I recently went back to Australia for the first time after 2 years of living in Japan. I was struck by all the things that I'd taken for granted when living in Australia, but was super happy about being able to do during the break. I thought it might be interesting to share some of these observations, so in no particular order1:
Most of them are food related which I guess shouldn't come as a surprise. After living in Australia for 28 years it makes sense that I would have developed a palate and fondness for Aussie food.
- Kombucha - I only discovered this a year before I left and it hasn't really made the trip over to Japan yet. Impossible to find.
- Coffee - there are plenty of cafes but the quality doesn't hold up to what we're used to in Australia. Barista courses in Japan are kind of a joke, so it's pretty hard to find somewhere that makes a decent flat white. I signed up for a barista course because I wanted to learn to use my own espresso machine. The 4 hour session consisted of 3 hours of listening to descriptions of the machine, taking notes on the diagrams and how to use the machine2, and then one hour of practice. During that hour I got to pull about 4 espressos because I had to wait in line with 4 other students to rotate through the single machine that was available.
- The cafe side menu - food, pastries, banana bread! For some reason a lot of cafes in Japan do this weird little set meal which will be like a coffee that comes with half a sandwich and some salad. It's a far cry from the hearty brunches and sweets that you can find at aussie cafes. Compare the Cafe Veloce in the Sydney airport with the Japanese counterpart:
- The number of options for coffee - different milks, more types of coffee, sizes, etc (see Pablo and rusty menu). In Japan 'nice coffee' means fancy beans and a pourover/drip coffee.
- Giant snack aisles at the supermarket - compare the selection below.
- 'grab and go' food that isn't a bento or sandwich. A lot of fuss is made over the quality and cheapness of convenience stores in Japan but the unfortunate thing is that 'meal' food is either a sandwich or a cold bento, and I'm not really a fan of cold slices of fish. This sort of thing:
- Crackers and dips!
- Cider - In Japan, 'Cider' means a fizzy drink - Fanta, sprite etc are all considered 'cider'. So finding a proper alcoholic cider is pretty difficult outside of a British style pub.
- All day breakfast at McDonald's, for those late night hash browns.
- People arguing with authority - first thing we had to do after landing was get a PCR test and it was chaos, with disorganised lines and people arguing and getting heated with the staff about missing flights (despite it being their own fault for not arriving earlier). Contrast with orderly lines and a room full of people sitting quietly for 3+ hours waiting for their result in the JP arrivals quarantine.
- Servers who talk to you - I enjoyed a bit of banter with the bartender at the pub, I'd totally forgotten that service people outside Japan didn't act like robots. Don't get me wrong, the service in Japan is great in it's own way but people very rarely deviate from their 'script'.
- The weather - summer is livable. After experiencing the 4 (really 5 seasons) in Japan I appreciate Australia's amazing weather a lot more. I can see why so many expats move for it, it's livable all year round with even the harshest heat being dry and bearable. In Japan the seasons go from cold/grey/miserable stay-indoors weather in winter -> nice in spring -> 30 days of rain for the rainy season -> stinking hot and humid summer -> nice in autumn. This means roughly 5 months of the year are sunny, warm/cool and outdoor friendly from March-May and September+October. If you like cold weather you could include winter, I suppose.
- Not carrying cash! I withdrew 20 dollars on my first day back and I literally had to find a reason to use it on my last day because I'd spent the entire 3 weeks tap-to-pay'ing on everything. In Japan cash is still very much king, otherwise you use an app like Paypay which still requires you to open your phone and show a QR code.
Reverse Reverse Culture Shock
On the other hand, things that I realised I had gotten used to in Japan and missed during the one month back in Oz:
- Traffic lights that stay green longer than 3 seconds. Minor, but there's a lot more leeway to cross the road in Japan with lights staying green for ~30 seconds. Pedestrians get more time than cars to cross.
- Mixed zoning and streets without sidewalks. The strict deliniation between 'car space' and 'pedestrian space' feels weird once you've lived somewhere without it. Of course the main arterial roads in Tokyo are busy and have clear curbs, but basically any side street has mixed use with pedestrians wandering all over the roads. The zoning is also mixed and there's much less of a 'suburb vs city' feel. Small shops are mixed in everywhere among the apartments except for the quietest residential zones. This article does a much better job of explaining.
- Cheap food - see the bento picture above? Notice the price? Yeah that meal is 400 yen or about $4USD/$6AUD. Crazy.
Would love to hear if anyone else has experienced this kind of thing and what stood out to you. So if you're reading this, share in the comments or hit me up via DM and let me know!
- There is a lot of stuff I love about Japan too, this post isn't dunking on Japan at all. Raving about the things that are great here just isn't the purpose of this post. There's enough of those articles out there already anyway. ↩
- This kind of thing is very Japanese - education at the typical school is also based around large numbers of people rote learning and memorising things that they regurgitate later on an exam. More efficient in a sense, given the much larger student:teacher ratio, but doesn't optimise for practical/creative application of skills in the same way. ↩