1. No Shoes
Don’t get me wrong, shoes are a very good accessory. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that I am a little too into them. But the fact of the matter in that all clothes are oppressive. Who doesn’t love peeling off their shoes and socks at the end of the day? Only monsters.
Most people know that Japanese people take their shoes off in their homes. This didn’t ever strike me as odd because tbh I thought everyone did. Canadians do.
This guy knows what I’m talking about.
But Japanese people don’t just take their shoes off at home. They take them off EVERYWHERE. Which means that it is not only socially acceptable, but encouraged (or mandatory) for you to do the same. Many restaurants and bars require it. Amazing. Every meal is made better by the absence of shoes. Airplanes? It’s a must. You might even get away with it on long train rides.
Caveat: You need to up your sock game. You never want to be caught with holey, mismatched or threadbare socks.
2. Movie Theatres
Besides the fact that this can be another shoe-free venue (see #1), Japanese theatres have a LOT to offer a cinephile.
The thing I love most about them is the SILENCE. As someone who is filled with white-hot rage every time someone narrates the movies to the seatmate or rummages around in a bag of Doritos during a tense on-screen moment, I immediately appreciated the rapt silence of a Japanese movie theatre. Nobody talks. Like… ever. And snack-related noise is kept to a true minimum. It’s amazing.
Dreams Really Do Come True
But that’s not the only thing to look forward to at the cinema. Some theatres also offer the undisputed Greatest Movie Snacks of All Time: Caramel popcorn. I recommend going half-and-half with the classic butter flavor. Because you CAN.
Caveat: It’s extremely lovely that most Japanese movie-goers will sit quietly through the ENTIRETY of the credits. But even I, with my BFA, cannot be bothered to. So be prepared to feel a bit bad if you slink out before every last name has scrolled past.
3. Convenience Stores
The Japanese convenience store is pretty iconic. It’s a staple of life for most city-dwelling Japanese folk for a reason. World-renowned chef Anthony Bourdain himself called the egg salad sandwiches at Lawson “inexplicably delicious”. And he wasn’t kidding. In my homeland, nobody who wasn’t on a poorly planned road trip would dare eat food purchased at a convenience store. But fast, easy, meals are just one of the many services it offers, but that alone is worth its reputation
Are you prepared to call Anthony Bourdain a liar?
Want to print some photos? You can do that at the conbini. Buy tickets to Disneyland or a concert? Yes, you can do that there too. Send and receive packages? No problem. Pay for purchases made online. Sure. Pay your BILLS? Yes, also an option.
Caveat: Conbini can become a way of life. It’s way too easy to rely on it for meals so try not to make it a habit.
4. Proximity to Nature
When I tell people I’m from Canada, they invariably compliment my home and native land on its majestic nature. And they’re not wrong. We have a lot of really glorious scenery. The problem is that Canada is geographically massive and we never did manage to implement any good, fast way of getting around it.
But Japan isn’t geographically.
And they pretty much perfected high-speed trains.
So, no matter where you are in Japan, you are never more than a stone’s throw from something pretty beautiful a la mother nature. Even in a concrete Metropolis like Tokyo there are countless gorgeous, manicured parks and the mountains are only a short train ride away.
Also, it’s an island… so getting to the seaside is pretty simple from almost anywhere you’re at. There are even places where you can have the mountains at your back and the sea out in front. How awesome is that?
Caveat: There isn’t one. Nature is great. Go take a walk.
5. Seasonal Food
The seasons play a big role in just about every aspect of life in Japan. Each one brings its own special holidays and activities. As the weather changes, so does the fashion and of course the food. There are two types of seasonal food in Japan.
Family-Style – When the autumn chill sets in, out comes the donabe. It’s time for tummy-warming delights like hotpot and oden. In summer, it’s time for calpis sodas and shaved iced. This food isn’t strictly eaten at home. It’s widely available in restaurants too. It’s just that it’s perfectly tailored to the time of years.
Commercial Foods – This is a truly only-in-Japan type thing that I really love. The flavors of the snacks you find in convenience stores, groceries stores and bakeries is constantly changing. Not only season-to-season, but often month-to-month. There are some seasonal staples: chestnut and sweet potato in autumn, cherry blossom in the spring, etc. Then there are flavors that seem a bit arbitrary but awesome none-the-less. You’ll wake up one morning and suddenly every kind of candy comes in a banana flavor. Or milk tea. Or melon.
I had to wait 2 years for this beauty to return to shelves..
Caveat: You’re bound to get your heart broken. No sooner do you find a flavor you love than it is discontinued, never to be seen again. So if you do fall in love with a limited-run of something, I recommend you stock up!
Of course, there are a million more things that are amazing about living in Japan, many of which are more substantial than the items listed above. But sometimes it’s nice to appreciate the little things. So there you have it.