Is home life in Japan that different from your home country?

By Luke Mahoney, grape Japan

I can still remember stepping off the plane when I arrived in Japan some years ago. Homeless, friendless, and phone-less, I was incredibly nervous and daunted by loudspeakers barking in a language I hardly understood. As I looked for a bus to the city, I was overwhelmed by everyone's efficiency of movement. They knew what they were doing and where they were going, while I could barely determine the sky from the ground.

After some awkward conversations in broken Japanese, I was hustled onto a bus bound for Kobe, a port city in Kansai. I was to meet a realtor later in the day who would help me find an apartment. Still, I needed a few necessities, so I headed to a shopping center beforehand.

YouTuber Life Where I'm From offers a plethora of videos on his channel. He highlights various aspects of living abroad but mostly focuses on everyday life in Japan. His content reminds me of when I arrived and provides an excellent orientation for anyone who has ever considered living in the land of the rising sun.

Shopping Malls in Japan

Although Japanese culture and lifestyles are very different from Western countries, there are superficial similarities. For me, I was shocked by how similar major shopping depots are to those back home.

Life Where I'm From hit up his local AEON, a major retail mall in Japan. Despite the elaborate ガチャガチャ toy vending machines, the entire venue seems reminiscent of its North American counterparts. There are countless clothing retailers, shoe shops, jewelry stores, and so on.

For me, the most amusing part of Japanese malls is the food courts. They feel like something out of Bizzaro World. Outwardly, the restaurants appear almost the same. Yet, they have unheard-of items like okonomiyaki, chicken and egg rice bowls, fried pork, and other Japanese staples for sale. Nevertheless, there are enough pizza and burger stands to choke a horse. Some things are universally popular.

Japanese Apartments

Later, in the evening of my first day in Japan, I finally met my realtor, who picked me up at the shopping mall and took me to an apartment. As we toured the facility, I was relieved that it was a modern Japanese style. For those unaware, this means that it is western in many respects with beds and the like and a notable lack of tatami mats and other traditional effects. It was a lot like this:

Although westernized, shoes are not allowed. This is a given and universally true throughout the country. Most apartments are simple studios or 1,2, or 3LDKs. Although a bit cozier than back home, they are easy enough for anyone to navigate. The notable differences are likely the kitchen and bathroom.

I should mention that moving in was incredibly expensive by international standards. I needed first and last month's rent, as well as a deposit and an unredeemable fee known as "key money." Furthermore, a sponsor is usually required, especially in the case of foreign renters. Fortunately for me, my company at the time supported me. Still, others may be forced to interact with guarantor companies, insurance companies that will essentially protect the landlord should you flee the country. Most renters expect to put down about six times rent as they sign the lease.

Beyond these burdens, however, renting in Japan can be even more challenging for foreigner residents.

Kitchen and Bathroom

As hinted, Japanese kitchens take some getting used to.

f you're North American, you'll probably notice a lack of a dishwasher. Residents wash dishes by hand and dry them on a rack. There is also no oven, but a stove-top burner with a special tray for baking fish. Numerous other devices like a rice cooker, griddle, and takoyaki (octopus ball) grill pan are also commonplace.

There are two major pain points in the kitchen for me. With all the electronic devices, there is hardly any counter space. An overly large sink does not help the situation. Furthermore, countertops are intentionally set low—Japanese homemakers are typically petite. A full-grown western male, I have to bend awkwardly as I cook and often leave the kitchen with lower back pains.

Bathrooms, on the other hand, are pretty striking.

First and foremost, “bathrooms” are separated into three distinct areas: the toilet room, a sink space with a mirror, and a separate room for a shower and bath. While I initially thought this was odd, it’s incredibly convenient. Whenever a roommate takes a shower, the toilet and sink remain available. And everyone still gets their privacy.

There are other notable characteristics, too. Toilets are futuristic and very comfortable. They often include a bidet and seats that can be heated during winter. Shower rooms are closed off and completely tiled so that water can be sprayed willy-nilly. In Japan, most people take a bath at night, so one is included. Some apartments have an electronic display that will automatically draw a bath or reheat the water while you wait. When finished, the water can be siphoned into the washing machine and reused.

Homeless in Japan

An apartment of one's own is wonderful, but not everyone in Japan is so lucky. There is a homeless population in the country that typically congregate in so-called ドヤ doya slums like Nishinari-ku in Osaka. Life Where I'm From published an informative series on the issue. Part one of five is featured below

Although the problem is widespread, it is relatively limited compared to other countries. Fortunately, drug abuse is not a problem in this population, so related issues such as discarded needles and infections are not prevalent.

In my few interactions with the homeless, they were reserved and never aggressive. I've been approached for pocket change a few times, but have also seen others deny 10,000 yen from strangers. Although homeless individuals have historically been neglected, attitudes are fortunately changing for the better. Check out the rest of the series if you can; it is very in-depth.

Read more stories from grape Japan.

-- Japanese shrine meticulously recreates grounds in Animal Crossing—and it’s open for visits

-- Touching story of a girl who learns to view her disability in a new way [manga]

-- Manga Artist Wakes Up to a Mid-Flight Surprise

© grape Japan

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

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you'll probably notice a lack of a dishwasher. 

Most apartments lack them, but contemporary houses usually come with a dishwasher (I have one). They are a lot smaller than North American size.

, I was shocked by how similar major shopping depots are to those back home.

