Guess where we are travelling to?!



If your answer to the above question is ‘Japan’, you got it right! It’s been over 2 years since we moved back to England from Osaka but today we are travelling to Japan for a 2 ½ week holiday, and the kids are even more excited than when we had a friend’s French bulldog for a sleepover, which elicited some pretty high pitch screams (especially from my husband!).

As you can see in the photo above, we are well prepared for the trip. I mean, not only are we taking the usual holiday stuff with us, but we have at least one suitcase full of chocolates, biscuits, scones, sweets, teabags, cheese, and, er, Buckfast(!).

If you are thinking that we are the kind of people who don’t want to try the local cuisine when abroad but take their familiar foods with them you are mistaken. We love Japanese food! – even the stuff that some Westerners wouldn’t be able to stomach. Our plan is that as soon as we get to Japan we’ll go to have some octopus dumplings, followed by some sushi and maybe some raw chicken sashimi.  Although, my husband being a vegetarian, he will have to settle with some deep fried lotus root instead (and rice wine!). All so delicious!

The chocolates, Cheddar, and other food items we are taking with us are gifts for our friends in Japan, many of whom are British and have some kind of a British or Western connection (e.g. used to live in Europe) and they miss European stuff (that one cannot get in Japan or that is really expensive in Japan) as much as we miss Japanese stuff that you can’t get it Europe. If you are thinking: Huh? You can get sushi in Europe! – yes, but most of the sushi that you get in England is as good an approximation of Japanese sushi as a glass of Blue Nun is for a glass of fine Sauvignon Blanc.

In case you were wondering, the Buckfast is actually for a Japanese friend of ours. For some reason the Japanese seem to like all the old-fashioned stuff in England like Buckfast and Tunnock’s Teacakes.

So, we will not show up empty-handed (as you shouldn’t in Japan!). Our hands will so to speak be pretty full, as was the trolley in the shop when I was buying all the coveted goods. In fact, it was so full that a random person stopped me and asked if I was stocking up for Brexit. I explained that I wasn’t and that I had already stocked up for Brexit, but instead of chocolates and Buckfast it was wine that I had stockpiled! I mean, I don’t want to come back from Japan at the end of April (when England has potentially, sadly, exited the EU) and find that the shelves are empty (and that any new wine stock emerging will be twice the price of wine now). Come to think of it, maybe people living in England will be at least temporarily in a similar position as expats abroad, not being able to get or afford the stuff they want!

In any case, we are super excited to head to Japan and for the next couple of weeks I will be posting little observations from our travels! Osaka here we come!

Cross-cultural observations of women’s roles

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Some of you who used to read my blog might assume that my several month-long radio silences mean that now we are back in the UK I no longer write blogs. But, I do actually still have some blog posts on the backburner that will appear in the blog eventually, only with several month-long lead times.

You see, my intentions to write blog posts for the past year or so have been as successful as Finland’s intentions to qualify for the World Cup, the European championships or any international-level football competition (i.e. practically never!). Not that I care about football – in fact, I opt for a nap when my husband and son are watching the World Cup (even when England’s playing).

The reason for my slow blog posting is that I’ve been so incredibly busy since I moved back to England that I just don’t seem to find the time to put my thoughts on paper. In fact, I’ve been so busy with juggling family life and a full time job that I think I’ve actually started to lose my hair! And this is not a figure of speech! After every shower when I brush my wet hair, I’ve got something that looks like Donald Trump’s toupee attached to my hairbrush! I hope it is the stress (and is something that can be reversed with a slightly less hectic lifestyle) and not for instance that I’m subconsciously synchronising my hairstyle to that of my husband’s. After all, they say that married couples start to resemble each other! (By the way, if you haven’t met my husband, he has slightly less hair than Vin Diesel.)

In any case, it wasn’t my hair’s protests that made me realise that my life’s pretty hectic, but my student’s comments.

