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Made In Japan / China / America

One very obvious cultural different after moving from America to Japan – was noticing where products and goods are manufactured.

In America we’ve gotten used to the fact that nearly everything is made in China. We think of China as the worlds shopping mall for all things cheap, and ultimately disposable. In fact it’s quite a challenge to buy “Made In America” products most of the time. We’ve had this justified to us by politicians that countries that “make things” are generally filthy – and also stuck with the pollution of industrialization, and that this low-class type of economy is part of the past. There is an element of truth to this, certainly.

So, you can imagine my shock, after moving to Japan to find so many things “Made In Japan”. This coming from a country that sits right next to China – not across the globe. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of products here made in China. But during a normal shopping experience in America (for example, a hardware store) you can bet, without a doubt that any cheap plastic goods come from China.

On the contrary, in Japan! Yes, these goods are often slightly more expensive (not everything is), and the quality is generally superior, and of course it is “Made in Japan”. It’s quite an interesting trade off if you ask me, and raises some questions about how a country supports it’s own economy.

I must admit, I’m no economist. So I have mostly questions without answers;

  • Does the nature of capitalism fuel this continual hunger to reach the cheapest possible cost for any item?
  • What is the actual trade off for saving $1 on an item, and is it really worth it? How much benefit to one’s own economy can paying $1 more provide?
  • Would Americans, in a neutral, politics-free environment, prefer the more durable product at higher cost? Or is always buying cheapest the new American ideal?

 

This doesn’t mean that I think that the USA should turn back the clock and start making all of it’s own products.
But, there is a price to pay for cheap goods. Whether it’s child labor, air pollution, or import dependencies on other countries – there is always a cost for the consumer to save that buck. The bigger question is will they consider these costs? Quite simply – No. The average consumer is simply choosing from what’s available, and trying to serve their family. I believe thy have simply been brainwashed to believe that this is the only way – that there is no alternative.

I wish for a moment they could walk into a local Japanese store (which would have shut down in the US due to Amazon), to see the local support and superior products for what amounts to mostly pennies more per product. I think If they could experience it, they would feel a bit conned. I don’t believe American’s in their hearts want to be the “throw away” culture. But we’ve let ourselves become compliant, and lazy, when placed in the environment of making everything cheap and easy. It’s easy to buy “Made in Japan” when living in Japan, and I like that.

What do you think about the trade-off between “cheap” versus quality & self-reliance? Let me know in the comments below.

8 Things That Are Cheaper in Japan

Sushi – Fish (and Really Anything From the Ocean)

This one comes as no surprise. While sushi can be a specialty item in the US, often reserved for an expensive night out, it’s availability has exploded over the years in Japan. For those on a limited budget, $1 sushi restaurants are widely available – while those with a discerning palate can find the best there is to offer.

Haircuts

I have friends that have made quite a name for themselves in the US hair salon industry. I think that haircuts here in Japan are generally seen as a bit more utilitarian. Also taking into account that Japan is a non-tipping society, you can expect a reduced cost from this alone. But what about quality you ask? I’ve had great luck with my notoriously difficult hair, and stylists generally tell me that my soft foreigner hair is actually easier for them.

Dental Health

Healthcare

Japan has a national healthcare system with prices that are set by the government and guarantee relatively equal access. I won’t debate the politics of what may, or may not work in the US – but I can tell you my personal experience. I have received excellent and affordably healthcare in Japan, and never have to worry about whether or not I can afford it. Nobody goes bankrupt in Japan due to medical expenses.

Take for example Jameson seen here for 1695¥, or roughly $15.50, not bad at all!

Many UK and American Whiskies

When shopping here in the Japanese countryside I expected American whisky (like most American items) to be more expensive, as well as my favorite Irish and Scotch whiskeys. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s actually cheaper than  in the US. I’m not sure of the reason, but if I had to speculate I would say that these brands just aren’t as known here. With the rise of Japanese whisky fame, local brands are a more popular part of the social consciousness. There may be import tax reasons as well, of course – but whatever cause, no complaints here!

