The Challenges of Living In Japan

By Donald Ash | Articles

Today, I had a wonderful conversation with a customer service representative from my credit card company back home today.  Actually, let’s not use the word wonderful; we’ll use infuriating instead.  There was a mix-up which resulted in me having an inactive credit card and the inability to  make my payments (more on this later of course).  Initially I was quite angry, but instead of being mad, I think having furiously-typing fingers is better…

Living in Japan will frustrate you to tears if you’re not sufficiently prepared and/or patient enough to deal with certain realities.

Some of you may be like I was; I came to Japan knowing absolutely no Japanese.  Well that’s not entirely true, I did  know how to count to ten, and I knew a whopping, 12 basic phrases from a Japanese, CD-course I had listened to.  But was this really enough for me to get by?  ABSOLUTELY NOT!!  My first six-months was a bit frustrating because, outside of  work, I couldn’t understand a dag-blasted thing that anyone was saying.  Over time, I realized that getting upset really wasn’t going to change things: my anger wasn’t going to make the natives speak any more English, nor was it going to make me any more fluent in Japanese.  After my initial months, I made up my mind to be “constructively frustrated.”  What does constructive frustration mean exactly?  Well whenever there was something I didn’t understand (and it still happens now), I would still get frustrated, but my frustration would drive me to crack open my elementary Japanese textbook and figure things out.  After doing this enough, you develop more and more patience for the language.

Clothes shopping in Japan. Shopping can be frustrating in several ways.  One of the biggest problems for me, being taller than most people here, is trying to find clothes or shoes in my size.  The t-shirts I buy here are always fitted (even when I don’t want them to be), pants become shorts, and shoes cut off the blood supply to my feet.  It kind of sucks sometimes.  But I have heard that Tokyo has a lot more stores to choose from, and that means a better chance of finding clothes that fit.  So if you find those one or two stores that have what you need, you’ll be okay.

Grocery shopping in Japan.  Although this isn’t a big deal anymore.  My first trips to the grocery store were interesting.  When you want to find things, signs (at least in my local grocery store) are in Japanese, so you sometimes have to go on a scavenger hunt.  You don’t always find the same items that you’d be looking for at home.  Bleach for example, I expected Clorox to be easy to find, since it’s such a big brand, but my local grocery store didn’t carry it.  I was only able to find a much weaker, Japanese substitute.  Another example was trying to figure out which milk was the low-fat milk.  I had to do a bit of taste-testing, but eventually, I was able to find it.

Money issues.  Sigh. These things creep up on you from time to time, even when you don’t want them to.  Earlier, I mentioned earlier my credit card company deactivating my credit credit and invalidating my account login information.  How did this happen?  Well, it all started after trying, unsuccessfully, several times to login to my account and make a payment.  I called customer service and discovered that a security breach forced the card company to cancel most of its users’ cards, and even create a new online login system.  I did nothing wrong, it was a situation that was beyond my control.  The most frustrating thing was that there was no email, no phone call, nothing.  I contacted customer support and managed to reach someone who agreed to send my card to Japan with the next three weeks…WHEW!!  But when I called to check on things the other day, I learned that my card was sent to  my former U.S. address, the wrong address….AAARRRRGGHHH!  So it will take three additional weeks to get my card…maybe more.

In the end, you have to realize that if you move to a foreign country, you won’t be at home anymore.  That sounds like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people forget it.  I completely know what it feels like to be frustrated living in another country.  But, if you’re going to be living somewhere for a while, try to embrace the culture you’re living in.  It would be frustrating, and nearly impossible, to change a culture all by yourself.  Accepting the fact that you ARE going to have some challenges (even ones from back home), your life will be simplified tenfold.

Donald Ash

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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 blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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