Getting the most out of life in Japan can be a challenge. We have found living in Japan an amazing experience. Here are our top six tips to help you adapt, learn and grow in Japan, getting as much out of your expatriate experience as possible:
1. Learn the language
Prioritize learning Japanese. You never know how long you will stay. Even if you stay only a short time, learning a little Japanese will help you to get around better. Many people come to Japan, thinking they will stay for a short time, never learning the language. Some of them end up staying for years. Begin to learn the language from day one. On the basic level, you will be able to order food in restaurants, ask directions, and do many other things that will make your life easier. On the more complex level, you will be able to talk with people, make friends, and do many things that will enrich your life.
2. Eat the food
So you come from an area where people don’t eat sushi or sashimi? Try it. So, you don’t like it? Try it again. Work on developing a taste for both. Living in Japan and avoiding many Japanese foods can make life difficult. Many of these foods are an acquired taste. Work on acquiring the taste.
3. See the country
Many people visit Japan simply for sightseeing, travel, and see much. Other people come for years, but are busy with work or other parts of their lives and travel little. From the coral reefs of Okinawa to the ancient capitals of Kyoto and Nara to the Sapporo Snow and Ice Festival, Japan offers much to see. Take advantage of everything while you are here.
4. Join a group
Japan is a group oriented society. Find a group that does something you are interested in whether it is cooking, surfing, hiking, mountain climbing, skiing, ice skating, archery, calligraphy, origami, go, or shogi. If you are not interested in any of those activities, sports, or games, find something else. Joining a group is a great way to meet people, make friends, and have opportunities to use the Japanese language. Once you join a group, you will be welcome to do everything the group does. People in whatever group you join will also invite you to do other things, outside the group. Joining a group is especially important for people who work in an English-speaking environment.
5. Find a coffee shop
Coffee shops can be excellent venues to meet people, make friends, and practice your Japanese. If you live in an area where you are one of only a few Westerners, a few visits to the coffee shop may be necessary for people there to get used to you. Places with counters are best. If you sit at the counter, you can talk with the people working there and other patrons who sit at the counter. You never know where any of these meetings may lead: to new friends, a new job, or new knowledge. Just go to the coffee shop, hang out, and see what happens. The amount of Japanese you speak will probably also influence the speed at which things happen. If your Japanese is still not that good, bring a Japanese book or two and study.
6. Remember this will probably never be your country
Japan is a lovely place, but remember that this will probably never be your country, not unless your ancestors were Japanese. This may change in the future if immigration significantly increases. Now, however, most Japanese view people as Japanese and foreigners. Foreigner, to most Japanese, is a positive word, not a negative one. You will hear young people say that foreigners are cool; many young women state they want to marry foreigners. Still, this will never be your country. No matter how good your Japanese is or how long you have lived in Japan, people will continue to ask if you can use chopsticks. Remember that in some ways, Japan will never be your country, even if you take Japanese citizenship.