Japan..has the best of these in the world

Japan is a country of superlatives.


It is the number one I’ve seen in more than one category, and I’m already reaching those conclusions after three weeks only in Tokyo.

I think I’m having reverse culture shock. So often, when I arrive in a new place, I compare the new country negatively with America or Western Europe, like the new country doesn’t do things the “right” way. Now I am seeing things here that make me feel like Japan has got it together more than the States, which is rare.

From what I’ve seen so far, Japan wins first place in the following categories:


No other country compares. First, they are free here. They are all over the place, and always at kids playgrounds. There are family bathrooms at every metro stop, great for strollers and toddlers. They are clean, even the public ones. There is always toilet paper. There are two types of toilets: the bidet, and the squatter toilet. Perhaps it may surprise you, but there are those of us who prefer the squatters to the bidets in public areas. And they are easier to take toddlers to. But the squatter toilets here can flush toilet paper, and they’re large and easy to use. There are baby seats to put your baby while you are using the restroom. There are buttons to make the flushing sound to hide any unpleasant noises. The sinks run during flushing to conserve water. Often, no touching of any handles are required—wave only to flush. There is an emergency button in case of an emergency. Okay, I don’t really see the need for that one. I push it on accident thinking it’s the flush button, and a policeman comes to my stall. “Sorry!” I say brightly as I step out from my previously locked door.


IMG_5295IMG_5296bidet sink IMG_5332 IMG_5343


I sleep on a futon, a very thin mattress, on top of a tatami mat, which is kind of like straw. I would have never guessed such a set up would feel so comfortable to me, but I sleep like a rock on it, plus now I remember my dreams every night. Who knows why.


Not exactly ours, but you get the idea.

Recycling System

It’s complex to figure out, but there are places every where to recycle (while there is almost nowhere to throw things away). PET bottles, newspapers and magazines, bulky items, boxes, milk cartons.


Restaurant Experience with Kids

They bring out a kid sized bowl and spoon wherever we go. There are plenty of kids meals, and there are noodles (Ryder calls them “oodles”) with almost everything, which he loves. This kid’s meal came with chicken, soup, and a toy for 380 yen, or about $4.



Dollar Stores

You wouldn’t believe the things you can get at dollar stores here. Some of them are five stories tall, with gym and exercise sections, travel sections, Halloween costume sections, winter clothes sections…It is good quality stuff too, I’ve never seen dollar stores like this before.

Shopping in General

No matter which metro station you get off at, there will be a mall or shopping center nearby with an astonishing amount of variety which you have never seen before. This is one of the most fashionable areas of the world I’ve ever seen.

bike shop

Best bike shop in the world? Jacob thought so 

If You’re Rich, You’ll Never Run Out of Things to Do

Tokyo is an expensive place, there’s no denying that. People here are ambitious and they work hard. Seven day work weeks are not unheard of. The hamster wheel is alive and well here. People need to spend all that money they are earning, and if you are wealthy and can afford it, I can’t imagine ever getting bored here. For example, there are at least 12 different amusement parks—in Tokyo alone.


Odaiba, a man-made island with attractions like Legoland and Madame Toussaud’s

Street Cleanliness

There is no trash anywhere, made even more interesting with the fact there are hardly any trash cans either. Jacob says he’s seen elderly people clean up trash from the streets with their picker uppers on weekends. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a cleaner big city.


I don’t think I’ve ever been to a quieter big city. Sometimes, surrounded by skyscrapers, you wonder if you’re living on mute. Their noise pollution is astonishingly low for the millions of people who live in such tight quarters. It was admonished by Sakura House, who we rent from, that we don’t throw parties or make noise at night, and on the metro, there are signs not to use your cell phone. It can make me sweat when Ryder starts bursting into song here—to me, even the babies here cry quietly.

Camera Stores

The biggest camera store in the world is here. Japanese own Minolta, Pentax, Fuji, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, and Panasonic. They basically dominate the camera world, and you can see them all on display in one place in neighborhoods dotted around Tokyo—but especially Shinjuku.


