The Big-Ass Live in Japan FAQ

By Donald Ash | Japan Guides

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GENERAL QUESTIONS ABOUT LIVING IN JAPAN

1. What’s it Like to Live in Japan?

Japan is one of the most scenic and beautiful places I have ever had the pleasure of living.  Japan is a country that is a remarkable blend of a modern lifestyle accented with the vestiges of traditional culture.

Being one of the most technologically advanced countries on the planet isn’t a bad thing either. Yet, people still honor their traditions and heritage. That’s why you can still see people donning elegant kimonos and yukatas, see age-old ceremonies, and see ninjas disappear in puffs of smoke when you walk up to greet them. Okay, that last one isn’t true.

Let’s not be overly fluffy either. Living in Japan means making mindset adjustments.

One major adjustment I had to make was for Japanese people. They do things differently and have a different set of values. Some don’t express themselves the same way they do in America. I’m a pretty big hugger, but hugs aren’t common here. It’s a lesson I learned the hard way. You hug a Japanese friend and get the “deer-in-headlights,” “AAH! Physical Contact!” face.

Fuzzy communication, when people not to fully express what they feel, can be nerve-wracking at times.

Japan can be a lonely place if you allow it to be. If you know you easily fall victim to loneliness, find things that you love to do and people that you TRULY enjoy being around.

This question could potentially take about a thousand pages to answer fully, but I’ll spare you the finer points. To sum it all up, Japan is everything you think it is, and a lot of things you think it isn’t.

You don’t get a full idea of what Japan is truly like... for you ... until hop on the plane, land in Narita or Haneda, and you’re in the middle of it all: the language, the cultural differences, the festivals, the food, the lifestyle, and the people.

2. Can I Survive in Japan if I Don’t Speak Japanese?

YES, you can. I’m living, breathing proof of that. When I tell you my Japanese was limited, I mean I had no concept of what hiragana or katakana even were (simpler parts of the Japanese writing system) and I could count on one hand the number of different phrases that I knew.

I won’t lie to you and say that everything is going to be easy, because there WILL be challenges. However for those who are English speakers, Japan does have things that cater to you. For example, at your local train station you can find English signs and train route maps. Even the announcements on some of the major train lines are in both Japanese and English.

You can live here without knowing a lick of Japanese, but be careful. Once you’ve overcome the initial challenges of being here, things can become so easy, so routine, that you can neglect learning Japanese altogether. This is more common among foreigners than you might imagine.

I personally make an effort to study because I didn’t want to be here for this long and not be able to speak Japanese. I also think learning the language can help you appreciate your stay that much more.

Do you know how many kanji you need to know to live a comfortably in Japan? Not a single, solitary one. You can survive, quite comfortably without ever knowing any kanji. However I do think learning kanji can really change your perspective while you’re here (I’m still working on them everyday).

Are they worth learning? Yes. Are they hard to learn? Sweet Lord, yes!

4. Is it Easy to Learn Japanese?

I think it’s easy to pick up certain elements of the language, and markedly more difficult to pick up other parts of it. As I mentioned earlier, I came here knowing absolutely nothing. However, in my first year I was able to get a handle on hiragana, katakana, and basic conversation.

Getting basic Japanese is something that many people are able to do. However, when it comes to the finer points of reading, writing, and speaking (or achieving true fluency), that’s when the challenge truly begins.

5. Is it Difficult to Move to Japan?

I think ‘difficult’ is relative. I was fortunate enough to have a very professional company to sponsor my first working visa in Japan. This company had systems in place for EVERYTHING! This made everything crystal clear for me, and dead simple to do. From the moment I set foot in Japan, this company took care of me: they set up housing, somebody went with me to set up my bank account, they set up health insurance, and even set up my pay so rent and taxes were automatically deducted.

Getting ready was a bit of a rush for me, as I waited until the last minute to do certain things ... like packing. By and large, though, it wasn’t as difficult to move here as some people make it out to be.

6. Is it Possible for a Couple or a Family to Have an Extended Stay in Japan?

Truthfully, I haven’t run into many couples who move to Japan together, but I DO know that there are couples who pull it off. Yes, it’s going to be a little more difficult to work out job and housing logistics (especially if you have kids), but you’ll just have to do your homework and really plan it well. Call the companies you want to work for in advance to see if they can accommodate you with best possible job placement and housing for your family. “Never say never.”

7. Do I Have to Pay Off My Student Loans Before Moving to Japan?

If you can pay off your loans before you come, that’s a wonderful thing!
You’ll have more resources to travel with and will be able to really experience Japan to the fullest.

