I often get asked: how’s life in Japan?
What I think they’re really asking
is what is the quality of life like?
I live in Tokyo, the biggest metropolitan area in the world.
It’s got to be a hectic life, right?
The easiest answer I can give is: I bought a house.
There’s a lot that factors into quality of life:
如健康 家庭 教育 环境
health, family, education, environment,
社会归属感 娱乐 闲暇时间
social belonging, recreation and leisure time,
and a bunch of financial stuff that influences the cost and standard of living.
I will focus on the financials in a follow-up video.
But let me address it briefly at the start of this one.
Working professionals can afford to buy a home,
and have all their primary needs taken care of.
An extravagant lifestyle?
No, but they have the ability to make ends meet
while living within an hour’s commute to the center of the mega city, that is Tokyo.
Let me paint the picture of what a Japanese middle-class lifestyle looks like.
We have a roof over our heads.
In fact, we own it.
Well, the bank does.
Press the button.
And do it once.
Now give me the key.
-So we will live here today?-Yeah
-What?-It’s our new home from today.
太棒了 我想上去 我要第一个上
Yeah. I want to go. I want to go first.
I know it’s in your house right now.
Is it your… This is your first time to this place?
We always have food on the table,
净水 电力 煤气 暖气 空调
clean water, electricity, gas, heat, air conditioning,
虽然还没有烤箱 洗碗机 但至少有个烘干机
no oven, dishwasher are dedicated drying machine though.
Kids go to a free public school where lunches are made in-house.
Although we do pay for that, like 2 dollars a meal.
After school, the kids partake in extracurricular activities,
such as art classes and sports.
We have health care. We’re required to pay for it.
不过这里医疗普遍 所以我们不会被拒之门外 况且他们的医疗水平也高
But it’s universal. So, we can’t be denied access, and the quality is good.
Did I mention kids are free?
From visits to the family doctor, dentist and optometrist to prescriptions.
We don’t own a car. We could probably afford it.
But the benefits are so little within Tokyo
that I feel it’d be a luxury expense,
especially since the kids walk to school.
And my wife has her commuter pass paid for by her company,
which, in general, is what most companies do.
For fun, well, it’s mostly free or cheap activities that we do,
如逛公园 拜访亲人及朋友 参加节日庆典
like going to parks, visiting family and friends, catching up festival.
We are going to super sentōs,
which are nice public bathhouses that cost under $10 a head.
The biggest non-essential costs we have
are eating out and paying for public transport to get to places.
Although I love traveling, my family isn’t as keen as me.
So, we don’t often get out of the city.
As a single person, the cost wouldn’t be too bad.
But as a family, expenses really do add up,
especially when hotel rates are based on the number of occupants versus the number of rooms.
So, does that paint a bit of a picture about our lifestyle?
Now, let’s get into some overarching themes.
First up is family.
Family is such a huge factor for me,
not only my immediate family, but siblings and parents too.
This must sound funny, since my Canadian family is an ocean away.
But, my Japanese family are all within a short walk.
So, you win some, you lose some.
Why are Japanese family over our Canadian one?
Well, that has to do with the cost and availability of housing,
not our affection for our loved ones,
at least that’s what it publicly say.
In the area around Vancouver,
even when our family wanted to be located near each other,
it was a practical impossibility to rent and purchase in the same neighborhood.
Only those that got in.
Before the craziness, that is the Vancouver housing market were able to establish themselves.
While Vancouver’s not considered a large city by international standards,
living in a place suitable for a family within an hour’s commute of the downtown core
was not possible for me and many working professionals.
In Japan, housing can come in all shapes and sizes
since zoning laws allow you to build on very small pieces of land.
As an example, I now own a detached home,
that, for all intents and purposes, takes up all the land.
I don’t have a yard beyond the few feet of concrete on the side.
That’s a trade-off that I was able to make.
I chose no yard versus living another 30 minutes away,
where I could have had one and a more spacious house to boot.
