Far From Home: What Do Foreigners Living in Japan Miss Most About Their Own Countries?
Anyone who has read any of my previous work will know how much I love Japan. This country, its people and its values have finally given me a place I can truly call home. In all honesty, these days I feel a far greater affinity with Japan than I do with the country of my birth, Scotland (especially since the Scottish people rejected self-determination last year, but that’s another story).
However, in spite of the deep love and affection I feel for this great nation, Japan, there are still some things, trivial though they may be, that I miss about Scotland.
It got me thinking, what do foreigners living in Japan miss the most about their respective countries of origin?
Before anyone pipes in with the obvious answer, family and friends is a given. We all love and miss our families and close friends when we relocate, but to avoid melancholy I don’t really think that is something that needs to be visited in this article. Instead I will focus on practical, everyday, material things that we miss from home.
Luckily in my day job I work alongside teachers from about a dozen different countries. So, I conducted a short survey to get their thoughts on this question. It threw up some interesting answers, some I had never even considered before, and certainly gave me plenty of food for thought.
Foods featured highly on the list of missing items, as one would probably expect. Some people hark after certain treats and local delicacies, unique to their country. I for one really miss a good Tunnock’s Tea Cake washed down with a sugar rush-inducing can of Irn Bru. For those who don’t know, a Tunnock’s Tea Cake is a sweet shortcake biscuit topped with a dome of soft sweet marshmallow. The whole thing is then covered in delicious milk chocolate. The taste is heavenly, even if the calorie count is a dieter’s worst nightmare!
As for Irn Bru, the soft drink also known as Scotland’s other national drink (besides whisky), It is a sweet orange coloured mixed fruit sparkling drink, the taste of which probably falls somewhere between cream soda and Fanta. It has been credited with everything from curing hangovers, to saving the lives of the iron smelting plant workers from which it derived its name.
Anyway, I digress. Whilst such cravings are to be expected, most of the respondents in my survey were more pragmatic and less specific in their needs.
One friend, who like me has lost a lot of weight through dieting recently, bemoaned the lack of decent vegetarian and organic options in most restaurants and shops in Osaka.
However, since she started shopping at local farmers’ markets, my friend, who is from the US, has had better results in finding the kind of fare she needs to maintain her diet.
Likewise, sourcing good bread was another issue for some. Another of my friends, also from the US spoke of her dismay at being unable to find genuine wheat bread (brown bread to my UK friends). Whilst “genmai”, bread derived from brown rice extract has a taste and texture that is somewhat similar, my friend said: “it just isn’t the same.”
Amongst other food related gripes were the lack of thinly sliced deli meats, milk that is measured in gallons, and cookies. With relation to the deli meats though, I have to say that since I got a card for Costco, I no longer suffer that particular craving any longer.
Of course Europe and the US are also noted for their various fast-food chains. Whilst the likes of Pizza Hut, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonalds are now well-established across Japan, the food they serve is distinctly different from what one could expect in the US and Europe. Pizza in particular is not only almost unrecognizable from back home (seriously Japan, go easy on the mayonnaise!) but it’s also a lot more expensive. With exchange rates taken into account a typical large pizza costs almost double in Japan what it did last time I was back in Scotland.
One way I cope with this is TGI Fridays. I’m going to sound like a grockle when I say this, but the great thing about the food in TGI’s is that, no matter where you go in the world, it always tastes exactly the same. I’ve had TGI’s Jack Daniel’s chicken in London, Glasgow, Dubai, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Osaka. Every time, the taste was identical.
This type of food is not for everyone of course, and one certainly couldn’t eat it every week, but when I find myself feeling a bit jaded with Japanese cuisine, it certainly provides a welcome taste of the familiar.
Of course, it’s not only food where people have issues. Another of my friends, a Jamaican lady, said that finding the cosmetics and clothes she is familiar with back home is almost impossible in Japan. Being a taller lady, she said that finding trousers to accompany her suits was especially difficult. Thankfully, these days online services like eBay and Amazon help to sate these needs. Indeed as another respondent dutifully pointed out, as Japan continues to Americanize and more and more US and European fashion labels gain a foothold in the Japanese market, finding clothes if you are taller or fuller-figured than the average Japanese certainly isn’t as troublesome as it once was.
For the ladies, finding shoes was also somewhat problematic. As one friend remarked: “I’m a size 9, but Japanese women’s shoes seem to stop at 8.5!”
For some though, it was not the clothes or the food they missed the most, it was something more ethereal. One respondent, from Canada pretty much summed it up: “I miss the wide open spaces, blue skies and clean air of Canada.”
Another friend, who like me is a sports lover, spoke of how he misses the big match atmosphere of going to see his beloved AFL (Aussie Rules Football League) team in the flesh: “I can often watch the games on the internet, but it’s not the same as being there, and my kids often wonder why I’m sitting there yelling at my computer screen!”
The internet has indeed been a major source of salvation for sports and TV lovers from all over the world, who find themselves in Japan.
Thanks to various websites, I never miss seeing my beloved Celtic FC in action, nor do I run the risk of falling behind in the latest happenings on Game of Thrones.
In spite of all these gripes and apparent difficulties, all of those who responded to my final question were unanimous in their answer.
“Do you regret moving to Japan?”
“Absolutely not!” is the emphatic response.
For all its ups and downs, Japan is a country we all love dearly, and that’s not going to change any time soon.