However, the answer is no. If paying off student loans were a prerequisite for living in Japan, my ass would DEFINITELY have been planted right in the U.S.  

That's actually been another benefit of coming here. If you play your cards right, in a lot of ways it can be easier to pay off loans here than it is in the U.S.  Why? Removing things like gas and car repairs can mean having the ability to make larger loan payments, if you want it to.​  

8. Do I Have to Give Up My Citizenship to Live in Japan Long-term?

Not at all, I am still very much an American citizen. As long as you have a company that will sponsor your visa and have a working contract, you could potentially work in Japan indefinitely.

Regardless of which country you’re from, you don’t have to give up your citizenship to teach in Japan long-term.

9. Will I Be Able to Get Around in Japan Without a Driver’s License?

Yes you will! I still don’t have a Japanese driver’s license, and I’ve been here for over nine years.

One reason I haven’t bothered is because the trains in Japan can take you just about anywhere you want to go in this country. It’s an incredibly convenient train system.

For those foreigners that live in countries where you drive on the right side of the road (in the U.K for example) you’re in luck! If you have a valid driver’s license from back home, you don’t even have to take the driving test! Just apply, pay the fee, and you’re ready to go.

Most Americans have to take the driving test,though. 🙁

10. Is Living in Japan Stressful?

Yes. Being here definitely has its stressful moments, at least initially, and especially if you’ve never been to Japan before.

I’ve experienced the whole gamut of emotions being here: happiness, loneliness, fear, peace, love, and even downright anger.

A counter question I might pose is “How do you deal with stress?” Chances are, regardless of which country you come from, you’re going to experience stress in some form, at some time or another. You just have to have a healthy way to deal with it. Personally, life in Japan has been much more fulfilling than stressful.

WORKING IN JAPAN

11. Is it Possible to Live and Work in Japan Long-Term

The most common way that foreigners come to Japan for extended stays is usually via the English-teaching route. There are now a host of teaching companies that would happily take on new teachers who are professional, have good diction, grammar, spelling, and are trainable.

What other options would you have for staying here long-term? Well you could do everything from starting your own business,3 to marrying someone who is Japanese, to becoming a Japanese entertainer, and everything in between. Keep in mind that just because most people teach, it doesn’t mean that other opportunities don’t exist, they do!

12. How Can I Find a Teaching Job in Japan?

This area is a little grayer because I haven’t worked on the recruiting side of any of the companies I’ve taught for. Just bear in mind that most companies are listening to how well you speak and how good your teaching demonstration is. Yep, most places will require you to

3 I’m not sure just how tough it is for a foreigner to start a business in Japan, but I

know several people who have in fact done it.

prepare some type of lesson (generally 3-5 minutes long) to present at your interview. Don’t worry, though, you know the topic in advance and generally will have plenty of time to prepare for it.

Knock on wood, I have been fortunate to land every teaching gig that I’ve had the opportunity to interview (face-to-face) for.

The only rule I go by in those interviews is to be so good that the company can’t possibly tell you no. If you can prove you have the capacity, the company will take care of the training side of things ... at least most of them will.

13. Which Teaching Company Should I Work For?

This is not an easy question to answer. There are so many factors that will determine whether you’ll take a liking to the company you’re working for.

First, what kind of person are you? The more adaptable you are, the better off you’ll be, no matter what company you work for. English companies can change their rules at the drop of a hat - I know from personal experience. But, if you can roll with the proverbial punches, you’ll be okay.

That being said, the two major “teach in Japan” options that so many foreigners have done at some point or another are:

Option 1: Eikaiwa (英会話) Teaching, aka English Conversation School.

This popular option is a cross between teaching and business (FAR more teaching than business, though). You teach English lessons to students paying monthly tuition to become a better English speakers. Your English lessons are structured based on a very specific, very standardized company model.

Option 2: Assistant Language Teaching (ALT)

Option 2: Assistant Language Teaching (ALT).

This is the kind of teaching that you run into if you teach for public schools in Japan. You’ll often have several schools that you have to teach at on a weekly basis. Most likely, you’ll be the sole English- speaking teacher at that school.

These are potential job opportunities for foreigners in Japan. But there are a whole host of others. As with any kind of job search, if you look hard enough you may land that perfect job - one that suits you even more or, dare I say, pays even better.

14. Where’s the Best Place for Foreigners to Find Jobs?

I’d say the best place to land those hidden gem jobs is through word of mouth. I had no idea which companies to apply to until my sister told me about the different English teaching companies.

