Now Reading
10 Things I “Hate” About Living in Japan

10 Things I “Hate” About Living in Japan

10 Things I Hate About Living In Japan

[title]Things I “Hate” About Living in Japan[/title]

For those that know me or have even casually followed my Instagram feed, I’m not shy about promoting how much I love living in Japan. So when I used the word “hate” it’s only in a casual way. I seriously love this country for a million reasons and living here has been pretty much one of the top experiences of my life. But with that said, living as an expat in one of the most homogenous and foreign countries in the world has some definite hang-ups and frustrations. And on some days, I feel like pulling my hair out!! For example, today I went to two different grocery stores around town in search of just cilantro, or co-ri-an-da – an essential ingredient for a salad I plan on making tonight. And I couldn’t find it anywhere!! And like most people, I don’t own a car.

We’ve lived here for over three years and I can honestly say that it took us at least a full year of living here to really feel comfortable and not feel these frustrations on a daily basis. There’s a reason why it’s consistently ranked as one of the least friendliest countries for foreign visitors. So if you’re thinking about ever moving to Japan or even traveling here, here are some things to consider.

10 things I “hate” about living in Japan

1. The Cost

If you manage to find a job in Japan, then make sure your salary compensates for the standard of living. If not, then it’ll be hard to maintain a similar lifestyle. The exchange rate between USD and Yen has improved dramatically thanks to monetary policy changes, but between recent tax hikes and the general cost of living here, you can get used to frequent $20 meals and $5 Starbucks. Space is also scarce so property around Tokyo is very expensive. As an example, according to this particular survey in The World’s Most Expensive Cities from CNN, Tokyo has ranked as the most expensive city in the work for 14 out of the last 20 years. I paid the equivalent of $2.00 USD each for a few limes today, which is still a lot despite the price increases around the world due to recent shortages. Enough said.

2. Communication

Even after three years of living here, I’m definitely not fluent in Japanese. There were many days in the beginning when I felt beat down and wanted to scream because of the communication barrier. You can’t expect to live in Japan, enjoy it, and not learn the language. No one speaks English here so you’ll feel supremely frustrated if you need to survive in a country without knowing at least how to get around well. I’ve studied my Japanese a lot and have become pretty good, but there are always communication barriers. And learning to read Japanese is a totally different obstacle because of one word – Kanji. If you ever need help, want to go out to eat, or whatever, just communicating a basic need can make you feel like screaming and pulling out your hair on some days. But you learn patience and you adapt.

Additionally, traveling to other areas around Japan without knowing Japanese can also be very difficult, especially if it’s a small town. You just need to relax and not worry about what happens if you get lost. It’s all good. After all, Japan is one of the safest countries in the world!

3. No One Drives

Almost everyone takes the train here because owning a car will drain your bank account. Just driving 30 miles along the freeway will KILL you with a monthly car payment’s worth of tollway fees. Not to mention the added cost of parking because of the lack of space. Japan’s railway system is one of the finest in the world and I love the trains for the fact that they’re always on time and clean. With that said, taking the train can be supremely exhausting and at times, when you’ve had a long day and you still need to stand for half an hour in a train cabin packed like sardines, it tests you. And again, you’ll hone your patience. We’ve become accustomed to standing for long periods of time on the train, but it’s really bad when you’re dead tired, aching, have a ton of groceries, or God forbid you make a simple IKEA run.

Additionally, in the winter and in the summer, taking the train can be pretty uncomfortable. Summers here in Tokyo are brutally humid and hot and the trains cabins permeate moisture, cramped with sweaty folks and salarymen. And that fifteen-minute walk back from the station in the freezing cold or rain really isn’t much better either. But you’ll tough it out.

4. Foreign Grocery Stores & Limited Food Options

As much as I love the intimacy of Japanese grocery stores, I do find it frustrating when I can’t get common foods I like from back in America. On the plus side of that, I eat healthier and pretty much limit my shopping now to the produce aisle. But I’ve yet to even find a place that sells hamburger buns out in town, and reading laundry detergent or ingredients can be a task of its own. After Fukushima, we’ve tried to not buy produce from around that area, but unfortunately, despite the radiation leaks, produce from Fukushima prefecture is still being sold in stores!! Deciphering where your produce comes from is a royal pain in the ass if you don’t read fluent Kanji, which of course takes years to master. And oh yea, if you have a food allergy, it’s even better. I’m allergic to wheat and let’s just say it makes your life a whole lot harder.

Lastly, finding authentic foreign food around the city can be very difficult. But as foodies, we’ve managed to locate some of these places over the several years living here!

