5 Things People Assume About Living In Tokyo And How They're Wrong

I'm one of the very few in Manila that decided to go to Tokyo for university, so when I come home, people are always curious about what it's like living there. When it comes up, I find myself saying the same thing repeatedly that it's almost routine. They ask me how Tokyo is, I say "fine, ok," they ask if I live in a dorm, I say yes, do I cook at home or do I eat out more, etc etc, then when the question round's over, they say things like, "you must eat sushi all the time!" Don't get me wrong, I'm in no means annoyed by any of this, I like to hear what people think I do in Tokyo based on the photos I share and the stories I tell. And for the record, I actually try to stay away from sushi because they're deceptively light, but are heavy on the kcals (white rice!!).

I've had my fair share of these conversations in the past 3 years, so I've put together the top 5 most repeated assumptions about my life in Tokyo... that I can prove false with my own personal experiences.

"You must get to eat good food everyday!" 
The people that say this are thinking of the higher-end restaurants that they eat in as tourists or have heard/read about. On a college student budget, I can't just pop by L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon for a quick lunch course or reserve myself a table at Ryugin for a Michelin-star meal... those are for Dada visits only! To be fair, they also mean the cheap food in the small mom and pop restaurants that serve yakitori which fit perfectly into my budget; but my crippling social anxiety forbids me from going to those personal hellscapes.

"3 years? So you're fluent in Japanese then!"
I wish :( Ok this might be true for most people who live in Tokyo and other foreign countries so I should really be more ashamed about this than I already am. I've taken a total of 4 semesters of Japanese which should make me at a decent conversational-level, but all the Japanese I can muster up lets me order food, read menus, ask for directions, and give addresses to taxi drivers... I mean, they're essentials, at least? TL;DR no, I'm not fluent in Japanese but yes 3 years is a long damn time and I should be ashamed. I HAVE DISHONOURED MY FAMILY

"Everything must be so high-tech"
No, actually. Ok, their toilets are another story-- they're great. Even public toilets have bidets and a dryer for your butt. But I realised Japan isn't as high tech as it's thought out to be, and this was especially evident when I was applying for colleges. First off, God bless Common App and the colleges that use it for applications; majority of the US universities I applied to I did so through Common App. It made things a hell of a lot easier, especially at a time when I was juggling IB requirements and varsity softball practice (don't be fooled-- I was benched half the time).  I also applied to 3 universities here in Japan, one was a branch of an American university so I got to apply on their website, but the other 2 were Japanese, so they both sent me a bunch paper application forms through snail mail, which took significantly longer to fill in than online applications and I had to send back when they were all filled out. Even the universities themselves were pretty old school; in my current university some classrooms are more modern than the other, probably from when they expanded or renovated but a lot of the classrooms have big chalkboards and wooden desks, similar to this:

Except with seats like these: 

So like the amazed exchange student I overheard talking last week, "they're so old school, it's like stepping back in time!!" I also just need to mention the WiFi on campus-- IT'S NON-EXISTENT. Ok, that's an exaggeration, but only a few select areas and classrooms are equipped with WiFi (and when I say a few, I mean a FEW), which isn't a problem for me but I can imagine being quite a nuisance to exchange students that aren't in Japan long enough to purchase a phone plan or pocket WiFi. And that's just the tip of the iceberg-- the way my university operates is quite low-tech as well, but I'm not about to get into their management system, because we'll be here all day.

"Everyone is so nice and friendly there" 
Yes, in general everyone is nice and friendly, and there are quite a few exceptionally nice and friendly people that are willing to go out of their way to help you as well.  (side note: shout out to the lady who saw me duct taping my broken chinelas back together and took me to a 100 yen store to get new slippers... You MVP, you) But of the numerous times I've had to lug 2 heavy suitcases and 2 carry-ons from platform to train and train to platform to get to the airport, not once has anyone tried to help. Instead I'm given dirty looks on the train for first holding up the line of people trying to enter the train and then another group of dirty looks for taking up too much space inside. But this might also be because I'm so used to people being so nice that when people don't help, I'm surprised.

And lastly: it's not as weird as people think.
Before moving, my idea of Japan was the same as the photo on the left but after getting over the "WOW I'M IN JAPAN!" phase, I realise it is really the right. Sure, a lot of new and exciting things pop up now and then, but when it comes to daily life, it's really not as flamboyant as it is in the movies.

This took me longer than it should have to write, but sometimes I'm terribly lazy. :( Tune in next week (hopefully, this is the deadline I'm setting for myself) where I talk about the Blackcow's burger I'm eating tomorrow! I'm so excited!


  1. Huhu it is my ultimate dream to live in Japan! You're so lucky!

    1. It has its ups and downs, but it's definitely something I'm grateful for having the opportunity to do! :)

  2. I've only visited Japan once and it was amazing! I know what you mean about the mix if high and low tech though!

  3. I've only visited Japan once and it was amazing! I know what you mean about the mix if high and low tech though!

  4. I've only visited Japan once and it was amazing! I know what you mean about the mix if high and low tech though!


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