A few things I won’t miss (and will try to minimize next time).

No country is perfect. While I’ll be sad to leave this little island chain, there are a few things I’ll be glad to get away from for a while. I suppose they could be considered complaints, but they’re not dealbreakers; if I weren’t willing to endure them, I wouldn’t be planning to return indefinitely.

Unreliable Internet. No connection’s perfect, but the dorm has really slipshod internet. The library room has direct connections, but in my room, I have to rely on the wireless router outside. The signal drops every so often for no reason, and even being as close as I am, it’s still fairly weak. This is one of the reasons many students spend all evening in the library.

The High Cost of Living. Since Japan is a small island nation whose center is largely mountainous, they don’t have the farm space to feed everyone, so most foodstuffs are imported. This drives prices on groceries through the roof, mostly on things Americans take for granted: bread, milk and dairy, produce, meat. Snacks are also affected: a bag of chips here is roughly half the size or less than its US counterpart, and costs the same or more. Even pizza suffers: a Japanese large is an American medium, but costs about twice as much. Almost all forms of media are expensive; books, CDs, movies, and video games cost much more than in North America (though their manga and comic magazines are cheaper). Cars and the gas that runs them are both expensive, and while public transportation is cheaper in the short term, it adds up (and takes much more time than driving would). My monthly expenses will plummet once I get home.

The Double Standard. America was founded with a basic principle of equality, and things like the double standard are rarely tolerated. It’s different here; certain people or groups can get away with a lot more than others. Other Asians are often assumed to be more competent in Japanese than Westerners (getting the benefit of the doubt), but we non-Asians can often bluff our way past authority or get extra help because people assume we don’t understand the language and culture (two sides of the same coin, really). I’ve also had experiences where a brief conversation with someone in English during class gets me a reminder that I should speak Japanese, while the Chinese girls can do the same in their own language and no one blinks. Even specific people can get away with things the rest of us wouldn’t dare to try (casual speech with teachers, for example) if they’re well-liked. The only solution is to try to be on the right side of the double standard, because pointing it out doesn’t help.

You’re Fat. For some reason, the Japanese (and from what I can tell, the Chinese) take a lot of interest in weight and fitness, and not just their own. Whereas it would be rude to tell someone he’s ugly or has a terrible accent, they think nothing of casually remarking about how someone has a paunch or is downright obese. This only applies in certain gender combinations, though — to tell a woman she’s heavy in any culture carries the risk of being smacked (see above Re: double standard). It’s an odd exception to Japanese politeness and reservation.

Don’t let these put you off. Japan’s a great country, and the good points far outweigh the bad. I can say the same for my own country as well.

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