Photo: つるたま on Pakutaso

Living in Japan – The Most Pressing Questions Answered

As someone from a newspaper background, I was at first, I will admit, somewhat ignorant to the differences between blogging and conventional, mainstream journalism. That being said, it soon became clear to me that one of the main differences is in the almost instant feedback one can receive about their work. With each new article that is posted I receive a lot of comments, mostly positive thankfully, about the issues I have covered.

However, with comments there also, inevitably, come many questions. 

重村俊雄 on Pakutaso.

Over the past years I have noticed that some questions seem to keep coming up. Today, I shall attempt to answer them as best I can. 

So, today I hope to inform you all by presenting the top 5 questions and answers I have received thus far concerning life in Japan. Bear in mind, I am neither a psychologist nor an expert on cultural studies, merely just a simple writer whose experiences inform his opinions. I hope my advice will be of some help.

So, without further delay, let’s get to it.

Am I The Right Kind of Person to Live in Japan?

つるたま on Pakutaso.

This is a tricky question to answer. Whilst there are a few emergent personality types that seem to push themselves to the forefront in Japan, I genuinely believe that there is no one set type of person who is best suited to life here. 

I would say rather that one must be flexible and willing to challenge their own pre-conceived notions in terms of personality and expected behaviors. You don’t need to change who you are to be a success in Japan, but rather you need to be prepared to push yourself beyond your own personal comfort zone. Do not waste your time and energy frustrating yourself over things that you cannot change. Instead, go with the flow, learn to use your own initiative but at the same time don’t be afraid to follow the advice and guidance of those older and more experienced than you. After all, seeking the wise counsel of one’s elders is a fundamental underpinning of many of the societal constructs that shape the way Japan is today. 

Are Japanese People as Earnest and Sincere as the Stereotypes Show Them to Be?

すしぱく on Pakutaso.

This one is also not as clear cut an answer as one may have been led to believe. 

Whilst it is undeniably true that, on the surface at least, Japanese people are among the warmest, most sincere and most kind-hearted people you will ever encounter, they do also have another side to them. In Japanese culture this is described as “Tatemae” or “showing another face”. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is open to interpretation. For example, often Japanese people will do all they can to avoid saying no. They may say things like. “It’s a little difficult for me” or “maybe”. This could be interpreted as dishonesty, but in truth it is just an awkward way for Japanese to do all they can to avoid saying no.

What is A Good First Job to Get Upon Arriving in Japan?

すしぱく on Pakutaso.

Now this is an easier one. Teaching English is the most logical gateway into Japan for foreigners. However, I would recommend that you steer clear of the private language schools (eikaiwa) and instead try to find a public school teaching position. Whilst the salary for public school teaching is a little lower than you would expect in the eikaiwa sector, the pluses definitely outweigh the minuses. For starters, one can enjoy a Monday to Friday schedule, fairly close to regular office hours. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, working alongside regular Japanese teachers, as perhaps the only English speaker in the entire building can make it a lot easier to learn both Japanese language and culture. In eikaiwa, you will be expected to speak entirely in English and as a result, you may find that it is a lot more difficult to learn to communicate in Japanese effectively. 

Also, teaching in the public school system will give you a better insight into what it really takes to teach children in Japan effectively, and in most cases you will have the chance to teach at multiple schools and multiple age levels. 

What’s The Most Difficult Thing About Living in Japan?

すしぱく on Pakutaso.

In this case, I will defer to my own personal experience. Hopefully you may be more fortunate when you come to Japan and you won’t have to face this same problem.

The most difficult thing for me has been the instability. Jobs for foreigners here are almost entirely 1 year contracts, with many companies and even government agencies having arbitrary and unfair limitations on the duration of employment. This in turn feeds into the greater problem of a transient workforce which in turn prompts companies to offer less long term employment opportunities. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, with the ongoing economic instability in Europe and the US, more and more immigrants to Japan like me are opting to make this country their permanent home. In time, this will hopefully create greater pressure on the government to start offering foreigners parity with Japanese colleagues and improved conditions for all workers. 

What is The Best Thing About Living in Japan?

カズキヒロ on Pakutaso.

As I have articulated countless times in the many articles I have written on this site thus far, I love living in Japan. To choose just a single highlight is difficult. However, I think the best way is to talk about my feelings here. Japan feels like home to me, and indeed to many who live here for more than a year or two. 

The people, the culture, the safety, and the sense of honor and dignity with which Japanese people carry themselves are all traits I deeply admire. So I guess to give a summary answer I would say, the best thing about living in Japan is the unique beauty, honor and safety that this country has to offer. 

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