Chicken Breast / White Meat

Coming from supposedly health-conscious California, where chicken breast is prized for its lean dietary benefits I was surprised to find how inexpensive it is in Japan. I guess it makes sense as it is a rather bland cut of meat. Last sale price I saw was 38¥ per 100grams, or roughly $1.60 a pound versus the US which can range $3-6/lb.

Child Care

I good but relatively average-cost preschool in Los Angeles cost me ~$900/mo, before that my kid was in an expensive daycare where they played, but no education. Preschool in Japan is government subsidized for working parents. In the US I had to prepare his lunch daily, while in Japan they receive healthy school lunches. The cost to me is minimal ~$200/mo. Not only that, but I would make the argument that early education in Japan is far superior to the US, safe, healthy and the teacher-to-student ratio is excellent.

All You Can DrinkAll-You-Can-Drink

I’m not sure if this one counts, as I rarely ever even see “all you can drink” in the US unless your’e talking about someone who contracted an “open bar”. It’s probably due to fears about liability or disorderly drunks. But in Japan, it’s rather common to see this featured at various restaurants with a set price and time limit (usually a couple hours).

Spa’s, Wellness Centers, and Public Baths

OnsenJapan is home to 10’s of thousands of hot springs, with a rich cultural tradition of cleanliness and wellness as achieved though mind and body purification. Public baths and onsen are found everywhere and often feature western recognized features such as sauna, massage (extra cost), and more. As one of the most popular activities, there are many destinations keeping the price affordable for all.

Did I miss one? Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

How 1-Year In Japan Changed Me

It’s been a year and a couple months since our relocation to Japan, and it only makes sense to glance back and review how I’ve changed.  Not just the structural changes of everyday life, but also looking into my brain and analyzing what I’m thinking, and feeling as compared to a year ago. This probably leads right into how my anticipation of life in Japan “lives up” to the reality – but that may require it’s own blog post entirely.

Here’s what I think has changed in me after 1-Year:

Communication
I’m not exactly sure what I expected in terms of Japanese language growth. I’ll say that I feel improvement has been a matter of inches rather than miles – however, but simple conversation comes much easier. I’m no longer afraid to engage others, and even seek it out – while knowing there will be much I don’t understand. I guess I would say I feel like I’m at ground-zero, with everything still ahead of me, but enough of a “foundation” that I actually have something to build upon. I would call that progress.


Friendship
With so much of the last year about getting settled and getting our kids into a routine – I never gave much thought about making friends. But i do see now that in the long term, I could feel isolated without others to confide in. Due to recent events I’m meeting more foreigners and with improved language – more locals as well. While i wouldn’t say I have new close buddies, I don’t think it’s impossible if I stay longer.

Courtesy
It’s pretty clear that once among Japanese language and culture, there is a level of courtesy unique to the country. From bowing, and common phrases of appreciation to being quick to apologize – if only for the sake of politeness. After a year, these tiny rituals have become so normal that they almost come without thinking. Honestly I feel that if suddenly back in the US, it would feel quite odd, because I really do feel the urge to tell someone “Otsukaresama” when I see that they have worked hard, and there’s no English equivalent.

Public Persona
Right in line with courtesy, I am more conscious of how I am act in public. I generally don’t raise my voice or make a big deal about small problems – publicly, where as in the US – sometimes it’s necessary. It’s seen as immature here, while in the US – speaking out and being passionate about something be looked upon favorably. I feel adjusted to my surroundings but it may also highlight a weakness, of being unable to negotiate awkward situations. This can only come with improved communication.

Sense of Family
In the last year we’ve faced a challenges as a family and it has brought us closer. But it’s also made me value and miss my own family more, and wish we had easier access to my US family. So on the whole, I think it’s brought a greater perspective on the importance of family.

Grocery Shopping
Finding good deals and making delicious meals is a favorite pasttime of mine. But the foods which are available at different times of the year, their best prices, and meal outcomes are totally different in Japan! It’s been a lot of fun adjusting to the new situation, planting my own garden and learning some new dishes. I’ve also found ways of replacing “most” of the foods I love from back home.

Passage of Time
Time is passing faster here! I generally explain this by the fact that I’m living in a place with true seasons, and seasons that change quickly and dramatically. This leads to anticipating the next season, and preparation, and the feeling of forward movement. Everyone says they are jealous of my past life in California, but I actually feel more motivated to succeed right now as I feel time passing and I know the number of seasons ahead are not infinite.

