My Five Biggest Japan Gripes

Ah Japan…the Land of the Rising Sun, home of some of the most beautiful temples & shrines you will ever see, and a hot spot for all things tech. So, I’ll admit. I love living in Japan. I could probably write a mile-long list of the reasons I think it’s so wonderful, but today, I don’t want to focus on that. Let’s look at the flip-side of that. Here are three of my biggest gripes about living and teaching in Japan:

1. Japanese Apartments & Elementary School Doors are not Tall-People Friendly
GADONG!! “Sh*t!” That’s the sound of me hitting my head against the fume hood of my stove for the umpteenth time, and this time it was right where the sides of the fume hood come to a nice, sharp corner. After removing the small piece of skin that the corner so neatly peeled off the side of my forehead, I decided to pad my fume hood to protect myself. If you’re 6 feet tall or taller, watch out! There are lots of low doorways (like the sliding doors at my elementary school, the entryway to the shower) just waiting for you to come and take your head smooth off your shoulders.

Solution: Lots of cursing and swearing after I bump my head. Sadly, doors and fume hoods don’t feel/or respond to the punches you dish out (as much as I wish they did). The other solution is just to watch your head at all times, even when you’re walking around all groggy-like after just waking up.

2. Shopping for clothes in Japan is a Fantasy for Me
Is it because my butt’s too big, is it because my legs and arms are too long, is it my sexy rippling muscles? It’s a combination of all of three really (okay, okay, maybe my muscles don’t ripple all that much, and maybe they’re not all that sexy either).

Because I am significantly taller than the average Japanese male, I have an extraordinarily tough time finding any clothes that fit. When I am fortunate enough the find something that’s long enough, like pants for instance, I try them on only to find that pulling the waist of the jeans over the cheeks of my rear end is like trying to slip a full-sized ham into a sock. NOT COOL!

Solution: I usually wait until I go home to visit my family and stock up.

3. Japan Where the Freak is your Free Wi-Fi???
Can anybody tell me why the hell Wi-Fi is such a hard thing to find in one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world?!? I really and truly don’t understand it. Japan is not a huge country, so I would think it would be far easier to set up some kind of reliable Wi-Fi network, that’s easy to access. I though the American franchises might have Wi-Fi, but McDonald’s, Starbucks, all the places have been let downs. The only places I have successfully gotten free Wi-Fi were at Narita Airport, an Internet Cafe, a Mister Donut shop, and K’s Denki (an electronics shop here in Japan). In the U.S. Wi-Fi was so common! I couldn’t believe, still can’t, that Japan has so few places that offer a good, free Wi-Fi connection.I really wonder if this is ever going to change.

Solution: There are these small devices you can buy (for a monthly fee) and carry around that allow you to access the internet from just about anywhere you are.

4. How Much is Key Money, Again? Get Outta Here!
When renting an apartment, one of the suckiest things about it is key money, or Japanese. Apparently, key money is a this rather expensive fee, that is given to a landlord for the privilege of being able to rent an apartment. A friend told me this was a practice that was quite common after the war when housing was a bit scarce. Wherever the practice comes from, it’s really a hassle. For my current apartment, I think I paid almost 240,000 yen in key money, etc.. That’s equates to over $3000 US dollars!!! Never paid that much for an apartment back home.

5. Where For Art Thou, Papa John?
Pizza! Japan needs more good pizza joints!! I know this is me being a little selfish, but that’s why these are my personal gripes. I absolutely love a good steaming slice of pizza, but some of the Japanese pizza chains come up a little short. The main, Japanese pizza chain I’ve become accustomed to is Pizza-La, and it’s not terrible pizza mind you, but it doesn’t compare to pizza I could get back home. The toppings can be rather odd, too. Like the

Another thing about pizza, while we’re on it. Why in the world is pizza so expensive in Japan. One large pizza can cost between 2500 and 3000 yen! Putting into perspective, that’s kind of like paying $25-$35 for ONE pizza. Not good, right?

Solution: I don’t really have a solution for the price thing. Find coupons where ever you can get a hold of them. As far as better tasting pizza goes, I wasn’t the biggest Pizza Hut fan when I was in America, but I have become a big fan, because it’s some of the best pizza I’ve had since I moved here over four years ago.

Solution: Just be prepared to dish out quite a bit of money if you’re moving into a new place. Or, if you search hard enough you can find apartments that don’t require any key money at all. Do your homework.