5. Lack of Gluten Free or Allergy Specific Food Choices

Unlike other parts of the world, Japan hasn’t really caught on yet with the gluten-free or food allergy awareness train. Unless you’re in a super trendy part of Tokyo like Ginza or perhaps Daikanyama (and this is no guarantee), eating out with an allergy can be really hard if not impossible. Most Japanese restaurants have a set menu and that’s it. There are no gluten free alternatives anywhere. And good luck asking for “gu-ru-ten fu-ri.”

6. Smaller Homes & Simpler Lifestyle

If living in Japan has enforced anything on me, it’s made me live a much simpler lifestyle. Most homes and apartments in town are really small. God forbid you own a king-sized bed or large American-style furniture. You’ll probably have to sell it. We live in a tiny 750 square foot apartment. My closet is too small, but on the bright side, I purge my wardrobe about four times a year and have converted to space-saving hangers. I share a bathroom with my husband, and well, our kitchen is very small and narrow. It’s a beautiful kitchen and I’ve grown used to it, but we have to use our dishwasher for storage. So I haven’t used a dishwasher in over three years….and I like to cook a lot. Plus our energy efficient washing machine takes 5 hours to wash and dry a full load of laundry. I like to think I’m helping out the environment. But once again, Japan teaches you patience. With that said, I really like the simpler life now but I could still really use a bigger closet.

7. No Trash Cans Anywhere

Finding a trash can around the city to throw away an empty coffee cup or a bag of dog poop can make you curse up a storm. I’ve held onto coffee cups for up to half an hour before. And because of the lack of trash cans, you’re expected to take your little friend’s poop back up to your apartment and flush it down your own toilet. I’m not joking.

See Also
gua sha

8. Over-the-top Service

I can’t complain too much about this because the attention to detail and integrity from the average service industry employee here is outstanding, but sometimes it’s too much and can get under your skin. I often go to the cosmetic stand in the department store in search of a single item. But instead, you’re escorted over to the chair, asked for at least two different point cards, and then given a heaping of sample products before walking out with a perfectly wrapped gift bag. That sounds amazing. But it takes forever and I value my time. I always liken this experience to the scene in Love Actually when Mr. Bean prolongs the gift-wrapping to the point of cringe.

9. Lack of Emergency Options

As a younger adult, I don’t stress too much about what happens in case of a major emergency, but I do worry about the inevitable nevertheless. As a foreigner, God forbid there’s an emergency and we can’t make it back to our designated MD to seek help. Or what if there’s another earthquake and the phones are bogged down and we get separated without communication? Even getting a vet appointment for my dog is incredibly cumbersome. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

10. The Role of Women

Japan still has a very strong traditional Asian culture and with that, women are more expected to run the home, bear children, and fulfill traditional roles. This culture is changing but it’s still widely apparent. It’s still harder for women to gain respect in the work environment, and as beautiful as Japanese women are here, the women are pressured to look thinner and dress better. I’m all in favor of dressing better and looking my best, but not when it comes to dressing a certain way. A lot of men in Japan like “kawaii” women which borders on pedophilia, which apparently influences how women present themselves to men here.

I guess when I think about it, life in a lot of ways is harder living in Japan. You have to forego a lot of your “necessities” and learn to adapt to a completely different culture which in turn is actually a much simpler way of living. But one of the many reasons I love living here is because of its simplicity. Japan may not be for everyone, but everyone can surely learn a lot from living in Japan.

If you enjoyed this article, give it a share!

P.S. Are we friends on Instagram? Find me @thepassportlifestyle. Find me on Pinterest too! (see my sidebar)

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
View Comments (21)
  • I’ve been coming to Japan for 20 years. Fortunately, I don’t have ‘live’ here. I will say this, the TV here is subversively bad. Take all the things bad about Japan and multiply it by 5.

    The incessant worrying/discussing of cancer and how FOOD (of course, FOOD) is the answer to everything!

    The denial/low browism. My goodness, 25 years of stagnation and they STILL cannot bring themselves to a serious discussion of things like the incredibly low birth rate, the appalling lack of mental health facilities (can’t have that, too much shame!!), the unbelievably bad and slow treatment of women in the workplace.

    The whole ‘wa’ is taken to another level. NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO DISCUSS SERIOUS THINGS ON TV IT MIGHT DISRUPT THE WA!

    The ridiculous overtime and the whole ‘kabuki’ theater of communication. You have to SHOW that you are listening. It is not good enough to say yes, you must SHOW you are listening. that’s part of the incredibly lame ‘face shot’ to SHOW how HARD the hosts are paying attention.

