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.
And the Rockies on the west coast.
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.
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.