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. (originally posted January 20th, 2015)

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 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.

Meetings are a very, very, very, very common thing 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…


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).

Order something “off menu” or “custom” and watch the donkey-show that ensues! (May not always be the case….based on my personal 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.

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!

EXPENSIVE fruit and veggies….

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

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 Store….facepalms…

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

(This was originally posted on January 20th, 2015)

The writer:

Kevin O’Shea is the host of the Just Japan Podcast and the Just Japan News Podcast. He is also the guy behind JustJapanStuff. Kevin is a Canadian educator who lives in Kobe, Japan with his family.

Follow him on Twitter: @jlandkev

Email: justjapanpodcast@gmail.com


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