    My wife is Japanese and we’ve been visiting here for close to 20 years. I’ve lived here for 12 months at a time (a couple of times).

    America may be dirty, violent and brassy…BUT ‘we tell it like it is.’ Sometimes I get the feeling as if Japan is one giant episode of ‘Stepford Wives’.

  • I know your post is old but I somehow stumbled across it as I was looking for reviews of non-Japanese people living in Japan longterm. I have to say I feel like JLR and Fellow Gaijin a lot.

    I also think that the role of women is also a big problem. Japanese women need to do everything and be everything and know everything while Japanese men work 26 hours a day and have no time to do/be all that. That brings a big problem for the social structure in general because child-rearing is all on Japanese women and it will probably not change. And when the Japanese husband is not involved in family matters (in 95% of cases), what will he have in his life later on? Just work and ‘fun’ (or actual private fun) after work. I really hate how the whole state actually supports this with all the host and hostess clubs and alike which are exactly targeting the people who cannot find a real connection with their family/partner etc.

    TV, is one of those distractions too, everything is simple and taken ‘lightly’, in a postmodern way, nobody talks about the big issues. I think Japanese people live in an escapism world themselves with their mind-numbing work and socially structured life after work – be it the drinking after work together with your collegues or the ‘forced’ small talk with the kindergarten staff where you actually talk about nothing of importance 95% of the time.

    Yeah, I feel like it’s really all ‘simple’ and ‘easy’ but it’s also really mind-numbing. Not only Japanese women, Japanese men aren’t very, well, deep? They might be smart about what they learned in school, about the things they learned by heart but not in any way in individual way of thinking. Of course that’s because they are actively discouraged to do that – e.g. at a job interview they actually tend to hire the person that has the least outstanding character and acts more like a machine following orders.

    Oh well, this comes all from a person that has lived more than 6 years (with longer breaks in between) in Japan. I already understand too much of the Japanese language to actually still feel okay about all the ‘Eh?’ when you ask a person a simple question in Japanese that was just a little longer than a usual Japanese person would ask and suggests the person asked would need an attention span of longer than 5 seconds (without one million needless ‘cushions’ for politeness in between).

    So maybe my criticism is overrated. Maybe I am the only one who thinks Japan has something extremley mind-numbing about it. I also love Japan – in many ways – but the simplicity of life also has its negative sides to it.

  • I think your still in the nebie phase at the 3 year mark; An indicator of this is the opening “For those that know me or have even casually followed my Instagram feed, I’m not shy about promoting how much I love living in Japan. So when I used the word “hate” it’s only in a casual way” this disclaimer is often used by newbies not wanting to violate the law of not speaking truthfully how bad Japan really is. I stoped doing that years back. You know, the usual ” there is no racism in Japan” vlogger crap, usually posted by somebody looking for solace and redemption from the Japanese. Maybe their not getting from their on “kind”, a junkie hooked on that fake crap. At the 5 year mark youve long graduated from that scene, 10 year have a very realist outlook, 20, just sick and tired of it and like to be around adults.

  • A Japanese girl here. Thank you for sharing your interesting thoughts. A couple of things I would like to refer:

    No trash bins in streets: True that you have to bring along your small trash bag when you are out. Otherwise you don’t have a chance to throw away your trash. But it is not a good idea to flush the trash bag into the toilet. I was shocked to know that and I have never heard of people doing that. Every single Japanese town has a place (gomi shusekijo in Japanese)to throw your garbage/litter off. You should have known about it before putting your trash away to the toilet! It might have f**ked up your toilet…

    Women are less paid/respected: true that. In addition, if you are not from Japan’s leading universities (Todai, Waseda etc), you might get screened out of job interview process and end up getting less paid positions. It is applicable to everybody, not just women. So much for a high-profile school oriented society…

  • I have been living in Japan since 1990. I can remember when there were quite a lot of public trash cans on the sidewalks and train platforms. But, honestly, it doesn’t really bother me that there basically all gone now. I’ve become used to simply carrying any trash I might have for a bit until I notice a garbage can.

    Anyways, your observations are interesting! As for me, I still think Tokyo is the greatest city!
    I wrote a blog post about why I have stayed in Japan for so long…but your site won’t allow me to add a link here – so, you can read it if you click my username above (feel free to add comments on my blog!)

