What You Should Know Before Moving to Japan

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Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, Kyoto

Now that I’ve put out there the things you should and should not bring to Japan, my personal to-do list before moving to Japan, and most recently the 6 things you should do before moving to Japan, and now that I’ve shamelessly plugged in links to my other posts for you to read and enjoy I feel it’s time to share with you a few things that I would have wanted to know before my move here.

1. The first week you won’t do anything but train

Training is fun!
Training is fun!

I don’t know about the other companies, but Interac has training for all the newcomers for the first week that you’re in Japan. First in general with everyone, and then breaking off to do branch specific training. As it’s in Narita and called “Tokyo Training” we all thought we’d go off in the evening and explore our new country, see what there was to be seen and discover all the cool places we’ve always heard about!

The thing is, Narita is not close to Tokyo. It’s actually kind of far. It’s also inconvenient to go from the hotel to the airport to take the train into Tokyo, never mind pricey. My branch started calling the hotel our own “English World that might possibly be located in Japan”. Due to jet lag and a packed schedule you don’t leave the hotel. And everyone in the hotel either is a foreigner or speaks English. The only places I went that week was to the local 7-11 (okay, my first konbini was an eye opener!) and a few branches got together for a night out for our last night at… guess what? A local British pub! On the bright side, I found my favorite brand of hard cider there. The only other place I can get that is a bar near my friends apartment in Arizona!

Don’t be discouraged though, training is really fun! You get to meet a ton of new people from all over the world and let’s be honest here. Setting hundreds of sleep-deprived foreigners doped up on caffeine loose in the city with most of them still on the wrong time-zone might not be the safest thing in the world. For us or for Japan!

2.You won’t know what’s going on

Walk on different roughness of rocks to heal different parts of your body!
Walk on different roughness of rocks to heal different parts of your body!

Even if you’re one of the dedicated few who studied Japanese to a decent level before moving here, you’ll still be clueless for awhile. And what hope does that give the rest of us poor monolingual souls to understand our surroundings? Whether it’s stumbling across a festival of naked men jumping in a river in the middle of winter, figuring out how to do taxes in both Japan and your home country, having someone come up and start chatting with you at light-speed, or simply a menu with no pictures there will be a time when you can’t help that blank stare coming out. Wanna hear the good news?

That’s gonna happen for as long as you stay in Japan! Isn’t that awesome? The beauty of a new and completely different culture is there is always always always something new to experience and learn! While most of the stuff that has your jaw-dropping in those first few months (people actually like natto?!) will soon become commonplace, there will be moments, however small, when you realize you don’t understand a thing and you aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto.

3.You WILL make mistakes

Speaking of mistakes...
Speaking of mistakes…

Is this a bad thing? No. Will it be embarrassing? Probably. Will you get used to it? Heck yeah! Everyone on this planet knows what it’s like to make a mistake, it’s simply a part of being human! Moving to Japan presents more opportunities than most to mess things up, but it’s how you react to these mistakes that will define your experience here.

Blush, look down and slink away? You might not be having so much fun a lot of the time. Apologize, laugh, and learn from it? You got this man! I’ve lost count of the social faux pas I’ve committed since being here, and you do get a measure of leniency because you’re not expected to know better. I’m also under a family curse that makes me exceptionally accident prone and an enemy of gravity, so laughing at myself is second nature. But have I ever left without saying a formal good-bye to the teachers at the front tables, let my hair down in an onsen, left my shoes on in a temple, or stuck my chopsticks up in rice again? No! Even writing a few of these now makes me cringe!

Learn from your mistakes and let them go. Realize you will make more and know that living outside of your comfort zone is the most worthwhile thing you can do, but it ain’t easy!

4.It won’t be what you expect

Bowing to shrines on mountaintops
Bowing to shrines on mountaintops

Moving to Japan, especially if you’ve never been before, comes with all kinds of expectations. You create this image in your head of what you think your life will be like, what the places and the food and the people you meet will be like. Even if you have traveled to Japan previously (you lucky duck!) living in a place is a much different and more thorough experience than passing through in a set amount of time. I’d done my research, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what my life was going to look like.

Boy, was I wrong! Talk to anyone who’s come here and they’ll tell you the same thing– their expectations did not at all match what turned into their reality. And this doesn’t mean that that’s a bad thing; I wouldn’t trade the life I’ve had here for anything! After all, how can we predict the coolest and most daring things we’ll do in our lives? But the exotic-ness of Japan and the stories you hear all get forged into this overblown thing. Be careful you don’t set yourself up for disappointment, no place in existence is Utopia. Although that almost makes it even better, seeing the bad mixed in with the good reassures you that you are in a real place on Earth. You’re in Japan for crying out loud! Take it as it is and this country of our dreams will delight you to no end!

5. It will change you in ways you don’t even realize

Never once thought I'd do this!
Never once thought I’d do this!

So everyone who’s ever done anything in their life tells you it was a life-changing experience. That goes double for travelers and people who have lived abroad for any amount of time. But cliches became cliches for a reason so let me reiterate: moving to Japan is a life-changing experience!

There’s just something about the act of deciding to move to a foreign country, doing all the work to make it happen, setting off on your own to a place far from the familiar and taking on the challenge of day to day life in a new culture that changes a person. Go figure. I don’t think it’s my character that’s changed as much as the way I think. The confidence I now have that I can handle whatever crap the world throws at me and still have the ability to enjoy life. A friend here once told me that I was one of the most confident people they know, that I seemed to radiate it. And for someone who has never really thought they could do anything right, that was amazing!

Moving here has empowered me, I know that I can do whatever I want in this world if I make it a goal and work towards it. Before cool things and travel was something other people did that I read about on Facebook and said “someday”. Always “someday”. But now I know it can happen, right now. Today. If there’s any advice I could ever give someone in this world it is to move abroad. Travel solo. Do something far away from your comfort zone and you’ll amaze yourself.

6. It will be the best experience of your life- cherish every moment

Ah, Fuji. What a beautiful view!
Ah, Fuji. What a beautiful view!

If I didn’t make it clear earlier in this novel, moving abroad is spectacular. These people and these places will hold a giant chunk of my heart forever. I’ve learned so much about myself and about other cultures, other people. A lot of these lessons I don’t think I would have learned at home in my comfortable niche that I’ve carved out for myself since elementary school when I moved there. It took coming to a place where I could be who I am right now, with no preconceptions to mold me, to find out who I want to be and what is really important to me.

This is a lot of general go do it stuff, but guys. Japan! Japan is my happy place and I love it so dearly. After traveling abroad this summer, coming back here truly did feel like coming home. There’s something about seeing laundry hung out to dry and futons on the balcony in the sun that just makes me feel at peace. Discovering the culture here has been a rewarding puzzle that I’m nowhere near finished. There’s no place I’d rather have gone to, and I thank God every day I needed one more unit in college and took that Japanese Culture class with my roommate. Who knew what that would turn into?!

Life’s a funny thing guys. There’s no controlling it, there’s no planning it. Enjoy where you are, look forward to where you’re going and be glad that whatever was in your past brought you to this point. Because no matter the experience, good or bad, that you have while in Japan I can guarantee you will learn something valuable from it. You just need the eyes to see it.

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