So you`ve decided to move to Japan. Great stuff! Japan has a lot to offer and is full of rich culture, be it historical or anime in nature.
But beware. There are many traps and pitfalls everywhere you go. You might be lulled into a false sense of security and before you know it, disaster strikes like an angry Charizard.
Surely all of us who have lived and loved in another county have gotten into some hard times. This is a normal part of the experience and should be embraced rather than ignored or feared. What does not kill us makes us stronger and all that.
I am by no means a master expat; I have only lived in Japan for about 4 years in total and I am constantly being challenged by the cultural and sociological differences that are inevitable when living over 8000km away from your own homeland.
The advice I give here is merely based on what little information I have gathered (I majored in Japanese culture in university, albeit a “C student”), mixed in with a lot of predetermined ideas and a lot of help from a very patient Japanese significant other. If that is a recipe you can get behind, by all means read on.
You might not think this information is relevant right now, when you are just entering the country for the first time, but it is better to be prepared.
The Honeymoon period
“Yes, this is Japan! I am finally here. Everything is perfect. I love everything. Even the bad things are good. The food is amazing. The people so friendly and polite. I could stay here forever.”
Sound familiar? This is exactly my line of thinking when I first came to Japan.
There`s a thing called “the honeymoon period", which describes the feeling above. Total euphoria and a complete disregard to any negative thing for the country. It varies from person to person, but can last from a few months to a few years. It happens to most of us and is pretty nice on its own. The problem comes when the period ends. When all the little negativities and problems arise and your perfect country doesn`t seem so perfect anymore.
Although it`s really hard to give advice on how to deal with the inevitable collapse of this utopian idea in our heads, I just wish more people were aware of this so they could mentally prepare themselves.
Which brings me to my second thing:
Take it slow
Sometimes, being reluctant can be beneficial. I understand the idea of wanting to try everything at once and loving it so much that you want more and more and more. Especially if you are her for a limited amount of time. However, just like with cake, which can be the most delicious thing you have ever tasted in your life, too much too fast can lead to some major misfortunes.
Just.. I don`t know.. Try to see the whole picture before rushing into things you might regret. Try not to join the local Judo Dojo, only to be surprised they make you clean up everything and barely allow you to practice. (Uneducated anecdote)
So the guy in the train was pushing you. The group of girls in the coffee shop were staring and probably gossiping about you. Everyone is giving you the cold shoulder. Everyone seems to be against you; seem to despise you with their eyes. And it`s probably because you are a foreigner and different, right? Wrong! (probably).
Let us look at it from another perspective. How many people do you look at on the train and think “hey, this guy is different” or “why is he wearing that?”. Is there any malice in those thoughts? Probably not. But you`ve been looking at them and judging them with your eyes, probably giving them the creeps. And then they forget about the whole incident in the next five minutes. Because that`s what happens.
The guy on the train? Super late to an important meeting with the Big Boss.
The group of girls? Wondering where to go during Golden Week.
The cold shoulder people? Been doing unpaid overtime for the past thirty years and just want to get this document faxed as soon as possible.
Everyone is simple, busy, neutral individuals who in 90% of instances are thinking about themselves. Realizing that, we can just ignore their unmannerly stares and continue on with our own lives. It`s a country with 127 million people. You`re going to get all kinds a number of times.
This is a big one (even though it has “micro” right in the title.).
The waiter at the restaurant brings you an English menu, even though you speak perfect Japanese and the menu has like 1/3 of the information the Japanese version has.
People at the supermarket get flustered when you arrive, forget you said “no” when they asked you if you need a plastic bag, try to speak what little English they can, even though you just spoke to them in your “pera-pera” Kansai dialect.
The umpteenth time someone compliments you on your chopstick skills, asks if you can eat wasabi, asks if your country has four seasons, asks if you can read the simplest kanji, tells you your nose is long, tells you you are soooo tall ad nauseam.
In short, it is the little annoyances in the day that later combine into a giant Katamari of aggression that takes you down a dark path. We don`t want that.
The solution? Develop the memory of a goldfish and just let the little things slide. I know it is not as easy as it sounds, but let us be perfectly honest. There are 127 million people here. I am not going to prove to them all that, yes, other countries also have 4 seasons (although mine only has 2 as far as I remember).
There are a bazillion other tips I can give to you. Here are a few runner-ups:
- Go to a Batting center and release the built up stress by pretending the ball is your boss.
- Go to an onsen or sento and let your worries melt away.
- Find the good parts of Japan and embrace them. I try to find at least one thing I am grateful to have in Japan. It`s not hard. (Today I am grateful for the half price deep-fried stuff in the supermarket after 10 P.M.)
- Learn the language. I am only conversational level and it helps me tremendously. I just wish I had learned more in school.
- You are going to make mistakes. It happens and you can learn from it. Do not sulk.
- Don`t believe the internet. Not even me. The internet is full of angry individuals with poo-brains.
- Watch Doraemon. He is fun, educational and I feel he clearly represents the sociological status of Japanese society at the given time. (Last week, Nobita created a country in his living room and had border patrols and when his mom tried to enter illegally, the guards shot her. Then his friend became a fugitive in the new country to escape his mother`s wrath).
In any case, just remember to be aware of your mental state and keep an open mind about everything. Keep yourself safe and try to have fun.
Good luck and Welcome to Japan!