5 Realities of Living in Japan as a Foreigner

Living in Japan as a foreigner is such a fulfilling experience. I have been living here for over 7 years now and can’t imagine living anywhere else, but with the good comes the bad and there are some realities of living in Japan as a foreigner that some people might not be aware of before they move here. There are so many realities of living abroad, but the ones I wanted to talk about this time are Japan specific. So let’s take off those rose colored glasses for a few minutes and discuss 5 realities of living in Japan as a foreigner.

1. Life in Japan is NOT an Anime, Manga or J-Drama

Japan is the land of anime and manga, but it is not the reality of daily life here. I grew up watching anime and dramas and reading manga and it taught me a LOT about how life in Japan was, but the reality is that it’s a stretch of the real day-to-day life here. It’s the same as watching Friends or Disney channel movies and shows to learn about the US…. it shows only a snapshot of real life in Japan. In fact, real life is probably more boring and mundane than you think and and not so different from other countries. We all commute to school/ work, go grocery shopping, have friends and family etc. After a while the novelty of the convenience stores wears off (though I still think they are convenient and use them every day), riding on trains with people sleeping on you starts to annoy you and your foreign “charm” wears off on the people around you. So please… don’t expect to come to Japan and think real school life or work life is like in an anime OR that everyone reads the same manga here. If you do want something that is relatable and pretty accurate I highly recommend “Wota Koi” as an AMAZING slice of life anime about adult life as an otaku though!

Speaking of liking anime and manga, there are so many options of entertainment in Japan and everyone has their own preferences here, so not everyone will share your same interest. Of course you will find people with similar interests if you look for them, but please don’t assume everyone likes what is “mainstream” outside of Japan.

2. Foreigners will always be outsiders

Now this one is for the non-asian foreigners in Japan, but I’ve been living in Japan for over 7 years now and am fluent in the language and yet I still get treated as a foreigner… because I AM one and look like one. I know the culture pretty well (though not an expert) and know how to navigate society here decently, but I still get talked to like I don’t understand. I still get spoken to in English a lot when people first talk to me, in which I politely respond to them in Japanese. I will always be asked “foreigner questions” and will always be told “your Japanese is so good!” when they have only heard me say 1 phrase. Yes, I know this is them being polite, but for someone living in Japan for so long it can be disheartening when you have spent so long learning the language and the culture. I am always polite because I know that the Japanese people don’t mean harm but its something to be aware of as a foreigner here.

Something that all foreigners here can Japan can relate to the string of extra paperwork and procedures that you have to go through because you are a foreigner. Some phone companies won’t give you a contract for monthly payments for a phone unless you pay for the price of the phone upfront if your visa is shorter than the contract amount. You will be discriminated for renting places (though in Osaka I have never had that experience) because you are a foreigner and you have to jump through hoops to get a loan from the bank and credit cards from banks are almost impossible to get at times as a foreigner. Unless you get permanent residency you will have to deal with most of this for the entire time you live here in Japan.

Random fact: You can’t actually become Japanese unless you give up your own country’s citizenship because Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship. Also, something I learned recently that people born to non-Japanese parents (both are foreign not just 1 foreign) are not Japanese citizens. They are given a special “zainichi” visa but not citizenship.

3. Japan will NOT change to accommodate you

Japan has its own unique culture and ways of doing things and just because you are foreign doesn’t mean it will change to accommodate you nor should you force Japan to change itself. Foreigners are still outsiders in their eyes and telling them something is wrong or they should change an aspect of their culture is not respectful. When in Rome, do at the Romans do. There are rules and regulations in place for a reason, so before raising up in arms and try to change it, take a minute to ask why it is in place and to understand why first. Of course there will still be things that make absolutely no sense, but at least you know the reason why. If it is too hard to do this and understand why, then Japan might not be the place for you.

4. Its hard to build deeper relationships with Japanese people (but not impossible)

Japan is a very heterogenous country… only abut 2% of the population are foreigners as of 2017. With this comes the automatic barrier and pride of being Japanese. Now, not all Japanese people are like this, but it’s very common for Japanese people to approach you to “learn English” or have you be the “token foreigner friend”, or just be plain cold to you because you are a foreigner. They will be nice and polite to you, but it will stay at surface level or “drinking buddy” level and rarely go deeper than that. There is also the element of not haven’t known them for very long; In fact A LOT of Japanese people still have relationships with people from when they were in grade school that they still keep up with. There is the final element of that they are just plain busy. Working in a Japanese company means long hours and not much time for rest and days off can be all over the place depending on your job, so Japanese people a good majority of the time can’t meet up because of work obligations sometimes.

Now, its not impossible to make friendships with Japanese people and though most of my close friends here in Japan are not Japanese at all, I do have a handful of Japanese friends that I can ask for advice or contact to hang out with if needed. Also, when you are in a Japanese company your co-workers are decently close to you so you have a support network there most of the time too. In the end though, the reality is that the people I make the most connection with are my foreign friends because they understand what I am going through and I am most comfortable talking to them in my native language.