But, I wanted not only to be closer to the center of Tokyo,
but more importantly, close to family.
Unlike years ago in Japan,
we don’t live in a multi-generational household.
If our parents do require care as they get older
as opposed to the free childminding that they currently provide us,
we live so close that we can walk there in minutes.
So, we’re close, but not living on top of each other close.
The services available to family members
from my niece who recently graduated from the day care system
to my kids in elementary school,
to the grandparents who may one day go to adult daycare
are all located within a few minutes’ walk.
杂货店 诊所 公园 娱乐中心
Groceries, health clinics, parks, recreation centers,
and quite importantly, a train station are all equally close.
Tokyo, being a walkable city, is a big deal that lends itself to a healthier lifestyle.
And let’s talk about health.
So, there are many aspects of health, beyond access to doctors and hospitals.
But let’s discuss those things.
Whenever I want to see our family doctor,
we walk or bike to the clinic that can be seen within an hour.
But if we choose the right time of day,
it’s more like 15 minutes.
No appointment’s necessary.
The cost is so little that I never think if it’s worthwhile to spend the money to see the doctor.
Instead, equation I calculate is whether a visit is not only worth my time, but the time of the doctor.
A pharmacy is usually located beside the clinic,
which means you can pick up the prescription quite quickly.
Prescriptions are also mostly covered under the health insurance system.
And even if they weren’t,
the national governments control ensure that medications are affordable.
If I want to see a specialist,
like the dermatologist for my eczema,
or an ENT for my tinnitus,
I can drop in, just as I did with my family doctor.
No referral or appointment necessary.
噢 对了 它们同样可以步行到达
And oh yeah, they’re also located within walking distance.
But what about the quality of care?
Well, subjectively, I find it comparable to Canada.
Some things are better, some are worse.
But overall, I trust that the doctors are qualified,
that I can get access when I need to,
and that I’ll be taken care of whether I have money or not.
Even with Japan’s universal health care coverage,
you are required to pay 30% of costs.
There are monthly limits that mean you won’t end up having to pay beyond your means,
and thus won’t be going bankrupt due to some unforeseen or chronic health issues.
You’re also free to choose any hospital nationwide.
Now, I’ve been talking about physical health.
What about mental health?
That I can’t personally comment on,
since I’ve never utilized the services.
Hearing stories from other people gives me the impression that
western countries are more progressive in this area.
This kind of leads into stigmas and social belonging.
There’s this idea in Japan that you don’t want to stand out,
which means you don’t want to admit you have mental health issues,
or that you lost your job,
or many of the other life situations that you may have to deal with.
I think, in the west, we’re more open to talking about our personal problems.
In Japan, it’s just not something that’s often done.
What I’ve observed is that people are generally understanding and sympathetic
to those who are struggling in life,
不论是在经济上 生理上 心理上 亦或是其它情况
whether it be financially, physically, mentally or otherwise.
Like any other developed country,
the Japanese deal with a host of issues,
from your kid who isn’t doing well in school,
to an uncle who’s in a wheelchair,
to that cousin who has a learning difference.
These things are talked about, but usually quietly.
A lot of commentary you might hear about Japan
makes the society seem rigid and stuck in the past.
But, I’ve seen a lot of changes and openness,
not only in my generation,
but the generations above and below.
I keep on coming across examples of things progressing and improving,
from gender inequality to working hours,
to an overhaul of the University Entrance Examination System.
You’ve probably heard that Japan has a suicide problem.
But the thing is: it’s now not that different from other developed countries.
There was a period of time in the 90s and the turn of the century,
when the economy wasn’t doing well and the numbers spiked.
What if trends continue?
In a few years, the rate will be the same as the US,
which unfortunately is seeing its numbers rise.
There’s also a stereotype that in Japan foreigners are just that.
Foreigners and they will never belong.
So does our family equally Canadian and Japanese?
Feel like we belong?
I’d have to say yes.
