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We’re Not In Japan Anymore: Why There’s No Place Like Home

Sometimes going away makes you realize how much you miss home.

By 3 min read 21

Coming back on the Tokyo monorail after an amazing trip to Indonesia, I had the butt-clenching realization that Japan is now my home. Three weeks earlier I couldn’t wait to leave the hot, sticky, overpriced city for white sand, cool weather, clear water, actual spicy food and all those other paradise island clichés.

The differences between Japan and Indonesia are uncountable and pretty much impossible to describe without generalizing an entire people and thousand’s of years of unique history. But, there were, at least on the surface, differences that showed Japan in a somewhat unflattering light; a light that for me had changed from a thrilling neon glow full of promise to the kind of dull flicker commonly found in public bathrooms.

After two days of hopping from one ridiculously gorgeous island to another, it seemed like a move to Indonesia was imminent

First of all, Indonesian people smiled more. Making eye contact with someone in the street would generate a friendly exchange of smiles instead of a panicked look away and reach for a phone, probably to locate the number of the nearest asylum. Of course there’s the familiar trope that Japanese people are shy but it kind of hurts my feelings when I smile at someone and they think I want to kill them. (I don’t).


Second, time felt more precious there. Time is precious in Japan too but in an apocalyptic kind of way – people seem to be running around like the world is going to explode at any minute – whereas in Indonesia time was valuable because it meant you could spend it just…being. However, this could definitely be a symptom of living in Tokyo where I once saw a man try to jam his silk tie into a train door in the hope of catching it. (He didn’t).

Third, there were no rules. No rules about working ridiculous hours or whistling in the hallways or inviting your boss to your wedding. Everything in Indonesia just rolled along in a sort of faithful chaos which, after learning to suppress the initial feelings of panic/terror, started to make sense.

Other things too like cheap fruit, a complete disregard for road safety and Australians wearing low-slung vests in myriad pastel shades filled me with untold joy and by the end of the trip I had almost convinced myself I was going to go all Eat, Pray, Love and start posting spiritual platitudes on Facebook underneath a picture of an elephant.

So, as I was riding the monorail with a sore butt from all that intense sitting down and doing nothing, and realizing that I was back in Japan for the foreseeable future, I expected to feel a familiar itching to move on to a new adventure.

But actually it was the opposite.

The grey blur of skyscrapers felt like old friends (maybe because I have very few friends), the train system was comfortingly reliable and the hordes of people were, well, beautiful. There are so many things about Japan that I love; the duality of tradition and modernity, the meticulous attention to detail, the obsession with seasons, people’s kindness (once you get past the suspicion), Pocky sweets.

As much as we foreign residents complain about things in Japan that make no sense to us, there are also many things about Japanese culture that we click with personally and that keep us here. Thankfully, Japanese people let us stay.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been allowed to build a life here that I really, really like. Maybe it’s because this is more my home now than where I came from. Maybe, this reads like Confessions of a melodramatic 13 year old girl but I am fully ready to shout it from the rooftops; Japan, I missed you – ただいま!

Have you noticed any differences between Japan and other countries when travelling? What do you love about Japan? Comment below!

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  • Menna Hany says:

    You should come to egypt 😀 😀

  • Nelly says:

    Strange, but when I first came to Japan, Tokyo, I felt なつかしい – it feels like home immediately. Maybe that’s because it’s homeland of the man, who has won my heart 🙂 Maybe I lived here in my past life. Maybe, it is much better than the scary stories I kept hearing before I came here, and very very beautiful.

    • Katsujima Danjiro says:

      Greetings from Indonesia,

      I’ve never been to Japan but I’ve always dreamed of eventually moving and living there for the rest of my life. I’m currently in the process of seeking scholarship to study there. I’ve always thought that なつかしい is the best word to describe my views about Japan in general. So, reading your comment just made me longing for the country even more.

      Thanks for posting such a beautiful comment.


      A japanophile

  • mahoushoujo says:

    Nice to see a positive post about Japan instead of the herds of bitter gaijin that seem to gather around here!

  • Tom says:

    I wish I could shout tadaima in Japan.. My dream is to eventually live in Japan. I’m still 18, wondering how I can live in Japan for good :/ been there for 1 year on an exchange, 1 year wasn’t enough hahaha

  • maulinator says:

    This is true of anywhere you call home. You live at home you are not visiting, so nothing is new or exciting anymore. You start to see the cracks in society and you take for granted the good parts. I think this is true anywhere in the world not just Tokyo or Japan. Also when you are on vacation there are no real world obligations that concern you so your perspective might be slightly different. Being from NYC, I just saw Tokyo as another big metropolis. I moved to Tokyo for work, so I always knew I would be living here for some time. So my “honeymoon” period with Tokyo really did not exist. It was more, how quickly can I set up a place to staty and how quickly can I learn the ropes at work. Work is work and Tokyo is just another city to live in for a while. That is why when I interview people from overseas and they say that one of the reasons why they want the job is that “I want to live in Japan!!!!!!” I pretty much write them off. The attitude towards the job is important, Tokyo is just another city after your inititiation into society.
    There are always good and bad parts to each place you live. NYC has its problems and when I lived there I dealt with them. You deal with the problems you face in Tokyo if you are a resident. The difference is that if you know it is temporary, you see the problems as quirks, if you actually live here they are annoyances.

