What Has Been the Hardest Thing About Adjusting to Life in Japan? – Foreign Resident Survey

Although foreign residents of Japan come from all around the world and from various walks of life, the one thing we do have in common is that somehow we ended up in Japan.

In fact, it’s quite eye-opening when you take a look at everybody’s story about the struggles they overcame to find their home in Japan. Depending on your perspective, it can even be a little reassuring to know that other people have similar experiences. We asked a few foreign residents living in Japan about memorable moments and events in their time living in Japan; as well as for any advice they’d like to pass on to those just getting started on their path to living in Japan!

Q:Is there any particular memory you have of when you thought “Oh yeah, I’m definitely making the move to Japan”?

  • I got a job offer to come here and was really struggling with whether or not to make the move, when one of my friends said to me “but how much will you kick yourself in 10 years if you DON’T go”. That suddenly got me to make up my mind to come here.
  • I was pretty unhappy in my current work environment (looking back now, there wasn’t anything particularly wrong about the environment, it was all my mental state – I could go on about this in detail) and thought that moving as far away from where I was would magically solve everything. In the long run it worked out for me, but it was more of a matter of overcoming my own demons and pursuing personal growth instead of just moving to a different country.
  • When I got engaged to my wife (she’s Japanese).
  • When I got a full time job offer in Japan and accepted.
  • Japanese TV shows (ex, 学校へ行こう!) and dramas (ex, Nobuta wo Produce) were very popular in Taiwan when I was a child. My grandma spoke Japanese and she gave me food and presents from Japan since I was a child. I was 5 years old when I came to Japan for the first time, and I came to Japan during summer vacation for so many times after that. My aunt lived in Japan (Chiba, Maihama) so I had some experience living in Japan (for a short period).
  • Can’t remember.
  • No.

Q: What were the biggest concerns or doubts (if you had any) prior to arriving in Japan?

  • When I first made the move I was way too excited to process any doubts or concerns. But as time went on I started to think about things like “Ok… if Japan is going to be your new home, you’re going to need to speak it, you’re going to need to figure out things like buying a home, finding a career, etc.”
  • Language barrier.
  • Worried about gender discrimination for females in the workplace.
  • Language, adjusting to the work culture.
  • I arrived in Japan a month after the 3/11 earthquake. I was concerned about the availability of food and water from the supermarket. Earthquake aftershocks were another thing I worried about. But everything was OK.
  • I think I was worried about restarting my social life in a new country where I knew literally nobody.
  • Being able to find a good job and if I’d love Japan enough to stay long-term.

Q: Have there been any aspects of life in Japan that have been hard to adjust to?

  • Work ethics.
  • Japanese contracts, taxes and government documents are difficult and confusing.
  • Language.
  • Making new friends was a struggle for roughly the first year. The other big one was dealing with people in social situations reacting to me differently from others strictly because of my race/nationality (I’m white).
  • The absoluteness of some rules and inflexibility can be hard to accept.
  • Maybe I came to Japan at this weird time in my life where I really don’t think it’s the environment that was proving to be difficult, but my own shortcomings. That being said, natto (fermented soy bean) has been the most difficult thing to adjust to in Japan.
  • I don’t think so, because I was able to get used to Japan since I was a child (because of the TV shows and traveling to Japan). I also feel that Taiwanese & Japanese culture are somehow similar. As long as you can speak Japanese nothing will be too difficult.

Q: Do you have any advice for those planning to move to Japan or who have just arrived to start living in Japan?

  • Try to learn the language even just a bit, it helps with learning the subtle nuances of the culture.
  • If you’re coming to live in Japan specifically as a result of your love for some aspect of Japanese culture that’s totally fine. However, make sure to do research on some other aspects of Japanese society before you make a decision. Like any country, Japan has problems. Research things like working conditions, mental health and social issues in Japan and make sure you are ok with what you find before you commit.
  • Find a healthy work-life balance and try new things. If you haven’t already, start studying Japanese and have a plan for how you’ll improve. Being able to speak a least some Japanese will make living here much easier. You should move here knowing that Japan will be different than your home country, and that’s a good and bad thing.
  • Learning the language will help, but it’s not necessary.
  • Enjoy it. And don’t disparage others for enjoying it differently from you. We’re all in this together.
  • Try to understand Japan’s culture as soon as possible. Don’t go against the culture. Accept it and move on.
  • Being able to speak Japanese (at least JLPT N2) and having an understanding of the culture will help you have a suitable life in Japan.

Q: Any other thoughts you’d like to share about the moving process, living in Japan, and the concept of “home”?

  • If you really love Japan, it will feel like home. 住めば都 (すめばみやこ, sumebamiyako – home is where you make it).
  • Try to make friends and don’t stay home all the time. Go out and adventure even if it’s by yourself. You’ll understand Japan’s culture, manner, and the way of life the more you go out. Put yourself in situations that might challenge you, so that you’ll learn from it.
  • Be outgoing, even if you don’t want to. If you want to stay in Japan for the long haul, you need a social support network. If you can speak Japanese fluently, this might be easier for you. However there is a large English speaking community in most major cities and with the Internet it’s easy to find events to go to where you can make like-minded friends. Even if you’re introverted (like me), at least for the first few months make your rule to be “say yes” to social invitations (within reason of course). While in your home country it might have been easy to make friends, in Japan you have to be outgoing to build a network of friends, which will be vital for your mental wellbeing and so many other aspects of your life. You can do it!
  • I don’t think I can survive without conbinis (convenience stores) anymore.
  • Living in more rural parts of Japan can be difficult as there will most likely be less access to English speakers or Japanese people who are used to interacting with foreigners. For me, living in Japan has been relatively smooth and I’ve been able to meet a lot of amazing people. While there are things that don’t always feel like “home” in Japan, I try to focus on the positives and work to make it the best I can.
  • My company set up a lot so can’t really comment on the moving process. But lifestyle is very convenient here.
  • You won’t know the extent to which you’re capable if you don’t give it a shot. Don’t take failure as an ultimate end-all situation, we all have ups and downs. Pick yourself up and learn from the situation and move forward. What I learned from my experience: the grass is greener where you water it.

For a little background on our seven participants:

  • Nationalities: Taiwan, Canada, USA, Australia
  • Length of residency in Japan: 2.5 years – 9 years

Of course, a handful of seven respondents isn’t going to capture all the diversity of foreigners living in Japan. We hope to keep the discussion going, though, as we think it provides a good look into the different viewpoints that comprise the makeup of foreigners in Japan. If you’re interested in moving to Japan, check out our articles on what to look for in an apartment when moving, how much you need to budget when moving to Japan, and why you should look for an apartment near a shopping street!

Lead photo: Scott Kouchi


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