Life In Japan

Life In Japan

1. Introduction

    Japan is a great country full of history, culture, geography and people. No matter what part of the world you come from, you will experience many new things here in Japan. Some will be great, and to be honest, some will be not as great since every country has its bright and dark sides. On this section I will give you a simple introduction to the basics of living in Japan. On the Internet there are many fantastic sites that describe life in Japan in more detail. Since the purpose of our website is to introduce teaching jobs and is not a guide to living in Japan, I will be brief in each section. However, I will post links at the end to great websites that will help you. And please feel free to contact us if you have any questions. Also, Since most of the preschools and international schools are located in the Tokyo area, this section will mainly be about life in Tokyo.

2. Geography

    Japan is a small archipelago consisted with more than 3000 islands. There are 5 main islands in Japan. Hokkaido, Hoshu, Shikoku, Kyushu and Okinawa. These islands are divided into Prefectures (similar to states and provinces). There are 47 prefectures in Japan. As many people know, Japan is a very small country. Compared to the United States, Japan is smaller than the state of California. However Japan has a lot of people. About 130 million . So that simply means putting half of the American population into California resembles Japan. Another fact is that 75% of the population live in the city areas. Making Tokyo one of the most crowded cities in the world. Streets are very narrow, stores are very crowded, people are walking everywhere. One thing you might have trouble getting used to is how close the tables are when you go out to eat. Literally someone is right beside you depending on where you eat. But other than that, Japan is a beautiful place to live. And more people means more power and energy. Japan is an amazing dynamic country with many things combined into one.

3. Climate

    Japan is known for having 4 distinct seasons. The winters are very cold and dry. The amount of snow people get in the northern areas of Japan are one of the highest in the world. It only snows once or twice during the winter season in Tokyo, and the temperatures rarely go under 0 degrees Celcius (or below freezing), but it is really cold! Why? Because you will be walking outside a lot more than you are probably used to and it gets really windy. (you can live without a car in Tokyo: everyone basically walks and uses trains). However, once you get passed the cold winters a very nice spring awaits Japan. You will be surprised how beautiful the cherry blossom trees are. After spring is the humid summers. If you are not used to humidity you will probably have a hard time adjusting. Than fall comes with its colorful leaves. In conclusion the Japanese seasons are fantastic but sometimes, especially if you are living here, the winters and summers can be a little uncomfortable at times.

4. Language

    Japanese is the only language spoken in Japan, since 98% of Japanese people are homogeneous Japanese. But you will be surprised, in two ways, depending on what kind of image you have on Japan. If you have the image of Japan being…lets say “100% Japanese Style” you might be surprised of how much English there is. Most traffic signs, menus, billboards will have English on them. Learning English is mandatory in the Japanese education system, so many young people (if they have been studying hard enough) will at least understand what you are trying to say. On the other hand, if you have an image of Japan as… “really international” you might be laughing at yourself for thinking that once you come here. You will notice many (when I say many, I really mean it. Tons) signs and instructions in wrong English. Some of the English will make you laugh out loud. Also, you will notice that Japanese people are not that great at “speaking” English. They can listen and read (because that’s what they learn in school) but they can’t speak or write. And the whole Japanese population tends to be more “shy” than western countries, so you might have some trouble communicating. But all in all, you will be fine. You might get ignored, you might not understand one word they say, but you will be fine since many things in Japan are neatly organized and someone will probably help.