These are the three REALLY BIG ONES that I’ve used to find jobs:
1. Gaijinpot.com (http://gaijinpot.com)
2. Ohayo Sensei (http://ohayosensei.com)
3. Dave’s ESL Café (http://daveseslcafe.com)

I don’t know if you’ve heard of these websites, but I didn’t know of them until I got here. Granted many of the ‘work in Japan’ sites seem to be geared towards those who are already here, but there are quite a few job offerings, including ones from companies seeking teachers from abroad.

My only gripe is that unless you have some pretty serious Japanese skills, most foreigners end up teaching English in some way, shape, or form.

If you want to land other, more coveted teaching jobs (heck, coveted jobs in general) cracking open those Japanese textbooks might not be a bad idea.

This leads perfectly into our next question.

15. Is Teaching the Only Way For Me To Live and Work In Japan?

No, not at all. There are probably hundreds of different avenues you could pursue to be able to live and work in Japan. Teaching, however, is the most common avenue.

Why? Teaching is one of the fastest, most efficient, most sustainable ways to get here and stay here. Reputable teaching companies already have their systems in place, so it’s easier to plug into that system and have it work for you.

I know people who are working for American companies on extended stays, actors, fashion models, businessmen, students, and even foreigners working as politicians here in Japan.

16. How Can I Renew My Working Visa?

This isn’t as tough as you might think. You are going to need company documentation (they should know exactly what papers to give you), your passport, and your Residence Card. In addition, if you paid taxes on your own, you’ll need proof of that.

Go to your nearest immigration office, fill out the visa renewal form, turn it in, and wait until you get your postcard in the mail telling you it’s ready.

THE MOVING PROCESS

18. What Do I Need to Get Into Japan?

If you’re coming for the first time, at the very base level, you need a passport with a valid visa to get into Japan.

What if you’re working here, decide to go home for a visit and want to come back? What then? In the olden days (2010-ish) planning a trip home meant going through the hassle of securing a reentry permit, but that’s been completely phased out.

Now, if you have a valid Residence Card, it serves as your reentry permit. Thank goodness. That old system used to suck monkey butt cheeks.

19. Which Visa Should I Apply For?

This is another question that you HAVE TO ask the company you’re working for. The company who sponsors you will tell exactly what type of visa you should be applying for.  

They should also provide you with all of the necessary paperwork to get through the application process.

Don’t just run out and do this on your own!  It's not worth the extra hassle!
Please call your company first. Check and double check. Different jobs can require different visas and can vary depending on your teaching job.

For example, when I was teaching for AEON I had a Specialist in Humanities Visa. After becoming an ALT, I was required to have an Instructor Visa. The visa needs to match your job.

20. Will My Electronic Devices Work in Japan?

I can’t speak for every single country, as some countries have appliances that do use different voltage. Speaking from the American side of things, I will say that the vast majority of my appliances (95%) worked with no problems whatsoever. The only exception was my electric shaver. I did end up having to buy a converter at my local, Japanese electronics store but Japanese electronics stores converter and transformer Shangri-La. Hopefully you’re able to find what you need.

21. What Should I Pack?

This was one of my biggest concerns when I was on my way to Japan for the very first time.

The short story: I packed WAY too heavy! I didn’t know what actually living here was going to be like, so a part of the problem was that I didn’t know what things Japan had and didn’t have. I brought enough fluoride, toothpaste, and deodorant to last me about two years.

Don’t ask me why, but I even brought a freakin’ iron.

The other part of the problem was that I was unsure if my electronic devices would work (now I know that most of them do).

Whenever I visit the US now, the things I focus on packing are toothpaste and deodorant (maybe not two year’s worth), clothes, and possibly shoes4.

4 Finding larger-sized clothing for our taller/larger ladies and gents can be a bit of a struggle.

22. How Much Money Should I Bring With Me?

I don’t remember exactly how much I had on me when I came to Japan, but I want to say it was in the $1500-$2000 American dollars range ($500 of it in cash). I was advised to bring the remainder of it in traveler’s checks for security purposes.

How much money you should bring ultimately relies on the timing of your first check from your new job in Japan. This is a question that your hiring company should cover with you in detail. If they don't, ask!

The reason it’s important to ask the company is because they know exactly when and how much they are going to pay you ahead of time. If you know this info in advance, it’s far easier to gauge what you’ll need. Admittedly, I came to Japan lighter in the pockets than I should’ve been, and I really had to budget well until I got paid. But, it all worked out in the end.

