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Home Sweet Home

A weekend in Hong Kong has one foreign resident glad to be back in Japan.

By 5 min read 4

I was recently in my former home of Hong Kong, to catch up with some old friends and to discuss some potential new writing projects with a publishing colleague. It was overall a thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing weekend with great food, great sights and—most important—great company.

Ironically, I wound up spending most of my weekend with a Japanese friend who has now lived in Hong Kong for many years. Previously, I wrote about the challenges Japanese face when they decide to return to Japan after some time away, but it was interesting to explore the other side of things and learn what it’s like for those Japanese abroad who choose not to return.

My friend’s insights and my own personal experiences in Hong Kong have served to make me further appreciate some of the things that I enjoy here.

So, here are four ways that spending a weekend away from Japan made me appreciate my adopted home.

1. Japan has one of the best transport systems in the world

Hong Kong does pretty well as far as transportation is concerned. The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) network and the bus system are great and all, but it just doesn’t seem as smooth or as efficient as its Japanese counterparts. I love being able to step off of one train and onto another seamlessly, as I do here in Japan. I like the fact that 99 times out of a hundred I can predict exactly when my train or bus will show up and plan accordingly. I like that taxis in Japan by and large feel clean, safe and the drivers are honest and helpful. While the cars themselves are very clean and efficient, most people will tell you that taking a taxi in Hong Kong really is a lottery, depending on the professionalism and integrity of the driver who picks you up.

2. Japanese food abroad can be an interesting experience

I know, it’s something of a stubborn thing to do, but I did have  Japanese food while I was in Hong Kong. My friend suggested it might be interesting to see what people considered “acceptable” Japanese food there (though from my friend’s tone I don’t think she was too impressed by the fare on offer). She took me to the popular Genki Sushi chain (that originated in Utsinomiya, Tochigi in 1968), although if you have seen the rather irate looking mascot the name does seem somewhat inappropriate. One could use a multitude of adjectives to describe that angry, red little face, but “genki” definitely isn’t one of them. Perhaps it was indicative of the overworked staff or the fact that the restaurant was so crowded?

The sushi wasn’t bad, but much like similar chains I’ve been to in Scotland, England and Dubai, it just wasn’t the same. The fish lacked a certain something, the rice seemed too stodgy, the mirin (sweet rice wine for cooking) too overpowering. It just wasn’t sushi as I know it.

I wondered why my friend would waste her time and money on such an unauthentic experience. Her answer made a lot of sense: “Well, how many times have you gone into a British pub abroad and ordered fish and chips or longed for a glass of your favorite local beer?”

For Japanese people living abroad, places like Genki Sushi offer a form of connection to home, a certain familiarity even if it is sorely lacking in authenticity. I guess any Brit living in Japan who has ever gone to a Hub (a popular Japanese chain of “British” pubs) for a pint can attest to this.

3. Japan is so much safer than other places

This is kind of a difficult one to quantify, but there is a lot to be said for the feeling of safety and security that one feels walking down the street here at any time, day or night.

On Saturday evening, I was out having dinner and drinks with my friend. It got quite late  and I walked my friend to her apartment. We said our goodbyes and I headed back. At the 7-Eleven near my place, there was a large group of rowdy, drunk local men. I have no knowledge of Cantonese, so I can’t really speculate as to what they were talking about, but from the way they were raising their voices, their postures and the finger pointing and gesticulating, it seemed obvious that some kind of heated argument was playing out. A few of them shouted at other passers-by.

Suddenly, a strange sensation swept over me. Anxiety, perhaps? Apprehension? I don’t know exactly how to categorize it, nonetheless I found myself crossing the street and taking a slight diversion so as to avoid any unwanted trouble—just in case.

Now, I’m sure that such things happen in Japan, too, but in my three years in Osaka (which is supposed to be one of Japan’s more dangerous cities) I have never experienced this, and never felt the need to go out of my way to avoid the risk of confrontation. The situation certainly surprised me and made me thankful that I’m unlikely to face it in Japan anytime soon.

4. Japan just feels like where I should be

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It’s always difficult to express emotions—especially the particularly powerful or potent ones—in words. There is something about Japan that just simply being here every day brings a little bit of joy into my life. Stepping off the plane last night, onto the tarmac at Kansai Airport, I felt my heart lift, I felt I was home. Perhaps it was the pleasant demeanor of the airport staff, the hospitality (complimentary umbrellas were waiting for us as we got off the plane to protect us from the unexpected rainfall), or maybe it was the feeling of belonging I have developed with this place after 10 years of on and off residence.

I loved my time in Hong Kong and I will be back again. But there remains something special about Japan that will always bring me home, no matter how far I may roam.

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  • Asado Independiente says:

    You seem to have a oneitis for Japan, just know that you will never be Japanese, and people will not view you as a local, although you might think so, because you have Japanese friends, you will still remain the foreigner. Curious when you will recognize this, because it seems you havent yet.

  • Nikki Sterling says:

    Have to agree with the author of the article. One thing I enjoy about food in Japan, the lack of sugar in EVERYTHING. Yes, America, I’m looking at you. The train and subway systems are top notch, definitely on time, and very clean and spotless. Having walked around various cities of Japan at all times of the day and night, I can attest to the fact it is a very safe place to be.

  • Liam Carrigan says:

    Hmm, sounds like someone needs a vacation 🙂

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