You see, we recently had one of my former students from Japan stay with us (as an au pair) for 2 1/2 months. Before she went back to Japan, me and her were having a chat about life and I light-heartedly mentioned that she might have noticed that our life’s pretty busy. She didn’t respond to my comment with a similar light-hearted approach as me. Instead, she looked at me concerned and asked if our life was always like it had been during her stay with us. I sat there for a couple of seconds stumped, trying to decode her utterance and the tone of her voice and then I realised that she thought that our lives were as enjoyable as me greeting Donald Trump’s toupee every morning.

I rushed to explain that yes, we were busy but that my husband and I were very lucky in many ways – both of us love our jobs, we have two wonderful children, who have several lovely hobbies, we have lively social lives, travel a fair amount and feel that we have been able to combine full-time work and family life successfully. And most importantly, we were busy because we chose to be busy! Working was a decision I had made and not something that was forced into.

She was not convinced. She stated that our life was certainly something that she wouldn’t want for herself. She said that she hopes that when she gets married and has children, she can become a shufu (housewife). I really hope this decision was not brought about by her 2 ½ month experience of our parents-working-fulltime-lifestyle but that she is just a typical Japanese woman whom chooses home over career.

You see, in Japan even in the twenty-first century it is difficult to be a woman and have both children and a full-time career, partly because Japanese society assumes that outside kindergarten or school hours, children need to be cared for by their parents or other family members (and not for instance by a child minder, a concept that practically doesn’t exist in Japan). So, unless grandparents are willing to help with childcare, the mum returning to full-time work would be very difficult.

This was supported by my off the cuff research while in Japan. Namely, when I asked every cohort of students that I had in Japan about their future career plans, some of the female students said that they want to be career-women, which in most cases means that they plan not to get married or to have children. But similarly to our au pair, most of my female students said that they were hoping to work until they had children, but then essentially retire in their 20s or 30s. Most of them said that that would mean marrying a relatively well-paid husband which would take the pressure off them working. That is, it seems to be that for most women, work was something that they had to do if they failed to find an ideal husband, not something that they would choose if not working was an option (I am not going to go into this here, but I’m assuming one reason for Japanese women’s indifference to work might be their experience/knowledge of the unequal treatment of women and men in many workplaces).

Unlike many British and Finnish mums who might take several years out of work when their children are little but then return to work when they feel their children no longer need their full attention, many Japanese mums stay as housewives even when their children have gone to school or even left home!

If you are a British or a Finnish parent, you might be wondering what Japanese mums do when their children are older? Well, it seems that they still devote their lives to their children in many ways. For instance, many of my university students who still lived at home told me that their mum would get up around 6am to fry salmon and cook rice for them for breakfast and make their bento boxes for lunch – and these students were 20-year-olds! It also seems that the mums do the majority of the domestic chores, or at least many of my students said that they did very little cleaning. However, even though Japanese housewives look after the home they seem to find a fair amount of time to spend in coffee shops, restaurants and onsens (hot springs) with their mum-friends (which is a huge contrast to their husbands, who typically work extremely long hours).

What about the Finnish mums? Well, they tend to go back to work after having had children. Labour Source Survey (2013) reports that about 70% of Finnish mums of children under the age of 3 either work (35-40%) or are on family leave from work (this consists of different types of maternity leave which you can take until your child turns 3 years) (25-30%). Furthermore, approx. 90% of Finnish mums with school-age children work. This is to say, the housewife role is relatively uncommon in Finland.

Furthermore, what I can’t see many Finnish mums doing is to mollycoddle their older children let alone adult children in the same way that Japanese mums do. My understanding is that most Finnish 9-10-year-olds can (and frequently do) make their own breakfast and snacks such as sandwiches, fill/empty the dishwasher, contribute to keeping their own room clean and tidy and survive home alone for several hours after school before their parents come home from work (but please correct me if I am wrong – I haven’t lived in Finland for 18 years, things might have changed!). Surprisingly, it seems that many English kids are only trusted to stay at home alone from their 12th-13th birthday which is much later than for many Japanese or Finnish children.

Unlike English kids, most of whom are taken to school by a parent until they go to secondary school (12 years of age) many Finnish children, at least outside of Helsinki, start walking/cycling to and from school independently around the age of 7-8 years. Believe it or not, but in this respect, Japanese kids are even more independent than the Finnish kids! I have seen children as young as 7 make their school journey alone on super-busy commuter trains through Osaka!

