There may be a number of things I won’t miss about Japan, but there are far more I will. My friends, of course, but that’d would require a separate entry (and would probably be fairly sappy). Instead, I’ll pick a few of the major ones.
Fast Food. Japan has a large number of home-grown restaurant chains. Some seem like analogs of American ones: MOS Burger, for example, seems like it would be a typical hamburger joint until you look at the menu and see sandwiches made of rice, teriyaki beef, or a breaded mass of shrimp. Others are much more Japanese, like Yoshinoya (a beef-bowl shop) or Sugakiya (a Chuubu-based ramen shop). Japan has several American fast-food joints as well, including McDonald’s and KFC, but even their menus differ somewhat: their seasonal and limited-time items are entirely different from we get back home, and even the simplest of hamburgers is prepared to order, rather than being made in advance. It’s delicious, and while I do enjoy American fast food, I know I’ll periodically crave 牛丼 or an えびカツ after I get home. Convenience stores also offer hot food which simply puts ours to shame. Skewered chicken and pork, meat buns, and seasonal offers like おでん and うなぎ。 The first time I tried a piece of boneless fried chicken in a Japanese convenience store, I was amazed at just how good it tasted.
Pepsi Twist. This soft drink, a lemon-flavor-infused cola, became my favorite beverage several years ago, and vanished very quickly. It resurfaced a couple years later for a few months, but hasn’t been available in America for three or four years. In fact, the only places I’ve ever found it are Spain and Japan. It mysteriously appeared on grocery shelves here shortly after I arrived this time, and I’ve always tried to keep some handy because I know I won’t see it again for a long time after leaving.
Otaku Access. My first interest in Japan’s language and culture came from what seems to be a common source for many: Japanese pop culture. Anime, manga, video games — many Japanophiles cut their teeth on one or more of these and find themselves wanting more. Being in the country from which otaku culture springs has a lot of advantages: access to limited-edition merchandise, new shows and movies as they release, and things that never find their way outside Japan. Even here, some of it’s hard to get, but at least you have a fighting chance, and without the hideous markup and international shipping fees.
Mass Civility. Japan is a homogenous nation; people are raised to think of the group and consider the feelings of others. This isn’t always the case, of course, and the increasing Western influence here is slowly altering that, but overall, Japanese are brought up to be at least superficially polite. This means people are more likely to apologize, even if something isn’t necessarily their fault. Asking for directions often gets you not just a description of how to get where you’re going, but at least partial accompaniment. People here are also much more patient with those of us whose Japanese isn’t particularly good. (I can’t say the same about American tolerance of those with poor English.) There’s sometimes such a thing as too much politeness here, but it’s worth it.
Safety. For starters, guns are not available to private citizens (except for legitimate hunting rifles, which are said to require a mountain of paperwork). For this reason and the one above, Japan is a very safe country. There’s crime, of course, and not everyone adheres to the law, but no country is completely safe. However, it means you can walk alone at night with no real fear of being jumped. Children are often seen alone or in small groups with no parental supervision, and no one worries. If you forget something somewhere and go back for it, you can be reasonably sure it will still be there (or turned in to lost and found). I could certainly get used to that.
Communicating in a Language That’s Not My Own. This is one of the biggest things I’ll miss. It’s one thing to vacation in a foreign country and try your hand at the language, but another to live there while learning the language. Japanese is everywhere: on signs, documents, television, overheard conversations. You can try out new grammar and vocabulary on native speakers the day you learn it. Conversation and reading practice are readily available. The best part? I can actually do it. I’ve got a very long way to go before I’m fluent, but even at my middling level, I can do it. I can interact with people, I can get around by myself — and it never gets old. I can’t get immersion like this back home, and I’ll miss it.
Please don’t misread any of this this as “Japan is better than America.” Part of what makes these differences so appealing is that they are differences. When it comes to America and Japan, sometimes one or the other does a thing better, and sometimes it’s just different. I’ve spent all my life up until this point in America, and while I like my life there, I’d like to try Japan for a while — certainly longer than four months next time.