Living abroad is fun and exciting; hardly a day goes by when something doesn’t surprise, humor, or baffle you. Living in another country also gives you a chance to understand your own native nation and evaluate the good and the bad from an outsider’s perspective.

So today we want to share with you some things that we miss from our own countries—that is to say mainly the US and UK—that we never realized we’d miss! Because, you know, they just seemed so normal, we thought Japan would have them too.

Here is our list of nine surprising things you won’t find in Japan:

1. Beautiful college campuses


When I first came to Japan, I came to teach at university. I was surprised that the four-year school I taught at was just a collection of unattractive concrete buildings that weren’t very well maintained. The grounds were not manicured and the buildings weren’t painted every year inside to keep them at least looking clean. Other than a few well-known universities in Tokyo, most four-year schools here look run-down compared to the elegant campuses you’ll find in the U.S.A., U.K., and other European countries.

2. A defined beach culture

▼ This public beach on America’s Gulf Coast is lined with restaurants and beach bars.


Being an archipelago, Japan is a nation surrounded by water. Likewise, there are many beaches. But what’s missing is a defined beach culture. Sure, you’ll find people at the beach, even a few surf towns along the coast, but your average Japanese person doesn’t go to the beach with the regularity that Australians, New Zealanders, or Americans do.

And even though Japanese people visit their country’s southernmost Okinawan islands (which are famous for clear water and beautiful beaches), there are few vibrant waterfronts with thriving businesses, real estate, and entertainment venues such as restaurants and bars like you’ll find on the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, or other coastal countries.

3. Light beer


After not having imbibed in light beer for years, I rediscovered the benefits of drinking beer that has fewer calories and less alcohol content the last time I was in the U.S. Although I prefer the rich taste of the heavier craft beers, light beer can have a place in the drinking repertoire as well. When you’re out with your colleagues in Japan but you don’t want to get so drunk you end up with a hangover the next day, a light beer option would be nice. And these days, it’s not just American beer that offers a light version: Australia, Scotland, and the Philippines are just a few other countries that have light beers.

4. Animal welfare agencies

▼ What animal lover wouldn’t want this cute license plate on their car?!

license plate

Pets are popular in Japan, but it’s surprising how underrepresented they are when it comes to animal welfare. Where is the Japanese RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)? Where are the campaigns to encourage spaying and neutering to help keep the feral populations down? Luckily, some sympathetic and enterprising foreigners have paved the way for animal rights in Japan by starting animal welfare groups such as ARK (Animal Refuge Kansai) and Heart Tokushima that rescue animals and find homes for them.

5. Nature “rest areas” on the highway

▼ Rest areas in the U.S. are more like parks, offering toilets, green spaces, picnic tables and the sounds of nature to soothe your frazzled highway soul.


Driving long distances on the highway can be tiring, if not stressful, so when you pull into a rest area, sometimes you just want to relax. Japan’s rest areas are great in that they provide food, souvenirs, and sometimes even a hot spring bath, but the’re not a place to enjoy nature. And forget getting a few winks of sleep if you’re tired, because Japan’s rest areas don’t separate cars from trucks, so you’ll have to listen to noisy engines parked right next to you if you choose to nap in your car.

6. Large selections of beer and wine at the grocery store

▼ And this is just the craft beer section!


Need we say more?

7. Really cold beer

▼ This is a walk-in cooler inside a gasoline station convenience store where you can buy cases of beer–super cold. No wonder they call it Beer Heaven!


If you buy a case of beer at the grocery store in Japan, you better have plenty of time to chill it yourself because you can only buy singles and six-packs in the refrigerators here. This is in contrast to the U.S. or especially Australia, where there is a large chilling room inside the store, like a huge walk-in fridge with an array of beers sold by the case. Some grocery stores even have super-cooling barrels that will cool your room-temperature wine in under 10 minutes!

8. Drive-thrus

▼ A classic beer and wine drive-thru in Ohio. But remember, don’t drink and drive!


In many parts of the U.S., everything from your morning cup of coffee to an evening bottle of wine can be bought from a drive-thru. There’s just something about buying a case of (ice-cold) beer with your buddies while  listening to your favorite tunes busting out on the car stereo.

9. Farm animals

▼ Horses along the road in Montana


I know this is mainly a space problem in Japan, but, but, but…nothing beats driving down the road and watching bucolic farm animals whiling away their afternoons in the pastures. It’s not something you usually think about when driving around, North America, Australia, and New Zealand at least, where there are lots of horses, cows, goats and sheep grazing in the pastures alongside the road. They’re just a comforting sight to see. In Japan, with the exception of Hokkaido, you can go years without seeing a real farm animal. I really miss those moments of bovine bliss.

10. Sitting under trees

▼ Doesn’t this tree look inviting?


This may sound really weird, which is why I saved it for last, but one thing I really miss about home is sitting under the shade of a tree. On the grass. Reading a book. You just can’t do that in Japan! Not enough grass.

These are just a few things I miss about my home country when I allow myself to get into a nostalgic mood. But of course there are things I miss about Japan when I go back to the U.S. too. Next time, I’ll share some of those with you.

In the meantime, tell us what you miss about Japan when you go back to your native country, and we’ll consider them for our next list!

All images © Amy Chavez/RocketNews24