It’s a lot of fun living here in Japan, that’s for sure. I’ve met a ton of interesting people, I love my schools, and, come on, it’s Japan. But there’s some things about living here which suck. Here are ten things I don’t like about life in Japan, in order from least to most annoying.
10. My MMORPG doesn’t work
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, MMORPG is short for Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. Think World of Warcraft or League of Legends. I play an MMORPG called Maplestory, which is owned by a Korean company and is licensed for North America and several European nations. Before coming over to Japan, I had not done much research into whether or not I could play Maplestory in Japan. I was aware of the fact that some sites, such as Netflix, Crunchyroll, etc. did not work with Japanese ISPs, but I didn’t know that MMORPGs would also limit ISPs.
Upon coming over to Japan, I downloaded Maplestory onto my new computer, but it wasn’t until four hours later when the download finished and I tried to run the game that it gave me the warning “You can’t play this game because your ISP is region-banned.” Doing some research, I found that the game isn’t licensed in Japan, and the game read my ISP and automatically blocked me.
But Corinne, why not just use a VPN to play?
I did some research into that, and it turns out that most VPNs don’t work very well. In addition, the Maplestory website says quite clearly “Anyone who is found using a VPN to play the game will be permanently banned.” And I have seen users banned in the past for this very same thing, so I was not going to even risk it.
I can handle it, because I’m going home to California this year for Christmas and I can play Maplestory then, but it still kinda sucks.
And right along those lines, Youtube. I subscribe to an anime review channel–a fairly big one–but because their (fair use) videos are always flagged for copyright infringement by various anime companies, they have had to resort to restricting which countries can and can’t view their videos. Some of their videos are still okay, but a few that have seen quite a bit of back-and-forth between this channel and the company that produced it have been blocked in Japan. I understand completely why they had to do that, but grr. Youtube really needs to get a better copyright system in place.
9. No swim teams
In the States, USMS (United States Masters Swimming) is a huge thing. In every large city, there’s pretty much guaranteed to be a swim team for adults certified by the USMS. Not so in Japan.
Japan does have its own Masters Swimming organization (Japan Master Swimming), however, there are no teams in my specific city, as far as I can tell. And unlike the USMS site, there isn’t a function on the Japan Master Swimming website where you can search for master’s teams in specific cities. Swimming is something I did a lot back home, and it was my main form of stress relief. There is a public pool here, but it’s only open for one month during summer. And there’s also a private pool where you pay $50 a month. It’s the same amount of money as I’d pay back home for my USMS team, but in that case, my money gets me access to a pool in addition to a coach, a workout, a team, and also all USMS meets, both open water and regular pool meets. The main difference is that pools in the States are heated year-round, whereas here in Japan, they’re not heated whatsoever, so only when it’s warm enough outside to swim is the pool warm enough to swim in.
8. Fire hazards galore
Many of you probably don’t know this, but when I was in college, I worked for the New Student Orientation program. Why do I mention this now? Because if there’s one thing I took away from that job, it is how to recognize a fire hazard in case of an emergency. And living in Japan, emergencies are quite common–we have earthquakes up the wazoo. But Japanese businesses don’t seem to recognize fire hazards as we do in the West.
For example, at the convenience store, the aisles are relatively small, only big enough for one person to walk at a time. And the ATM is placed right next to the refrigerator–there’s barely enough space for anyone to walk past it.
Or in the grocery store, stuff is piled up all around the “down” escalator, making it hard to get away from the escalator and head to the exit in case of an emergency. Every time I see something like that, my anxiety starts going crazy and I have to actively fight not to go tell an employee they suck at their jobs.
7. Google Maps and public transit suck arse
It is incredibly hard to find your way to an unknown place in Japan. Google Maps is very finicky and sometimes you can’t search for an address in English–luckily I know Japanese, so I can search for it in Japanese, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for a tourist who doesn’t speak Japanese who’s trying to find a relatively unknown location, or a place off the beaten path. Or when I tried to find a restaurant for an enkai–a drinking party with my colleagues. I got the address from the school nurse and looked it up on Google Maps. Google said it was a thirty-minute walk from the station, which I thought was rather weird. Usually we have our enkais close to the train station because Japanese cops are really strict about drinking and driving–you can’t drive if you’ve had even one sip of alcohol, so my teachers take the train so they can drink alcohol. But I figured that maybe they just wanted to try somewhere new, so on the day of, I took the bus down to the train station and walked thirty minutes to the location Google said was the restaurant.