In hindsight, I would say the more money you can take with you, the better. Please keep in mind that you’re traveling, so keep those funds as secure and safe as you can. Traveler’s checks have a guarantee, which is why I think I was advised to bring them. Even if some of your money is on a card, it’s good to have access to cash should you need it.

EVERYDAY LIFE IN JAPAN

23. How Do I Find an Apartment in Japan?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have staff members or friends help me with the apartment-hunting process. It really is a heck of a lot easier when you have a native Japanese speaker who can help you, a person who can sit down with you to go through the apartment paperwork and things.

AEON took care of everything with my first Japanese apartment, which is the best way to go if you can. A Japanese friend helped me to secure my second apartment through a company called Kazusaya. With some companies, you need someone to sign as a guarantor, which can be a pain in the butt. However, there are companies that, for a fee, allow you to use a guarantor company.

Another great option for foreigners is to find an apartment that has English-speaking staff members. Two big companies that make housing much simpler for foreigners are Leo Palace (http:// en.leopalace21.com/) and Sakura House (http://www.sakura- house.com/en/). With these apartments you can land a furnished apartment without paying the exorbitant key money fees. I do hear that these apartments are pretty tiny, though.

You may not want to go for an apartment at all. If you can handle living with other people, then sharehouses are another option (http://tokyosharehouse.com/eng)

24. How Do I Adjust to Life in Japan?

My best answer is to give it time. It takes some people longer than others to feel comfortable here in Japan. I’ve been here for years and I sometimes I still feel like there are aspects of Japanese life that I haven’t fully adjusted to. I think three things have been key in the adjustment process:

1) Other foreign friends and coworkers.
Having other English-speaking friends and co-workers who are going through the same things you are can really help with the adjustment process. When I had questions, or if I was feeling down, I had friends who could help me out.

2) Company training.
I really have to say that my job training prepared me by giving me a clear idea of what to expect during my initial stay, and what to expect later on in my stay. I wasn’t just thrown into Japanese life. My first job really prepared me well. Training at my second job, though? Umm..

3) Embracing the culture.
Going to festivals here in Japan, taking in as much as I can, eating the food, and learning the language (or trying to learn it) makes it much easier to appreciate elements of the culture that were foreign to me. This is also a great way to make new friends.

25. How Big Are Japanese Apartments?

My apartment in Ibaraki was about 37 square meters, which is defnitely on the larger side as far as Japanese apartments go. My current apartment is SIGNIFICANTLY smaller - just over 21 square meters.

It doesn’t sound very big. Compared to the standard American apartment, it’s tiny. But you get used to it, even if you’re taller. I’m 6’2” and weigh 220 pounds and I’m not hurting for space.

I do bump my head on things, though...A LOT! But, I don’t know whether to attribute that to space constraints or me just being as clumsy as an adult male with T-Rex-proportioned, dolphin flippers for arms.

Apartment sizes can vary dramatically depending on where you live in Japan. There always seems to be that tradeoff: for a prime location, in a major city, you are going to get less apartment space for the money. In Ibaraki, I find that your yen tends to go a bit further.

Check out my Japan Guy post on apartment hunting. It will give an idea of some of the different sized apartments I came across during an apartment hunt: https://www.thejapanguy.com/1794/apartment- hunting-in-japan-2010/

26. What’s the Difference Between a Japanese Mansion and a Japanese Apartment?

During my initial training in Japan, I remember being told I was going to stay in a weekly mansion. I was picturing this gigantic, company- owned estate with a heated pool, jacuzzi, marble staircases and beautiful, Japanese models that feed you fruits at the end of a hard day of training.

When I got to the place, much to my dismay, I realized that the meaning of mansion is slightly different in Japan. It just looked like another apartment to me.

For the longest time, I wanted to know what the difference was between a Japanese apartment and a Japanese mansion. Really, the main difference is not so much the size as it is the building material.

Mansions have thicker, concrete walls and sometimes have more upscale features (security key locks at the front entrance, anytime waste disposal area, package delivery lockboxes, etc.)

27. Is It Expensive to Rent an Apartment in Japan?

It can be, but this REALLY depends on the city you live in and the apartment-hunting process.

For example. While I was living in Tsukuba, Japan I was paying ¥55,000 per month for a pretty big apartment (by Japanese standards anyway). Here in Tokyo I pay ¥74,000 for a MUCH smaller space. So I would imagine the price for a standard/decent apartment would run between ¥65,000 and ¥80,000 on average. These

factors of course will vary on how big of an apartment you want, where you live, how close you are to train stations, etc.