Finnish parents who want to go back to work are often able to successfully manage full-time jobs and parenting. This is partly because of the above reasons to do with children acquiring independence relatively early in life (i.e. walking/cycling to school on their own and staying at home alone until the parents come home from work) but also due to the fact that Finnish schools assume that most mums work and thus schools do not expect that mums have time to create elaborate fancy dress costumes, bake cakes for cake sales and organise other fundraising events, come into classes to help with maths/literacy or attend school trips. These extremely common tasks for British mums (largely due to the persistent underfunding of schools!) are practically absent from the Finnish parent-school relationship. English mums who want to go back to work full-time are likely to find it difficult to meet the expectations not only of their bosses and social workers (re independent school runs and leaving primary school-aged children home alone), but also of their children’s teachers (and even other mums!). It is no wonder many English families with working mums rely on help from grandparents or child minders/au pairs or work from home on a regular basis. Given that my husband or I don’t have family living nearby, we belong in the latter group and have an au pair who helps with childcare and housework. Not having an au pair would make it practically impossible for me or my husband to work full-time.

Our lives are busy (even with an au pair!) and we don’t have much time to watch TV, write blog posts, or take naps (which I would love to do if I had more time, and not just during World Cup matches!) but we seem to be able to just about fit everything in. We work full time, but spend our evenings and weekends playing Monopoly or Uno with the kids, bake cakes, flip pancakes, pan pop pop-corn, throw a baseball around in the garden and socialise with our friends, and that makes me feel like I’m just an ordinary Finnish mum who manages to do this without a detrimental effect on their children or their own wellbeing.

But could it be that my hairbrush is telling me that one should be choosing one or the other?

10 inconsistencies that confuse a Westerner in Japan




Not only does the Japanese to English translations often confuse Westerners in Japan (see photo above), but also the lack of predictability in behaviour of Japanese people can be a bit perplexing. Here are some examples:


  1. The Japanese are ridiculously particular about not eating the peel of fruits – for example, in addition to apples and pears they also peel grapes. Yet they eat prawns with the shell on!


  1. During a typhoon, taxi drivers drive back home to seek shelter, but the trains run as normal.


  1. During a typhoon, university students and teaching staff are sent home for safety, yet support staff will have to stay at work (the same goes for 7-Eleven staff – practically nothing seems to be a good enough reason for convenience store staff not to work their shifts!)


  1. Japanese society is extremely health and safety conscious, there are signs everywhere alerting people to potential dangers (like sliding train doors trapping children’s fingers or closing elevator doors catching people’s rucksacks) yet Japanese people and the governing bodies are happy for people to eat (a) Fugu, i.e. puffer fish, whose body contains one of the most lethal substances known to man and (b) mochi (sticky rise dough) which is not poisonous but extremely sticky resulting in a large number of people annually getting into some sticky situations with mochi sticking to their airways (sometimes so much so that the person suffocates).



  1. Many Japanese people are very careful and particular about money and aspire to buy their own flat (condominium) even though they know that they will only lose money on the flat. The reason for the low chance of making money with property in Japan is that frequent earthquakes damage the structure of buildings, building regulations for earthquakes are frequently being updated and Japanese society generally prefers new rather than old. Thus, if you are careful about spending money, why not just live in rented accommodation?



  1. In many families, the wife is the head of the household and for example holds the purse strings (including control of their husband’s pay cheque), yet it’s not unheard of that they give their husband an allowance for the upkeep of his lover.


  1. Japanese people rarely cry in highly emotional situations publicly, yet important politicians and CEOs bellow like 4-year-olds on prime time TV when they’ve made a mistake.


  1. People are considerate and wear a surgical masks when ill so that they won’t spread their germs to their friends, colleagues or co-commuters, yet many Japanese women do not wash their hands after using the toilet (maybe men don’t either, but I haven’t had the opportunity to observe this behaviour in men’s toilets).