I’m sure just about anybody you ask will have different things to say about Japan, based on their experiences, but I all in all, I like here. Don’t let my gripes discourage you too much. The good far outweighs the bad. That’s why there are quite a few foreigners whose short excursions to Japan end up becoming extended, sometimes lifelong, stays.

What are your five biggest gripes about living in Japan?

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  • james

    Good ish. My sis is n japan with the navy. I never been there & probably never will. I get most of my japanese currrent insight from u so keep up the good work.

    • Donald Ash

      Thanks, bro. I really appreciate that. Never say never, though. I honestly thought the same thing, and here I am…four years later…still in Japan. Weird how things work out. A little homesick these days, though to be honest.

      • CPM

        A little slow on the uptake, but I will share our pizza experience anyway. We stayed in Japan at the start of the year, Gina in
        2-26-3 Nishiogikita, Suginami was amazing! We wanted to eat as much Japanese food as possible during our stay, however at day 5 in Tokyo my husband got a real hankering for pizza. The pizza maker trained in Sicily (if I remember correctly) and made the real thing. I thought my husband was going to cry tears of pure joy. The pizza gave even our local (Melbourne, Australia) pizzas a serious run for their money. Lovely atmosphere, the staff were really nice too.

  • Great post Don! Man, I am so with you on the clothing issue. I’ve never considered myself in the big & tall category until I came to Japan. Where else would a 6 foot, 170lb dude fit nicely into a 3XL sweater?? And shoes.. fughhetaboutit.

    I have a few gripes/observations to add to your list:

    1. Slow sensing Automatic doors – If they just tilted the sensors above the door up about 5 degrees the problem would be solved, and my nose would be grateful.
    2. Smoking in family restaurants. Enough said
    3. The absence of trash cans in public places, which is ironic, since Japan is one of the cleanest places in the world.
    4. Excessive peeling of fruit. Sucking the pulp out of a tangerine slice is pushing it a little far in my opinion.
    5. Where’s the Gyms? 24 Hour Fitness would make a killing out here because there’s virtually zero competition. Am I missing something?

    Ahh, I feel better now. :) Keep up the good work on the blog Don.

    • Alberto Lazzaris

      Dude, We could start a “Japan’s Grip Club”.
      You wrote exactly the same things I would like too.
      Jesus! I am not a skinny guy, but I felt so bad when I couldn’t fit in a 3XL t-shirt.
      Then my tip for this is to adopt these kind of Thrift Shop, such like Hard Off house. It is possible to buy good things from US and EU.

      And about the slow sensing door, it is so annoying, you are almost kissing the door and it is still closed.That is really annoying indeed.
      The abscence of bins is really a big thing, but since mos of the people are clean, it is not a big deal, except for the fags everywhere, smokers are the same “sheep”, look around Shibuya St and try to count how many you’ll find.

      I don’t like to waste apple’s skin, specially when you are paying nearly 300¥/unit.

      But what really piss me off are the smokers in the restaurants. That is horrible, parents are alloud to bring their toddlers to the smoking areas. Somo “cafes” have more seats for smokers than for non-smokers. And most of the times there’s no wall separating you from them.

      And about pizza, the good one for me was Domino’s pizza, they have good toppings and enough tomato sauce, not like most of the pizzas that are thin as a toilet paper.
      Then, I preffer to cook my own pizza at home.


      • pizza

        I guess the reason pizza crust is so thin in Japan is because they are modelling it after pizza’s in Italy not the U.S. Authentic pizza in Italy has really thin crust and not much cheese or sauce like the margherita pizza for example. I honestly never heard of margherita pizza in the U.S. until I moved to Japan, since they offer it at all pizza places in Japan, and found out that margherita pizza is the sort of pizza from Italy and that the pizza I had eaten my whole life in the U.S. was not authentic at all.

        Though I have to say American pizza can be more filling than authentic Italian pizza since the crust on American pizza is thicker has more cheese, sauce and toppings. But sometimes I rather have the authentic Italian type of pizza which is easy to get in Japan and it less fattening than an American style pizza.

  • yumiko

    Hi :-)
    Do you ever go to Roppongi?
    There is a really great California gourmet pizza place called Pizzakaya – I highly recommend it. They have English menus too (I think the place is owned by an American guy).
    Here’s the link:

  • G

    While I’m empathetic to most of your points, I do have a really good explanation for point #5.

