Author: J.J.

What I Learned in My First Year in Japan

Tokyo at night

Tokyo at night

I still remember that day not so long ago: two large suitcases, a gym bag, and my backpack thrown into the back of my parents’ car ready to head off to the airport. It was too early in the morning for me to get super excited or emotional but I knew a big change was coming. We arrived at the airport and I gave my jean pockets a pat-down to make sure I had everything I needed for the thirteen plus hour flight: wallet, passport, tickets, and phone. It wasn’t until I landed in Japan and was on a bus leaving Narita Airport that the sinking feeling finally hit me, my world was never going to be the same.

Moving to another country where the culture is different from back home is a big leap and the more connections you have at home, like friends and family, the stranger it feels to start over again. But starting over is a chance to grow as a person and an excellent opportunity to learn about a different culture.

Know What You’re Getting into

Before committing to something it pays to know what might happen and how to deal with certain scenarios, especially in a foreign country “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” (Benjamin Franklin, 1736). Whether it’s the project you are working on or where the closest coin laundries are, knowing what you are getting into helps ease transitions and calm nerves. This is especially true when interacting with businesses like banks, embassies, and real estate agencies.

One of the biggest commitments that I made in my first year was renting an apartment. When scouring the web I realized that each person had a different experience, and while the process for renting in Japan is not quite foreigner friendly, there are several ways to secure living arrangements. Having a general knowledge of the process and what I was looking for, I embarked on a month long journey of finding a reasonable apartment. While there were tense moments, reading other people’s experiences prepared me for the search and made things much smoother than I expected. But renting an apartment and setting up utilities is a hair-pulling process and almost impossible if you don’t know Japanese.

JR Japan Rail Keihin Tohoku line, Tokyo

When it rains, or during rush hour sometimes it pays to be a little early…
delays are common

Go Out and Interact

Monday: wake up, go to work, come home, sleep
Tuesday: wake up, go to work, come home, sleep
Wednesday: wake up, go to work, come home, sleep
Thursday: wake up, go to work, come home, sleep
Friday: wake up, go to work, come home, sleep
Saturday: wake up, stay at home, sleep
Sunday: wake up, stay at home, sleep

If this is your schedule then what is the benefit of moving? You could live on the moon and it wouldn’t make a difference. With the opportunity to live in another country, especially a first-world country like Japan, there comes a plethora of things to do. There are so many interesting things to do that people even write blogs about them!

Some common activities are joining a club, a language exchange group, or a gym. Language exchange groups are great because not only do you benefit by working on your Japanese skills but also you get to learn about Japan from a Japanese person. Big cities also allow for some unique activities like bouldering, escape room challenges, and amusement parks. Smaller cities, on the other hand, provide excellent places to study culture and history first hand as well as becoming a Japanese food aficionado.

Take Time to Explore

Day trips are without a doubt the best part of living in Japan. When I moved to Japan I made it my mission to get out and explore. I have traveled to Japan before but never really got to see everything I wanted. Now, whenever I can, I try to get lost in unique areas: Akihabara, Kamakura, Ochanomizu, Yokohama, etc., etc. It’s really great to go exploring with no expectations but to try to find good places to take pictures. This habit has lead to finding great restaurants, diners, shops, shrines, and temples. With Japan’s excellent railway system you can explore so many places close and far and still be back home before the end of the day.

Sakura flowers blooming at shrine in Yokohama

Flowers blooming in Yokohama

Time Flies

With so much to do the months really seem to breeze by. Maybe because I try to have things planned. It makes me look forward to the weekend, a chance to indulge in my interests and explore Japan. I feel like the time I spent studying the language helped me immensely to adapt to the culture and the work environment, but still in one year I don’t think I’ve completely adjusted.

So to all of those looking to come and live in the “Land of the Rising Sun,” I do have something to say: do your homework and practice the language. The reward is a very smooth transition into your new life in Japan and being able to spend more time enjoying what Japan has to offer.

By J.J.
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.

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