Ryder being a good sport on my endless camera quest in Bic Camera

Healthy and Tasty Cuisine

In one meal, you’ll often find there’s meat, fish, egg, and tofu, so it’s super high in protein. They sprinkle SEAWEED on top of everything, for heaven’s sake. Restaurants in the US don’t do Japanese food justice when it comes to the variety available here. So many dishes I’ve never heard of, and every single meal we’ve had here has been one of the best of our lives. If you like fish, this is the place to eat it. The presentation is always superb. Jacob now ranks ramen above his other two favorite soups, tom kha gai and pho. Menus, unlike most places we go, often are in English, and have pictures of every dish. I can’t vouch for this, since I haven’t tried it—but I’ve heard from two good sources (Jacob and his friend) that Japan has the best beef in the world: Kobe and Wagyu.


IMG_4965 IMG_4967 IMG_4968 IMG_4970  

IMG_5201  IMG_5253       okonomiyaki IMG_5357

Number of expat LDS English speaking wards

Most often, there are not expat wards in the places we go. Sometimes there is one. But in Tokyo, there are two.

Strange kinks

There are some weird fetishes kind of blatantly in your face in Tokyo. One is the maid cafe, where women dressed as maids cater to you as you eat—and even clean your ears out like your mom used to do. One is the love hotel, where only man-woman couples are allowed, but not to stay the night. One is the internet cafe, where it’s common for couples to use like a hotel room because it’s pay per hour and the mats are cushy. And one is the foot fetish. I had a guy offer me a bandaid, pointing to my toe, which was NOT bleeding, and attempt to put it on. Then, he took a picture. Well, I did have a nice pedicure thanks to the Philippines.


So often, the doors are electronic and slide-open, activated by pushing a button. Makes having a stroller SO much easier.


Doors to the Grounds of the Buddhist Zo-joji Temple

Convenience Stores

The food at convenience stores here are healthy and tasty. Not like in the States, you know, where it’s tasty but will kill you. Sushi—really good, not the crap shoot stuff they sell at grocery stores back home—but they also have some of the best desserts I’ve ever had in my life. The stores are ubiquitous and they sell bento boxes too—with fish, tofu, rice all high quality.


Menu selection and presentation

In front of every restaurant, there is a plastic rendering of each dish so you know exactly what you are ordering. The presentation is always an important part of each meal.



That dish in the corner is actually a massive fish head.

Futuristic Architecture

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We’ve been to a lot of places with skyscrapers. But we’ve never been to a place which feels so forward in the future, since the air is clean, unlike China’s, and there’s beautiful and enormous buildings to be seen…everywhere. Precision to detail and an eye for art are the status quo. Not to mention you might find just around the corner gigantic robots, or the second tallest building in the world.


Japan doesn’t have everything figured out… The things I’ve noticed that aren’t as comfortable as in Western Europe:

Apartment buildings often don’t have elevators. I am developing upper arm strength.

Plastic bags are used for every occasion. This is a hole in the environmental-friendliness set up.

Walls are very thin. People are expected to be quiet even within their own homes.

Healthcare is high quality, but lacks the efficiency I’ve seen elsewhere. I’ve waited for hours at both the vaccination office and the eye doctor, and the pharmacy was the same zoo I’ve come to expect in the States. Not sure why, but maybe it’s the insistence on checking all the boxes and getting things just right that makes things take a little longer. Who can complain—with a life expectancy like Japan’s (another first place winner).

Japan is kid-friendly in principle, but not always in practice. For example, there are frequent playgrounds, and elevators in the public transportation. However, the general expectation for quiet and well-mannered public comportment makes kids sometimes a bit out of place. In comparison to the rest of Asia, they also aren’t nearly as doting on Ryder. The birth rate in Japan is one of the lowest in the world. We’ve speculated that it’s perhaps the perfectionism built into the society that makes having children less desirable, and more difficult. I’ve also read that women don’t have access to affordable childcare, and don’t want to give up their careers. But don’t want to jump to any conclusions just yet. I have heard that there are government programs encouraging more children, because at the rate they are going, their population will drop dramatically in the next 50 years.


Playground near our apartment

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 367 awesome articles for us.

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