    • Thanks for your reply! I read your post, and I totally agree. These are ALL the reasons why we loved living in Japan, and why we’d move back in a heartbeat. I miss the perfection of the rail system. After moving to Boston, train times are hit or miss, and you couldn’t dream of falling asleep on the train either. I cannot understand why the Japanese do things so well like this, but it’s impossible to implement this amount of efficiency back home in American cities. It goes down to the people, I believe. It’s a level of integrity that in Japan is highly a function of a group mentality.

      I miss the safety and security of living in Japan, but what I miss the most, more than anything is the respect and consideration that Japanese people have for both other people and for other things such as the environment. This translates to a more peaceful society at the least. I also agree, Japan is the best country in the world and Tokyo is the best city!

      The whole right to bear arms is a mess in America. Just because owning a gun was written as an Amendment many years ago, that doesn’t mean it’s a natural and ordained human right. It’s just an American socially constructed right. I think America is so large, as opposed to Japan, that Federally, it’s impossible to govern well at the least. Now that any criminal can obtain a weapon on the black market, it would be nearly impossible to eradicate guns today I feel.

      I loved living in Japan, where people had a NORMAL reaction to the power of a gun and a rational understanding of what they’re used for! Unlike Switzerland where guns are widely legal but just as entrenched in the culture for historical political protection reasons, they’ve at least passed down a highly disciplined cultural respect for the weapon as opposed to in America. Here, any dumb kid can just go buy a gun and there’s no discipline behind their use. Ok, I’m done with my political tangent!

  • I think your just begining to understand Japan. Statements like ” I think Japan is the coolest country in the world” sounds to me like your just rationalizing your frustrations. Common intermediate stay (about the 5 year mark) noobie coping strategy. I dont know why everyone frontloads their japan experience with ” first of all, let me say, I love Japan”
    I dont need to see all that. If you hate it, why cant you say it? What eventually happens is the things you love about Japan, are slowly eroded away by the reality that you keep denying exist. If you have a foreign husband you might be able to get away with it, because you can dismiss most of it and escape back to your gaijin centric world, but if your married to a Japanese, well your fun has just begun and the things like not being able to find a spice in the store are very trivial. Fun and games begin at 35 45 etc. anyway, thanks for your share, but was a bit disappointed.

    • I spent over 4 years living in Japan. I’m convinced it’s in fact THE best country in the world, hands down which you would know if you bothered to read my post and my blog. But, yes there were frustrations living there, (as there are in any foreign country) particularly at the beginning. Maybe you’re not fluent in English but I used quotation marks to indicate sarcasm in the title of this article. I don’t care what you’re dissapointed with seeming as this post is entirely written based on my own experiences and NOT for you. And YES I LOVE JAPAN. And no, I don’t have a foreign husband….

  • My wife and I have been living in Japan for 6 years, and I love everything except the working culture and the paper work.

    As we all move deeper into the digital age, Japan’s love affair with paper work and printing is becoming something of an eccentricity.
    Once a client from work emailed me scanned copy of a fax (it was originally an email).
    It begs the question, why not just forward the email in the first place?

    There are other things that defy logic, and it becomes apparent when you see how people work especially in the government sectors and banks.
    Eg. 3 people involved to dispense cash at a bank, innumerable paper work that require you to write the same thing over and over again etc…

    I do agree with you strongly about the working women in Japan.
    My boss is quite respectable, but I notice he gives more opportunities to male colleagues as opposed to females, and it bothers me a lot.

    • Great to hear your insight. I never worked in a strongly bureaucratic or corporate environment in Japan so that’s one angle I never got to experience. In some ways the Japanese streamline projects very well, but their obsession with paper and receipts can be exhausting. I remember how long it took for us to lease a condo!

      Hopefully with the aging population, I’ve read that women are increasingly becoming more accepted as equal or considered for promotion. I hope it continues because that’s truly the only thing that bothered me about living there.

    • Japan is the coolest country in the world These are only written with a grain of salt, compared to the advantages of living there. I’d live in Japan forever if I could

  • Fair points one and all, and it’s nice to see someone who is realistic about the difficulty of Japanese (I get tired real fast of people claiming they were fluent within three months of arrival at Narita). I’ve been here a little over ten years, and while I like it for the most part there are things which really get on my nerves. You touched on some of them here, but I would add a few more points.

    1) Negativity. I mean that philosophically; it seems like the national hobby in Japan is “worrying”. TV perpetuates this; I try to never watch TV here (more on that in point 2) but my wife has it on in the morning. Today the only stories were about cancer and death. Literally. There was not a single positive story or point during the 30-odd minutes the TV was on. By the time I was able to turn it off, I was thoroughly depressed and the good mood I woke up in was gone.