Driving
Yes, I bow a lot and let other people go first. They do the same for me. I think being in a small town, and one of the few foreigners has me more cautious than normal, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel good to have others be equally courteous – especially coming from Los Angeles. (see my page about passing the Japanese driving test)

Sense of Acceptance
Is it there yet? Will it ever be? Hard to say. Probably not. By and large people are sweet and accepting. The kids of the city love me, but that’s most because I’m such an alien oddity here! There will always be those who simply don’t like foreigners and have to be the thorn in the your side, but we can’t let those people ruin our experience. If I think about how rude Los Angeles must feel to a newly arrived foreigner – there is no comparison. I’m rather happy where I am, and I only see improvement with time.

Thanks for stopping by! Give us your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Feel free to check out my blog post about 6 Striking Personality Differences.

Costco Items That Every Foreigner in Japan Needs

So you’ve moved to Japan from the USA, or maybe you’re just here for an extended period. Chances are there’s a few things your going to miss from home. While big cities offer about anything you might need (for a price), dwellers of the countryside like me might be out of luck, or forced to compromise during those rare moments we’re feeling nostalgic.

Costco Toyama

Fortunately we have that giant American wholesale warehouse we all know and love, Costco, with stored spread throughout central and southern Japan.

Naturally when I have the chance to visit my nearest location (Toyama) there are a few “must have” items which go into my cart regularly.

Real Cheese
One thing I’ve noticed is a lot of processed cheese in Japan. If you do find the good stuff, it’s not cheap! Bricks of real cheddar and jack cheese can be had from Costco. I always buy a couple bricks and put some in the refrigerator and cut the remainder into pieces or grate and freeze. Freezing it whole does ruin the texture a bit (gets crumbly) but still great for cooking and keeps indefinitely, or at least until the next Costco Trip. Costco puts all the expensive cheese together in the busiest part of the store, while hiding their affordable Kirkland Signature cheese in the refrigeration isle.

Oats & Cereal
Cereal is expensive in Japan, and you certainly won’t find any that you loved as a kid. You can buy a huge amount of steel cut oats at a great price for making oatmeal (or porridge as my UK counterparts would say). This is especially great when you have kids and want to occasionally offer a healthy alternative to rice, pasta, or bread. They also carry a few common cereals for us old-kids like Honey Nut Cheerios.

Wheat PastaOrganic / Wheat Pasta
We like to give our kids healthy options whenever possible. While pasta is readily available throughout Japan it’s kind of rare that i see all wheat or grain versions of pasta, which I feel is a better option than…. just flour/water/egg of regular pasta. Costco has it.

Baked Beans
If you’re looking for beans in Japan – I hope you like desert. Sweet red bean filling is the most common place I find beans in Japan, and while it’s not bad (once you acquire the taste) it can seem very strange to what Americans and British folks think of as beans. I personally prefer a spicey ranch style pinquito beans from my home town, baked beans is still a comfortable reminder of home.

Pork Ribs
I love Japanese style BBQ, I of course have my grill out on the back porch ready for the summer. But there’s no argument that it’s a completely different style than the US. Once in a while, I’ve got to get a taste of that old home town style BBQ and in the absence of a Tri-tip, pork ribs are a great next best option. You can get a full rack at Costco at a relatively affordable price, where as at countryside supermarkets you may see a few small ribs in a pack on occasion – if that.

Taco Seasoning
I know what you home master-chef’s will say, “I use my own seasoning for taco’s”. Yes, I get that. But when you live in Japan, Mexican food seasonings are either non-existant or expensive. For quick meals, Costco has a huge container of taco seasoning that will probably last you a year. You can kick it up a notch with your own seasonings to get your taco’s in the right happy place.

Fresh / Frozen Pizza
Costco’s giant “ready to bake” pizzas are nearly identical to those in the US (with the exception of the seafood pizza). In fact, most Japanese kitchens probably lack the size of oven required to cook it! This means most people probably cook it in sections (I’m guessing). One alternative is their 3-pack of frozen pizzas which are also quite tasty, and at about $5/per pizza quite a good deal. Add your own toppings to make it something special.