    #1) The pizza fad had long came and gone. Western Food Culture comes in phases of fads and if it’s not in culinary fashion “IN-ness” at the time, good luck seeing some good chains and/or quality for a WHILE. (Same thing happened to Cinnamon Rolls a while back; they were IN like no supermarket/bakery/sweetshop went without having them in stock EVERYWHERE for about 1~2 years and then all of the sudden the fad died, the demand decreased, and so did the products, all together.)

    #2) Go to your nearest supermarket, and let me know if they have decent mozzarella. Most of it should be that Yuki-jirushi “Torokeru-cheezu” crap that’s more of a processed cheese than it is made from cow’s milk (let alone real Buffalo! Ain’t no where on that island you’ll find that–maybe in really small specialty stores in Hokkaido, but definitely not on the mainland!). That isn’t all there is to high pizza prices in Japan, but if you think about it, decent salami and pepperoni come sparse and thin too. As a matter of fact, I don’t think much of the pizza I had in Japan ever came with as much cheese as we Americans like to have on it.

    Anyhow, I do have a good simple recipe for pizza dough if you’re interested in making your own; it should cut the price to about 1500~2000 yen a pie for a simple cheese pizza if you’ve got a decent oven in your apartment. If it makes your gripe-list for Japan slightly more bearable, I’m all game for a video tutorial. :) Maybe you can make it a part of your class, even.

  • Chad

    Great Article!

    Only been in Japan for about a year now and the top 5 things I’ve noticed are:

    1) Traveling Within Japan
    No matter if it’s a Taxi, Train, Plane, or driving your POV… travelling in Japan is expensive!!

    2) Pizza
    I agree with what you said and the following posts. I love Pizza Hut when I was a kid, but yuck! Can’t stand it anymore. The closest to a good pizza around here is Anthony’s Pizza (Not a Japanese place). The locals around the town/area who makes pizza makes the crust too thin and/or don’t make the pizza the way Americans would want, or at least for me, NY style.

    3) Food Prices
    On the subject of Pizza, comes the more generalize subject of Food prices. Especially eating out!! My gosh! Prices are so expensive. A Japanese friend back home warned me about the cost of food [let alone anything **cough cough** electronics **cough cough**] and he wasn’t joking! With current exchange rates $ to Yen about $1=81Yen [est] I would rather be back in Europe. Even though it takes about $1.35=1Euro. Certain things cost a lot.

    4) Chinese Food…
    Ok, yea as you take it, I LOVE me some GOOD food! And I love GOOD food… Japan has a LOT of great food, but when it comes down to Chinese Food… I’ve yet to find a place that provides just that, Good Chinese Food. I don’t mean, “Americanized” Chinese Food, just good all-around Chinese food. Like, we’re so close to China, what happened? [lol!] A lot the places I’ve gone to don’t make General Tso chicken well, if not drench with a ton of vinegar [Yucks!]. I’ve made it my goal to find 1 [One] good Chinese restaurant in Japan! :)

    5) Traveling OUT of Japan
    Unless you live in Tokyo [Haneda/Narita Airports] you’re going to spending another thousand dollars or so.

    These are just nick-picking gripes [except for the Traveling in Japan... Tolls everywhere, train tickets going anywhere far in Japan, or plane tickets within the country. Like, Japan is almost identical to the East Coast USA, from NE down to FL. It doesn't cost a buttload to travel in the USA, within a country...] *tears*

    But a little background on me, I used to work 8 yrs in the Restaurant business, managing. So that kind of explains my love of food.

    By the way, I haven’t seen a release date for The Avengers movie in Japan. Really?!? Ugh, there’s another gripe, poor release dates vs. USA/World release dates for big movies.

    Anyways, Japan is a great place! Love the people, the food, the culture and everything else other then my gripes. :) Thanks again for a great Article, “Japan Guy”!

  • Al

    Aren’t there quite a few places–e.g. onsen, nightclubs, and some restaurants–that are closed off to foreigners in Japan?

  • M Mitzel

    Try Shakey’s Pizza, there’s one in Shinjuku and Shibuya that I know of. They have all you can eat pizza lunch buffet which is pretty good for less than 1500¥.

  • Marimorimo

    Have you tried Domino’s Pizza?

    My favorite Pizza delivery chain is actually Pizza-La. I like it because it tastes unlike any pizza I’ve eaten before– their pizzas have a distinctly Japanese taste. But then again, I’m not American.