And ironically, probably even more so than in our community in Canada,
a country that is known for its multiculturalism,
and is a country of immigrants.
Why do I think this?
Well, I don’t think it has anything to do with the people themselves.
But more with how the community is set up,
and the social expectations that come with living here,
I keep on coming back to this point.
But it really makes a difference in my life, and that’s walkability.
In Japan, many people walk or ride around the community.
So, you inevitably run into the same people over and over.
When people know you and you them,
that promotes a sense of responsibility to the greater whole.
School’s another reason for that sense of belonging.
School, especially elementary school,
forces parents to interact with one another.
And I do specifically use the word force.
Because you’re gonna interact whether you like it or not.
The elementary school catchment area is roughly a kilometre in radius,
which means everyone lives within a 10-minute walk to school.
And in some areas, you wouldn’t even need to walk that far.
Because all these circles represent a 10-minute walk
to each elementary school in the area that I could spot.
There’s this term called the Popsicle index.
The Popsicle Index is the percent of people in a community,
who believe a child can leave their home,
go to the nearest place to buy a popsicle,
and come home alone safely.
Kind of like the good old days of yore,
When I was a little girl growing up in west Philadelphia.
#西费城 生于斯长于斯 我曾在操场上度过多数时光#
# In west Philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground of where I spent most of my days.#
The Popsicle Index was a hundred percent.
It was unthinkable that we could run up to spruce street, play the pins,
get a popsicle and come home alone at any time of day or early evening.
Okay, so Japan, 2018, weekday mornings,
elementary school kids in my neighborhood gather together in groups
to walk to school without adult supervision.
On the way back home though, they’re all on their own.
Given this fact,
I’d say that my neighborhood would score 100% on that Popsicle Index,
especially since there are stores along the way that they could stop by and pick one up.
To expand upon this idea of children roaming the streets unsupervised,
I don’t think the term playdate exists in Japan.
Kids just walk or bike to a friend’s house, or even meet up in the park.
Once they get cellphones,
which most kids seem to have by the time they hit junior high,
they make plans via the popular Line messaging app.
Do Japanese parents fear for the safety of their children
that a malicious crime like kidnapping might occur?
在我看来 普天之下的父母皆是忧心这个问题 不论是日本抑或是加拿大
I think parents are about as fearful of this in Japan as they are in Canada.
But what I can confirm is that
Japanese parents don’t seem to be as concerned about kids being injured by speeding vehicles.
Because in residential areas in Japan,
the pedestrians and cyclists rule the road.
And cars are limited to 30 kilometers an hour.
And for you Americans, that’s 20 miles an hour.
在加拿大 汽车往往能达双倍时速 不论是否限速行驶
In Canada, cars generally go double that speed, regardless of posted speed limits.
Something else that contributes to social belonging
is both the voluntary and involuntary community participation.
The local group of 5 to 10 households that manage the waste collection point,
that’s not an option.
Being the parent monitor for your elementary school kids, morning gathering spot?
Also not an option.
Attending the festival for the local shrine?
Going to school festivals? Also optional.
Passing along the local news bulletin? Not an option.
For people who don’t want to conform,
this type of living can be onerous.
To put it in perspective though,
I can’t seem to survive more than a year in the Canadian corporate world,
as I like the freedom of self-employment too much.
您好 皮特 发生什么事儿了呢
Hi, Peter. What’s happening?
We need to talk about your TPS reports.
Yet, I don’t find the social norms in our little community in Tokyo to be burdensome.
In fact, I kind of find the rules freeing.
But how can that be?
Well, following the rules only take up a small percentage of my life.
So, even if I don’t like the rules, they don’t dominate how I live.
As long as I follow the little rules,
I’m free to do whatever I like.
And I also believe the pros far outweigh the cons.
Yes, I have to pitch in to clean the garbage area.
But, because everyone has to do it,
no one is going to purposely make a mess there.
I have to watch my kids gather in the morning a few weeks out of the year.
