Living in Japan


Japan, that's where they have geishas and kimonos, where they have people to push other people into trains, the land of karaoke and capsule hotels, right?

No, that's not the Japan where I live. It's quite different. It's a densely populated place alright, but also fertile and full of life. In summer the cool rice fields are bursting with fresh green. Often you see palm trees and it reminds me of the Mediterranean coast or even some Pacific islands. The land was shaped by volcanoes, the most impressive of which is majestic fuji-san, Mt. Fuji. You won't appreciate it until you see it with your own eyes on the horizon, from 100 km away or from 20. I often see it from my balcony. In the evening it can be pink, 80 km away from here. Only when you see it for real will you understand why it is a sacred mountain.

Japan is a southern country. Few Europeans are aware that Tokyo lies closer to the equator than either Spain or Turkey. It is on the same lattitude as northern Morocco or Syria. Tokyo summers can be hotter than Hong Kong (35C / 95F is nothing unusual) while Tokyo winters are relatively mild, with temperatures a few degrees above freezing and little snow. It does get quite cold though in the Northeast (tohoku) and in Hokkaido.

These forces of nature are combined with an ancient culture, much of it imported from China which around 700 A.D. was almost 1000 years ahead of Europe. When you come here expecting to meet that ancient culture, don't be disappointed. Much is lost or hidden, has to be uncovered by someone who is determined to dig deeper. But if you follow your instincts and curiosity you will be richly rewarded. Here is the only large first world country that is truely exotic to a Westerner, where nothing can be taken for granted and things are different in an often fascinating way that says much about humankind.

So how do I like Japan? As a place to live and work in it's quite a mixed bag. Some aspects of the country I'll never get used to. Sometimes things drive me up the wall, when I see rules or ways of doing things I deeply object to. Some of these are little things, like not being able to use a cash point (ATM) at a bank in the evening or on a Sunday. Others are more fundamental. I am lucky I can escape some of the pressures of Japanese society by working for a foreign company and not having to commute on a daily basis. Japan is a very expensive place to live in and hence the standard of living is nowhere near as high as official GDP figures would suggest. On the upside, Japanese people often do go out of their way to ensure that my stay here in Japan is a pleasant one.

My favourite place around Tokyo is Izu peninsula, especially its tip and its scenic western side, and I greatly enjoyed a trip to Yakushima island.

Some of my notes about Japan:

See my Pictures of Japan. A very small digital selection of my snaps from nine years (on and off) in Japan.

A-Z of Japan. A short alphabetical rundown on my host country.

Rice farming in Japan is not a business like any other. Its emotional symbolism is now clashing with global economics.

Monju Problems: The Japanese nuclear industry in trouble. Japan is the only country in the world that still regards a self-sufficient plutonium based nuclear power industry as the cornerstone of its energy policy. Now a series of accidents has shaken the public trust in the safety of the technology.

Nonsense English in Japan is embarrasing evidence of the failure of the Japanese school system at teaching the primary foreign language in which Japan communicates with the outside world.

Japanese stamps: These stamps of mine are about 30 years old.

Japanese year numbers: The year 2003 is year Heisei 15, because the current emperor ascended to the throne in 1989 (Heisei 1). The previous era was named Shouwa and lasted from 1926 (Shouwa 1) to 1989 (Shouwa 64 = Heisei 1). Here's a useful conversion table.

Other Japan links:

Japan Times is the major English language daily newspaper in Japan (well, there are only two). The domestic news are much like the Japanese-language Asahi Shimbun, but a day later.

Global Online in Tokyo is a premier high quality Internet service provider in Japan.

The "Hemp in Japan" site is full of articles, quotes, pictures and other documents about the history, present and future of asa (hemp) / taima (marijuana) in the Land of the Rising Sun.

"Bloated bureaucracy exposed": Bureaucrats, not politicians pull the strings in Japanese government.

Get a real time view of Mount Fuji from the window of Shizuoka Internet.

Keisei Skyliner timetable - quick and economical way to get to Narita

The local time in Japan is ...

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