We’re an adventurous household. Between the two of us, we’ve lived in two countries, two Canadian provinces, and four U.S. states. Growing up, my mother lived abroad often in countries like Japan, Brazil, and even Kazakhstan. Despite being exposed to so many different cultures, one stood out. I guess that’s why I’m writing this post to share my reasons to move to Japan. I love it so much!
Normally, I try to write blog posts that are geared towards your needs as a reader. This post is about us. It’s deeply personal. At the same time, if you’re considering relocating overseas (especially to Japan), what you read here might help you. So, without further ado, let’s get into the very best reasons to move to Japan!
We love having been born and raised in the oldest places in North America. The first colony of what is now the United States was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. That’s basically an hour’s drive from where Josh grew up and minutes from where he went to college (the second-oldest institution of higher education in the country!).
Three years earlier, in 1604, the first settlement in what we know as Canada was founded in Québec City, my home province. We like to be competitive, but I remind him that our original structures and castles are largely intact while many buildings in Virginia have been reconstructed.
Living in Idaho (and when I lived in Calgary), we’ve missed that. This is a very young state and we struggle to feel grounded. Of course, it’s been very important in my family to acknowledge and honor all of the Native American history that spans thousands of years before any of that!
That’s part of why we’re excited to relocate. Japan’s history is extensive, and you can feel that in the air whether you’re walking down a city street or through a shrine or temple. It’s an incredible feeling and it’s also very humbling. We love that Japan feels simultaneously very modern, and very old.
The culture of Japan has clearly evolved from its prehistoric Jomon Period but influences from the indigenous Yayoi people, Chinese dynasties of the Middle Ages, and western countries in the Meiji Period can be seen today. Of course, there were also long stretches of time when Japan was largely isolated from the outside world, left to create an identity all of its own.
What’s left is an amazing tapestry, a nation with a rich story to tell (and share!). I’ll admit that it’s frustrating to see Japan reduced to anime, manga, and Nintendo characters. From the visual arts, traditional clothing, cuisine, and music, you won’t ever grow tired of discovering new things about Japan’s cultural impact and beauty.
Food (and Respect for Food)
Our family’s diet is roughly 40% Japanese, 40% Korean, and 20% everything else. This ratio wasn’t intentional, it just sort of happened. Our love for Japanese food runs deep and begins in my own childhood. Even before my mother married a Japanese man and moved to Osaka, she loved the food. As a small child, I can remember going to Japanese restaurants with her and my grandmother, removing our shoes before being ushered into a private room.
After my first trip to Japan, I started experimenting with recipes. It mostly consisted of different curries, though, since I was still pretty young. Today, though, I’m far more skilled and adventurous. It’s always so exciting to try something new. A huge part of this is because of the way the Japanese show respect for food.
You’ll hear people use greetings before and after a meal, eat from a variety of small plates, bowls, and dishes (instead of one big, messy one), and show respect for the ingredients and their surroundings. You want everything to be nourishing, hydrating, visually appealing, and representative of a wide variety of colors and flavors to be most appealing.
The foundation of a Japanese meal is Ichiju Sansai which literally translates to “one soup, three dishes.” Of course, this is in addition to rice and pickles! You’ll find these types of meals in Japanese homes and restaurants. On top of that, food is quite affordable (with a few exceptions, like non-local fruits). It just feels good to eat that way!
Growing up in Montréal, I relied heavily on the bus and metro system. I didn’t even get a driver’s license until I was in my early 30s and that’s because I had moved out west! Maybe that’s why I love the transportation options in Japan so much.
You’ll find buses and local train systems, but what really stands out is the Shinkansen or bullet trains. The first line opened between Osaka and Tokyo in 1964. Over the past six decades, it has grown into an energy-efficient network of high-speed rail trains connecting most parts of the country.
The system is efficient, the train departures and arrivals are very punctual, and you can be in an entirely different part of the country in just a few hours (easy to do when trains reach a maximum speed of 320 km/h (200 mph)!
Plus, it’s clean which is a big deal for me. Public transportation often means being tightly packed with other people. In Japan, the trains are cleaned often, people are more sanitary, and you can make the personal decision to wear a mask without having anyone judge or stare at you!
You’ve probably already heard, but Japan is a very safe country. In fact, Tokyo has been ranked the safest city in the world with Osaka usually not far behind it. That’s an incredible feat for such densely-populated, major metropolitan areas.