Bakery and BreadDinner Rolls / French Bread
I’m an American and this pretty much certifies my love for white bread. What’s great (once again) is that bread keeps rather well in the freezer. Costco’s bakery cranks out favorites that are identical to the US version, and make you feel right at home.

Ritz Crackers
I admit this one is something of a personal favorite that I was craving last time. Japanese crackers are great, but something completely different. If you miss the buttery, salty (can’t be good for you) snack that I was craving, they have them. Top them with some cheese or…

Peanut Butter
I’m listing this one because they have it, and Peanut Butter is rarely ever seen by me at the grocery. If I do see it, it’s a tiny container. Here’s my beef with you Costco, you only carry the sweet full-of-sugar PB’s like JIF. How about a nice natural one, 100% peanuts only? I guess my Trader Joes jar will have to last a little longer.

Tequila / Wine / Beer
Tequila! Oh how I’ve missed you. I never see tequila in supermarkets, and only one option when in most liquor markets. Costco has a couple options, and the Kirkland Signature is quite drinkable and very affordable. I got spoilt on wine in California, as many of the wines imported to, or made in Japan taste watered-down to me. Costco’s cheapest (bottled) red wine is usually imported as well, but you can tell that they’ve taken the time to select a decently drinkable one. Imported beers are always pricey – but at least they have some to pick from.

English Books
If you happen to have kids like me, raising them in Japan – English books might need to be ordered online unless you get lucky at a second hand store, or live in a big city. Costco has a ton of children’s books (and adult ones) in English at your expected new book price.

Avocados
I thought Avocado’s were expensive in the US, then I moved to Japan. Wow! Costco carries avocado’s by the bag, still not cheap, but maybe better than many supermarkets and always large in size.

BONUS ITEMS:

The oven roasted chicken at around $6 is a steal, especially considering most people don’t usually buy whole-chickens (or have big enough oven to roast it for that matter). It’s obvious why it’s strategically placed at the back of the store. And you know I can’t go without mentioning the all-beef hotdog from the food counter. It comes with a drink, AND it’s under $2? Shut up and take my money. Don’t tell me how it’s made, just leave me alone and let me eat my dog. Maybe i’ll get one for the road too.

What’s your craving from back home? Whether Costco or not – leave us a comment below and tell us what you’re missing.

7 Considerations Before Offering Private English Lessons

So you want to start offering private English lessons while living abroad; that’s great! It can be very fulfilling work while offering a valuable service to your newly adopted community. But before you dive in head-first there are a things that you should spend some time thinking about. Clarifying the type of education you will offer will make things easier for you all-around, from building lessons to bringing on new students and advertising your services. I don’t propose to offer all the answers in this post, as your own personal preferences play a huge role. Instead I pose some important questions to ask yourself. While there is much to consider, today we bring you 7 Considerations Before Offering Private English Lessons.

  1. Define Your Audience
    Who is your ideal student? Will you teach to adults or children and at what level? Teaching all things to all students runs the risk of spreading yourself too thin. It may be wise to imagine the best audience for your services and concentrate your efforts in that direction.
  2. Focus Your Services
    What kind of lessons will you offer and what type of English? Will you cater to students preparing for tests, or businessmen looking to improve language skills? Will your lessons teach grammar, reading and writing? Will they be more conversational and what will be required for beginner level students?
  3. Find Your Classroom
    Where will you provide your services? Will you conduct classes from your own home or from the students home? If you want teach from a coffee shop or a cooperative workspace how will the costs and environment impact your lessons?
  4. Schedule Appropriately
    What is the daily schedule of your ideal student? Are they enrolled in school or do they follow a typical work schedule? What are your own hours availability, not only for offering classes but for building your lesson plans and preparation.
  5. Cost and Payment
    How much will you charge for your services and when will you require payment? Will you offer a discount for multiple students or for multiple classes purchased at once? It’s important to remain competitive with other offerings in the area, but it must also be profitable for you. What reason should someone pick your services over someone else’s offerings?
  6. Curriculum
    Will you follow a text book? Will lessons be based entirely on the proficiency and preferences of your student? How will you determine the ways in which your student learns best and create lessons that cater to their unique abilities.
  7. Advertising
    Where will you enroll your intended audience? First consider the locations and schedules of the type of person you’d like to reach. Are there public bulletin boards, or local publications that you can post in? What about local networking events?

