How CF lifestyle in Japan compares to US
As an individual, I obviously can’t speak for everyone, but wanted to share my experiences comparing my view of life in Japan with life in the US. I do know there are CF people out there who dream of living in Japan and/or think it’s CF heaven. If this rings true for you, you’ll probably want to read this. (TL;DR is at the end.)
I’m not American and I haven’t lived as long in the US as I have lived in Japan, but still long enough to settle in and get a good sense of what life is like. The US is a much larger country than Japan, so obviously what I am going to share will not apply to the entire US and there will be variation depending on where you are. I am living in Colorado in a nice, overpriced, predominantly white town where there’s a lot of nature, but it’s also developing and growing rather fast.
In Japan, I live in the largest metropolis in the world: the Greater Tokyo Area. Obviously, if you’re outside of Tokyo and not in another big Japanese city, some of the comparisons I make will not apply. For me and my husband, jobs in Japan restrict us to Tokyo, so some things that may be more city vs smaller town/Tokyo vs small town in Colorado rather than Japan vs US will still be in here.
So, what things stand out to me when comparing Japan to the US?
As CF people, I think the extra time to spend on pursuing what we love is something we all value highly. This is why it was the first thing that leapt out at me upon moving to the US. Compared to Japan, I suddenly have so much more free time, I can’t even begin to decide what I would like to do.
When I am not working, all my spare time in Japan is spent on the following:
- Battling bureaucracy. The only things in Japan taller than Mount Fuji are the eternal piles of needless paperwork.
- Commuting. Every working day, 2 hours of my life and the equivalent of US$8 are lost to being crushed and sneezed on while my face is buried in a stranger’s armpit. If I’m lucky, it takes 4 hours because of the monthly fuck-ups and suicides, and a random pervert humps my bum as I’m lodged in between several sweaty bodies. Working from home is not considered real work.
- Doing household chores. Much more time-consuming in Japan than in any other western country. Home becomes synonymous with exhaustion and the constant fatigue cannot be escaped. Realising I have to return to manually washing a bunch of my clothes because there are no washing machines with handwash or delicate cycles has caused part of my soul to shrivel up and die.
- Figuring out where to buy some basic thing, or buying said basic thing. I don’t try to unnecessarily complicate my life. As long as I have herbs, spices, garlic and onions in stock, I typically buy meat/fish, veg, and rice/potatoes/pasta (all readily available in the average Japanese supermarket). Maybe the occasional tinned product (diced tomatoes) or jar of sauce. Though things can get complicated when you realise one product’s price can change by 30% depending on where you buy it. If it’s foreign, this change can easily be 50-100%.
My luck is generally shit, so I often have that the places where I buy things suddenly stop stocking some key item I need. Then I have to shop around all over again. Or your regular place stocks something—let’s say, flour—but they have zero wholewheat flour. Or maybe a load of skincare I regularly buy is available on Amazon, but only for prime members and I don’t know how much longer I can last living in Japan (Amazon Japan accounts are separate from other countries’ accounts), so I don’t want to sign up. Then I have to find some other place to buy those things, but it can’t all be bought in one place and I have to order from three different fucking online stores to get shit that is meant to be ubiquitous in Japan.
In the end for food in general, cleaning products, personal hygiene products and skincare, I end up regularly visiting 6 physical stores and buying from 6 online stores. In the other 4 countries I lived in before, I used to moan about having to go to 2 supermarkets and buy stuff from Amazon. What a naive little cunt I was! I now have to remember which of those 12 stores every individual item comes from. To make matters worse, half the websites are all in Japanese only and made from images. So even though my Japanese skills are all right, if there’s anything I don’t understand I can’t copy-paste; I have to go get my phone, find the dictionary, change the language input, write the character in manually to find out what the fuck I’m looking at… I must memorise the names of items and sometimes the brand names in Japanese (rubbish search engines) so I can type them into the search bar next time I need to order.
This is woman’s mental load in overdrive.
Oh, and everything seems to go off quicker in Japan than in the US. I could have lettuce in the fridge for a week in the US and it’s still crisp. In Japan, lettuce is brown sludge after two days in the fridge. Found the same thing with fruit and veg in general, tinned diced tomatoes and coconut milk. With everything going bad so quickly in Japan, random extra trips to the expensive supermarket nearby are common… Hah! You thought you could come home from work, get all that laundry out the way and relax! FOOL! There will be no rest until you leap off a train platform and become a ‘personal injury’ on the platform display.
- Making multiple small batches of brown bread myself (tiny ovens and non-white bread is generally unavailable and overpriced). Yes, I’m considering packing it in and paying for overpriced brown bread to be delivered because FUCK ME, am I tired.
I barely get any holiday. I feel like I live to work, instead of work to live. As a CF person, I would love to have more time to pursue my passions and not just slave away at everything I have to do.
