Since I’m the original creator of this thread, I’ll chime in with my retrospective outlook on my year and a half spent in Japan. But first some updates: I did in fact leave Japan for good back in January 2017. I went straight to Northeast China, my old stomping ground from 2009 – 2012. I started in Dalian, then onto Mudanjiang
, then Yanji
, then Changchun
, and then finally Shenyang
. Then I left the mainland for Hong Kong
, which is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever seen Asia. Then I went on a grand tour of Southeast Asia, starting in Hanoi
, then Ho Chi Minh City
, then Phnom Penh
and Siem Reap, and finally back to Bangkok, my home from 2012 – 2015. Do check out all of my blog posts and trips reports on my website if you’re curious how things went.
I spent most of the summer of 2017 back in the United States, particularly Arkansas (my home state), but I also made a road trip out West and then back again. I passed through Amarillo, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Dallas, and everything in between. Then I went back to China for another month, but this time with my brother in tow (his first trip to China)
. We saw Dalian, Dandong, Beijing, and Xi’an.
We then made our way to Bangkok (my second trip in 2017), and then finally made our way down to Kuala Lumpur, where we stayed for another four and a half months. We ultimately bailed, seeing as neither of us liked KL
. We escaped to Phnom Penh, where we stayed a month and a half, and then to Siem Reap for another week. Oh yeah, I also went to Yangon with my European friend
back in December. And now we’re finally back in Bangkok yet again, where my brother plans to stay for a few years, and I’m going back to Mongolia around June, when the weather is nice and warm, to stay for a few months. That’s a lot of moving around!
But now back to Japan. Simply put, the country just wasn’t a good match for me, and I think part of the reason for that is because I’ve seen too much of the rest of Asia, so it was hard not to always compare Japan to other Asian countries. Just like many other men from my generation, I grew up playing Japanese video games, but unlike many of them, I’ve never really been into anime, manga, Japanese music, or any other Japanese media. Regardless, I moved to the country with a very eager and open mind, but the real Japan was nothing like the way “fantasy” Japan is portrayed by the media and general word of mouth. I can’t say I was too surprised, as us over here at HA know better than to trust mainstream information sources.
With very few exceptions, Japan is an almost universally respected country worldwide, and the overwhelming majority of people view it as a positive place. I respect that, but at the same time I think Japan perhaps gets more respect than it actually deserves, and that irritates me as a traveler in Asia. The continent is full of interesting and exotic places (i.e. Mongolia and Myanmar), but I felt Japan was mediocre at best, yet everyone "protects" and praises the country as if it's infallible. The high cost of living, Japanese people’s internal anti-social tendencies mixed with a societal obligation to be hyper extroverted on the surface, the overly plain food, the crushing conformity, the sanitized street life, the “live to work” mentality, and the insular nature of the country were all too hard for me to look past. Japan struck out for me where it counted the most
Most people who go to both Japan and China will usually gravitate more towards one than the other
, and I definitely think I’m more of a China guy. China is where “happier abroad” all started for me way back in 2009, so I’m naturally more nostalgic towards it. My wife is Chinese, I’ve spent hundreds of hours perfecting my Mandarin Chinese (spoken and written), and I go to China for a few months nearly every year. Even though China tends to piss me off more than it makes me happy
, something about China keeps drawing me back in
. I will have a soft spot in my heart for China until the day I die.
Even though my tone throughout this thread might sound overly negative, Japan still had lots going for it
. I can clearly see why people like the country. For me personally, I miss just driving my little company-provided Mitsubishi Minica all across rural Ibaraki and China. I’ve surely seen every nook and cranny of those two prefectures. As I wrote about before, I also made a road trip with my brother to Mount Fuji back in June 2016. That was definitely the most fun I had in one and half years in Japan. My second best experience was riding a bicycle all the way around Lake Kitaura in Ibaraki with my Irish friend from work.
I also greatly miss Japan’s secondhand shops. I bought literally hundreds of broken camera lenses and vintage film cameras from stores like Hard-Off and WonderREX for only 1,000 yen or so apiece. I repaired and refurbished every single one of the lenses and cameras with my own hands, then shipped them back to the United States, and then resold them all on Craigslist and eBay when I was back in the US during summer 2017, sometimes for hundreds of dollars apiece. I also sold several of the lenses wholesale to some small camera shops in Kaohsiung
and Dalian. I made tens of thousands of dollars doing this, which allowed me to work independently (and hence move around) for most of 2017. Make no mistake about it though, it was hard work! 99% of people would not enjoy doing that kind of tedious work with their hands, nor dealing with customers' petty complaints. Anyways, I really miss those stores, and I might go back to Japan someday just to go to those stores again. They’re a photographer/techie/do-it-yourselfer’s dream!
Though Japanese cuisine was lackluster overall, I do miss some of my favorite Japanese snacks like chikuwa
, and dango
. I also really liked Japanese drinks, and I appreciated the abundance of sugar-free tea. It seems like most of the rest of Asia always wants to add sugar to their bottled tea, and I absolutely hate that. I also liked all of the sugar-free sodas and energy drinks available in Japan. I know they’re not healthy, but I still loved them. It was always fun stopping at a 7-Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson, Sunkus, etc. to buy a bag of snacks and drinks.
As for Japanese women, I just couldn’t get into them. I’m married, so it’s a moot point, but I could clearly see they just weren’t my type. I think Northeast Asian women are some of the world’s prettiest women, and Japanese women are
very pretty, but they’re personalities never did anything for me. On the surface they seemed very sweet, polite, and gentle, but it all just struck me as an act. They also give off mixed signals that are very hard to interpret. Japanese women have a very First World mentality too, which is never good for a country’s dating market. Their personalities also tend to be extremely childish (anything and everything is kawaii!
, their love for all things Disney, their love for Hawaii, etc.), and they're far too often completely clueless about anything that isn't Japanese, which makes them seem like Asian ditzes. I have nothing against Japanese women per say, but I believe the rest of Northeast Asia (China, Taiwan, Korea, and Mongolia) has more to offer single Western men looking for a partner.
All in all, I had an interesting year and a half in Japan. Weekends were usually a lot of fun, but the work week was always a hellish grind. I saved a lot of money, and I hustled and made even more money by exploiting the country’s secondhand market. But Japan was not as I had envisioned it, unfortunately in mostly disappointing ways. But it wasn’t all bad, as the country surprised me in many positive ways as well.
Anybody who plans to stick around Asia long should definitely see Japan. It’s one of the region’s most culturally and economically significant countries. It’s not to be missed. I personally liked rural Japan more than urban Japan, which is unusual for me, as I'm a city guy. But China also shouldn’t be missed. Go to both and see which one you like better. Hell, you might even like them equally.
I in no way regret my 18 months spent in Japan, and I certainly learned a lot during my time there, but I’m confident it’s not a country I’d wanna live in again. Regardless, I’m sure I’ll travel there again someday, as I still want to see Hokkaido and Okinawa. I also want to see Osaka again, as it impressed me far more than Tokyo and Kyoto
. But don’t just take my word for it. Go to Japan, spend an extended amount of time there, and see how you feel. You might love it, you might hate it, or you might fall somewhere in between. I assumed I'd love it prior to my trip there, but I left a bit disillusioned with very mixed feelings.