Make some conscious decisions in advance and save yourself trouble and confusion down the road. Present the best possible version of yourself and your services through professionalism and clarity.

5 Japanese Habits Your Family Can Start Today! (Featured Guest Blog)

Just because you haven’t visited or moved to Japan yet doesn’t mean you can’t start incorporating some of the healthy habits observed by many in Japan!

Today we bring you a new article;

5 Japanese Habits Your Family Can Start Today!

…prominently featured over at the Grey, Grizzled and Gaijin blog as part of their “Lifting People Up in 2018” Feature.

grey_grizzled

We’d like to thank Craig at GGG for working diligently to helping those of us working to bring you the hidden gems of Japanese culture, adventure and lifestyle. Learn more about the Grey, Grizzled and Gaijin blog here.

Hounoki Ski Area ほおのき

Today, we at WestCoastToFarEast.com bring you to the beautiful Hounoki Ski Area in Takayama Japan, or as some call it the Japanese Alps. There is excellent skiing, snowboarding, sledding for kids, and more. There are multiple lodges here where you can rest after a day on the slopes with warm, affordably priced meal. Or soak your weary bones in a hot onsen bath (my personal favorite) and overlook the mountain tops.

What’s great is that it’s a relatively quick and painless ride up the mountains from Takayama City. There are several ways to get there via bus or tour, or simply drive. If you drive while it’s snowy be sure to have a 4wd vehicle for slippery roads though! Once you are up here you’ll also be in the vicinity of several famous Onsen locations.

Learn more about the Ski area here: http://www.hounoki-daira.or.jp/
View upcoming videos by subscribing to our YouTube Channel.

Showa Era Museum

Takayama Showa Era Museum 昭和時代

Today I bring to you a true Hidden Gem of Takayama-city – the Shōwa era museum. Hidden Gem in every send of the word. Hidden because it’s literally through the back of a toy & candy store, unseen until you enter through a curtained door. A Gem because while it is not huge in size, it’s uniqueness and quality make up for it in its brilliance!

The Takayama Showa-kan is located right in the middle of Takayama near the old town on a fairly nondescript side street, aside from some retro signs and animatronic sculptures that set it apart from the surroundings.

The windows give you a peek into the toy and candy store.
The windows give you a peek into the toy and candy store.

Once inside the toy and candy store… you wonder, how big could this museum be?? There’s really no way to tell without paying admission. My opinion – it’s worth the $8 to get in, and there was more to explore than I expected. Certainly not a huge museum – but an adventure for the eyes with plenty entertain you for an hour or two.

As you enter the museum you begin to feel transported to a part of Japan’s not too distant past (Showa period 1926-1989). A time that endured a lot of change and most of us have only seen in the movies, where industry, fashion and culture changed following the war. For some, that period may even be our original vision of Japan.

The layout of the museum breaks the art installations out into various themed rooms or shops that line a street.

You get the quaint feeling that this must have started as someone’s personal collection… which grew out of control, and then took on a new meaning – and then others began to contribute. Is this true? Maybe not – but i’d like to believe it is.

Some of the items are rare pop-culture relics that collectors-of-too-many-things like me would love to have in their own home, while other items feel more normal, as if you might be able to find them in a second-hand junk store. Together it works, building a vibe that allows the imagination to run.

It’s not hard to find a variety of classic movie posters, both foreign and domestic.

Another thing that makes this museum unique is the access. There’s no barriers, ropes or security guards – you are in it. Trusted to treat the place with a measure of respect.

Shōwa era restaurant
Recreation of a Shōwa era restaurant.
Buddy Mike steps into the past.
Buddy Mike steps into the past.

