Jan 20, 2015

I’m Guilty … Of Taking Japan For Granted!

I’m Guilty … Of Taking Japan For Granted! photo

A bit of overseas travel, with its combination of tropical beaches, airport waiting lounges, and time to kill, provides the perfect environment for thought and reflection.  Add to this the end of one year and the beginning of another, and it’s no surprise that we’ve gotten a little contemplative here at City Cost, thinking about why it is we’re lucky to live in Japan and what we may have been taking for granted in our daily lives on these shores.

We’re also reaching out to those of you contemplating a move to Japan, and to contribute an answer to the often-asked-online question, I want to move to Japan, but …… ?.

Here’s a list of things this writer has been taking for granted.  Some of it serious, some of it trivial.  All of it I should be grateful for!

Safe Streets

Japan may be home to world’s largest urban area but the idea of some districts being off limits due to safety concerns is almost unheard of.  This is not to say we’re encouraging complacency, of course be vigilant, but when the mayor of Tokyo tells you that 3 billion yen in cash is returned to its owners every year, you know you’re in a place where the collective sense of good is strong.  Don’t take it for granted, though.  Be sure to do your part.

I’m Guilty … Of Taking Japan For Granted! photo

Liberating Transport

Is there a country in the world easier to get around than Japan?  Arriving here from my homeland was positively liberating; no more need for a motor, never far away from a train station, and no longer restricted by oppressive train fares and unreliable service.

Japan’s system of trains is, quite frankly, staggering in its punctuality, efficiency, regularity, and ease of use.  On a local level, subways and train networks leave massive cities laying prostrate to our exploration desires.  Nationwide coverage of commuter cards like Pasmo and Icoca, and a sensible Fare Adjustment system allow even novice users to wiz between trains and stations like the most seasoned of commuters.

And then there’s the Shinkansen.  Japan’s Bullet Trains are surely the standard bearer for rail services the world over.  They’re smart, fast, regular, unfussy, and safe.  In over 50 years of service there has never been a fatality caused by derailment or collision.  The Earthquake Detection and Alarm System ensures trains automatically come to a halt at the first sign of a tremor.  To put this in perspective, in my homeland trains are regularly delayed by wet leaves on the tracks!

Be warned though, one fatality was caused by the automatic doors closing on a passenger!

Check Megan’s article; Getting Around: The Clever Way for more on Tokyo’s transport options.

Vending Machines

I barely gave vending machines a second thought before I came to Japan.  Now, contemplating life without them brings me out in a cold sweat!  

There are over 5 million vending machines nationwide.  What does this mean?  It means in sweltering summers one is never far away from thirst quenching waters, and life-saving sports drinks.  In frigid winters, you’ve no need to seek out a coffee shop for a piping hot brew!  Japan’s vending machines are an integral component of the nation’s culture of convenience, that makes the place so, well, livable.  

However, it has to be said that they do contribute to people’s vices, with cigarettes and alcohol readily available on the nation’s streets.  Together with drinks and snacks, these form the vast majority of Japan’s vending machine options, but if you keep a close eye out, you’ll also find machines selling lettuce, bananas, eggs, rice and, let’s just say, items that are far less savory … and strictly for adults only!

The Freedom to Browse

This may be a personal one, but in newsagents, supermarkets, and convenience stores back home, flick through the pages of magazines on the shelves for more than five minutes and it won’t be long before a fussy shop worker, with all the pent up frustration of a tired teacher scolding their pupils, tells you to move on unless you intend to buy!  Not so Japan, it seems, where people can pour over literature on shop shelves like they were in a library.  It may sound banal, but it’s something to be cherished, and is life-saver when you’re early for an appointment, or you want to escape some harsh weather.

I’m Guilty … Of Taking Japan For Granted! photo

KitKat Heaven

I warned you this was going to get trivial, but I’m the envy of friends who’ve visited Japan and had to return to the paucity of KitKat flavors back home.  Why is it that Japan has so many KitKat options to choose from?  Who cares?, I say!  Just take pleasure in the fact that it does!  From the delightful to the down right weird, chocolate/wafer fetishists can bask in flavors ranging from strawberry to wasabi.  From matcha green tea to … red bean sandwich?  Keep your eyes peeled for regional and seasonal varieties too, such as the soon-to-be-on-shop-shelves sakura edition, to coincide with cherry blossom season.

Such is the nation’s love of KitKat, last year Nestle opened a KitKat boutique (the world’s first) in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro Seibu department store, called KitKat Chocolatory.

Other honorable mentions go to being able to call over wait staff in restaurants at the touch of a button, and the incredible statistic that says Japan has more dental clinics than convenience stores (of which there are a lot).  

Let us know at City Cost why you love Japan so much, and what it is that you may have been taking for granted.  And remember, nothing is too trivial!



Traveler, surfer, and scribe. Based in Tokyo for six years.

1 Comment

  • Tomuu

    on Feb 3

    So it's official! Tokyo is the safest of the world's major cities, according to The Economist's Intelligence Unit. Osaka is at number 3. Read more about it here ... http://www.businessinsider.com/the-20-safest-cities-in-the-world-2015-1