28. Are There Any Other Housing Fees I Need to Know About?

YES! YES! YES! You absolutely need to know what key money is.

As far as I know, the key money concept is an old tradition that just never died. In an era when apartments in Japan were scarce, “key money” was given to a landlord as payment just for the privilege of renting.

How much key money costs will vary from apartment to apartment. But I will tell you honestly, it can be exorbitantly expensive.

The first time I had to move into my own place (after switching jobs for the very first time in Japan) I had to pay over ¥200,000 for key money. At the time of this writing, that’s $1628 (USD)5 but it was much closer to $2000 when I paid it! OUCH!

5 That’s 1084 British pounds, 2264 Australian Dollars, and 2178 Canadian Dollars.

29. Is it Expensive to Live in Japan?

Personally, I’ve found that living in Japan is cheaper than living in my hometown. I don’t have a car or insurance to pay for, so I think that makes a big difference. I hear that if you’re a fan of firewater, i.e. alcohol, (I’m not a drinker), and like to party, costs can add up significantly faster. It’s not uncommon to spend 4000-7000 yen ($30- $60) on a night out drinking with friends.

Here’s an old breakdown of my recurring monthly expenses back when I was living in the Tsukuba (Ibaraki), Japan:

Internet: ¥5000
Utilities: ¥21,400
Rent: ¥55,000
Cell phone: ¥5000 yen Health Insurance: ¥14,000 Karate class: ¥8400 yen Gym: ¥7500 yen

U.S. Student Loans: $350 (let’s say ¥35,000 yen to keep it simple) Groceries: ¥30,000 - ¥40,000 yen (I eat quite a bit) Supplements: ¥10,000 - ¥20,000

GRAND TOTAL RANGE: ¥191,000 - ¥211300 (That’s the current equivalent range of $1555 - $1720)

While I know this doesn’t cover every single expense, but it covers a lot of the BIG stuff for me. Considering my starting salary was ¥280,000 (at the time anyway) and that there was extra money leftover at the end of the month, things were comfortable.

30. What’s the Weather Like in Japan?

Japan has every type of weather you can think of. It’s weird considering the country’s not very big. In my area of East Japan, the summers are smokin’ hot and incredibly humid, the spring is warm with the occasional, refreshing spring breeze, fall is mildly cool, and winter is cold but not bitterly so.

Depending on where you go, these factors can change tremendously. If you’re in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, it’s “where the hell are my earmuffs at?” cold. If you’re in Okinawa, better put on that sunblock during the summer or you’ll end up being a human beach roast.

31. Is the Japanese Train System Easy to Understand?

Once you get the hang of using it, it’s not so bad ... not at all.

But, if you’re like me and you come from a city where the train system isn’t all that extensive, or you rarely used it, using the Japanese train system can be a bit daunting.

If you’ve never used the Japan Rail or Japan’s subway system before, I recommend getting an English train map and just taking some time to look it over.

If you don’t feel like doing that, there are also some great online services that tell you exactly which trains to ride to get from point A to point B. The service I HIGHLY recommend is jorudan.co.jp.

32. SUICAs or PASMOs, Which Train Pass Should I Buy?

Either card is fine. Nearly all public trains will allow you to use either, so I wouldn’t sweat it too much. The SUICA card looks cooler to me but other than that, both transportation cards have the same functions along with the IC (integrated circuit) chip that allows you to scan them at station ticket gates and add money easily.

MONEY & JAPAN

33. Is it Easy to Set up a Japanese Bank Account?

If you don't speak Japanese, setting up a bank account can be a bit of a challenge. Most banks don’t have English-speaking staff to clearly explain everything, so it’s always a good idea to take a Japanese- speaking friend or coworker who can interpret for you.

Once you know how, though, and provided you meet all standard requirements (address, residence card, etc.), it’s not as hard as it seems.

I remember being so proud of myself when I opened my first bank account (with the Japan Post) all by myself. Yes. It is possible to do it on your own.

34. Can I Use My Foreign Debit/Credit Card to Withdraw Funds from a Japanese ATM?

Yes, you can. Not all ATMs will take foreign cards, but I personally withdrew funds using my U.S. debit card just a few weeks ago.

I want to say if your card has any of the major logos, Visa, Mastercard, etc., you should be able to withdraw money. If you’re having trouble finding an ATM that will let you do it, go to your nearest Japan Post ATM, as they have machines that allow you to use a Japanese card or a foreign card.

The Japan Post is everywhere in Japan.

