Since my first trip to Tokyo, it became my dream to live in Japan. I can’t really explain why. As a child I used to watch some Japanese cartoons but I wasn’t interested much in Japan.
Once upon a time….
I received an email from a Polish modelling agency offering me a job in Tokyo.
I was lucky to have girlfriends and a sister who were also offered work, and they came along with me. It was during summer when we were on our University break and feeling bored. The following week, we boarded a plane and were on our way to Japan for the very first time. You might think that it wasn’t such a brave thing to do, but nearly a decade ago Japan was still a pretty closed country. It was not the foreigner friendly country that it is now.
I recall stepping out of the plane and being amazed at how beautiful Japan was! This was also my very first trip to Asia. Since then I’ve been going back and forth every time I could. I simply couldn’t get enough of Japan!
All up, I have spent almost 5 years in Japan. Time flies so fast !
I’ve been asked this question so many times. What is it like to live in Japan? So here is my list of pros and cons of living in my ultimate love, Japan!
1.LEARNING THINGS AND GETTING NEW PERSPECTIVE ON EVERYTHING .
It’s not hard to guess that everything in Japan is just different ,especially the culture.
What is obvious and common sense for us Westerners isn’t necessary for Japanese person. Therefore being open and willing to understand completely different customs and mindset is crucial for somebody who wants to live there . I always found it fascinating to discover new aspects of this culture. Sometimes observations and interacting with local people aren’t really enough. You should reach out to the books which can be very helpful like one of these:
Japan feels more like a different world than anywhere I’ve ever been and you will soon feel it too. especially that Japan is a rules-based culture. I find it very beneficial and fascinating to learn and adjust to different culture , and I would account this to positive aspects of living here. However you have to completely forget what you’ve learned in your own country and what culture code were you using because this is completely different world . Or planet !
2. DISCIPLINE . Following the rules
Like I said before Japan is a rules-based culture.
Like it or not, but when you are living in Japan you have to follow them. This will only teach you self discipline and will make you more considerate of your neighbours, workmates, flatmates, etc.
You will learn many things from Japanese people and the culture: how to be more graceful and elegant, paying attention to random acts of kindness, be more patient etc…
Conforming to so many rules reminds me of life in a socialist country but it seems to work in Japan.
3. CONVENIENCE, CONVENIENCE , CONVENIENCE!
I believe that one of the most important thing for Japanese people is convenience, therefore everything here is easily accessible .
This country and its people never sleep! Oh, and yes, Japanese people love to work! As a result, there are thousands and thousands of convenience stores open 24/7, cheap family restaurants, traditional Japanese restaurants called Izakayas, fast food restaurants, supermarkets (open day and night) with cooks serving freshly made food (like a healthy fast-food), not to mention tons of bars and clubs which also serve food. I believe that because of this level of convenience, it is incredibly hard to satisfy a Japanese customer. If you work with Japanese customers you should provide perfect, almost robotic service all the time. But this I believe also has a dark side, which I will explain later.
4. CONSTANT AWE OF SURRONDINGS .
Japan has amazing architecture and nature wherever you go.
In the cities there are numerous backstreets and alleys filled with traditional houses, shops, small temples and shrines that will transport you back to old times. Here and there you will come across eye-catching buildings that were designed by world famous architects like Tadao Ando ( check more here TADAO ANDO’s wonderland) . Mountains and forests cover around 80% of Japan. If you live in one of the big cities in the Kansai area (Osaka, Nara, Kyoto) it only takes around 30min by train before you are able to immerse yourself in mountainous nature.
Every season in Japan has something special to offer. My favorite season is definitely the fall with its spectacular autumn foliage and perfect weather. In my mind, this time of year is even more impressive than the spring with its famous sakura (cherry blossoms). In winter, there are mesmerizing illumination displays set-up randomly throughout the cities. Summertime offers lots of local festivals and fireworks. So you will never get bored of the scenery there.
5. ENJOY YOUR LIFE FULL ON – cheap rent, cheap food and cheap alcohol!
If you want to know the highest level of fun there’s only one country that would come to my mind : JAPAN!
All you need is:
FUN: The Japanese entertainment industry is one of the world’s largest and most innovative, so you’ll never get bored. There are a huge variety of fun places and activities to indulge in, such as, game centers, karaoke booths, theme bars, theme parks, trillions of clubs open until 5 in the morning, and if you miss your last train or can’t afford a taxi -you can sleep peacefully on the street- because absolutely nothing bad will happen to you.
FOOD: Dining out in Japan can be cheaper than cooking at home! You can always get freakishly delicious meals at reasonable prices no matter where you are in Japan. It’s so much fun to get together with your friends and hit an Izakaya where you can drink and eat as much as you want at reasonable prices. Honestly, you can fill your stomach with good food and alcohol from about $20 per person.
ALCOHOL: This might not necessarily be a good thing, but alcohol in Japan is surprisingly cheap. A bottle of Russian vodka costs about $10 from a bottle shop and big mugs of draft beer usually cost about $7 in restaurants and bars.
RENT: Not too bad when comparing rental fees in AUSTRALIA or Europe. Rent in Japan is 29.91% lower than in the United States (average data for all cities) and is about ¥75,000 ($750) per month for a modestly sized apartment in any major city.
Check more for detailed prices here .
6. LIVING IN THE BUBBLE
It’s fairly easy to live in Japan. If you know Japanese language.
