Why not live in Canada?

For the past few months, Ms. Kanto and I have been discussing what cities might be good cities for us to live in. After looking through many “best cities to live in” lists, one thing in common is that Canadian cities are often near the top.

She’s always asked me “why not Canada?“, so I spent some time reflecting to understand my reasons for not wanting to move back.

After a year in Japan, I’ve come to appreciate some of the merits of life in Canada.

Its major cities are very diverse and multi-cultural. For example, about half of the residents in the Greater Toronto Area were born outside of Canada. Vegetarian and veganism are not uncommon – I was surprised by how many fast-food chains now offer soy meat. Gender equality is much better than in Japan, with Canadian ranking 19th whereas Japan ranks 121st.

That said, here are some of the reasons why I’m not particularly interested in moving back.

Point #1 is that it’s not very walkable – everyday life is inconvenient and often requires a car
Ms. Kanto and I live in the suburbs of western Tokyo. Within a 5-10 minute walk of our house, we have a grocery store, two convenience stores, a post office, a bank, doctor’s and dentist offices, a hair salon, a daycare, and a giant park with a river and walking trails.

I’ve lived in five different cities in Canada, and generally speaking, if you live outside of downtown, you almost need a car.

Zoning regulations have led to suburban sprawl where neighbourhoods are just single-family homes and nothing else. Whereas in our Tokyo neighbourhood, we can walk along a peaceful road with little cars to get to the post office, back where I lived in Canada, I’d have to cross a 5-lane major road. This problem is even worse for people in their 60s and 70s who aren’t able to drive because they become dependent on someone who can. Whereas in Japan, I see plenty of older people in their 60s and 70s going to the grocery store by themselves.

Point #2 nature is far away and inaccessible
Canada has some beautiful places like Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland.

Gros Morne National Park
Gros Morne National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And the Rockies on the west coast.

Banff National Park
Banff National Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The challenge is that domestic travel is extremely expensive. It’s often cheaper just to fly to South America or Asia than from one coast to the other. There aren’t any “high-speed rail” options like the bullet train in Japan. Lastly, most cities have poor public transportation, which is evident by the fact that most Canadians commute to work by car.

Point #3 I’m tired of North American life
This last point is a personal one, but I just feel very burnt out with life in North America. I feel very much that there is a “rat race”, where many people live to work and want to be “successful” by the stereotypical measures of success. Amongst both my close and distant friends in Canada, I would say the average person’s idea of “success” is having a better car, a larger house, and a second home.

Would I ever come back?
If I did have to pick a city that I’d give a second chance to, I think I’d pick Montreal (Vancouver seems interesting but I don’t know enough about life there).

I spent a summer living in Montreal and I loved it. I lived close to Mont-Royal, a large park near downtown.

Mont Royal, Montreal
Mont Royal, Montreal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t recall the specifics of how walkable it was, but public transportation was decent. From reading a thread on Reddit, many Canadians do cite Montreal as the city with the best public transportation in Canada. Lastly, I would look forward to picking up French again, since I studied it for 12 years in school and haven’t put it to use at all.

So will we go back to Canada? It’s tough to say right now. Compared to other developed countries that we may consider, Canada has fairly lenient immigration policies. Ms. Kanto could get a Canadian passport within a few years. We’d also have the ability to bring her parents to live with or near us if that’s something they wanted to do. All in all, Canada is a country worth considering for us.

How long will we live in Japan for?

August was a relatively quiet month. With daily highs of around 35-38, it was hard to spend much time outside without working up a sweat.

What’s interesting is Ms. Kanto and I started talking about what the next few years look like, and whether we’re still in Japan or somewhere else.

I feel ready to move on, even though I’ve been here for just over a year. When I first moved here, I thought I’d be here for quite a long time. I enjoyed my time in Japan during all my trips and didn’t have any reason or interest to live anywhere else.

In this one year, I’ve learned what everyday life in Japan is like. My goal was to determine if Japan is a place I’d want to live long-term, and at the end of the day, I’ve decided that it’s not.

My favourite aspects of Japan are ones that can be experienced by a tourist: lots of nature, good public transportation, and how respectful almost everyone is in public.

I think the second point really stands out to me because of how dependent North Americans have become on cars. As a result, public transportation has become an afterthought. When meeting up with friends in Japan, everyone gets to the meeting spot by bus or train, instead of by car.

So why is this point so important to me? I think in general, cities with great public transportation have more equality. I’m often reminded of this quotation: 

A developed country is not where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich take public transportation.

In North America, I’ve always felt the inequality gap between rich and poor to be very noticeable. It’s always felt like a rat race, where everyone wants to own a bigger house, a nicer car, have a second home. I think it’s this mentality that I’ve always been frustrated with. I’ve usually been able to avoid it by being selective with who I hang out with, but there’s always a colleague at work or someone at a party that brings up “did you hear? this person just bought a second house.”

Leaving Japan

So why move on from Japan? Some of the reasons that come to mind are:

  • lack of diversity, which stems from a very homogenous population where very few people immigrate or emigrate to
  • a large gender gap, Japan ranks 121st in The Global Gender Gap Index 2020 rankings, with a gap being the largest of all advanced economies and widening, and this is reflected in government, with almost everyone being an old, Japanese male 
  • foreigners are an afterthought, mostly like due to the first point, but many policies like entering Japan during COVID were only for Japanese people
  • the “live to work” culture
  • difficulty in getting permanent residency without fully commuting to Japan, and even then, it’s status doesn’t hold as much weight as in other countries 

While some of these points don’t directly impact me daily,

  1. I don’t feel very proud to live in Japan
  2. I don’t have an optimistic outlook on a stagnant country which doesn’t value change

I’ve also read many horror stories of the Japanese education system. While Ms. Kanto and I aren’t sure if or when we’ll have kids, I just can’t imagine wanting to put them through it.

So given the fact that I don’t see a long-term fit with Japan, why stay here in the short to medium term? That’s exactly the question I’ve been asking myself. Right now, I have to work for a Japanese company to get a work visa to live here, but for a salary that’s far lower what I would make in Canada or the US. In a way, I almost feel like there’s no point.

If not Japan, then where?

So that leads us to what is next. That’s something Ms. Kanto and I have been talking about, almost every day it feels like. The interesting idea we’ve come up with is doing 6 months in Ms. Kanto’s home country and 6 months in Europe or Canada.

I’ve been doing some research on happiness by country, work-life balance, the global gender gap. And it seems like every metric that ranks countries always has a handful of European ones at the top, like Finland, Germany, and the Netherlands. I’ve also learned the other week that I’m eligible for EU citizenship, so we could go live in any of the EU counties forever without having to work – perfect for early retirement 😛

That said, it’s just an idea and there’s no guarantee we’d even enjoy living there. As well, there are still a few reasons why moving to Canada might be a good fit. Despite many of my frustrations, it still does to rate fairly highly on many important facets and an easy path to Canadian PR and citizenship is a win.

So that’s pretty much it for this update. I think our next steps are to make a general plan for next year. We’ve tossed around the idea of first doing some travel in Europe, exploring some potential cities in-person to see how we like them. However, this isn’t a possibility until the pandemic comes to a close and borders open up again.