This is definitely a recent thing. When I first arrived here in the 1990s I was surprised by how rare shopping malls and larger retailers (except department stores) were.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

For me, I was shocked by how similar major shopping depots are to those back home.

Shocked? Its 2020. What was this guy expecting, the floating market of Bangkok? (and even Bangers, for the past couple decades, has an array of "modern" shopping malls).

there is hardly any counter space. An overly large sink does not help the situation.

Get a large cutting board (as Japanses do) that purposely fits over part of the sink. Makes clean up much easier too.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Although the problem ( homelessness in Japan ) is widespread

What's up with that?

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Lol how about some actual real tips.

Tone down the Japanophile behaviour (avoid being the person who thinks everything in Japan is remarkable and tries overly hard to fit in, agrees with everything and eventually burns out due to taking on too many tasks and gets frustrated when you can't be Japanese or treated like a Japanese person no matter how good you Keigo is)

Use your Gaijin powers wisely - foreigners often get away with some things Japanese people wouldn't be able to because of the perception that they don't know or understand things, don't be the person who is loud and obnoxious on public transport but rather speak up at meetings etc about things that everyone else is thinking but are to afraid to say anything about)

Explore - if you live in the city go to the country and vice versa, visit a ryokan go hiking, chances are your only in Japan for 1-3 years so make the most of it.

Don't feel obligated to go to nomikais or if you do go don't drink yourself silly. I think after the first 2-3 work drinks i went to i realised they weren't for me, its just my opinion but i am happy to meet work colleagues but having managers and other senior staff there really kills the mood, no one relaxes and it just turns into an ass kissing exercise.

If you work as a teacher try and teach your students critical thinking skills and different perspectives, most of the time the Gaijin is somewhat of a token figure but that gives students the ability to learn that differences are not a bad thing and new perspectives and views can help make them more robust people.
4 ( +7 / -3 )

The usual OMG at the slightest thing sensationalism.

If you buy a dishwasher, I recommend a 60cm wide one. They are all imported and unfortunately will be expensive. Ikea's might be just about the cheapest. 45cm width standard Japanese dishwashers are very small. Some only have one shelf, not two, making them even smaller.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I don’t have a dishwasher in the U.K, nor a tumble dryer. The biggest difference is not having a proper oven and hob and no central heating and proper insulation.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

I have a number of Japanese friends who, when they remodeled their kitchen, had a dishwasher installed. They use it as storage space. One lady told me it didn’t feel she was doing her best for her family if she didn’t painstakingly wash the dishes by hand.

By the same token, spending hours vacuuming the floors is apparently preferable to letting a Roomba do most of the work.

These are things I don’t understand. Life is way too short to waste time doing stuff a machine can do just as well if not better.

But restaurants in Japan have unheard-of items like okonomiyaki, chicken and egg rice bowls, fried pork, and other Japanese staples for sale? Really? Japanese restaurants sell Japanese food? It’s shocked I am, to be sure.

Invalid CSRF

8 ( +10 / -2 )

Back home, I can't hear the neighbours' conversations. And it's not boiling hot in the summer or freezing cold in the winter inside the home.

8 ( +10 / -2 )

If you stand outside your house in your underwear and glare at passersby in the UK you'll probably get a visit from the police.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

Before Year 2000 around

Family members eat at one table and watch the telly together with laughs and jokes in the evening and during the day eat fruits together lying on the floor feeling the weather with the relaxing mood. Cheerful times.

After Year 2000 and now

Family members stay in their own private room. They even don't notice who is in the house and whether they have eaten or not. Dreadful days.

So what's the point of complaining about the things in the house?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

By the same token, spending hours vacuuming the floors is apparently preferable to letting a Roomba do most of the work.

Robot vacuums only do a superficial job and don't have nearly enough power to pull dog hair out of carpets and area rugs. They are ok for keeping the bigger dust bunnies under control but don't deep clean and you have to empty them daily. For a really clean home you need a great vacuum and elbow grease. Japanese companies sell the most powerful canister vacuums made. We discovered them in the US by accident looking for bags for our US market Panasonic vacuum. We brought a used Japan market Panasonic canister vacuum over though Buyee for giggles and once my wife saw it, the Miele was parked for good. Nothing sold in North America can top the best Japanese vacuums for power. They run just fine on US 120 volt current too. We also have a new Hitachi Karupack canister. Stunning power but the Hitachi power nozzle isn't as good as the Panasonic nozzle for digging out doggie hair.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Does any Asian country include ovens with the range top? I noticed Chinese kitchens likewise lack ovens as well. Nobody in Asia bakes it seems. No dishwashers either but instead many Chinese kitchens have a built in sterilizer for dishes, flatware and cooking gear. Hand wash the dishes and place them in the sterilizer. No idea how it sterilizes. Do Japanese kitchens have these too?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Tortoise - like I said, Roomba-chan does most of the work, not all of it. It still needs a push-it-yourself vacuum to get what the Roomba misses, but thankfully not every day.

Nobody in Asai bakes? Well I do, and yesterday I went to buy a new oven, my current one being on its last legs after years of faithful service. There was a whole section of the shop dedicated to ovens, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t there for my benefit alone.

Granted they range in size from tiny to the smaller end of medium- no one is cooking a whole Sunday roast dinner in the oven here. But there are plenty of ovens around, some of them pretty hi-tech.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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