You know the age old saying, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone?” Well now that we have been in Sweden nearly a year living the Covid high life, I do find myself thinking about Japan a lot and the things we miss. Of course what we miss is what made living in Japan so much fun and convenient and it is easy to forget the things that made it so frustrating at times. However there is something special about Japan and there were so many to choose from but finally I have come up with my 10 best things.
No I’m not a train spotter but I do miss the trains in Japan. There is something about a train that runs on time, is clean and is always quiet. The trains are so well organised that late trains are very rare and if you do happen to be late for work due to the trains, you have to get a certificate from the ticket office to prove it to your boss.
2. Amazon Japan
This may seem a strange one but as a Gaijin (foreigner) in Japan, it is very difficult to get a debit card for your Japanese account and it is even harder to get a credit card. Your bank will simply give you a cash card which makes it almost impossible to order anything online. Amazon Japan have worked around this by providing COD, which stands for Cash On Delivery. This means that you can order anything you want from them and you can pay for your item when it arrives on your door step. Zara also offers this option in Japan.
For those who hate spending your whole day waiting in for your package to be delivered, you will love Japanese delivery services. Amazon specifically offered 3 time periods for delivery each day. 8am-12pm, 12pm -4pm, 4pm-9pm. Yes 9pm. This meant we never had to waste a day waiting for a delivery and we could even have it delivered on work days.
3. Eating out
Eating out in Japan is so cheap, we would eat out on average three times a week. For two people; Sushi would cost us no more that 2000yen (£14), an Italian meal with soft drinks would cost no more than 2500 (£18). If you wanted something cheap and cheerful at Saizeriya, two Dorias and unlimited soft drinks would cost less than 1500yen (£11). Even work night outs were cheap often costing around 3500yen (£24) for food and 3 hours of all you can drink.
Of course, if you go to one of the numerous Michelin star restaurants in Tokyo, then the prices will rapidly increase and if you choose to eat in some of Tokyo’s top tourist destination spots then you will be hit with some very overpriced sushi but if you go small or even chain, then you will undoubtedly find a bargain.
4. Vending Machines
The vending machines are genius and weirdly never get vandalised. What I loved most about the ones in Japan were the selection of hot drinks. On a winter’s day, no where near a Starbucks, a hot coffee from a vending machine was enough to keep you going and a bottle of water during the summer’s humidity was always a life saver.
Onsens are a difficult thing to adjust to as a British person. We are, by nature, quite prudish when it comes to stripping off in public, so the idea of getting naked in front of strangers seems incredibly alien to us but I promise you, it is one of the most relaxing things you can do.
During my time in Japan, I have been to a number of onsens and sentos, mainly in hotels and they are magical. The heated water, full of natural minerals, can ease your muscles after a long day and send you to sleep afterwards in the most relaxed state. If you ever visit or move to Japan, this is something you need to find. You’ll forget you’re naked in no time.
Although Japan is the home of tea, primarily matcha and green tea, surprisingly coffee is very popular and so Starbucks has been welcomed with open arms. In September 2020 Starbucks had a total of 1601 stores in the country and a newly opened roasters in Tokyo. What is great about Starbucks in Japan are the regular seasonal variations they offer every couple of months from, maple and walnut, gingerbread lattes and even strawberry shortbread.
Other tasty options are the Family Mart coffee selection. We would often pick up a caffe latte on our to walk to work and at only 300yen (£1.50) for a medium coffee, it was perfect.
If you want something a little more Japanese kawaii (cute) then there are numerous independent coffee shops in Tokyo with something unique to offer. This one from a cafe called Reissue in Harajuku, offered foam art which was fun but not necessarily worth the 40minute wait.
7. Bathroom gadgets
When you think of Japan, you think of fancy toilet seats. When we moved into our apartment we were thrilled and then a little intimidated by our Japanese toilet seat. But once you have mastered it, there is not going back. We miss ours so much! Japanese apartments and houses do not have central heating so the heated toilet seat was just perfection during the cold months.
Something lesser known about Japanese bathrooms are the automated baths. Ours came with a keypad on the wall where we could set the water level and temperature of our baths and it would ring gently to let us know when it was ready. What was especially interesting for those Eco warriors out there was the ability to reheat the bath water. Japanese families often take a quick shower before soaking in the bath tub. This means the water stays clean and can be reused over a couple of days if covered when not being used. Just reset the temperature on the keypad and it would ring when it was back to being warm.
Combinis are the back bone of everyday life in Japan. You can find them anywhere, even in the most remote places and they have almost everything you need. From the formerly mentioned cheap coffee, a quick lunch and an impressive array of snacks. Hot food, sandwiches, onigiri to name a few. You will often find most have a hot water dispenser for your ‘cup a noodle’ or even a microwave to heat up your bento box.
They are even your central hub for photocopying, paying bills, purchasing tickets for concerts or theme parks and pretty much all of them have a toilet if you are stuck.
9. Private Health Care
We were lucky that our private health care was included in our work contracts and we rarely had to use it. I am a huge fan of the NHS and believe in the principles that all people should be entitled to equal health care but it has its draws back and that was made very clear during our time in Japan.
The first time I really had to use my health insurance was when my back went. A colleague found me an appointment at the nearby doctors and after a short wait, I was shown into a small doctor’s office. The doctor did a quick questioning session to see where the pain was then guided me into the next room where I was positioned for two x-rays. We walked back into his office where he looked at the x-rays on his computer screen and determined that it was a muscular problem not bone. He gave a back brace, some heat backs and advised me to take an over the counter pain killer and sent me on my way. The entire process took less than 30mins.
When I saw the bill, I had to look at it twice. The entire consultation and back brace cost me 2500yen which at the time, was only £15. Although I think the NHS is a good thing, that whole process would have taken days even weeks waiting for an appointment in the UK not the minutes it took Japan.
And just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, it only cost me £30 for the two dental appointments required to make my mouthguard I needed for my grinding teeth. That included a full clean. I can certainly see the benefits of paying for health care if you can afford it.
10. Japanese Hotels
Finally number 10 brings me to Japanese hotels which are the best. No matter what budget you are working with, you are almost guaranteed to find yourself in a clean and well stocked room. In every hotel I have stayed in from a budget capsule hotel to a midrange Hotel Mystays to a Hoshinoya Hotel they all share the same standard of cleanliness and basic necessities. You will always find a set of pjs on the end of your bed, a sealed toothbrush and toothpaste, a hair brush, shaving set and a hair dryer in the room. They are all designed with office worker’s unplanned hotel stay in mind so if you ever find yourself in Tokyo with nothing but your handbag and you need a hotel room after missing the last train, you would find everything you need to have a comfortable stay. No walk of shame here.
So there is my top 10 and it was really hard to narrow it down. It is safe, clean, so culturally unique to the rest of the world and a truly amazing place to live.
I hope you enjoyed my quick trip down memory lane as much as I did.