How do you compare the level of fun between two drastically different countries? The short answer is, you can’t but I will attempt to paint a picture of what life is like extracurricular-wise in both Japan and Spain. At the end of the day it really is going to depend on your personal tastes.
The party practically never ends in Spain with most young Spaniards getting down until about 6AM just in time for sunrise. If you like packed bars with loud music and endless booze then you will have come to the right country. It’s not a question of if you are going out in Spain the question is where are you going out? There are literally hundreds of bars and clubs you can attended depending on your tastes. Maybe you like a more laid-back loud bar, perhaps a grungy retro bar, or better yet why not the new bar that just opened that doesn’t yet have an identity! Whatever your flavor of party you are bound to find it, especially in the party capitals of Madrid and Barcelona. Madrilenes like to call themselves cats because of their nocturnal nature and historical significance of climbing the walls during French occupation.
Besides partying, there are many other things to experience in land of Don Quixote. Don’t forget that you are in Europe so traveling in Spain and to other countries is quite cheap and not so far away. Living in centrally located Madrid, I could easily get to Toledo for the day, El Escorial in the mountains, and Segovia where the famous Sleeping Beauty castle is located. I could also escape to Sevilla or Valencia for a weekend as well. Living in Barcelona in the north, you are basically in walking distance to France, and not far from Pais Vasco (The Basque Country) that holds the famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. There are so many beautiful cities and sights to see in Spain that even after two years I wasn’t able to make it to every place I wanted to see. And you can’t for get the festivals! The Spanish by now you know love a good party and while they do celebrate Christmas, Halloween, and New Years, these don’t even come close to the insanity that will ensue at Las Fallas (Valencia), Tomatina (Buñol), or Running with the Bulls (Pamplona). Carnival also takes place before Semana Santa (Holy Week) and each region of Spain has a different take on how they celebrate. There are so many other festivals that you can participate in and the majority take place in August when the country basically shuts down for vacation.
I think a lot of my idea of fun in Spain also came from the native people. Spanish people are not shy and they want to make sure you are having a good time. They are loud, obnoxious, fun-loving people that like to seize the moment. I almost always had a great time with the locals I met because culturally they are not so different from Americans in their sense of enjoyment.
The party life in Japan is still kind of puzzling to me; I’m not sure if each prefecture or city has their own rules about how long you can stay out. In Okinawa the party seems to come to a halt at 2am. When I was in Osaka it was much longer maybe 5am but it is known as the party city of Japan. As I travel more in the country maybe I will have a clearer understanding of how it works but I feel pretty safe in saying that the party ends in Japan a lot earlier than Spain. With the zero tolerance rule of drinking and driving, public transportation is an important factor when considering whether or not to go out. In Okinawa there isn’t a good public transport system and that makes drinking all the more expensive when you have to factor in a taxi. Japanese people love to party though so you will always find people out and about even on weekdays. While bars and clubs can be located throughout the city, the best plan of action to pick an area and stick with for the night unlike in Spain where you can barhop the entire night thanks to all the centrally located establishments. Karaoke and arcade places are really popular places to go during the week and on weekends as well. You get your own private room for karaoke so you’re only embarrassing yourself in front of those you know. Arcade places like Round One have about 5 different levels of gaming goodness. Some are traditional arcade video games, one level is devoted totally to the “Crane” game where you constantly (and unsuccessfully) try and grab an item with a mechanical arm, and they even have a sports level where you can play soccer with your friends. A lot of westerners will feel a bit too old for these games but Japanese adults love them.
Living in Japan does give you access to lots of travel but in my opinion offers less than Europe. There’s Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and mainland China. Of course you can go other places like Indonesia, Singapore, the Philippines, etc. but they are much further and flights are more expensive. In Spain I had access to every country in western Europe and many in eastern Europe, throw in Morocco that was right across the Strait of Gibraltar and I’m on another continent. It’s basically a traveler’s paradise. Of course Japan also has it’s own cultural festivals that are uniquely its own. I will be going to Yuki Matsuri (Sapporo) this February and have participated in Okinawa’s Eisa Festival during the month of September. I can’t wait to check out some of the other cultural events that lay ahead.
You can’t really talk about fun in Japan without mentioning the otaku scene. Otaku is a word meaning “obsessed” and refers to the Japanese manga, anime, video game craze that is world renowned. To make it clear, most Japanese people that live outside of Tokyo are normal everyday super polite people that aren’t constantly wearing crazy anime outfits or entranced all day with video games. I’d even venture to say that most residents of Tokyo aren’t that into it either but there is a large following of adults that live and breathe manga, anime, etc. I like some of it as well I think it’s an interesting genre and that the art, while over the top cutesy, is vibrant and unique. Even though this is just a subcategory of Japanese culture, it has such a large following that having access to all the stores, games, hangouts, and merchandise can completely sway your idea of fun in Japan depending if you like this sort of thing or not. You won’t find it anywhere else and it’s something that people all around the world dream of experiencing.
Winner: Spain. Like I said before this will totally depend on what your idea of fun is. For me Spain wins because of its highly social atmosphere, variety of parties, and they work less than the Japanese. Even though I made less money in Europe, there was no shortage of fun that was had.
Please check out my other post for further reading on Spain vs. Japan. How does the work enivornment compare?