One of our biggest reasons to move to Japan is that we know we can walk the streets at night and feel at ease. It’s not uncommon to see very young kids (kindergarteners, really!) taking the train and making their way to school alone. We want that for our family.
Our family is impacted by physical and mental health challenges that make good hygiene a necessity. We don’t wear our shoes inside the house, we wash our hands regularly, we change our clothes when we come home, and we have used face masks for years. All of those things have caused friction with people in North America over the years — even family.
We don’t have to worry about those things in Japan, because we seem pretty normal by their standards. Having to fight a maintenance worker who’s coming in to repair a fridge because you want him to take off his shoes at the door? That’s not even something we have to think about in Japan, which makes life a lot easier for people like us.
Beyond that, they make it so easy to avoid getting sick while eating out. You’ll find handwashing stations near seating areas in restaurants (even McDonald’s) or on the train. The packaging of convenience store foods is designed to be torn away so that you can avoid having to touch your food with dirty hands. This is definitely one of our reasons to move to Japan. Love it!
In Canada, we had a wide range of recycling options going back at least two decades. In Calgary, we created a recycling center in our garage, used a rain barrel, and even built a large composter in our backyard. When we moved to Virginia, we were shocked to learn that not even curbside pickup was available for our neighborhood. It’s not much better in Idaho.
You’re not going to find garbage cans on the streets in Japan. You will, however, encounter a variety of recycling bins close to where food and drink are consumed or sold. Starbucks had one of the most impressive systems we’ve ever seen in a “fast food” type of place. There were different streams for sleeves, cups, lids, stirrers, etc… This sorting happens in homes also.
We know some people are critical of Japan for using single-use plastics and other things. We also understand, as people who value sanitation efforts more than ever in light of this pandemic, that sometimes we have to make waste to stay safe. How we offset our footprint matters. Right now, Japan plans to be carbon neutral by 2050.
It’s no secret that Japan is one of the most innovative countries in the world. We’re all surrounded by evidence of that with brands like Sony, Toshiba, and Toyota, being parts of our everyday lives. Of course, it’s more than that.
Whether it’s the Shinkansen train system or just the millions of vending machines you’ll find across the country, we love that Japan is always looking for ways to change our lives. Super sanitary toilets even in public places? Thank you! Underground bicycle garages? Yes! Food displays that show me exactly what I’m ordering at a restaurant? Please!
Yes, that could all sound pretty trivial, so please don’t miss the point. Our love for Japan’s innovative nature is more about being surrounded by people who want to make progress. When things are always improving and evolving, life never gets stagnant!
Things to Do
My home country, Canada, is enormous. It’s second only to Russia in terms of landmass or total area. With a population of just $37 million, there’s a lot of wide-open space between major cities. The United States is the third-largest in terms of size, and while there are many cities to see, the nation is still really spread out.
In a tiny country like Japan, it’s easy to explore — especially thanks to the amazing transportation options. Visit the beaches of Okinawa, the mountains of Nagano, or the chilly landscapes in Hokkaido. Everything is just a train ride or a short flight away.
Want inspiration? We have so much left to write, but for now here are some great things to see and do in Japan:
- Best Places to Visit in Tokyo
- Top Things to Do in Dotonbori (Osaka)
- Plan a Day Trip to Hiroshima
- What to Do in One Day in Kyoto
- Fuji Q Highland Tips & Review
- How to Enjoy Universal Studios Japan
Oh, that made me think of another amazing reason to move to Japan — festivals! In addition to traditional holidays such as Obon or Golden Week, the Japanese are always finding new ways to celebrate. Festivals (or matsuri) happen throughout the year and include the Sapporo Snow Festival, Nango Summer Jazz Festival, and of course, the many cherry blossom festivals!
Put all of these reasons to move to Japan together and you’ve got our biggest motivator — the lifestyle! We’re not complaining about where we live or grew up. One of our goals, though, is to be somewhere that aligns with our values, beliefs, and way of life. We feel that Japan more than meets our needs.
For us, being able to practice hygienic measures such as wearing a mask, removing our shoes at the door, and frequent handwashing is important. Having the ability to grab some snacks and hop on our train as a large family is another huge perk. We want to live where everything is within walking distance and it’s safe to roam the streets.
Is Japan perfect? No, absolutely not. Maybe one day we’ll write a post about all the things people might not love about it. Japan is not a forever home for everyone, but for people like us, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. And that’s really what matters most, right?