  • Yoshiyuki TEZUKA says:

    Rebecca-san, I appreciate your “Tadaima”. Although I’m becoming negative about Japan, I’m impressed at your article and I’ll re-consider Japan. See you soon.

  • edenfm says:

    How about you go check Okinawa? best of both worlds.

  • Rebecca Quin says:

    Sabrina you’re not mistaken! I definitely think that the novelty of living in a foreign country (always doing new things, meeting new people, feeling like it’s one big holiday) distorts your view of a place – the question is what to do once the novelty wears off!

  • Rebecca Quin says:

    I know! It’s finding the exit that’s the trouble…

  • Roro Lily says:

    I am Indonesian and I lived in Japan for 15 years. I just want to thank you for writing this article. It really represents what I am feeling right now.

    • Rebecca Quin says:

      Thank you for your kind comment! Indonesia was breathtaking, but I feel very lucky that I was able to come back to a life in Japan too!

  • DudeJericho says:

    The suspicion thing always bothered me, I’ve been to Japan twice (mainly Tokyo/Osaka) each time only 3 weeks, but already I noticed how weird some people seemed to act towards me. The thing was, when I started speaking (have been studying Japanese for 8 years) you could see their face change from a slight scowl to a friendly smile. Coming from London I found this difficult to accept, usually you’re given the benefit of the doubt here and the general feeling of *everyone’s the same* is something I’ve grown to appreciate about this city (can’t speak for the rest of England).

    However it’s not like I can’t understand why some people act like this in Japan, many foreigners have left a bad taste in the local’s mouths and generally people just don’t want to act like a tourist guide for some random foreigner who couldn’t get his stuff sorted out beforehand.

    Having said all that, I’ve met some of the most warm and welcoming people there, and I’ve had many wonderful experiences while visting Japan. Will definitely be going again ^^

    • Rebecca Quin says:

      I think you’re right, I wonder how many people back home (UK) would react to a group of Japanese tourists unable to speak English! I’m glad you’ll be coming back – Japan is a wonderful place!

  • Bernie Low says:

    I’ve only lived in Hyogo for about 2.5 years as a student but already I feel the tugging sense of how Japan has become a home for me when I return to Singapore for the holidays. There are many similarities between the two in the sense that I can seamlessly adapt to living in either country, but compared to the first time I came back for the holidays, more and more I can’t wait to return to Japan.

    I miss the convenience stores, izakaya, all night karaoke, walking around in the middle of the night…and probably also because in Japan it’s possible to do things you can’t in Singapore. Like take roadtrips to different prefectures etc.

    I find myself comparing between the two each time I’m back.

    • Rebecca Quin says:

      Hi Bernie, thanks for your comment! It’s great when you start to have that growing feeling that Japan is your home each time you come back – it’s also quite scary too! I planned to go back home after a year but that hasn’t quite worked out…

  • Alexandre Abs says:

    I miss many things. The safety, the clean cities, beautiful, ancient shrines and modern buildings side by side and the education of the people. It was very easy to have whatever one could be willing. I miss my weekend’s journey from Fujiidera to Shinsaibashi to stroll around the commercial center of Osaka, see what was trending and have fun. The Shinkansen was a good choice to travel but when I lacked of money with no second thoughts would pick a regular train to Tokyo full of norikais to save money. I miss Roppongi night life and the big city.

  • Nathan Shanan Crookes says:

    I’ll be your friend

    • Rebecca Quin says:

      Haha thank you Nathan. I’m glad I have this in writing…

      • Allison Kromer says:

        Rebecca, great blog here! It really rings true about how it feels to live here as a foreigner. In Japan people build an invisible wall around them in public spaces so they don’t have to smile or talk to anyone they don’t know. I go back for a visit in the U.S. and people talk to me in the checkout line or a cashier will joke around with me, and my reaction time is not quite what it used to be!

        I’m still living in Tokyo, but I miss all-night karaoke and yakitori with coworkers, now that my life is in a weird transition between my twenties and thirties. Now that I’m married and thinking decades down the road suddenly, I feel that stage of life slipping away, and a need to evaluate and appreciate it, as I move into a new period. I’m not sure what I’ll feel about Japan moving forward, except that the people I’ve met here will be the biggest impression on me. It’s a baffling place of contradiction, and a place to find yourself or lose yourself, because its a place that seems to be detached from reality at times.

        • Rebecca Quin says:

          Thank you Allison! It’s so surprising to go home and have random people talk to you – I’m the same in that I just stand there looking a bit bewildered until I think of a reply (usually totally irrelevant to the question in the first place).

          I hope that you can find some peace in this next period! I guess that because Japan is so contradictory and seemingly unreal it’s the perfect place to explore your own identity outside of our own (and Japanese) social/cultural boundaries.



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