  1. Many Japanese students who want to go to a good university study extremely hard during their (Junior) High school (i.e. secondary school and sixth form). However, many of them stop studying when they go to university, as it is not the grade or the degree so much, but the status of your university that will guarantee your attractiveness to the job market.


  1. This is not what an individual would find confusing, but what British train operators and government’s Department for Transport are likely to find confusing: The Japanese have one of the best functioning train systems in the world with their flagship ‘bullet trains’ and practically flawless local trains operations, yet they are now building an even better train system, Maglev, and are investing a lot of money in it, e.g. one stretch from Tokyo to Nagoya (approx. 290km) will cost £67 billion. As a comparison, here’s the latest on South-East England’s trains from today’s BBC news.


I’m sure there is a lap full of other confusing inconsistencies that I’ve haven’t noticed (or have noticed but inconsistently took note of!), so if you have noticed any, feel free to share those in the comments.

11 things I don’t miss about Japan




In my last blog post I listed some not so obvious things that I miss having returned back to England after 3 years of life in Japan. In this blog post I will list some things that I don’t miss – or in some cases, I’m actually quite happy are no longer part of my everyday life.

Instead of dwelling on some relatively well-known (negative) qualities of Japan many of which I have written previously (such as earthquakes, unbearable heat, and xenophobia) below I will list some less obvious things.

(1) Dentists

I don’t have a problem with dentists overall. For example, if I had to choose between 30 minutes in a kids’ crowded and noisy indoor play area or a quiet 30 mins in a dentist’s chair I’d probably choose the latter (which, since parenthood, sadly, I’ve started to perceive as ‘me-time’!).

But the thing that I don’t like about dentists in Japan is that there is no personal space much like kids’ indoor playgrounds where you are forced to experience the next person (and their kids screaming and crying) and witness blood gushing out of their mouth when they’ve lost a tooth. You see, in Japan, dentist appointments do not take place in a private room. Instead, there are several dentists, dental nurses, dental hygienist and orthodontist providing service to their patients in one big room. Thus you might be having your cavity filled about 1.5 metres from the next person who’s having a tooth pulled out. Talk about jaw-dropping.



(2) Height of surfaces

What I found problematic in Japan was the difference in physical characteristics between relatively average sized European persons (me and my husband) and average Japanese persons (female: 158cm, male: 171cm, link). This was evident for example in the vertical positioning of bathroom sinks and from airline seat heights (see photos below). Being back in England has given me a chance to recover from the hunchback I started to develop in Japan.





(3) Shopping for clothes

Related to the above, the fact that an average Japanese woman is 158cm tall and weighs, even at the age of 40, on average about 52kg, it wasn’t fun for shopping for clothes in Japan, especially in select shops (little boutiques with trendy clothes). And even though they did have H&M and Zara and other international shops there, the measurements they had for their Asian market were not ideal for a 169cm Godzilla like me. They would have been more appropriate for Godzuki.


(4) Shopping for food

This was problematic for me for several reasons

  • the choice of foods in supermarkets was very different to Europe – we often didn’t know what we were buying, and we couldn’t find some of our favourites like hummus, halloumi, sugar-free squash, cider or lean meat.



  • We didn’t know which supermarkets to use to avoid becoming social outcasts. I don’t care as much about the presentation/flawless appearance of groceries as an average Japanese person and was happy to shop at least for some of our everyday groceries in Tamade. But it seemed to be the case that Tamade (which to me felt like a pretty average supermarket) was perceived to be too poor quality (maybe comparable to something like Lidl in Europe). In fact one of my Korean friends disclosed to my Japanese friends that I had bought some of the ingredients in Tamade for a party (yes, fresh basil which we weren’t able to find in any other shops in the neighbourhood) and this seemed to be acceptable only because I had bought some of the other ingredients in Foodium and Daimaru (maybe comparable to Waitrose and Harrods (respectively) in England or Stockmann’s food court in Finland).

