The irritations of living in Japan

I’ve been in Japan for three and a half years now so, like everywhere else I’ve lived, the buzz of being somewhere new reduces, the shine comes off the country a bit and the irritations start to build up. Here are some of my chief annoyances about Japanese transport, service, attitudes to foreigners, rubbish and graffiti, prices and dangers:

Sometimes the train is two minutes late, and when someone jumps in front of a train it takes them up to 20 minutes to clear it up.

Sometimes the ticket machine takes a while to give you the correct change for your 10,000 yen (50 pound) note.

The whole transport system working so well makes you feel too guilty to fare dodge (not a problem I ever had in England).

Smartly dressed and impeccably behaved taxi drivers are all very well, but white gloves and embroidered covers on the seats are going too far. And I keep getting caught by surprise by the door opening for you automatically.

Sometimes there is no little ping-pong bell on the table to push for service, and you actually have to gesture or even speak loudly to get a waiter’s attention. And if service does take a while to come they are so effusively apologetic it makes you feel too guilty to complain.

Sometimes the staff in the shop are too busy to shout ‘Irrashaimase’ (welcome) to you as you come in.

The fact that they don’t hassle you to make purchases and are busy keeping the shop in impeccable condition means it can take a while to find a shop assistant.

Giving shoe sizes in centimetres is all very well and good (and logical), but it’s not what I’m used to and I can never remember which one is a size 8.

Attitudes to foreigners
Everybody making the effort to use the few words of English they know is annoying- I want to speak Japanese. And I like getting lost and peering at maps- I don’t need someone to take me all the way to the right platform or the right part of town. In fact I don’t need special attention of any sort e.g. cheap drinks for gaijin (foreigners).

Rubbish and graffiti
I always thought I’d be a beachcomber when I retired, but here after the pre-summer clean up there’s nothing on the beach to pick up. And the only graffiti there is has obviously been planned by the local council to liven up concrete walls- which is a bit naff.

With alcohol being so expensive and food so tasty and so cheap, as the years go by I find myself cutting down on my drinking and eating more. With all the other things that are more expensive than London (taxis, Marmite, fruit and veg, err…. that’s it) and paying 5% income tax and 5% consumption tax, my savings are not what I thought they might be. Still much better than in the UK, but still…

The number of safety announcements everywhere can make you so distracted that you might end up actually having an accident (for example, by not holding onto the escalator handhold in case it comes to a sudden stop). And if I’d let a kid of mine run riot around the Roppongi Hills shopping centre, he could’ve been the one mangled by the revolving doors. Luckily,  they’ve now stopped almost every revolving door in the country just in case. Finally, the complete lack of crime can lull you into a false sense of security (like the man on the train last week whose wallet was hanging half way out his back pocket) and make you absolutely petrified when you return to the ‘real world’ at home.

By now, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that I’m joking about all the things above and that nothing about Japan irritates me at all. Well, not quite. In fact, I’ve got so used to good service, reliable trains etc. that the slightest inconvenience really can irritate me on a bad day- and I’ve written this partly to remind myself of how good I’ve got it.

And there are genuine irritations, like in every country. Most of them, like salarymen endlessly sniffing and snorting on the train, can be forgotten once the situation (the colds and hay fever season) passes or easily tackled by technology (Walkman). Some can become less irritating as you understand the country more- for example, the Japanese are under such obligations to everyone they know that you can understand how they just want to ignore everyone they don’t- hence the pushing and shoving in trains and never standing up to give anyone your seat. A few, like the genuine racism (especially against Koreans and Chinese) and the government’s complete disregard for preserving the country’s environment and architectural heritage, are more serious. And I’m certainly not planning on becoming Japanese- partly because I couldn’t stand the constant pressure to be good and conform, and partly because I will not be accepted as such if I am not ethnic Japanese. However, as a (white, English-speaking, legal, single, short-term) foreigner, life is easy, convenient, interesting, stimulating and reasonably lucrative- and the fact that I have to keep on reminding myself of that after three and a half years doesn’t mean it isn’t true…

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