As i wander around, I wonder where all this stuff came from, and who in town still has treasures like these sitting in their own closet or storage house. I certainly don’t see these types of items in the local second-hand store. One side of the street we see a barber shop, while another corner has a recreation of a camera stores. You pop in and out of rooms, and inevitably your eyes are drawn to the tiny details

Video game nerds will be happy to know there is a small gaming area set aside with emulations of Nintendo, Intellivision, and other 80’s era game consoles where you can take a rest and relive some childhood memories.

The Classroom
The Classroom

And I can’t go without mentioning one room which i found to be especially endearing – the Showa era classroom. Is this classroom like the one that “the creator” of this museum went to school in? I can’t tell you. But I hope to answer some of these lingering questions about how and why this small but beautiful museum was created, and I hope that you check back if you are just as curious as I am.

Now go check out my post 8 Things to Love About the Japanese Countryside.

Wintertime Entertainment

Depending on where you live in Japan, the seasons can be a bit extreme. Summer often brings heat and humidity and winter brings the beautiful snowfall. One thing you can count on is that there will be plenty to entertain you. Where I’m located, near Takayama City in Gifu prefecture (often referred to as the Japanese Alps), snow is basically guaranteed.

View From My House of The Snowy Landscape

So what can you do?

It seems like every neighborhood has it’s own community center, open to the public with activities and exercise equipment, as well as indoor sports like rock-climbing which help keep the kids busy and active during the winter. For us parents – we get the additional exercise of shoveling snow from our driveways and cleaning off our cars every morning along side our neighbors.

Sledding, snowmen, snowballs, igloos, and more.

But another thing small Japanese towns can brag about is the sense of community created through everyday interactions, and local events and activities – such as a day for kids to come together and play in the snow at the local park.

This event was hosted by a local group associated with the city, including teachers to games and a good time for the kids like tug-of-war and other team building activities. 

In addition to sledding and games, here was entertainment by local performers, with snacks and goodies provided for the kids to take home.

Of course I can’t go without mentioning the HOT miso soup cooked up in a nearby tent and provided to every chilly visitor. 

Pass Your Japanese Driver’s Test in One Attempt

Need to drive in Japan more than the 1 year given to you by your International driving permit? Your going to need a Japanese drivers license.

You could face a fine of up to 300,000 Yen or up to 1 year imprisonment for driving on an expired permit.

This could take several months – so you better get head start my friend because the clock is ticking. Does 3, or 5, or 10 attempts sound crazy? Because the Japanese practical test often presents a challenge to foreigners.

As an American – it’s more work than simply swapping out a US license for a Japanese one, unfortunately. On the positive side, neither do you have to go through the process that locals go through which includes months of driving school, and likely thousands of dollars in training and fee’s. Yes – they take driver’s licenses very seriously in Japan!

The steps you will need to take will look something like this:

  • Setting your initial DMV paperwork appointment
  • Gathering the necessary information and documentation
  • Providing this information to the DMV, and likely a short interview in Japanese
  • At least one drivers training session with an instructor
  • Memorizing the route/map for your practical test
  • Taking a simple written test (true or false)
  • Taking a practical driving test on a track at the DMV
  • Filling out forms and paying fee’s

This doesn’t look very appealing. But it’s not as bad as it seems and it can actually be quite simple provided you do a few things the right way.

You will not pass the practical test without at least one driving school session.

I know what your’e going to say. Probably the same thing I said. “That’s crazy! I’ve been driving in the US for 25 years!”, well yes, but there are many little things specific to the test in Japan that a foreigner would never think of. Examples?

  • Examining the car before you enter it
  • How smoothly you are turning the wheel
  • Listening for trains at railroad crossings
  • Having your blinker on almost entirely through the course

There’s many more, and every instructor/prefecture is looking for different things. So what is a person to do? Most likely there is a nearby driving school (in my case, less than a mile away) which has the very SAME course as the actual test! This is a huge benefit to you. Most people recommend at least 2 hours of training, but i did it with a single 30 minute session.

I’m going to tell you how – plus everything else that I learned. But since this blog post got really long – I’ve created an entire page dedicated to the subject!

That way the rest of you don’t have to sit through all the boring details. Just know that if you plan to get a Japanese drivers license – it will take sincere effort, patience and preparation.

To view this post in its entirety, visit the dedicated page – How To Pass The Japanese Drivers Test in One Attempt.
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