Lots of mindless, pointless paperwork for everything. If you want a new phone contract, for example, come back in two weeks because the phone company had to contact the manager of the branch, who has to contact the district manager, who has to contact the regional manager, who has to contact the president of the company to approve it, and all of them have to hanko (sign via a special stamp) the documents approving you. (This may be slightly exaggerated, but only slightly.)
Houses are generally built on top of each other. Most places you can literally reach out your window and touch the next house… assuming you can find a house and not just a tiny apartment.
Houses are also not an investment here.
They’re more like cars–once you drive them off the lot, they depreciate in value immediately.
No one wants a “used” house, here.
After 30 years they just tear them down and build new ones. (Or they just keep living in dumps for years and years because of money/legal reasons.)
Land is what is valuable, but they have loads of rules about how much you can own, what you can build on it, and so forth. If you want a modest house with a big yard for your dog, don’t come to Japan. (Case in point, I live in a cute, tiny old run down Japanese house by myself.
All of my American friends, upon seeing photos, say, “It’s so cute and small!” All of my Japanese co-workers say, “Don’t you feel lonely by yourself in that big house?”)
No napkins or paper towels anywhere. Also, no trash cans. You have to carry your trash with you until you find either a convenience store or your house to throw it away. (Also they take recycling to an extreme here. Which I totally approve of. But making sure you’re properly washing and sorting your garbage and disposing of it on the right days can be an ordeal.)
Because I am not Japanese, I will always be a foreigner. Even if I live in Japan for 80 years and learn perfect fluent Japanese and have a Japanese spouse and Japanese kids, I will always be assumed to be an ignorant foreigner and treated differently as such. Obviously people I see every day would eventually know better, but it’s frustrating to say “konnichiwa” and have a stranger go “WOW YOU SPEAK SUCH GOOD JAPANESE” based on that single word. Or questions like, “Can you use chopsticks?” or “Can you eat sushi?” etc can get tiresome.
Not the end of the world, but worth mentioning.
The price of fruit is really high, usually. I suck it up and deal, but it is a downside, especially because I really like fruit.
EVERYTHING is “seasonal.” (Not EVERYTHING but almost everything.) If it’s not the season for corn, you pretty much can’t find corn in the supermarket. If it’s not the season for strawberries, forget it. If it’s not the season for grapes you can’t find them.
Some of it makes sense, some of it has taken a lot of getting used to. Japan LOVES it’s seasons, and really celebrates them with a changing menu. I’ve learned to embrace and look forward to the changes, but it can be frustrating.
Cars are expensive, parking cars is expensive, and toll ways/freeways are even more expensive. This isn’t an aspect I deal with much because I don’t have a car, but it is part of the reason why I don’t. Too expensive!
Gay rights are lagging behind the rest of the world, if that bothers you. The country isn’t very religious (and the dominant religion is not Christianity) so there isn’t bigotry for gays in the way that there is in America, but same-sex marriage isn’t recognized here, and it’s extremely rare to see openly gay people out and about. Partially due to Japanese intensely private home lives, but also due to a general attitude about gay people kind of just not existing. (Which is obviously false.) It’s getting better, but it’s still got a long way to go.
Censored porn. With the internet it’s not really a big deal, but it is still nevertheless mind-boggling.
Racism is real here. Not so much against blacks (though there is some of that), but against other asians. All Japanese seem to hate Chinese and Koreans. There’s good reasons for it too, considering the wars and the hoards of rude tourists from those countries… but it’s a blanket statement that tends to bother me. “I hate rude Chinese tourists” is very different than “I hate Chinese people”, you know?
Most of my elementary school aged students hate Korean and Chinese people–for no reason other than that their parents do.
Which leads me to the fact that individuality and critical thinking is not valued well here. Japan works well the way it does because of the “group think.” The reason people don’t steal your wallet is because they wouldn’t want someone to steal THEIR wallet. It’s a polite world where no one wants to stand out.
They have a saying that the “nail that sticks out gets hammered down” and so forth. Conformity is key. Don’t express your opinions, don’t stand out, don’t draw attention to yourself.
This is great when you’re on a super crowded train and everyone is quiet and polite and it’s almost peaceful despite the crowds. It’s not so great when you’re trying to encourage an eight-year-old to think for themselves, to express their opinions.
Even getting them to say what their favorite fruit is sometimes can be difficult. By the time they’re in junior high school, it’s impossible. They don’t want to ‘think’… they want to know the right answer so they can regurgitate it to me.
The education system here is all kinds of broken… but that’s true of America as well. They’re broken in completely different ways, but they are still both quite broken. The Japanese education system is maddening. Too much focus on tests and memorizing answers.