Poppy has been living in Japan for over six years. She likes to read novels, write, and play video games.
Thinking of moving to Japan, but not sure what to expect? The county is a great place to live in many ways - it's safe, clean, it's rich in culture and history, and there are many wonderful things to see and do. But living here is vastly different from a short-term visit. Here are ten things you should know before moving to Japan.
1. They Drive on the Left
If you're from the USA, Canada, or Europe and you're used to driving on the right, be aware that in Japan, they drive on the left. If you're hoping to get a car (a good idea if you're moving to the countryside), be sure you know how to get a driving license in Japan.
2. Western Food Is Expensive
If you're hoping to recreate your favourite recipe from home or eat snacks from your country, expect certain things to be rare and expensive. You might have to visit Costco (which are few and far between) or speciality stores for the sweets, condiments, and snacks you're used to. And expect to pay a lot more for them.
Get your friends and family to send you care packages! If money's tight, it's best to shop for local foods and snacks.
3. Cash Is King
Despite having a reputation of being an ultra-modern society, Japan is still backwards on a lot of things. For example, many places, even some restaurants, don't accept credit cards. Be sure to carry cash with you wherever you go so you don't get stuck somewhere.
One way to pay without cash is by using a SUICA card, which you can buy from a train station and can use for riding the train or bus and to pay for things in convenience stores and even some restaurants.
5. Keep the Noise Down
Japan is a society where everyone is encouraged to be thoughtful of their surroundings and neighbours. Leave your loudspeakers and amplifiers at home; it's better to keep the noise down.
This also goes for public transport (talking on the phone on the train, for example, it's a big no-no) and be aware of the noise you're making in your apartment. Some walls are thin!
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6. Landlords Can Be Racist
Though I haven't experienced this myself, I've heard numerous stories of people getting a raw deal or downright rejected on the grounds that they're foreign. This could be to do with foreigners coming to Japan and then returning to their home countries without paying fees, or maybe it's the language barrier. Whatever the case, it's an unfortunate reality that it's sometimes tough to get an apartment in Japan.
You generally need a guarantor, who needs to promise you'll pay your rent. Try to get a Japanese friend or colleague to help you out.
7. You Don't Have to Speak Japanese, But They Appreciate the Effort
You might want to live in Japan short-term and therefore decide not to learn the language, but a lot of people who come for a year end up staying for longer! You don't need to dedicate hours a day to the language, but coworkers and even random strangers will appreciate you using a few words and phrases in your day to day life.
Learning the language also can open doors in the future, especially in your career, so consider studying the language before you go and while you're there.
8. The Culture Is Different to What You Might Be Used To
The Japanese culture is, in many ways, vastly different to the west. In the US, for example, they encourage individuality, standing up for oneself, and honesty, even if it hurts the listener. In Japan, speaking too honestly is discouraged, and they engage in behaviour that benefits the community, not the individual.
It can take a long time to get used to it. I've been here for six years and I haven't figured it all out either. Everything from sense of humour to rude behaviour is different. I often find that keeping quiet and listening is a good move.
9. It Might Not Be What You Expect
Whether you're interested in Japan because of its history, anime, or it simply caught your eye, you might find a lot of things you assumed to be true about this country and its people to be wrong.
10. The Cities Are Wonderfully Convenient, the Countryside Is Not
As someone who's lived in Tokyo and Okaya, Nagano, let me tell you that it's like a different country. Where cities like Osaka, Sapporo, and Tokyo all have great public transport, department stores, and a convenience store on every corner, small towns are full of decrepit buildings, few and small train stations, and not much to do.
This isn't every single town in Japan, of course. Some, especially ones that get lots of tourism, are flourishing. But if you get a job in a little unknown town in the country, you might find that the most exciting thing to do is pachinko and there's one train an hour. If you do have to move to a place like this, get a car!
There are many great reasons to live in Japan, and these reasons shouldn't deter you, only prepare you. Where in Japan would you like to live?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Poppy