35. How can I send money home to pay bills?

I used to use a service called GoLloyds (now called GoRemit) to send money home. The service still exists, but the name of the bank and service have changed. It’s now called GoRemit through Shinsei Bank.  It’s amazingly quick and easy.

Shinsei bank has branches located here in Japan and they specialize in remittances. You do a domestic bank transfer to your GoRemit account and they send the money straight to your overseas account for a small fee.

I have been using them for years and I find that it’s fast and EXTREMELY EFFICIENT! I’ve also heard that Seven Bank now has a great remittance program, too. I’ll have to try it and compare the two in an upcoming post.

JAPAN SOCIAL

36. Is it easy to date in Japan if you’re a man?

I hate to answer in circles, but “easy” is relative. I think some guys are just naturally better at talking to women. I know guys who had their first dates during initial job training? That's like within a day or two of touching down in this country!



I, on the other hand, being the non-Casanova-ish person that I am, experienced a severe dating drought during my first year. I kid you not, I was COMPLETELY dateless for my first eight months in Japan.

But, you have to keep in mind that if you’re not putting yourself in situations to meet people it is going to be hard to find dates.

Once you’re in these situations, though, I think it’s just as easy to find dates here as it is back home (maybe easier?). You don’t even have to speak any Japanese!!!

37. Is it easy to date in Japan if you’re a woman?

I need to get more insight on this one. From what I’ve seen, foreign women have a tougher time with dating than foreign men do. Don’t quote me on that, though, because I’m not a woman. I’ll have to get back to you on this question through one of the posts on the Japan Guy blog.

38. How can I get a date in Japan?

MAKE FRIENDS! I’m no love doctor or anything, but I think being friends with a lot of different people opens up avenues for dating.

GO OUT! Go to karaoke, go out with your friends and coworkers from time to time, even if you’re not a drinker, and try going to a bar just to meet people. I can’t say the best way to get a date, but I do know that staying in your apartment by yourself isn’t the best way to meet someone.

ASK! How are you gonna get a date if you don’t ask for one? Even if the person is a 10 out of 10, get out of your comfort zone and ask them out. The result may just surprise you. The great thing for me has been that the whole “gorgeous=intimidating/standoffish” thing doesn’t feel as real here, so my dating confidence has increased quite a bit since moving here.

39. Do Japanese people like to drink?

Umm, HELL YEAH!

Not every Japanese person is a drinker, but in a society where being devoted to your work is so important, there has to be some kind of outlet.

In Japan, there are 宴会 (えんかい / enkai) or parties that happen all

the time. People love organizing drinking parties here too: students, friends, coworkers etc. People don’t necessarily get wasted (some do), but drinking is a HUGE social link in Japan, just as it is in most places. I find it really fascinating how closely drinking can be connected to work functions.

JAPAN HEALTH & SAFETY

40. Are Japanese Hospitals Safe?

From my experience, the quality of the hospitals and medical care are on par with hospitals in the U.S. (I can’t speak for the countries I’ve never been to). Processes will different and even the medicine will seem a bit weaker. But from what I gather, clinics have all of the most modern medical equipment, and cleanly facilities which is always good.

Something to be aware of though, is the language barriers. When talking with doctors, especially when you first get here, communication can break down. I’ve had to make repeated visits for a knee injury where one doctor would say one thing and another doctor would say something else. My advice with this is to be as patient as you can. If you have a persistent issue, see a specialist and for God’s sake take a translator with you. Somebody from your workplace ... anybody!

When you’re sick or hurting, going to an office where English is quite limited (even in the clinics that claim to have English-speaking doctors) can be a real challenge. If you find a doctor that speaks good English, stick to them like a Band-Aid on a wound.

*Note: One gripe I do have about Japanese medical care is that the medicine seems to be extremely weak. I don't’ know if it’s just me, but every painkiller I’ve ever been prescribed makes me feel like “That didn’t do a damn thing.”

41. Is Japan a Safe Place to Live?

Yes and no. As far as crime goes, Japan is EXTREMELY safe, maybe the safest place I’ve ever been to. I can go running at midnight and nobody is going to bother me.

Parts of Tokyo may be a bit seedier, like Kabuchicho, but I’ve never had any issues6. There are random incidents of violence but, by and large, Japan is an incredibly safe place to live. Citizens can’t legally carry guns!

Now let’s address the pink elephant in the room, earthquakes: does Japan have earthquakes? Yes they do, it’s cut and dry. For the most part, earthquakes are quite mild and many people don’t pay them much attention. Prior to the big March 11th, 2011 earthquake, I didn’t think much of earthquakes.