5. People

    In my opinion, and I think many will agree, Japanese people are very, “traditional”. Yes, in Hollywood movies Japan is portrayed as this super high-tech filled weird country. However, in reality Japanese people are very traditional. When I say traditional, I mean that Japan is filled with rules, and things seldom change. No is no, Yes is yes. No matter how much you may be logically or theoretically right, sometimes the answer is always no, if it has been “no” for a long time. This may be the most frustrating part of working in Japan. Just pushing your opinion to someone usually never works. So, what you need to do is simply learn the Japanese ways. Take one step back and think about another solution. Learning how to listen and understand others is a very important part of Japanese communication.
    You will notice that Japanese people are one of the most friendliest/polite people in the world. Japanese people are raised and taught to “think about others”. If you drop your wallet in Japan, there is a higher chance that you will get everything back. If you forget to collect your 100 yen change at the register, the person from the shop will probably run after you and give you your change back, and they will bow and apologize for not realizing. Service is top-notch in Japan. McDonalds will feel like a nice restaurant if you are not used to the Japanese service. Everything is served to near perfection. So don’t worry. If you decide to work at a preschool or international school in Japan. You will be surprised how friendly your workplace is going to be. Everybody will be more than glad to help you with your new life here.

6. Transportation (In this section, I am only going to talk about Tokyo)

    This is probably going to be the trickiest part of living in Tokyo. In conclusion, the Japanese train system is one of the most complicated, but one of the most sophisticated transportation systems in the world. In Tokyo, you can basically go anywhere on the train. Each train is always on time (by the second). If they are late even by a minute, they will apologize for the delay. To make people coming in to Tokyo feel better, let me tell you this: I am confident in saying that only a handful of people who live in Tokyo completely know which train goes where. To tell you the truth, only the people who work for the train companies will know which train to take and which one to transfer onto if you tell them two random stations. So what do we do? We use this

    A train route finder. It’s really helpful. There is an application version for this for your smart phone so make sure to download one once you get a phone. It will tell you when to get on, when to transfer, and what time you will arrive. Or, there is another simple way. Go to Google Maps and type in the station names. For example, if you type in “Roppongi to Shibuya” Google will find 3 or 4 different ways to get to the station. This also comes with the current time so it is really useful. (I personally recommend this one) Another fact about the train is that there are “last trains” in Japan. The train system is not 24 hours. So be careful to not miss your last train. You can search the last train on Google Maps by picking the Last Available option. Lastly, the people working for the train companies are the professionals. If your phone runs out of battery and you are completely lost, just tell them where you want to go, and they will be more than happy to help you. Below are two maps. First one is the subway map, second one is the JR (Japanese Railway) Lines. Combine these two and you will get the full train map. I know this is scaring everyone planning to come to Tokyo, but it will be alright. You will get used to it and the technology stated above will get you to your destination. Please click the link to see the picture in actual size.

7. Cost of Living

    As it is widely known, it can get very expensive to live in Japan .In 2012 Tokyo was the world’s most expensive place to live. Everything from transportation to rent can be mind boggling expensive. Lunch usually costs around 1000 yen, and dinner can get a lot more expensive. Riding the train can also build up in expense also. Moving one station (some are only 100 meters away) will at least cost 120 yen. If you transfer more than twice, the price can get higher. Getting on the taxi is expensive also. The first two kilometers cost 700 yen. I highly recommend not getting on the taxi if you want to save money. And finally rent will probably be your highest expense. Living in central Tokyo will at least cost you around 100,000 yen. And you will also be shocked in how small your room is going to be. However there are ways to avoid this. Because in Japan, “Low Price doesn’t equal Low Quality” In many other countries, low price usually equals low quality. You get your moneys worth. However, in Japan many low priced things are in extraordinary high quality. Once you get to Japan, visit a 100yen store. (Daiso is the largest 100 yen shop chain in Japan.) If you really wanted to you can fill your whole house with 100 yen items because you can almost find anything. And the quality isn’t bad at all. Same for food. Cheap food can taste fantastic. Since many businessmen and women eat outside for lunch in Japan, many expensive restaurants serve lunch at a very low price. “One Coin Lunch” (There is a 500 yen coin) is something you will see. You can avoid the high rent also. There are places called guesthouses all over Japan. Or simply live a little outside of central Tokyo will lower the average rent dramatically.

8. Useful Links

The Expat’s Guide to Japan
GaijinPot : Japan jobs, Apartments, Living Guide and Blogs
Japan Travel and Living Guide
Life in Japan guide
Community for Expatriates in Japan