Saturday, January 3, 2009

So, you're moving to Japan...

It's almost a new semester and that means there will be a new crop of people coming to Japan.
I thought I'd try to dispense some advice to those coming. I'll try to be brief:

Before you move:

Don't come here because you like anime/manga. Japan is a country, not a comic book. If all you know about Japan you learned from cartoons, do some real research and then think about it. If that last sentience made you twitch when I used the word 'cartoons', then you are better off not coming here. Full disclosure, I used to like anime and I love Ghibli films, but it should not be a primary influence/reason for coming here.

Learn SOME Japanese and be prepared to USE IT! Could you imagine you working at your job and someone came in speaking Japanese expecting you to know it? Probably not. It's the same here, don't assume everyone knows what you're saying. Learn some basic phrases and try them out. There is a BIG language gap, and sometimes it's rough, but the more you know, the better you'll have it.

Visit before you move. If you can, check out Japan before you move there. Would you buy a car without test driving? Would you buy a house without checking out the inside? Why would moving be any different. If you only intend on being in Japan for a short period, then it's not so important, but if you want to stay, visit.

Japan is not what you expect. Japan is nothing like you've read in comics or seen in movies and anime. Just like America is nothing like Full House or The O.C. Japan is NOT a perfect country and if you move here, you will be able to see the flaws. It is not a fantasy, it is a reality. Don't get me wrong, I love it here, but I know Japan is a severely flawed country and Tokyo is far from a perfect city, but it's the best place I've lived despite the flaws. If you have a fantasy image of Japan, it will get smashed into a million pieces. Be prepared for that.

Japan is different from your home country. Unless you grew up in Japan, you will counter many cultural differences. Some may be pleasant surprises, some might not. When you can't do or get something you're used to, deal with it. That's life here. Beware of the phrase "Where I'm from." Japan is not where you are not where you are from, so don't expect things to be the same. It sounds obvious, but the first time you try to do something you can't do, you will be frustrated. Deal with it, as that's all you can do. The more you try to live like a native, the easier time you'll have. And on that note...

There are a lot of cultural rules. Try to learn them. There are a lot of cultural do's and dont's, and there is a big difference between what is legal and what's socially acceptable. You won't get arrested for drinking beer on the train and loudly talking, but it's rude. Even if you don't care, every time a non-Japanese person makes an ass of themselves, it makes everyone look bad. There are plenty of books on etiquette in Japan, so pick one up or check one out at your library.

Learn about your city. I'm writing this mainly for TUJ students, but if you're anyone moving anywhere in Japan, learn about where it is, what's good to see, what's the best hidden areas, what the local favorite food is, where trains are, how to get around, and so on. Surprises are nice, but knowing the basics are important.

People will like/dislike you because you're different. Know this. Some people are racist. If you've never dealt with racism, you may very well in Japan. People will treat you differently just because you're not Japanese. Some people will love you just for being a foreigner, some will hate you. There is nothing you can do about it, so just accept it and try to enjoy it when you can.

After you move:

Hang out with natives. Japan is full of Japanese people, so try to befriend them. TUJ's dorms are really nice for meeting people, but everyone at those dorms is a foreigner (besides Aki), so it's not a good way to get integrated into the culture. Try to meet some Japanese people outside of TUJ too, to get a perspective of what locals think and act like. This is a bit harder for people only here a few months because, let's be honest, do you want to befriend someone you'll probably never see 3 months from now?

Enjoy the food. Japanese food is great, but sometimes scary. Don't ask questions on what you're eating and just try it. You might not like everything, but that's the point of experimenting. The best food I've ever eaten here looks and sounds terrible. Just be brave and try it out!

Explore your neighborhood. I'm constantly learning stuff about my own neighborhood. Mitaka/Kichijoji is NOT a small place, and I see something new almost every time I go outside of my normal route. There is probably a lot more to your town than between your house and train station. Also, when you have time...

Leave your neighborhood. Tokyo is a huge city. Explore it. Some parts are great, some parts are pretty bad. I can tell you what I like, but you should find out what's good on your own. And on that note...

Get out of the tourist spots! I can't stress this enough. There is WAY more to Tokyo than Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku and Roppongi. Those are places where it's very easy to be a foreigner, and I'll admit, they all have positive qualities, but if you spend ALL your time in those areas, you are missing so much and you should really question your motives.

Keep a good sense of humor and an open mind. You will have bad days, you will be in bad situations, and things won't be perfect. You can either get angry or roll with the punches. People will react to you in strange ways and you won't know why. Just deal with it and try to enjoy life with a smile.

And probably my most important points...

Don't ask too many questions. It's great to ask questions! It's a great way to learn, but you will find some things that make NO sense. Don't try to figure everything out, because you'll only get frustrated. Sometimes things are the way they are just because that's how they are and that's how they've been for a long time. Accept things the way they are and don't question it. Some answers you will find in time and some you won't. That's life.


HAVE FUN! Japan is a great place to live if you can put up with the downsides and enjoy the ups. Cultural and language barriers can be rough, so can social interactions, as the way people interact is quite different, but that's life. Make your time in Japan the best you can, if it's just a few months, a few years, or life.


Michael said...

I've posted a response to this on my blog

Keith said...

Cool. Thanks for reading.