Japanese people don’t pry into your business. They tend to be very shy so they won’t comment or make any remarks about your life. However, it’s different for Japanese people (then it’s very strict). After spending a fair amount of time in Japan you will learn how to read peoples’ minds and interpret their body language. Japanese people can understand each other very well by “reading the atmosphere”(Jap: kugi yo yomu ) No words are needed to understand their feelings. It’s almost like telepathy. Also, it’s a faux pas to express your feelings openly, so you need to control them and present yourself as being cool, calm and collected.
On the other hand, deep down they want us (foreigners) to entertain them continuously, as we seem to be so funny and clumsy. I must say that after some time, I got tired of those expectations and I assume I didn’t come across as being funny. As a result, I chose to associate with open-minded (not typical) Japanese people who didn’t expect me to play the role of the dancing bear.
Now let’s move on to the darker side of living in Japan.
1.ALWAYS AN OUTSIDER
Unfortunately no matter how much you will try to blend in and fit into the society you will never be accepted as a local person.
You will always feel excluded and called “gaijin” which means an outsider. Being foreigner has its privileges but also its hindrances. Keep that in mind.
You’ll hear a lot questions : So when are you planning to go back home? ” Which always cracked me up.
2.TAXES & HEALTH CARE EXPENSES
Even though living cost are not that high and it might look like it’s cheaper to live in Japan, there are hidden expenses you will have to come across.
The Japanese tax system is very reasonable BUT only during your first year of living in Japan, when you don’t have to pay city tax and health care is super cheap. Unfortunately, everything changes after a year spent working in Japan, and then you are literally overwhelmed with bills to pay!
TAXES to pay:
- City tax – It was around $1,500 yearly for me but I know people who pay two or three times that. City tax is based on your salary from the previous year, so you don’t pay any tax during your first year of working in Japan.
- Income tax – It depends on your salary. Japan has a progressive tax system, so the more income you earn, the more tax you pay.
- Health care – It was about $300 a month for me (and that only covered 70% of the doctor’s bill). Sometimes companies pay half the health care costs of their employees. Again health care is linked to your previous year’s salary, and the more you earn, the more you pay. It’s next to nothing during your first year.
- Consumption tax – An 8% tax is levied on everything that you buy.
3. LACK OF FLEXIBILITY
In this culture thinking outside the box isn’t appreciated.
This means everything has procedures, contracts and fixed rules that you must obey, and there is no way of getting around them. In fact, don’t even think about that! There are also social rules you must follow unless you don’t want to maintain good relations with the people around you. Why I regard this as a negative point is because it’s pure conformism. In Japan, the Japanese collective mind thinks and acts in the same way and in order to be regarded as part of their society, you must conform to this collective way of thinking. Any signs of individualism in any form will be criticized and highly condemned. While this social system works perfectly for Japanese people, Westerners who are used to expressing themselves as unique individuals may find it a hard adjustment to make while living in Japan.
4. MALE CHAUVINISM
Gender discrimination is a huge problem in Japan as is still remains very deeply rooted in Japanese minds, politics, education, and economics. Meaning: on every level!
It is a huge disadvantage of this culture, and historically and traditionally speaking unfortunately it comes from ancient samurai times and their bushido code. You won’t see many female CEOs and female politicians. Generally speaking gender gap in Japan is so big that you can even compare it with muslim countries!
As an independent female living in Japan you can get extremely frustrated at some point, and you will eventually start missing gender equally society.
5. ROBOTIC APPROACH
It was painful to watch foreign staff working at convenience supermarket trying to behave like Japanese staff. Why?
Because once you get used to the robotic and ultra fast service performed by Japanese staff, no matter how hard foreign person will try to keep up with Japanese working pace it’s simply impossible to achieve. Sorry to say this, but there’s something robotic in Japanese people which probably comes from hard training they’ve been given throughout the education and perhaps it has something to do with genes , nevertheless you wouldn’t want to compete with that.
This robotic and super efficient way of dealing with things also comes up in personal relations as well. To be honest, after some time of living in Japan, I began missing the warmth and humanity of the people I was brought up with.
6. AFTER LEAVING NOTHIG WILL BE EVER THE SAME
It’s strange to tell you this, but after all those extreme experiences you had while living in Japan, when you go to another country, you start to see things differently.
Japan is made to please people and satisfy them in 100% in almost every aspect of living. When you go to another country -which will mean another world, you’ll realise how much you miss all those weird things in Japan. You’ll miss food and how it is served, people lining up to the train, clean roads and public toilets, classical music played in supermarkets, family marts (convenience stores) on every corner and their best fried chicken for $1,5, the fastest customer service ever…. the list goes on and on.. I’ve known many people coming back after leaving Japan,saying they just missed too many things about Japan and decided to come back.
It’s funny how this weird and crazy country make people so addicted to it. Maybe because it’s like a fairytale -a Disneyland which you never want to leave….
Why did I move out from Japan ?
I got this question asked often by my friends.
Well, how long can you actually live in DISNEYLAND?
It was a great adventure and experience to live in Japan but I’ve realised I didn’t moved on with my life much and I started to miss the world where I grew up. A world with same cultural code, with open minded people and free from so many rules. I realised I got tired and it was time to make a drastic decision. So I did. I am traveller at heart so it wasn’t really that hard for me. Remember, if you ever feel stuck in your life it only means you should make a move. Don’t stay in the same place if you’re not happy ( country, work, life situation).
Life is too short and the world is too big!
Special thanks to Mark Stapp; picture taken by Ryotaro Ito;