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Lessons from a former expat: 10 things you should know before coming to Japan

19 Comments
By Maxine Cheyney

The moment you land in the colossal city of Tokyo, do a 360-degree turn and spot the three-layered highway and towering skyscrapers — as you do, you’ll get that instant rush of awe, confusion and terror.

Those first few weeks of my Japan journey will forever be etched in my mind. As we were dropped off at our temporary accommodation and the jet lag took hold, the blur of packing up, saying goodbye to our dearest and getting on the plane to here simply disappeared.

Now back home, I recall my Japan experience and find myself thinking “if only someone had told me that before.” Well, here I am telling you all this now. These are my top ten things that for better or worse, I think any expat to Japan needs to know as they embark on their Japan adventure.

1. Etiquette: Your manners matter more than you think

This will save you from some awkward interactions. Our first meal in Japan left us sat for 20 minutes wondering why no one had come over to ask us what we would like to order. We soon realized why everyone was shouting sumimasen (excuse me) to get the attention of the waiters and waitresses. We were given the time to get settled, choose what to have and then, when ready, call the waiters politely. It’s a give and take — you will be expected to treat people with respect here just as you would be treated.

Also — don’t tip! What you get on your bill is what you should pay — usually at the cashier, not the table. As I got used to the life in Japan, I also gradually got rid of my sometimes grim etiquette of London, whether that meant smiling, giving polite and short bows, or simply having a friendly demeanor. No one is saying chat to people on the train (don’t be silly!), but reminding yourself that you won’t get anywhere with hostility will get you a long way.

2. Earthquakes: Be prepared, it will happen

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© Savvy Tokyo

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

19 Comments
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You’ll be sure to encounter moments where you stare out the window in the mid-summer heat and ask yourself why you’re on the other side of the world, in a different time zone to your friends and family

Every so often, I still wonder this. But then, there would be the regret of staying put. Never trying something different.

Another tip is when you do go home, don't bang on about how x was so much better compared to here, y was always on time and z doesn't taste the same etc. Your pals will be glad to see you but there's only so much of your other life they'll put up with. I had to mention this to a friend who constantly explained how such and such was done in Shanghai. Which is fine for them but not really relatable for the rest of us.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Tipping is American.

0 ( +8 / -8 )

Yet another article claiming to be about Japan, then goes on to speak about Tokyo.

I never bang on about Japan when I go home, no one is interested and neither am I. Similarly, I never bang on about the UK when in Japan.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

TIPS - To Insure Prompt Service.

In our restaurant chain menus, we post, "No tipping please."

-4 ( +2 / -6 )

LudditeToday  12:01 pm JST

Yet another article claiming to be about Japan, then goes on to speak about Tokyo.

I never bang on about Japan when I go home, no one is interested and neither am I. Similarly, I never bang on about the UK when in Japan.

True. Other cities in Japan do exist and community culture is not always one size fits all here. I would add to avoid taking a taxi from airports, especially Narita as it can be expensive.

Don't be afraid to try boxed meals from grocery stores; especially after 5 pm, when they start discounting them.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

What is true is that 2 years are too short of a time to see Japan. 10 years needed.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

She misses the most obvious advice which is that any Japanese you learn to speak will be appreciated.

I would also advise people to look at the climate before deciding how what clothes you need to bring. Japan is hot for a large chunk of the year.

Other than that, its a personal thing. If you like it, great, if not, move on. There is no obligation to like the people, the food, the culture, or whatever. I bet vegetarians won't find the food amazing, and there is no need for anyone else to either. Rather than "you must go here or try this", I think the best advice to expats is to seek out things that are already their hobbies and interests. Pursuing your hobbies and interests will bring you into contact with people in Japan with whom you have a common bond. Doing things you like with other people who like them is more likely source of happiness than making sure you tick off a list of "must do a skiing trip", "must climb a big mountain", "must go to Hiroshima" in the two years you think you have available.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

In a general sense, it is a good idea to learn as much as possible about the country one is going to visit. Getting familiar with the language is a very big part of getting ready, but also learn the monetary system, the transportation system, the geography, what to expect as to weather, and don't forget to go with an open mind. It also helps to have family or friends ready to assist you, but that isn't always possible. The willingness to make new friends can be a life saver.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Learn Japanese English isn't widely spoken.

The Public Transport system is set up for locals be prepared for lack of information.

Be prepared to have your apartment rental application knocked back because your a foreigner.

Be prepared for locals not to sit next to you on public transport when the trains aren't crowded because you're a foreigner.

7 ( +10 / -3 )

Don’t listen to gaijin who’ve been here a long time, particularly when they try to ‘correct’ your Japanese or drop Japanese expressions into conversations in English between native English speakers.

Under no circumstances go to a wedding.

7 ( +9 / -2 )

Become familiar with the expression "micro aggression"

after a while you'll see a lot of it...

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

11 Prepare an exit strategy. Get back to the real world before it's too late for you. Teaching Engrish in Japan has not a single benefit for you back home.
2 ( +5 / -3 )

Generally, just avoid negative gaijin who adopt a superior coloniser air about them and you'll be grand. You get out of this wonderful land what you put in to it.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Under no circumstances go to a wedding.

Haha Jim. Agreed. I once upset a colleague of mine years ago because I refused to go to her wedding due to the immense cost. They basically cover the cost of a lavish wedding ceremony by charging each guest per head.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

If you are a straight man, hang out with young male ‘Engrish’ teachers. They seem to have lots of attractive women with them and they wind up crusty, pot-bellied types who still try to wear fitted shirts and have ‘proper’ jobs. Western women hate it too and say the ‘Engrish’ teachers ‘wouldn’t be popular in their own countries’.

I wish I’d have come here single as an ‘Engrish’ teacher. I’d have had a ball.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Haha Jim. Agreed. I once upset a colleague of mine years ago because I refused to go to her wedding due to the immense cost. They basically cover the cost of a lavish wedding ceremony by charging each guest per head.

Yep. Last time I had to go out and buy a suit on top of the travel and a ¥30,000 gift to listen to endless droning speeches and high-pitched squeals when the bride turned up.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Try to find those special summer time frozen Chu-hi drinks in the convenience stores, they'll save your summer.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

"Under no circumstances go to a wedding."

Yeah, because it'll cost ya a minimum of 20,000 yen, lol

1 ( +1 / -0 )

@Jimizo

By not being single on arrival means that you have missed out on one of the best parts of Japan....,

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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