Not a day goes by here at RocketNews24 without a member of the team expressing their love for the country or uttering the phrase “only in Japan!” in a tone not dissimilar to that of a parent telling friends how their child tried to glue a toilet roll to the dog’s head to make a unicorn.
But even the cutest child gets on their parents’ nerves from time to time, and we all have to let off a little steam.
Over at My Navi News, reporters took to the streets of Tokyo to interview foreigners living in Japan to find out what irks them about the country that, usually, they love so much…
Of course, Japan is a great place to live most of the time. Crime rates are relatively low, people are usually courteous and considerate, the food is great, and it probably helps that the country is home to some of the best-looking people in the world. But there are a few rather frustrating niggles that many foreigners wish weren’t present.
- No pets!
Despite being a nation of animal lovers, it’s often difficult to keep a pet in Japan unless you own your home. Although the number of landlords and letting agencies with “pet friendly” accommodation is on the rise, it’s a slow process, and anyone with a nyanko or wanko (the cute way of saying cat or dog) looking for a place to live will find their options severely limited, particularly in urban areas.
“My pet isn’t a fashion accessory- I consider him to be a member of the family,” said a 20-year-old French woman living in Japan. “I want to be able to take him whenever I go.”
Hmm, we agree that you should be allowed to keep a pet at home, but we’d rather you didn’t bring him with you to eat sushi…
- Attitudes towards marriage
“Marriage should be an important, meaningful step in a person’s life, not something to check off on a list,” came a heartfelt response from one foreigner, quickly echoed by another saying: “Marriage isn’t some final goal in life to achieve, nor is it something that you do and should simply be congratulated for.”
Without wanting to over generalise, I have to say that these guys may be on to something here.
Of course, there are plenty of Japanese who marry entirely because they want to make a public declaration of their love and have decided to spend the rest of their lives together, but equally you wouldn’t believe the number of Japanese women I’ve met who told me that they simply “want to marry” without having anyone in particular in mind. When I suggested that they first focus on finding someone they want to marry, rather than just the act of marriage itself, they nodded in agreement for a few seconds before quickly adding “Yes, but I want to marry within the year if I can.” <facepalm>
Of course, women in Japan face many challenges that men do not (more on that later!) and so it’s little wonder that so many feel pressured to find a husband and settle down, but when there’s zero mention of things like love, commitment and stability, it makes this writer wonder whether they’re approaching marriage with the right attitude. I’ve lost count of the number of times that Japanese friends of mine told me in the past that one of their single female friends “wants to date you; she wants to marry a foreigner!” despite the fact that they’d neither met nor laid eyes on me…
On the other end of the scale, weddings in Japan can often be overblown Disney princess-type affairs, with the bride and groom changing (expensive) outfits several times and with excessively romantic- yet entirely scripted and often rehearsed- “first bite” ceremonies and letters read aloud to guests intended to jerk a few tears, as is the convention.
But, there again, maybe I’m just a miserable old fart; my wife and I had tiny Mario and 1-up mushroom figurines on our wedding cake and decided from the outset that the theme of our wedding would be “everyone has an awesome meal and gets lots of wine.” It went down a treat.
- Attitudes towards homosexuality
“There are no gays in Japan.”
“Being gay is more like a hobby; eventually men get it out of their system and settle down with a woman.”
“But what if a girl is really, really hot? Surely a gay guy would like her then!?”
No, these are not secondary quotes from My Navi News’ article; these are 100% genuine quotes from Japanese people I have worked with over the years. Admittedly, attitudes towards homosexuality are a little different in the city, but each one of these jaw-dropping one-liners has stuck with me to this day.
Just to set the record straight -no pun intended- there are plenty of gay and lesbian people in Japan; both foreign and Japanese. And most (though not all) do not “get it out of their system” and marry a member of the opposite sex. The last one I’m not even going to answer.