It was just an empty lot, surrounded by a lot of houses. No restaurant anywhere to be seen, or rather, any businesses whatsoever. Not even a convenience store, when those are a dime a dozen in more busy areas.
I asked a lady nearby walking her dog if she knew where the restaurant was. She had no idea. I showed her the Google Maps app on my phone and she still didn’t know. I asked another lady and she also didn’t know. I had to call the other ALT at my school who was also going to the enkai and get directions from her. Turns out, the restaurant was a mere eight minutes from the train station on foot, in the exact opposite direction of which I’d walked. So I had to backtrack to the train station and then go the opposite way, and I wound up being fashionably late to the enkai.
The bus system also sucks here. At least, in my specific city, it does. It comes really late, sometimes it doesn’t come at all, or it leaves earlier than when the timetable says it will. One only has to look at the situation a few months ago when I was coming home from shopping with about fifteen pounds of groceries, and since it was too much to carry and walk, I decided to take the bus. The same bus I take to and from the train station. I got to the bus stop at 5:15. The timetable said it would come at 5:19. I waited a few minutes. When it didn’t come by 5:25, I wasn’t worried–it’s often late about five minutes. But I waited until about 5:35 and it never showed. To walk home from the grocery store, I walk along the same road the bus takes, and while I was walking home with all those groceries, I did not see a single bus pass by, which means it never even came at all.
Back home in California, I often took the bus, since I didn’t have a driver’s license. But in San Francisco, we have a relatively good bus system. Here where I live, there’s no phone number to call and check how long it is until the next bus. You can’t look up the bus schedule online like you can for the MUNI. And I’m fairly certain you can’t even walk into the bus depot and ask for a bus schedule for the local bus. The bus here in my city is terrible, and the city won’t spend money on it because “not enough people use the buses to make it worthwhile.” But people here don’t ride the buses specifically because they suck.
6. No respect for vegetarians/alternative diets
(To like, the one person out there who gets this reference, you’re amazing)
As the title says. Vegetarians/vegans/pescetarians/other special diets aren’t really respected here. Of course, you have people who are actually allergic to gluten and can get gluten-free options for their school lunches, or the kids who can’t digest lactose and area allowed to drink soymilk instead, but the overall mentality is that unless you are actually allergic to something, you’re not allowed to be picky about eating it.
So imagine going out to eat in America, or in your own home country. You’re excited to try a new restaurant, it’s gotten great reviews, and you’ve seen on Yelp that everyone recommends the special pasta dish, so you are determined to also get the special pasta dish. You arrive at the restaurant and get your table, only to read on the menu that the pasta dish has bacon in it. The problem is, you’re vegetarian. So you call the waiter over and say that you’ve heard that the pasta is recommended but it has bacon and you can’t eat bacon. The waiter agrees to make it without the bacon, and a few minutes later, brings out a steaming dish of pasta sans bacon. You dig in happily, give the waiter a huge tip, and everyone goes home happy. Not so in Japan.
The situation is the same: you’re going to try a new restaurant, you want to get the special pasta because everyone recommends it. You read on the menu that it has bacon, but you’re vegetarian. Heart sinking, you call the waitress over to your table and ask for the pasta to be made without bacon because you’re vegetarian.
“Well, I don’t know if we can do that. We can’t really make any changes to the menu,” she explains.
You decide to order something else, but everything else has some form of meat in it. Even the salad has chicken! Frustrated, you explain to the waitress you’re vegetarian and could she make the pizza without the sausage on it, at least?
“Well, I don’t know. I should ask my manager.”
She vanishes into the back, and reemerges ten minutes later.
“Okay, we can make it without the sausage. But we’ll have to charge you the same price.”
You laugh and assure her you don’t mind about that. So she vanishes into the back again, and you sit back, imagining the delicious meal you’re about to eat. The waitress reemerges with your pizza and places it in front of you. But then you stop as you notice some little specks on the pizza that shouldn’t be there.
You call the waitress back over and ask what happened.
“No, yeah, we couldn’t make it without the sausage after all,” she explains.
But, wait. You explained it to her in Japanese, so she should have understood. And what happened to “the customer is always right” and “customer service is god”?
Japan prides itself on customer service, as long as the customer sticks to the menu and doesn’t make any special requests.
This post has gotten rather long, so I’ll end it here. Part two, coming soon!
If you liked this, you might also enjoy From Iwaki to Aizu (Christmas Part One)!