Looking Back, Moving Forward – Celebrating 10 Years of Change in Japan
Last month I passed a significant milestone in my life. As of this year, it was exactly 10 years since I first moved to Japan. So much has changed since then.
Today I am a completely different person from that fresh faced 22-year old naïve young university fresh graduate who stepped off that plane at Narita Airport a decade ago. As I have changed, so too has Japan.
This country I have grown to love deeply over the past 10 years is today also radically different in a number of ways. Some of the changes have undoubtedly been for the better, others perhaps not so much. However, I still retain the same sense of hope and optimism today as I think about Japan’s future that I had in my heart 10 years ago.
So, what are some of the ways that Japan has changed since 2010? For starters, it’s a lot easier for foreigners to go about their business here than it was then.
The whole process of getting registered, set-up and taking care of day-to-day bills and other business was a major hassle back in 2010.
Upon arriving at the airport, you were given not an ID card but instead a temporary ID document. You were then required to present this document to the local city office and if you were lucky, about a month to 6 weeks later, your ID card would arrive.
Until this ID card arrived, you could not set up a bank account, you could not get a cell phone, you couldn’t even rent a DVD from the local video store!
Those first 6 weeks, with a 10-year-old temporary company mobile phone, a tiny temporary apartment and the feeling of a total lack of permanence to almost everything in my daily life was frustrating in the extreme, and made the job of acclimatizing to my new life in a new country all the more stressful.
Thankfully such nonsense is no longer an issue. When I returned to Osaka in early 2013 to begin my second stint in Japan, my ID card was printed and issued to me at the airport as I arrived.
Better Cell Phones, Networks
My flight landed at 10am on Friday morning. By 5pm that afternoon, I was relaxing in my new apartment, with all the paperwork signed, new cell phone in hand, a bank account and all the necessary direct debits set up. The only thing I had to wait on was an ATM card from my bank, which arrived about 3 or 4 days later.
These days prepaid credit cards are easily accessible and can be used in shops around the country.
Likewise, the previously closed shop of mobile phone networks has also, finally been opened up to greater competition, with the previously illegal practice of “unlocking” network cell phones now being permitted once you have been with your network provider for 6 months.
Having your own cell phone and getting a sim-only contract was also unheard of until a couple of years ago in Japan, but today there are dozens of smaller providers offering sim-only deals sometimes at less than half the price of a similar amount of data and calls with any of the big three of Softbank, AU, and Docomo.
More International Marriages
Socially, Japan has changed too. For all there are still some crusty, out-moded politicians who shout their right-wing extremist bile about Japan being a supposedly “homogenous” nation, anyone with even a basic grasp of Japan’s changing demographics can see that this is no longer the case, and hasn’t been for quite some time.
Today one in every ten marriages in Japan involves at least one partner who is not Japanese.
I can see the results of this increasing internationalization in my English classroom too. When I taught at my first public school in Chiba back in early 2007, there were almost no students who were not 100% Japanese. Out of the 800 or so students I saw each week, I can recall one who had an American father.
Compare that to my last public school assignment in Osaka City, which concluded about 6 months ago. There, we had students of Chinese, Filipino, American, Nigerian, Ghanaian, Brazilian and even English origin.
This mixing of cultures, languages and ideals has given today’s children in Japan a far more international environment in which to develop.
No doubt in due course, this increasing outward looking attitude will serve Japan well, as our global economies become more and more integrated.
So what of the future, how is Japan likely to change in the next decade?
English competence has improved, albeit slowly. So I guess I and fellow English teachers here aren’t doing such a bad job afterall.
Well, as I said previously, the country will, I believe, continue to advance and grow on the international scene. The Tokyo Olympics will, I hope and believe, be of huge benefit for the whole nation and will hopefully allow the Japanese to showcase to a global audience the advances in internationalization that they have made.