Coming home made me appreciate so many things about England, but also the things I miss about Japan. So in no particular order, here they are.
15 Things I love about England
1. Long summer evenings when you can enjoy being outside until 10 o’clock. Unlike Japan where you’d be in darkness from 7:30 onwards.
2. Warm days with blue skies and puffy clouds. Compared to a humid Japanese summer, an English summer is pure bliss.
3. A long list of food from roast chicken, pastries, sausage rolls, some many different cheeses, chocolate that melts in your mouth, fat juicy beef burgers, sausages and mash, good pizzas, fish and chips, lasagna and so many different types of bread. And when you want something different, there’s Italian, French, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Polish and so many other types of food to choose from.
4. Being literate again. It’s SO nice not to be that foreigner who doesn’t understand! I can walk with confidence into a bank, post office or shop with confidence now. Yet I’ve caught myself saying ‘arigatou’, ‘sumimasen’ and ‘gomen nasai’ on the odd occasion!
5. Reading newspapers and watching TV. The simple pleasures in life.
6. Pubs. A public drinking space Japan so desperately lacks. There are no seat charges, no fancy drinks, just locals having a chat and or playing live music.
7. Browsing bookstores and reading real books. Walking around Waterstones, touching the covers and flicking through the pages is a pleasure I didn’t even know I missed. Much better than online shopping on a Kindle and reading from a cold, hard electronic screen.
8. Seeing people enjoy themselves more. From seeing couples kissing and holding hands in the street, to families playing outdoors together and neighbours having a BBQ together. These are seldom sights in Japan.
9. Reasonably priced fruit. I was in heaven when I walked around a British supermarket’s fruit section because everything was so cheap! In Japan fruit is available and delicious, but it is bank-breakingly expensive. Strawberries being about £5 for 12, apples about £2 each and water melons ranging from £10 to over £1000! You sure couldn’t have 5-a-day in Japan!
10. European cafe culture. People talking and laughing loudly in cafes, sitting outside in the street, reading a paper and enjoying a cup of coffee and watching the world go by. There weren’t many cafes like this in Japan.
11. Cooking. Having cupboards full of ingredients my creativity in the kitchen has been rekindled. So far I’ve cooked a platter of Indian food, multiple salads and never-failing desserts.
12. Friendly, but sometimes unprofessional customer service. Having a chat whilst you buy your shopping is usual in this country, even if it’s just about the weather! Yet this was taken to extremes when a Boots sales assistant started asking about my upcoming holiday, even when there was a queue of waiting customers!
13. Getting back to nature. After two years in Japan where I had almost no contact with animals, I’ve turned into an animal lover. I now find myself petting other people’s pets, even if they’re chickens!
14. Live music. Buskers playing in the street, bands playing in pubs and multiple music festivals. Music is a lot more accessible here than in Japan, where I never heard any free live music.
15. Of course, there are the obvious things I haven’t mentioned, like seeing friends and family again. Yeah, that’s pretty nice.
15 Things I miss about Japan
1. The impeccable service. In Japan, you’re always welcomed into a restaurant with ‘irashaimase’ and the waiter or waitress will really look after you. Service in England depends on where you go, how much you pay and the mood of the waiter or waitress.
2. Cleanliness. In Japan the toilets are always spotless, whereas you’d be lucky to find a public toilet in England, let alone a clean one! In general Japanese people care a lot more about the appearance of their house, shop, street and neighbourhood.
3. The food! Everyone misses sushi, I didn’t know I’d be craving miso soup, white rice and tempura. It’s time I found a Japanese restaurant in England.
4. Combinis. Everything is convenient in Japan. A combini (convenience store) is a shop selling everything from hot food to alcohol at competitive prices and the shops are everywhere! You just have to look down a road and you’ll see a sign for one. The equivalent in England are petrol stations, that just have overpriced chocolate bars, newspapers and a toilet that may or may not be out of order.
5. Vending machines. These are everywhere in Japan and they sell everything from cold and hot drinks, ice creams, snacks to gadgets! I don’t think I’ve seen one since coming back to England.
6. Driving an automatic car. Going back to driving a manual car in England is like being a learner all over again. I’ve stopped stalling now but I miss the ease of an automatic car.
7. Fireworks, festivals and beach parties. During Obon Week in the summer there are amazing firework displays that are the highlight of festivals. There isn’t much to compete with them in England.
8. Cute things. Everything from road signs to toilet paper has some kind of cute character on it. I miss them dearly.
9. Talking about anything in public and not being overheard. As foreigners in Japan you can get very lax about what you say out loud to your friends on a train, sharing secrets, laughing at bad Engrish or the salaryman snoozing in the corner, as you know the chances are none can understand you. Back in England, you have to be wary who is listening!
10. The best trains in the world. Always on time, always clean, not overly packed, seats facing the right way and they go fast! I was shocked when I took a train in England and it went so slowly I could count the sheep in the fields. It would have been a scenic ride if I’d actually got a seat. And let’s not even talk about the underground in London, I’m still scarred from my experience of riding the central line on a busy Saturday afternoon.
11. Hand towels whenever you sit down to eat in Japan you’re given a hand towel to freshen up. In England you’ll be lucky if there are paper napkins on the table.
12. The view from my apartment, and mountains and rice fields in general. The Japanese countryside where I lived was so beautiful. I’m sad I won’t get to see the mountains turn red in autumn there.
13. My favourite hangouts in Echizen. From cute cafes, Thai and Brazilian restaurants, to conveyer-belt sushi joints and the bike ride along the river. I miss the places and the people I used to know.
14. My friends and host family. The friends I made in Japan were the best part of my experience there. I know that the close friends made there will always be just there for me, even if we just keep up on Skype and Facebook.