They happen on many occasions, but March 11th was the first time I’ve experienced anything of that magnitude. Yes it was scary, yes it was destructive, but it was an anomalous occurrence.

Despite that, I’m going to say Japan (as far as earthquakes are concerned7) is one of the safest places in which you can live.

42. Is Japan Safe for Women?

I would like to think so. However, just as with any country, ALWAYS be wary of strange people.

Are there panty-sniffing weirdos lurking in some of the more populated cities? Of course!
Who doesn’t like sniffing panti...err...I mean...

All jokes aside, be aware of your surroundings no matter how safe a country seems, even in a gunless one like Japan.

Despite isolated incidents, I still think Japan on a whole is one of the safest places you can be ... man or woman.

6 I wonder if it’s because I’m so much bigger than everybody else.

7 Tsunamis are an entirely different beast.

43. Where’s the safest place to live in Japan?

In general I think all of Japan is quite safe, but I would think the more rural towns, the ones in the countryside, are safer than some of the busier cities. The reason I say that is because of the types of people that live in those areas. The country lifestyle caters to a more traditional type of living and to full families: grandparents, mom, dad, and the kids.

Not to say that crimes doesn’t happen in the countryside but, in general when you hear the rare case of something crazy happening here, it’s usually in the more densely-populated cities (i.e.-Tokyo). But even Tokyo, pales in comparison to some of the more dangerous places back home.

44. How do I call someone if I have an emergency?

Dial 1-1-9. It’s the opposite of the American 9-1-1 number. Keep in mind though, that your operator will most likely be speaking in Japanese.

JAPANESE FOOD & GROCERY SHOPPING

45. What do people in Japan eat on a daily basis?

This was one of the things that naysayers who had never been to Japan tried to scare me with. When I mentioned that I was headed to Japan, I’d get the occasional “I hope you like roast cat” from a friend or family member. When I got here I found that my food worries were completely unfounded. Japanese food is pretty damn good. As a society, they hold themselves to a pretty high standard when it comes to food quality.

Here’s a rundown of some of the more common foods you can expect here in Japan:

Rice is a major staple here, as it is in most parts of Asia, so it’s something that most people eat on a daily basis. For those of you who are really particular about the type of rice you eat, they do sell many different types, including genmai (玄米 or げんまい) brown, unpolished rice.

Japan is also really big on fish. I mean, it is the home of sushi. Don’t freak out if you aren’t a fish eater, it’s not like you walk into a store and that’s the only thing you can purchase.

On the meat side of things, you can find high-quality cuts of chicken, beef, and pork at your local grocery store.  Not a meat eater? This also happens to be soybean country.

In addition, Japan also happens to be really big on fresh vegetables and fruits. So you can find some really great plant-based items anywhere you go.

The good thing about Japanese cuisine is that, in general, the offerings are healthy and light.

Let’s say you get here, and worst-case scenario, you hate the food. Even if you don’t like Japanese food, you have options. Though it can be more expensive, there are stores that sell imported goods.

46. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten in Japan?

Japan has a much more open-minded food culture than America does. The dishes that I initially found strange are no longer a shock to me. I have eaten squid, octopus, baby bees, raw horse, and even fish eyes.

But, I have to say that semi-raw liver was one of the very few things that I couldn’t stomach here in Japan. I didn’t like liver as a kid and never really grew out of it. What’s worse than cooked, chopped liver? Raw, chopped liver ... it was soooo gooey!

[Donnie’s face goes green...]

47. Where can I buy imported goods?

There is this awesome shop called Yamaya. You may want to check it out if you’re here. I wouldn’t say they’re common shops, but I have seen them in the places I’ve lived the longest (Ibaraki and Tokyo). You’ll be able to find some good imported stuff there.

While Yamaya is fine and good, there is no better import store (in my humble opinion) than the ones you can find on the military bases. The only drawback is that you do need a military friend to get you on the base.

BONUS “LIVE IN JAPAN” QUESTIONS

Is It True that Japanese Toothpaste & Deodorant are Weaker than American Brands?

In my personal opinion, yes, it’s VERY true. I am really picky about toothpaste because I wore braces for so long that I think a good chunk of my life was spent in the dentist’s/orthodontist’s office.

I had heard that Japanese toothpaste doesn’t have fluoride, but that’s not true ... it does. I don’t think the water does, though. However, what I have found is that the toothpaste is too mild for me. When I brush, I don’t like to take any chances. I want that “take your mouth off,” minty freshness with my toothpaste.

