What differentiates this chain is to be able to cater to individual tastes with small changes such as serving without pickles. Ironically the meeting to decide not to bend the rules is actually breaking the rules of Burger King.

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  3. Ahhh… the expensive fruits and veggies. In my small town in Japan, some of the prices (for lets say spinach, broccoli and onions) are not that bad compared to the prices in my home country. (Washington, DC USA). But, the fruits are outrageously expensive. I try to make it to the store when the produce is marked down. One day I will eat a Japanese peach. Just no time soon.

    Like

  4. Ahh… the expensive produce. In my small Japanese town have some veggies (like broccoli, onions and spinach) are fairly cheaper compared to my home country (Washington, DC USA). But, fruits are in a whole different category! I usually get fruits when they are marked down.

    Maybe one day I can finally see what the craze is about with a Japanese peach.

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  5. Problem with fruits and veggies is not really because of import but mainly because everything must be perfect looking so there’s a lot of waste. Local products are often more expensive than the imported ones.

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  6. why there is no inulation on and reliable central heating inside the Japanese houses? the answer is simple -planned obsolence, as they tear down whole apartment blocks every 30 years or so, so it just doesn’t pay off. The whole housing economics in Japan sucks balls, but as long as there are vested interests of big construction companies (and bribed politicians as well), and as long as Japanese have the uncritical “gaman” attitude about things that they just could change for better (ask any Japanese abiut it, the only conclusion will be the irritating “shoganai”) , the houses in Japan will resemble cardboard boxes.

    I know I’m bitchy here, but every winter I have sore throat for two months because of waking up to 11 degrees C of temperature…

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  7. I completely agree with most, if not all, of these! The meetings are kind of worrying me for when I start actually working (going through college right now). Especially since college life here in Japan is pretty laid back, suddenly going into this strict, planned-out way of life sounds like it will be extremely tiring, particularly for an introvert like me, who needs to spend at least 3 or 4 hours alone for every hour I spend with people. Meetings are my worst nightmare.

    Fruits and vegetables are indeed very expensive, and thank you for giving us your reasoning for why that is – I hadn’t thought about it this way, but it makes sense now.

    And heating inside my apartment is available. Fortunately right now I don’t have to pay for it as the school is doing it for me, but once I graduate things are gonna get much more complicated, it seems, because it’s also expensive, considering how it’s not common.

    I’m not sure why people are getting angry at you for stating these things – I suppose opinions differ from person to person, but I hope everyone can someday understand that you can’t like everything, even about your favorite place. In fact, it’s also part of Japanese culture to take out and keep only the things you like from everything, isn’t it? いいとこ取り。 It’s alright to have things you don’t like, it’s only natural. As long as you make the things you DO like work for you. In fact, if it was me, the list would have been much longer, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are many more things I like about Japan and it is still a great place to be. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here!

    Thanks for sharing 😀

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  8. Why don’t you sign up for a iTunes Japan account? I did. But since I don’t have a Japanese credit card, I have to buy the iTunes cards. The only bummer is making sure you’re signed in to the right account when making in-app purchases.

    Like

    • I have a german account and just switch my country (whole address) back to germany when I want to buy sth from the german store. It’s a little annoying, especially when you have some money left in your account but works.

      Like

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