The irritations of living in Japan

I’ve been in Japan for nearly four years now so, like everywhere I’ve lived, 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. And when there are winds of only 100 miles an hour or so, that can produce delays of up to an hour!

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 shout to get a waiter’s attention. And if service does take a while to come they are so effusively apologetic it makes you feel guilty all over again.

I hate too much choice, so sometimes it takes me a while to decide if I want to pay at my table or just take the bill up to the ‘reji’ and pay on the way out.

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. And I’m sure my girlfriend wouldn’t have been interested in me if I’d been a teacher in a dodgy suit with a cheap apartment and no car… and Japanese.

Rubbish and graffiti

I always thought I’d be a beachcomber when I retired, but here 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.


Alcohol is really expensive, meaning if I eat and drink absolutely all I like all night in an izakaya more than 50% of the bill is drinks- meaning a bill of as much as 25 pounds! Which means, what with paying 5% income tax, 5% consumption tax, a fifth of my net wages on accommodation, and waiting more than a month until my company pays my travel expenses, I’m not saving as much money as I would like.


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 Roppongi Hills, 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 (or the colds and hay fever season) passes. 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 lucrative- and the fact that I have to keep on reminding myself of that after 4 years doesn’t mean it isn’t true…

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