Like many other countries, civil partnerships or same-sex marriages do not exist in Japan, and there are few gay and lesbian people who feel that they can be honest about their sexuality. Rather than being aggressive or anti-gay, however, there is an air of ignorance surrounding homosexuality in Japan. Perhaps thanks to long-held beliefs that it is better not to make waves in public and to stick with the crowd, few gays and lesbians feel able to speak openly about their sexuality, which is perhaps part of the reason that so few Japanese have ever (knowingly) met a homosexual, leading to drunken coworkers making bizarre comments like “there are no gays in Japan.”
- It’s almost impossible to take a long vacation
Unless you work somewhere awesome like RocketNews24 (guess who wants time off for Christmas!?), taking even five days off in a row is considered a big deal when working for a Japanese company.
While we can’t fault the Japanese work ethic- those trains don’t arrive precisely on time every day by themselves, after all- the lack of flexibility when it comes to taking time off understandably gets on foreigners’ nerves. Going back to the subject of weddings as an example, when I married in May this year, my wife was given a paltry three days off work, and was met with teeth sucking and furrowed brows when she inquired about having a couple of weeks for a honeymoon.
With Japanese businesses so reluctant to give long stretches of paid leave to their employees (despite them being legally entitled to it), package tours that squeeze an absurd amount of travel and sightseeing into the space of just a few days are very popular with Japanese tourists, the last couple of hours of which are usually spent in souvenir shops buying box after box of omiyage gifts to be to handed out to coworkers after returning home while apologising profusely for leaving them with the burden of extra work.
On the up side, Japan has 15 public holidays each year, with Children’s Day, Constitution Memorial Day and Greenery day all falling in the space of the seven days in May, leading to the creation of the term “golden week”, since, together with the weekend, everyone receives five days off.
- Pressure , pressure, pressure
“I have a number of Japanese friends who, coming to live abroad for a while, felt free for the first time” said one Russian responder. “Japanese people have way too much pressure on them!”
In Japan, students do not sit entrance examinations, they go to juken jigoku “entrance exam hell”. They do not look for work after college, they being job searching “activity” that can involve months of attending interviews and scuttling around the city in a plain black suit (companies want a blank canvas, so showing individuality is not a good idea), bowing and exchanging business cards.
A country very much set in its ways, those who verge off the beaten path are often looked upon unfavourably, or at the very least have their parents worried and a little embarrassed. Of course, everyone wants to do well, but when you see kids in school uniforms leaving juku cam school centres at nearly 10 p.m., you have to feel sorry for them.
As one responder to the survey suggests, though, in times of crisis like last year’s earthquake, Japanese do a really good job of keeping it together. I couldn’t agree more; as I told friends and family back home when speaking about the Japanese people’s incredible resilience during and after the big quake, “I’d rather it hadn’t happened to me at all, but I’m glad it happened to me in Japan.”
- It’s a man’s world…
“Compared to my home country, there are still relatively few women in positions of power in Japan,” came a response from a 30-year-old Dutch man living in Japan.
“There is no system in place here for women to manage both a family and full-time job,” said a woman from Sweden.
Alas, this writer is tempted to agree that Japan is a little… slow, shall we say, when is comes to equality in the workplace. I’ve been to countless nomikai (work parties with a focus on drinking) where the female members of staff spent most of the evening wandering around the room pouring drinks into men’s glasses, which is a truly bizarre sight, not to mention awkwardwhen one of them knees beside you and tries to top up your beer. Imagine my disappointment when, despite being seated next to the office hottie at one work drinking party, I barely got to speak to her since she spent the most of the night on waitress duty…
Attitudes are slowly changing in Japan, but with the country facing a population crisis and statisticians warning that without more women marrying and having children the country will struggle to sustain itself, it’s likely that women will remain in the minority in the workplace fo some time to come.
What ticks you off about life in Japan? If you’ve got something you’d like to get off your chest, let us know in the comments section below.