Typical interior of a Tamade supermarket


(5) Confusing terminology

In England the street level of a building is usually referred to as the ‘ground floor’ and the first floor above the ground level is referred to as ‘first floor’. When I moved to Japan I realised that they have adopted the American system where the street level (i.e. British ground floor) is referred to as first floor and the British first floor is referred to as the second floor – it is pretty confusing! I mean, figuring out these cultural differences in reference to building floors is not that difficult right – but when you interact with Brits and Americans and Japanese people some of whom have been educated in England, and some in America, all of whom potentially are using their own system or accommodating to their interlocutor you can imagine the confusions that arise, and numerous times there was miscommunication when I am standing on the British 1st floor of a building and my friend is waiting for me on the Japanese 1st floor of the same building or vice versa.

(6) Traffic lights

As with dentists, I don’t have a problem with traffic lights per se, but maybe I am a little impatient for Japanese traffic lights. The amount of time one needs to stand and wait for the red light to turn green is often much (MUCH!) longer than in places like England or Finland. I’m not quite as pedantic as my husband might think given that I never timed this but I’m guessing the change of lights in Japan could take a minute or even two.

(7) Washing machines

It seems to be the case that (most) Japanese washing machines wash clothes with cold water. This is of course an environmentally-friendly way to wash one’s clothes (albeit I’m not sure if this is the core reason for the cold washes…), but (a) when you have two young children whose clothes after a bowl of spaghetti Bolognese look like they are auditioning for Nightmare on Elm Street and (b) when your husband runs marathons even in the ridiculously hot and humid summer of Osaka, you kind of start missing machines that put some muscle into stain and odour removal.

(8) Eco-unfriendliness

Having said above that washing machines in Japan usually use cold water only, in many other ways, Japanese appliances and overall lifestyle can be environmentally rather unfriendly. For example, dishwashers are usually tiny! So small that crockery, cutlery and glasses used in a single meal in our 4 strong family filled the dishwasher up. Running a 2h cycle for those dishes kind of felt like a huge waste and we often just washed everything by hand. I’ve mentioned over-packing in my previous blog post, but having a single egg, a single mushroom or a single strawberry packed in a plastic box I’m happy to be back in Brighton where if not for one’s own initiative, then by peer pressure, you try to think about the wellbeing of this planet and future generations.


Individually packed mushrooms


(9) Oven-less kitchen

A kitchen with no oven limits my life and eating habits a lot. The fact that Japanese homes rarely have an oven means that baking, pasta bakes or even the simple (but oh so delicious) curly fries were off the menu for three years.

(10) Raw eggs

Raw eggs are consumed in Japan in bucket-loads. I don’t miss going to a restaurant for a quick bowl of rice, to find that there is a cold raw egg eyeballing me on top of my dish (known as tamago kake gohan). Or us going to a canteen-y type place for lunch one time and assuming the egg we bought for our daughter from a buffet type selection was boiled… only to realize it was a raw as soon as my husband had cracked it open (with some force) on our daughter’s plate. Well, we learned our lesson, never again did we hold the expectation that whole eggs in a shell were boiled.

(11) Mysterious eateries

Eating out in Japan can be a bit risky for people who can’t read Japanese. The reason being that many restaurants/izakayas/bars (a) have no windows or if there are windows, they have been obscured and/or (b) the eatery is not on the ground floor. One risk I’m referring to here is that maybe you were looking for a margarita pizza but ended up with chicken ovaries. More worryingly, if you can’t read Japanese or have a quick look through the window, you don’t know whether an eatery is a pizzeria, members only club or a strip joint. I mean, it might take some courage to take the lift to the 7th floor to find that you’ve walked into a hostess club. We got better over the years and often found a nice restaurant at the end of a nerve-wracking entrance to an izakaya, but I am happy to be back in the UK where you can usually look through the restaurant window to see whether the restaurant, its food and clientele looks like our cup of tea and whether there is hostess or a stripper mingling with punters. That said, if you fancy rolling the dice and see what you end up with by all means just walk in and see what you get.


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Having said all the above, by just writing this post I’ve realised that I actually really miss Japan and will probably have to book a holiday there soon. It is fair to say that the positives outweigh the negatives by some margin in Japan.