    2) TV. Ugh. I mean, really. Not only is most of it low-budget garbage which shifts the lowest common denominator practically underground, but what actually frightens me is the use of the “face box” (you know, the little square in the corner somewhere which pans to the hosts’ faces). I’m convinced this is a form of cultural hypnosis- phrased alternatively, it is tantamount to trying to tell people how to think. It creeps me out.

    3) I’m with you on the women (point 10). Yeah, when I first came here I was gawping 24/7, but after a while you start craving those pesky human traits like intelligence, independence, an ability to converse about something other than food, etc. Luckily my better half is absolutely nothing like the average bimbo here (she has experience living abroad, is a mid level civil servant, and can stand toe to toe with me on any subject) and for that I am very appreciative!

    You mention that you’ve been in Japan three years – I’ve found that three years is typically the point at which people decide to stay long term or to leave. It’s long enough to really know if the things you like outweigh the things you don’t, or vice-versa.

    • Yes, agreed, I’ve learned that whenever I hear someone say that they “became fluent” in just a few months of living here, I call BS! HA. No way. Maybe conversational, but that’s at best. People study this language for years to perfect it and learn it!! I’ve learned there are different gradations and definitions of fluency, but passing the N1 or N2 on the JLPT requires serious time and investment similar to a full-time job. I swear it’s much harder than learning Spanish or French, etc in this aspect.

      That said, I kinda like Japanese TV as cheesy as it is. I don’t know, it’s so uniquely Japan and different. But yea, I’ve been here for 3 years, going on 4. We are being forced to move though because of my husband’s job, but honestly, we could probably stay here for a whole lot longer. I really love living here a lot.

    • The TV is rubbish and the cooking shows are the worst. Never had to deal with the women in Japan as I am married to a SE Asian woman. Although she was treated like dirt at her job, had rude comments made about her homeland and sexually harassed at times. When she had intelligent opinions and ideas she was quickly shot down and told her job is to just look cute. My job (expat package) paid well but I was miserable every day at work. Inefficiency and stubbornness and not being open to change was just the start. The after work drinking nonsense frustrated me too as did the unpaid overtime.

      I also found the people very superficial and fake even more so than where I grew up (Hollywood) add in the honne and tatemae as well. Japan is a closed society and not welcoming to foreigners. The whole country felt fake and soulless to me (especially at night seeing the worker drones looking depressed on the last train).

      I don’t hate Japan but two years was all we could handle and left and no plans to return there anytime soon.

  • Yup, I lived in Tokyo a while back and can definitely relate to what you are saying…cramped space, slow washer/dryer combos, and everything was SO expensive! Of course the exchange rate didn’t help, it was ¥120 to $1 when I first moved there but had dropped to ¥90 by the time I finally said “too rich for my blood” and left.

    However there were a couple things I couldn’t relate to, like the trash cans. Back when I was there (2008) Tokyo had trash cans on most of the major streets; they were all divided into three parts: aluminum and plastic, paper, and rubbish. They were not near as prevalent as the vending machines but I always managed to come across one before long. And while I’ll agree very few people there speak English, I must have gotten lucky because I made several friends there that spoke English (some to varying degrees). They managed to get me in several places that no gaijin would ever have been allowed in unescorted 😉

    • Super cool you lived in Tokyo. It’s such a fascinating city. But I understood that the trash cans were all swooped up after a terrorism incident. I can’t imagine walking around Tokyo now with trash cans!! It’s so bizarre.

      I definitely agree though, making friends with the natives is the best way to go.

      • Oh wow, really?? So that’s where they all went? Damn, it’s been too long since I’ve been back. You know after I first left I was plagued by these crazy vivid dreams in Japanese despite the fact that my knowledge of the language was–at best–minimal. I knew the words I needed to know but when it came to the kanji, well, I was SOL. I would find an amazing restaurant but not know the name and have no way to spell it on my western keyboard. (Keep in mind this is 2008, before everyone had smart phones — although even back then QR scanners were old technology and standard on all Japanese phones, just not western ones.) So what I did was Google the phone number from the receipt to find a name and address that I could save to my phone lol. Oh Japan….I miss you. Now I’m really tempted to fly back over there after Sri Lanka and see how my old love has changed 😉

  • Interesting take on Japan lifestyle. I’ve never been, but I watch a decent amount of Anime that has helped get a better sense of their culture. I would think that the worst thing on the list, if it were me, is the communication barriers, as that would just create miscommunication and misunderstandings, and everything just takes too long to process XD

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Speak your mind & your latest blog post

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

© 2021 The Passport Lifestyle
All Rights Reserved.

Scroll To Top