但我也可以休息 保证孩子们可以独自上学 安全到校
But I can also rest assured that my kids are safe going to school on their own.
Having to be reined in at work
will control me for a good 8 hours a day.
好吧 封面页 我知道 我知道
Yeah. The cover sheet, I know, I know.
Bill talked to me about it.
Yeah, did you get that memo?
Whereas conforming to these community rules is maybe 8 hours a month.
You might be thinking:
我没有明确提到 作为一个外国人或半外国人家庭 我们是如何去适应
I haven’t specifically addressed how we fit in as a foreign or perhaps half-foreign family.
My wife was born and raised in Tokyo after all.
好吧 我的 我 我在 在 里面 非常抱歉 在钱包里面
Yes, my I… My I in… It’ in…I’m sorry, it’s in the wallet.
My ID, it’s inside.
It’s in there, my ID.
Well, I can tell you this:
I don’t have regular run-ins with the cops.
Because there are many touch points of course,
I’m free to attend social obligations.
You’re going to participate.
And that ensures you become a part of the community.
Even with the language barrier.
And let’s be clear, I still suck at Japanese.
I’m much more involved at the local level in Japan than I’ve ever been in Canada.
So yeah, we fit in.
And I kind of don’t know if we even had a choice.
Now, let’s move on over to education.
Education was a top fear I had before moving to Japan.
I heard the schools are restrict and that creativity was stifled.
Bullying was also a thing.
My kids have been just fine.
Things are different in Japan and Canada, there is no doubt.
But I think they’ve been receiving decent education in both systems.
What you need to know about Japanese education at the elementary school level
is that unless you’re someone from the elite who wants their kid to attend the top university in the country,
the pressure is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Once you start getting into junior high and high school,
I think it’s a different story.
But, my family is not at that stage yet.
So, if you’ve seen those videos or read those articles about Japanese kids
testing to get into the right kindergarten,
to ensure their future success,
that’s the exception, not the norm.
Since education is governed at the national level,
this ensures a certain standard of quality all across the country.
Big city are small town.
You can see the same types of schools with the same curriculums,
with the same gyms and swimming pools,
with the same sports days and festivals.
校内安排的课程有日语 数学 科学
There are Japanese, math and science classes,
but there’s also social and life studies:
如美术 音乐 体育与家庭经济
arts, music, physical education and home economics.
There are several field trips a year,
and many festivals to put on.
实话说 比起我在加拿大学校的所见所闻 日本拥有更为多样化的教育体验
It’s honestly a more diverse educational experience than I’ve seen in Canadian schools.
Teachers are hired by the prefecture,
which is similar to a province or state,
and are moved around schools every few years.
So, while my family isn’t located in one of the wealthier parts of Tokyo,
I feel the facilities and teachers aren’t dramatically different to the more monied areas.
The vast majority of students attend public school,
especially at the elementary level.
So, this really is the story for most Japanese.
PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment,
ranks Japanese students quite highly.
If you ask my kids, I could prefer the Japanese school system,
because she says she understands it better.
Allshin is rather indifferent.
We’ve witnessed incidents of bullying in both Canada and Japan.
实话说 我无法判定谁之略胜一筹 谁不尽人意
And I can honestly say I wouldn’t rate one place better or worse.
Both school systems are anti-bullying.
But if you know kids,
they unfortunately can find creative ways to get around official policies.
One big difference the kids and I have noticed between the school systems
is the freedom and responsibility given to students.
Overall, I’d say Japanese have more responsibility than Canadian students.
Whether it’s serving up lunch, cleaning the school,
putting on events or watching over the younger ones.
But being able to be yourself,
Canada is the winner in that category.
You can have purple hair, scooter into class,
and have your own learning style.
So, I’ve spent a lot of time talking about obligations, education and health.
But, what about the fun stuff, recreation and leisure time?
This is perhaps the trickiest section for me to talk about.
That’s because my family doesn’t have the typical setup.
I work for myself, and thus make my own hours.