I know firsthand about the deodorant, ugh. Japanese deodorant just DOES NOT do it for me. I tried using a couple of different Japanese deodorant brands when I ran out one summer, and I was miserable. I was going through cans of deodorant so quickly because I was having to reapply deodorant like 5-6 times per day, just to keep from sweating and smelling. Keep in mind though, that I sweat more than any person I’ve ever met. So, your situation may not be as extreme.

Can I get good fast food/junk food in Japan?

Yep! Some of the major fast food chains are located right here in Japan. You may have some menu differences, but these fast food chains have their cooking standards down to a science.

You can expect to get about the same quality of food at a McDonald’s here that you would get back home. Those perfectly-salted, addictive, golden fries still hit the spot sometimes, even here in Japan.

Which fast food restaurants and junk food shops have I seen? McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, Subway, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Godiva, Cold Stone Creamery, Baskin Robbins, Burger King, and more.

What Do You Miss Most About America?

There are several things I miss about being home:

I miss being able to talk normally and have everyone understand me. I miss making inside jokes.
I miss seeing other African-Americans (not being racist, being real)
I miss good hugs! Not the Japanese, ass-out, pat hugs ... the real ones. Japan can sometimes lack that “skinship.” It’s just a society where hugging isn’t as popular.

Hmm...what else? OH! I loved going to the movies back home, but many of the American films don’t get released here, or (sometimes) if they do, Japan can sometimes end up getting movies extremely late.

I really hate when I see friends clamoring on Facebook about a great movie that they just watched stateside. You know about the film because you’ve been watching the online trailers, too. The only problem is the movie comes out months later in Japan. I remember watching the Captain America and Iron Man movies MONTHS after their U.S. release dates.

I WANT MY MOVIES!!

I miss Papa John Pizza. Yes, Japan does have a Pizza Hut, and it does hit the spot when I’m having a severe pizza craving, but Papa John’s was my absolute favorite pizza chain back home. I only get to have it once a year now.

I miss karate. Yes, I know that sounds strange being that I’m in Japan and all. But, I miss the camaraderie that I had with my training buddies every week. I miss going to tournaments and fighting as a team with people from my dojo.

Above all ... I miss my family.

Are there any other pitfalls that I should be aware of while living in Japan?

Yes. I don’t know whether people realize it, but being in Japan sometimes means when you’re on YouTube or browsing the web in general, you’ll occasionally get that video that just won’t play. Instead you get that annoying message “We’re sorry, this video cannot be played from your current location” or something similar. There are some sites that can only be viewed in the U.S.

Don’t panic, though! It doesn’t happen very often (at least with the site I frequent). And I’m sure there’s a way to do some proxy magic to work around it.

It’s also a little frustrating trying to order from Amazon. Yes, there is an amazon.co.jp website, but it doesn’t have all of the same products that the larger, U.S. website has.

I have had it happen several times, and I know someone out there knows what I mean. You place an order for say, deodorant, but because of where you live, Amazon’s U.S. site is unable to ship you your items. In these cases, I usually end up going to eBay instead. Yes, I do think Amazon is the way better, but on eBay you will find sellers who are willing to ship to any country.

What’s been your favorite Japanese experience so far?

Oh my goodness. That’s a tough one. There have been too many great experiences to really say just one, but I remember having a great time in Kansai Japan during the 2010 Golden Week. I had a chance to ride the shinkansen (新幹線/しんかんせん), Japan’s super fast, bullet

train. I visited Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara and I kinda felt like a movie star. I can’t remember how many pictures I took with the locals while I was there. People were just so friendly.

Not to mention I got to check off quite a few must-see, bucket-list, landmarks: Kiyomizudera, Kinkakuji, Ginkakuji, Fushimi Inari and Sanjusangendo.

It was beautiful and it was peaceful. In my mind, it represented everything that is good about Japan.

CONCLUSION

And, there you have it! I hope these answers have given you a realistic idea of what to expect when you’re thinking about coming to live and work in Japan, especially for the long-term.

If there are any other questions you’d like to know the answer to or see in an updated edition of this post, please feel free to send me an email with the subject line: “Yo Donnie, more live in Japan Questions.”

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Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • Sharifah J5

    Hi Donald, thanks for sharing your experience in Japan. Im going to Yokohama in Oct for a short vacation, my first time to visit, i found ur blog funny n honest. Is it safe for a woman to go out clubbing at Yokohama or Yokosuka alone? Im from Singapore by the way. My ethnic grp is Malay. Whenever I say Im Asian most Americans think Chinese but Im not. Hv a good day n happy belated 4th July!

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