In the US, the time spent on all of these activities was either drastically cut down or eliminated altogether. A lot of it is thanks to availability of affordable household appliances many Americans take for granted. Most of the bread in the supermarket is sweet, but at least I can actually buy healthy brown bread easily; even if I had to bake it, I have an oven that is easily eight times larger than what can be bought in Japan, so I can bake less often meaning more time for living life!
I’ve already written about this extensively in the past, so not going to go into it here. In Tokyo everyone has babies and children, whereas in the US, only some do. In Tokyo I hear a screaming child every day, but 6 weeks after having arrived in the US, I had only heard screaming kids two or three times.
I’m probably not the only CF person out there who considers themselves a bit of a foodie. I’m sure plenty of you like to spend time and money enjoying delicious food, experimenting with new recipes or trying new cuisines instead of reproducing. Now, if you love sushi and sashimi, you’re probably thinking ‘What could possibly be bad about the food when living in Japan?!’
Well, let’s just say it didn’t take long for me to go from sushi- and sashimi-lover to gagging on rice-vinegar soaked lumps of sticky rice and gulping tea to wash down some raw fish because I don’t think I can swallow it without retching.
How did this happen? Well, Japan really likes its simple, natural and local flavours. So, while there are several different flavours available, everything kind of starts to taste the same. There are some international cuisines available, but nowhere near the scale available in other countries (even in other East Asian countries I’ve lived in/visited); more often than not they are watered down to a more neutral and bland flavouring that appeals to locals and the more authentic restaurants are extremely expensive and far away from where we live.
‘Why don’t you cook at home?’ Oh, I do. But do you really think that with what I’ve told you, Japanese supermarkets are any better? In the US (and plenty of other countries), I’m used to looking for one product on the shelf and discovering it comes in 10 different flavours. In Japan, you have an entire aisle of one product from various brands that all more or less taste the same. One product, one flavour, a billion brands.
Some of the main things that get to me:
- Fish flavours and sourness abound. Dried fish flakes, fish eggs, shrimp paste and seaweed in almost every savoury meal and snack. Rice vinegar, ponzu (thick brown vinegar), pickled plums, pickled ginger and pickled vegetables; the first two are ingredients in several national dishes and the last three are frequently included with meals. I like fish and the occasional sour thing, but I get tired with trying new foods only to find it tastes the same as everything else.
- Mayonnaise. Mayo is everywhere and is not the same as what I have tried in the west. (I have a more western style mayo in my fridge that I’ll happily eat, but hate Japanese mayonnaise.) Every convenience store sandwich is mayo-ham, mayo-tuna, mayo-potato, mayo-shrimp and clumps of these often appear in obento (lunchboxes), too. I was once forced to spend three weeks eating only convenience store sandwiches for lunch and now just looking at them makes my stomach turn. You want a salad? Here’s a pile of shredded cabbage drenched in mayo. Mayo on pizza and mayo in your croque monsieur from the faux French bakery.
- Bread. Soft, fluffy white bread rules because bread is generally seen as more of a dessert rather than a staple (even though they have savoury sandwiches available). When they make something that looks like beautiful, filling, crusty brown bread with a mixture of seeds in it, it’s a trap! There will more likely than not be something sweet hidden inside it. If you’re not paying US$5 for 450g/1 lb of bread, it can’t be trusted.
- Fruit and veg. These are in dearth supply, with veg rarely offered as part of a restaurant meal (unless you count the generous teaspoon of pickled veg). They’re both overpriced (about 3-4 times as expensive as in the US and EU) and the variety available leaves much to be desired. Since arriving in the US, I have been gorging on fruits and vegetables, and all the strange, mysterious, painful ailments that have been bothering me since moving to Japan have all but vanished… Even though the place I’m living in is notorious for being expensive, fruit and vegetables are cheap compared to Japan.
If you’re vegetarian in Japan, you’re going to be cooking all of your meals at home because meat/fish is in everything. Forget being vegan. If I’m dying of boredom from lack of variety, can’t imagine how much vegans in Japan are suffering with the extra limitations.
- Seasonality. To make up for lack of variety in flavour, seasonal flavours are pushed. Sure, it happens in western countries too (e.g. wintery vegetables), but in Japan one or two flavours are pushed. In December, suddenly every sweet thing becomes strawberry flavoured for a month because everyone has strawberry shortcake for Christmas.
I am the type of person that enjoys variety when it comes to food. I grew up in a place where I was exposed to many cuisines of the world, I’ve travelled a lot, lived in 6 countries and enjoyed so many different foods from all across the globe… And while I may still like some of the more savoury dishes and a few sweet things Japan has to offer, the range of flavouring is simply too narrow for me. I like to cook all different things and I am severely limited by what is available in Japan. In the US, it’s often not too challenging to find a few speciality stores to get any exotic ingredient you need, or you’re able to order it online.
A lot of CF people like to travel, myself included. Already being in Asia does make travel within the region easier, but only regarding relative proximity and time zones. Everything else is harder.