My wife works, but it’s fairly close to the typical 9-to-5.
So, she’s home within decent hours.
While our working hours are in line with Canadian parents that I know,
I’d say we’re home more than other Japanese parents are.
So from my experience,
the average Japanese family has less time together than a Canadian one.
In Canada, there’s a bigger priority on having quality of time with not only children,
but also with spouses,
like if there were some non-essential work that needed to get done in the evening,
or your kids’ soccer game to attend.
I feel like in Japan the work would win out.
反之 在加拿大 大人则带着小孩去参加足球比赛
Whereas in Canada, taking your kid to the soccer game would.
This is, of course, a huge generalization.
但如果你需要进行总结 那便是为何我会觉得事已至此 无法改变
But if you need to sum it up, that’s how I feel the cookie would crumble.
For parents, I don’t see a big culture of having date nights.
Within my Canadian family,
it’s something that’s deemed essential for a healthy relationship.
在日本 桑间月下只属于未婚情侣 而非已婚夫妇
In Japan, dates are for unmarried couples, not parents.
In Japan, taking care of the families is also still more of a female than a male thing.
So, it’s expected that a mother would make the meals and clean the house.
Times are changing, and the role is becoming more equal.
But, it’s probably a generation behind what I see on the ground in Canada.
Japanese family vacations are shoulder affairs.
Think a couple of days, I supposed to a week,
there’s just not enough consecutive time off of work to go on long trips.
There’s also lots of school activities that need to be attended to.
Overall, Japanese people seem to have less free time to do things of their choosing.
But when the Japanese do recreational things,
they usually do it in a serious way.
So, what’s the quality of life like in Tokyo?
I bought a house.
It’s somewhere I can see my family living for the foreseeable future.
Because we can live near to family,
because we can be part of a small community,
because we can work jobs that don’t require long hours,
because we can spend time with our family,
because we don’t need to own a car,
we can have a decent quality of life.
One thing I’d like to come back to is the education.
We’re in a special situation where our kids can speak English.
-What are you doing right now?-Just sitting here.
-Now, what are you going to do with this picture?-I don’t know.
And that’s becoming an increasingly important subject in Japanese schools.
It’s one of the main subjects you can use for test scores
for getting into both high schools and universities.
Coming from Canada, my kids have a natural advantage.
Furthermore, their Canadian citizenship,
and myself and my wife’s ability to make a living back in Canada
mean that we always have the option of going back to the Canadian education system for certain years,
if things aren’t working well in Japan.
This means our kids probably don’t experience the same type of schooling pressure that regular Japanese ones do.
On the other hand, we have very much been actively working
to ensure our kids are fluently bilingual in Japanese and English.
It’s not a given that they can speak both languages.
They’re currently not at a native level of English.
Just like when we were living in Canada,
they weren’t at a native level of Japanese.
It’s a constant struggle to prepare them to be able to communicate at a needed level in 2 languages
by the time they graduate from high school.
Not only that.
We want to make sure they can feel at ease living in either country.
A very important question, but one that’s also so subjective is if we’re happy,
Are we happy with our life in Japan?
How about a simple answer to this complicated question?
感谢观看 我们下次再会 拜拜
Thanks for watching. See you next time. Bye.
What’s the quality of life like where you’re from?
Hey, guys, Greg here.
As promised in the follow-up to this video,
I’ll talk about the costs/ the standard of living in Japan.
I think in developed countries, if you’re wealthy enough,
you can have a fairly good quality of life.
So, what I’m more interested in talking about
is what the quality of life will be like for a regular average citizen.
Stay tuned for that.
If you like these types of videos, they do take a while to make.
And making them requires the consumption of quite a bit of tea.
And I really do slurp.
I really do slurp my tea like that.
It’s hot, right?
You know, this is great Japanese technology.
But anyways, if you…
If you have the means to support my tea drinking habit,
我有一个Patreon账号 欢迎来砸 再见
I have a patreon account. So, consider that. All right