Dealing With Problems While Living in Japan
Use the Internet
Chances are, if you have a problem in Japan, you're not the first foreigner to have it. Before panicking and calling your consulate, use GaijinPot, Reddit and other sources to track down a quick answer. If you're just in Japan for a quick visit, check your favorite travel website for troubleshooting in a particular geographic area. If you're living in Japan, check out resources for English teachers and other expats who have years of expertise. If you live in a major metro area, you may even find guides specific to your city!
Keep in mind that sometimes resources can be outdated, so be careful to always get an official answer for immigration questions and other legal matters. Luckily, the Japanese Ministry of Justice and other key agencies have English-language websites.
Reach Out to Other Foreigners
If you're dealing with a very location-specific, nuanced, or otherwise complicated situation, reaching out to other foreigners for advice is wise. They can weigh in with their own experiences and help you identify what went wrong. This is especially helpful in instances where cultural misunderstandings and hurt feelings have occurred.
If you work for a foreign company, reaching out to your employer may actually be your best bet. Even if it's a problem that doesn't directly deal with work, your employer may actually have a vested interest in helping you solve it. For example, major problems with your landlord could end up interfering with your work! Japanese companies may also help, but they might not be very helpful if the problem you're dealing with is partially rooted in cultural differences.
Whatever you do, though, be careful not to point fingers or share too much information about the situation - especially if you're posting online. Expat communities in Japan are surprisingly small, and naming too many names can come back to bite you. You can especially end up ruffling feathers if an English-speaking local overhears or sees you complaining.
Use Local Government Resources
Tokyo isn't the only city that makes sure to look after its foreigners. Most, if not all, prefectures and major cities will have some kind of English-language information for foreign residents and tourists. For example, Osaka has FAQs and living guides available in multiple languages, in addition to a phone help line for English speakers.
Smaller cities and rural areas may only have English-language help lines or consultation centers on a limited basis, such as on certain days of the week. These resources are probably not equipped to handle major issues, like apartment-hunting and major employment problems. They can, however, point you to the correct government office or nonprofit and help with explaining your problem to the appropriate staff.
Be Ready to Apologize to Smooth Things Over
In Japan, apologizing is much more common and natural than it is in many parts of the world. Apologizing for something that isn't your fault is going to be expected in many situations. Even if the situation is only 10% your fault, don't be surprised if someone looks at you expecting you to apologize after they have done likewise.
Think of it this way: You're apologizing for the fact that the situation arose in the first place, and that the other party experienced an inconvenience. You can set your pride aside for a few minutes to express some empathy for the other party, right? Taking this step now will help maintain a good relationship with them in the long-term.
Learn From Your Mistakes - and Those of Others
The longer you live in Japan, the more minor disasters you will find yourself in. Cultural differences, language barriers, and normal everyday accidents can escalate into something that makes you want to pack your bags and go home.
The best way to prevent problems is to do tons of research ahead of time, but even the best-laid plans will only get you so far. Take notes on what got you into a pinch, how you got out of it, and what you can do to keep it from happening again. Better yet, when your sempais (seniors) get into trouble, take notes on their misadventures! If you're lucky, they'll give you lots of advice - and make sure to heed it.
Questions & Answers
© 2018 Ria Fritz