I can’t say much about Japanese culture. I am by no means an expert. I lived here for ten weeks and there are still many things that happened that I cannot explain. I know that Japanese culture is very insular and that foreigners will somehow always be on the outside, more so than in China. I also know that it is more difficult for Japanese women at work because they rarely get the kinds of advantages like maternity leave that we have in the US.
The things I like about Japan are the little things:
The subway system. It actually lets you go anywhere you want to go. Sure, it is also more complex than any other system, but that gives you something to use that fancy cell phone for.
Breakfast. The Japanese do it better than any other country I have experienced. I’m speaking about “typical” breakfasts, here, something you might eat every morning from a local restaurant. Typical American breakfast items are too heavy with oil and there is too much focus on having a “hearty” breakfast (which actually means heart-clogging). Hong Kong breakfasts seem almost brain dead, like they didn’t know what else to eat so they just threw together random parts from other countries’ breakfasts. A traditional Japanese breakfast is light and healthy. About the only thing it is missing is some fruit, but that can be easily rectified.
Bathing. My morning experience (though I do this at night, too) here is so much better than any other place. Slip on the yukata, take the elevator to the bath in the basement, wash myself sitting down, then slip into the HOT bath for a few moments of peace. The hot bath really clinches it; the heat really gets your blood flowing. I can feel the tension of sleep flow out of my fingers and legs. As soon as I get out, I’m ready to start my day (or go to sleep, whichever time it is).
Toilets. This seems like a strange topic to bring up, but it must be said: Using the toilet is as fundamental a human activity as eating or sleeping, but for all the care put into food preparation and comfortable beds, most of the world is still in the dark ages when it comes to toilets. Even in my home country, the richest (well, at least for now) country in the world, a “luxury” bathroom is one with triple-ply toilet paper. The toilet at my hotel in Japan has a place to set my backpack, privacy curtains that go down to the floor, heated seat, control panel, and bidet. I’ve seen some models that have driers. That the toilet technology here has not become commonplace in other countries either means they don’t care enough or don’t like it. In either case it makes me feel a special kinship with the Japanese.
Ramen. As far as I’m concerned, the only decent soup the west has is Chicken Noodle. Vietnam has pho and China has cross the bridge noodle, but Japan has one of the best: ramen. It comes in many varieties to suit any taste. The noodles perfectly al dente, the broth sublime, and with extras like pork, hard-boiled egg, bamboo shoots, and nori. I know some of you might be saying “but ramen comes from China.” Well, the Japanese perfected it. I’ve never been satisfied with Chinese beef noodle soup, but good ramen is a world class taste.
So those are all the little daily life things that I like about Japan. Of course, there are many other areas in which I can feel some connection to Japan: aquariums, design aesthetic in general, the beautiful natural places, emphasis on technology, and, of course, my favorite anime. But these little things are what make living in Japan more comfortable than other places.