It’s been a long time since I first moved to Japan. In that 11 years, I have lived all over the country, from Tokyo to Okayama and now Osaka. I’ve seen the good, the bad and the mediocre that this country has to offer. I’ve met some wonderful people, who became lifelong friends. I’ve also met plenty of truly awful people who are best forgotten. Overall though, Japan has been far more good than bad as far as I am concerned. In just 10 years, it has given me a lifetime of memories.
So, why exactly do I feel this way? What is it that is unique to Japan that makes me love it so?
Let’s explore this conundrum today, as I give you the rundown of my 15 reasons why Japan is awesome!
This may sound like hyperbole, but coming from Glasgow, one of the worst cities in Europe for knife crime, alcohol abuse and drug abuse, there is something really satisfying about simply being able to walk down a street at night and feel completely safe. Never at any point in my 10 years in Japan have I ever had reason to fear for my personal safety, earthquakes aside of course. The Koban system in Japan is a great idea, meaning that, provided you live in one of the bigger cities, no matter where you are at any given time you are never more than 5 or 10 minutes away from a police officer if you need help. This feeling of safety and security truly is something that money cannot buy.
2) Warm and Friendly People
They may seem a bit shy and timid at first, but once you get to know a Japanese person, you really have made a friend for life. They are some of the kindest, most generous and considerate people I have ever met. Osaka in particular has a warmth and kindness to it that really sets it apart from other places. This is the first city in Japan where I have found strangers will actually approach you and strike up a conversation. Not so unusual in the US perhaps but basically unheard of in other parts of Japan.
3) Fantastic Food
Soooo Oishi (delicious). Photo by Alpha on Flickr
Izakaya, yakiniku, ramen, udon, kaitenzushi, the list is almost endless. Japan has an amazing range and variety of foods to suit all tastes and palettes. What’s more, it is all so beautifully arranged and elegantly laid out on your plate, it can often be mistaken for a work of art. It almost makes you feel guilty to eat it. Almost, but not quite!
4) Long, Hot Summers
Some may see this one as a negative, but coming from Scotland I have learned from a very young age that one should never, ever complain about sunny weather! Besides, if it does get too hot don’t worry, because point number 5 is always there to make the heat just that little bit more bearable:
5) Summer Beer Gardens
I’ve frequently written pieces here on Taiken Japan extolling the virtues of Japanese beer gardens, so I don’t think there’s any need to labour the point further here. Let’s just say that beer gardens provide a fulfilling, reasonably priced and suitably party-like atmosphere for work colleagues, family or friends to get together, share a few drinks and make a good night of it!
6) Genki Drinks
Again a useful accompaniment to a previous entry, many people who, like me, have occasionally overindulged at a beer garden or an office night out will tell you that these little bottles of magic are absolute life savers!
These drinks are enthused with ginger, garlic, ginseng and most of all caffeine, and lots of it! The effect is that these drinks can subdue and in some cases even completely negate the ill effects commonly associated with a hangover, such as headache, nausea and sleepiness. For those like me, with a tendency to forget to sleep when we are writing, these little things also help get you through the working day, until you have time to sleep again.
7) Martial Arts
Sumo, kendo, karate, iaido, aikido, to name but a few. They are all awesome and they all come from Japan. These sports are practiced by millions of followers worldwide, myself included and they provide not only the benefits of enhanced fitness, mental strength and dexterity but they also provide a perfect gateway for foreigners to further immerse themselves in the culture of Japan and get to know the native people a bit better.
This sweet plum liqueur is, quite simply, the single most delicious drink in the world. Its syrupy goodness and full-bodied flavour are guaranteed to ease away the anxieties of all but the most troubling of days.
9) The Resident Evil Video Game Franchise
If you’ve never hunted down zombies, been slashed at by the “tyrant” bio-weapon or frantically run through the streets of the doomed Raccoon City desperately trying to evade “The Nemesis” then, quite frankly, you haven’t lived. Biohazard, as it’s known here in Japan is now entering its 20th year as a franchise and it continues to both terrify and traumatize a whole new generation of gamers the world over. And where did it all start? Right here in Osaka, at Capcom headquarters.
10) Adorable Mascots Aplenty
Cute Little Funashi. Photo by Takashi Nishimura on Flickr
Everybody knows Pikachu, the buzzing, yellow squirrel-type hero of the “Pokemon” games and cartoons. However, once you come to Japan you soon realize that our favourite pocket monster is just the tip of the iceberg. From the wonderfully huggable Kumamon bear of Kumamoto, to the cute but slightly crazy Funashi, a giant pear who serves as the mascot of Funabashi City in Chiba Prefecture, to my personal favourite: the sweet, rose-cheeked and ever so slightly drunk looking mascot of Osaka Itami Airport, Sora-Yan. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Google her and you’ll see what I mean. She is adorable, but I definitely think she’s had one sake too many!
Sora-Yan. Photo by Takashi Nishimura
11) The Best Customer Service in the World
Whether it’s buying a sandwich from 7-Eleven or doing your weekly grocery shopping at the supermarket, or checking into a 5 star hotel, customers in Japan are always served with a smile and a sincere bow. Some people find this can get grating after a while, but as for me, I always appreciate that little extra effort Japanese sales staff go to in order to really make the customer feel special.
Hiroshima. Photo by Guwashi999 on Flickr
My favourite city in the entire world. Hiroshima is a vibrant, beautiful and yet very humble place. With its blend of cosmopolitan cafes, and more traditional Japanese fare, there’s something for everyone. It also falls into that perfect range as a city that isn’t too big like Tokyo or too small and provincial like Okayama. It’s just right, and it serves as a lasting tribute to the Japanese people and their ability to create beauty and hope from the most tragic and horrific of circumstances.
This form of gambling is similar to the game slots in the West but plays more like a pinball game. To play you must buy a select amount of pinballs. Then you insert the pinballs into the machine and pull a lever. After that, the pinballs are launched across the pachinko board with the goal of aiming for one of the prize holes or point bars. If more balls fall from the board and back to the player, you can play longer. Newer pachinko games now feature a slot machine on the side that rolls when you insert the pinballs allowing players to win more prizes. Players exchange money from the amount of balls they receive. Maybe you will not be so lucky with this, so pachinko is not for everybody.
Karaoke in the UK was never much fun, since you had to get up and sing in front of a bar full of strangers. It’s not such a big issue here in Japan though, as you only have to perform in front of your friends, in your own private box. Not only that but there is also a huge variety of food and drinks on offer and in many cases its even cheaper than going to a bar. It’s a great way to spend the “wee small hours” if you’ve missed your last train home.
15) All of the above
In closing, you can probably find many of these features in other parts of the world. After all, many of them aren’t exactly uniquely Japanese concepts. However, there is nowhere else on Earth that blends all of these features with the same beauty, finesse and fun as the Japanese do. That’s why I love Japan, and that is why Japan is, and always shall be, awesome!