Moving can be an exciting time. Depending on why, there is a sense of adventure, or trepidation, perhaps both. Sometimes it’s just plain overwhelming with all of the things to be considered: change in cost of living, transportation, negotiating new work place and social scene. To help you through this time, I asked two friends who’ve been long time residents of Japan to share their experience and advice; Joe, resident of Otsu-shi, Shiga, has lived and worked in Japan for the last 12 years; Stacy, resident of Toyota City in Aichi Prefecture, has been part of the Japanese culture in some form for the past 20 years.
Yes, you’ll have a learning curve.
No amount of studying, the culture or language, is going to prepare you for being immersed in your new town. That’s okay. Don’t expect too much of yourself early on. You’re establishing a new way of living. Everything from going grocery shopping, to moving through the city or country have to be relearned. Joe had a wonderful way of putting it, “Everyday you’ll encounter something that makes you think, ‘I know how to do this in America, but I’m not quite confident now.’”
Take more money than you think you’ll need.
Make a list of all of your expenses and income, and then add a buffer of one month’s expenses to your savings. No matter how much you plan and strategize, you cannot think of all contingencies. There’s nothing wrong with not being able to come up with every single scenario. Japan is an expensive place to live. You can help yourself and ease your financial worries by giving yourself that extra cushion.
Consider your mode of transportation.
Toyota is a car heavy city with a convenient transportation system. Stacy has discovered that, “Depending on the city, you will either need a car or be able to use the transportation systems that range from buses, subways, trains and bullet trains.” Not all cities have a convenient system. If you’re planning to live outside central Japan, have an understanding navigating daily life; getting to work, to the market.
Cultural missteps will happen.
Transitioning to a new country and new culture with an open mind allows you to learning about the people and place you now call home. Dropping preconceived ideas of how you should be and what you should know can infuse you with enthusiasm and wonder. Joe had a wonderful way to look at culture, “You just have to come to terms with the fact that no matter what you do, no matter how much you try, you will make mistakes and learn something new every day.”
Navigating work relationships carefully.
At work be cognizant of hierarchy and the proper way to address people in positions of authority, peers, and junior employees. Be aware of your company’s culture: modern versus traditional. As Joe points out, “There is a strong seniority system that is engrained into all parts of Japanese culture. There are verbs and grammar used when speaking to someone older than you, younger than you, [or] same age.” Please be cautious of social interactions with coworkers. Unlike in America, work and play often intermingle. It’s only natural for us to see a coworker, with whom we attended a party over the weekend, and rehash the details. Stacy has found that, “What happens outside of work, stays outside meaning if you go out with your co-workers or boss and you genuinely had fun and want to thank them, any maybe reminisce about what happened then, it is not acceptable.” Like the cultural missteps, have a beginner’s mind here as well as you learn the culture of your work place and city.
Some final words of advice:
Stacy: “Read up on cultural differences. Granted most people here will never expect you to know anything about their culture or them because you are not Japanese. [A] Foreigner will always be a Foreigner but you can read up on things to get a better understanding about the culture. Be open, flexible, patient, optimistic in trying new things, and so on…”
Joe: “…you will be overwhelmed when you first move to Japan… When you first move to a very foreign country, it will feel like being in a pool and not knowing how to swim. But all you have to do is practice, keep trying, don’t be afraid to be afraid, and eventually you’ll get to the point where you can swim, and from that point you can start having lots of fun doing all sorts of cool stuff.”
Moving to a new place takes courage. You’re to be applauded for stepping out. Enjoy your new adventure.