    For the supreme pizza fix, though, I prefer Italian :)

    And as for the previous comment about the lack of good Chinese food, I totally agree. I’ve been to the Yokohama Chinatown and still haven’t eaten decent Chinese food. Recently though, hubby and I found a very good Chinese restaurant run by Taiwanese. The food was superb, the servings big (compared to usual puny Japanese servings), and the price super-cheap. Just the way I expected Chinese food to be. Alas, we went there a week ago and the store was closed. On a Sunday, no less. I’m afraid they may have closed up shop, even as the truly dreadful eat-all-you-can buffet chain across the street continues to thrive.

    • Donald Ash

      I haven’t tried Domino’s Pizza here in Japan. Is it any good? I can’t even remember the last time I had Domino’s Pizza. I’ve eaten my fair share of Pizza-La, so I know what you mean. It does have its own unique taste. You’re making me hungry! :D

      • scott

        The Shakey’s in Tskuba is not too bad. My go to spot for American pizza is Costco. The closest one tp Tskuba is in Shin Misato, near Ikea. I usually buy a few take & bakes at 1200 ¥ a pop & store them in the freezer. Beats the hell out of ¥3000 for a medium Pizza-la. :)

        • Clayton Thomas

          Japan has Shakey’s? Now I’ve heard everything…

  • katy

    the free wi-fi thing is seriously a problem. when i moved into my apartment, i didn’t have a mattress (another gripe – when they say “furnished” and “provide a bed” i did not think to ask “oh does that bed come with a mattress?” because this was obvious to me) and i couldn’t find a place with free wi-fi to figure out where to BUY one. i suspect they assume everyone has a mobile phone, but i’d just moved here, so i couldn’t get one yet. JAPAN WHY. lol i love your blog, as a new foreigner to japan, it’s really helping me (the washing machine tutorial was particularly excellent, thank you!)

  • katy

    the free wi-fi thing is seriously a problem. when i moved into my apartment, i didn’t have a mattress (another gripe – when they say “furnished” and “provide a bed” i did not think to ask “oh does that bed come with a mattress?” because this was obvious to me) and i couldn’t find a place with free wi-fi to figure out where to BUY one. i suspect they assume everyone has a mobile phone, but i’d just moved here, so i couldn’t get one yet. JAPAN WHY. lol i love your blog, as a new foreigner to japan, it’s really helping me (the washing machine tutorial was particularly excellent, thank you!)

    • thejapanguy

      Crazy right? Japan’s so technologically advanced. Why is there a Wi-Fi issue?
      Seriously, thank you for the feeback, I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying the blog, Katy. I’m even happier that it’s helped you! Please feel free to come back and let us know how things are going, or if you just wanna vent.

    • thejapanguy

      Crazy right? Japan’s so technologically advanced. Why is there a Wi-Fi issue?
      Seriously, thank you for the feeback, I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying the blog, Katy. I’m even happier that it’s helped you! Please feel free to come back and let us know how things are going, or if you just wanna vent.

  • There was a back alley bar not too far from my apartment that my husband and I visited for wi-fi during the 2.5-month wait for our internet to be installed. They loved us and always gave up free stuff. My husband thought that if they advertised their free wi-fi all the new foreigners in town to go there and their bussiness would boom. But looking back, I’m not sure if they realized that their wi-fi was unlocked.

    • Clayton Thomas

      2-5 months to get internet installed?! Stories like these make me question Japan’s true technological prowess…

  • cloa513

    The fact that all big tubs of yoghurt are plain only even in speciality shops let alone the dullness of choice of types of plain yoghurt. The limited amount of frozen fruit in supermarkets- only blueberries. Speciality shops are better with Mango and blueberry and acai but still poor. Frozen vegetables is still limited in range.

  • Goddess

    I understand everything except the pizza costs. It must be an island thing. The price for a large pizza is about the same (about $20.00 for a basic large; more for toppings and speciality pizzas). It’s good that you take a proactive approach to your challenges. ^_^

  • Clayton Thomas

    The Domino’s prices blew my mind. The Mega Meat Feast cost 3800 yen! I thought maybe it was of much better quality than its American counterpart (the photos do look pretty good), but one girl I talked to said she tried it and it wasn’t any better than back home. I really struggle to understand this given that there are other American chains (non-pizza ones) with pretty reasonable prices.

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