- Lack of holidays. I already mentioned this. Salaries are also generally lower than in the west unless you’re in tech, finance or some other highly specialised and in-demand field, so I kind of don’t want to take unpaid leave. Also, living so far from family often means choosing one year to see family and choosing to holiday the next year: I can’t do both with fewer than 10 days off in the whole year. I have friends and family with 30 days of paid holiday a year (not including Christmas).
- Travelling during public holidays means a billion other people have the same idea and prices have jumped. If you’re travelling within Japan, this also means you have to plan well in advance or a lot of the hotels are fully booked and there are no more tickets left to get to your destination.
- I don’t know if North America has the same deals, but you can easily get ridiculously cheap deals flying from Europe to Asia and a host of other places. My in-laws have visited us for only EUR600 (US$675) per person and my parents for GBP600 (US$783) per person, either direct or one short stopover in Asia. If I want the same flight in the opposite direction? Typically US$1,000-1,200 per person. If I want to get anywhere near as cheap as what my in-laws got, it’s a 36-hour journey with an indirect route and a long stopover.
- What about building up miles/points? Yeah, those exist. But it can be extremely difficult to get a credit card as a foreigner, and even if you do, your limit may be really low (I think they started me on US$500), meaning no international flight purchases. Then factoring in few holidays and no cheap flight deals, it’s going to take you a lot longer to build up those miles to get discounts and upgrades.
What are those? It’s difficult to make them in Japan. CF friends are even rarer (though I have met a few; all fellow foreigners).
My neighbours living in the same building say ‘Hello’, but it took a few years before they actually smiled while saying it. Oh, and it’s not down to my language skills; out of all the foreigners where I work, I am one of the top five when it comes to Japanese ability and one of the only people who can actually read Japanese.
I thought I had friends at work, but Japanese people prefer to keep work, friends and family in completely different circles. It wasn’t until I temporarily started living in the US that I realised all the people I thought were my friends are not. Communication quickly fizzled out. Note that I do keep in contact with friends in other countries I left years ago. It’s not that bloody hard.
I have one American friend who is fluent in Japanese and he has Japanese friends. But he also told me he met them all in a hobby group. He’s also told me hobby groups are like cults: if you’re going to join one you have to attend every single meeting and if you miss one, you better have a damn good reason for not coming, else you’ll be shunned by the group. With the lack of time I already suffer, I’m not ready to dedicate all of my weekends to one hobby just so I can keep some friends that might hate me the moment I get sick and can’t come.
In Japan, I always get nervous talking to people because it seems obvious to me they are uncomfortable being spoken to by some stranger (note I am small and half Asian, so I am not generally ‘scary’ to locals). In the US, striking up a conversation comes so easily and people smile and laugh. Hell, strangers even come up and chat to me! Something that NEVER happens in Japan. I feel a lot less shy in the US because I don’t feel like I’m invading someone’s personal space and threatening them just by saying ‘Excuse me’ and asking a simple question.
I have a few foreign friends in Japan, but as is the case with any group of foreigners in any country, they can come and go. The awareness of this fact can also mean they are less likely to bother forming strong bonds in case they pack up and leave in the future. Also, a lot of female foreign friends enjoy life in Japan for its childfriendliness and have at least 2 kids.
Some CF people enjoy experiencing nature. There is plenty of nature in Japan, but you have to spend hours crushed between people in public transport to get there from Tokyo; in the US, the nature is right in my back garden. I don’t have to pay anything to get there, I don’t have to take packed trains and buses, I don’t have to travel for miles before I see an actual park with grass, a bunch of trees or a wild animal. Shit, I actually experienced pleasure just raking leaves up in the autumn. Being able to be outside, hearing songbirds, smelling the fallen leaves and feeling my muscles ache from the effort of raking my own, personal patch of grass? This doesn’t exist in Tokyo: the concrete garden of despair.
Before we had left Japan for the US, my husband and I had made it a semi-regular thing to go to a big park. Sometimes, we have an amazing time, but other times there are so many children in the central, flat area, we can’t hear any of the birds above all the shrieking that carries up the hills. So even in the middle of a forest park where there are some rare birds you can’t see in the city, the only sound you can hear sometimes are the high-pitched squeals you endure every damn day in the city.
Being CF in Japan is shit compared to the US because you have less time to enjoy life; too many small kids and babies everywhere; a lack of variety food-wise; travel is more difficult with the lack of holidays, lack of cheap flight deals, difficulty getting a credit card and it’s a challenge to build up miles; it is tough to talk to people and make friends, more likely for foreign friends to be baby-crazy; and you don’t get to experience much nature around you. If any of these things define the pleasures you derive from a CF lifestyle and you were thinking about moving to Tokyo, please seriously reconsider.
Yes, we’re trying to leave; we’re even preparing ourselves to make career switches to different fields in order to make that happen. For now, I’ll try my best not to cry on the flight back to hell.
submitted by CommonlyAnAnomaly