- Toilets Never Get Stopped Up. At least, I’ve never seen a toilet get stopped up in Japan. This was my biggest household frustration in the U.S. (largely because I hate both toilets and excrement—I’m not a complete germophobe, but I’ve always hated these things, and a stopped-up toilet is like a trifecta of putridity) but something I don’t have to deal with here. Seriously, when I move back to the States, I want to bring a Japanese toilet with me!
- Convenience Stores. They have complete meals and microwaves so you can heat the meal you just purchased. They also have some commonly-required items like eggs, milk, and butter. Of course, all of this is also true of grocery stores, but convenience stores are on virtually every corner and are usually open 24 hours. Furthermore, you can even pay your bills at convenience stores! Just walk in, hand them your electric bill and some cash, and they’ll pay it for you! Convenience stores (or コンビニ “konbini,” as they call them) truly are convenient.
- Museums. Children often have free admission and adults pay far less than they would in the United States. For example, the museum at Ueno Park has free admission for children aged 18 and under, and only 600 JPY (about $6) admission for adults.
- Exercise. There’s no need to go to the gym because you WALK EVERYWHERE. My brother had a professor that we both loved. He was cool, fun, hilarious, geeky like us, and reminded us very much of a close family friend. He hailed from New York and told us that moving to Texas was like moving to The Land of the Obese. He talked about how Texans don’t walk anywhere—they drive. We defended that tendency due to the lack of public transportation, which itself is due to the vast spread of the state. Even in New York State, public transportation primarily exists in urban centers, not suburban or rural (which makes up the vast majority of Texas’s land area). Nevertheless, it’s true that in areas where people walk more, people also tend to be more fit, and that’s definitely true of Japan. After only three months of living here, my BMI dropped 5.3 points (28 pounds) from the upper end of normal weight to underweight. I certainly wasn’t eating any better or trying to lose weight; it just happened. (Interestingly, I’m still chunky in comparison to the Japanese women here. It must be their genetics! How can anyone be so thin?? I’m so ethnocentric…)
- Shipping. Domestic shipping in Japan is often free for a minimum purchase, and the minimum purchase is usually pretty low—like, 3,000 JPY (about $30—I think the minimum in the U.S. is at least $50). There was one weird incident that involved the cash-based society more than it did the shipping policies… We ordered a Christmas gift for someone online and rather than paying immediately, we were informed that the item would arrive with a bill, which we are to take to the local convenience store or bank to make payment. But anyway, the shipping is pretty awesome. And if the post office screws something up, they’ll make it right, give you a complete refund, and may even give you a gift in apology.