5. Bureaucracy and following strict procedures are the norm

There is hardly any bending the rules here and you are always filling in tons of paperwork that is inefficient. Foreigners may come from different countries where things are more efficient and the corporate structure is looser, but in Japan when there is a rule set the rule is going to be abided by come hell and high-water. The littlest things are checked down to the most minute detail and corrections are made over and over again until it is perfect. Even if you go to a restaurant it is rare to be able to customize and substitute something in your meal and if you even ask for what is inside of it or to change it you will get a blank stare from the staff and they won’t do it. Banks are a nightmare sometimes with tons and tons of paperwork you have to fill out and very strict guidelines on how to fill it all out or you have to re-write it all over again. Despite being perceived as one of the most technologically advanced nations, they are still mostly living in an era of paperwork and paper money and ancient computer systems.

I say this particular point inside of realities for foreigners because this is a HUGE point for some people for leaving Japan and not staying for the long term, they can’t adapt to these procedures and some of the “ridiculous” bureaucracy and they eventually go back to their own home country. It can be quite annoying when it seems you have to jump over hurtles all the time and I don’t blame people for turning back and heading home. This just serves

All in all, I love living in Japan and I wouldn’t change it for the world, but there are some downsides to living here. What are your thoughts on these? Would these be deal breakers for you to live in Japan? Let me know in the comments below!

Working in a Japanese Company: Part 6 – It’s Been 4 Years

A lot has changed in the past 4 and a half years since I began working in Japan. I have grown from a 24 year old woman just starting out and adjusting to work life, to an almost 29 year old humbled by a variety of experiences under her belt. So, when I look back on all of the previous  “Working in a Japanese Company” posts that I made in my first 6 months working, I actually cringe a bit inside. Now I don’t mean cringe in a bad way… I mean cringe as in I have empathy for what past Lauren had been going through, but also wishing I could go back in time and let her know that things will work out in the end. Only now when I look back that far do I see how far I really have come in my cultural understanding of working in Japan, but also how far I have come to have found a company that was finally the right fit for me.

I bounced around jobs a bit; a combination of both my doing and outside forces. I won’t get into details of the companies I had worked for/ work for and why I left, but I can say looking back at them they weren’t a good fit. I can also say that I gained valuable life experience (though quite harsh and not the kindest at times) and became fluent in Japanese because I went through those experiences.

I’ve also gained A LOT of knowledge, which has changed my mind about and kind of contradicts some of the things I said in those previous posts. For example, when I talked about the “stamp rally” that Japanese companies have with the Hanko system. I said I didn’t think that it was an effective use of time when things sat on my desk for a long time, and I still stand by that the system my first company used wasn’t the best system at all, but after experiencing 3 other companies after that I realize that each company culture is different for how those documents are handled and if there is a “stamp rally” or not, as well as the contents of your job affects it too. I don’t need to Hanko as many documents anymore as I did at my first company, as I was sending out important orders on a daily basis and handling a lot of finance related matters at the time. At my second company, I hardly stamped anything except for approval for days off and the occasional form to submit to the HR department. At my 3rd company I didn’t stamp anything since it was such a small start up company and  HR procedures were not in place.  At my current job, I only stamp something when I am submitting for a day off or for an expense report at the end of the month. I will say though that having to get a contract signed or a requisition through ASAP and having the HR department not be flexible for timing is one example of when this “stamp rally” isn’t the best system.

Where is my future from here? Well, I will renew my visa towards the end of the year and I plan on being at this company for a while and from there….I am not sure yet. I know that I want to continue living in Japan for the long term though. I’m trying to gain experience in digital marketing and overall business planning at my position here and on the side I want to expand the amount of content that I make here on my blog and on my instagram.

I want to continue this series, so what information do you want to know about working in a Japanese company? Let me know in the comments below!

Go to Part 5 | Go to Part 7

“When are you moving back home?” Answering the Question of Do I want to live in Japan for my entire life?


“When are moving back home?”

That phrase is something I get commonly asked when I make my way back to the US, especially at social functions. It’s almost like there is this default setting on everybody that one day you will just press “home culture” and return back.  Everyone is fascinated by the fact that I live overseas, like I am that “weird Aunt” that lives in some exotic place and is always talking about her adventures that no one can relate to, but somewhat enjoys hearing about.  Ultimately it comes down to “well, are you even planning to come home?”. Now, this question is a very valid question to ask, whether out of pure curiosity or simply they assume that you wont stay “away” your entire life but when I was younger, I dreaded this question. Mostly because I thought it was rude, but also because I didn’t know how to explain in words how I felt about the subject.

For one thing, I never felt comfortable living in the US anyway. I was a small person (4’11 or 147cm) in a place with so much space and excess, as well as I never felt like I was listened to because I wasn’t as loud and extroverted as others around me.  My formative adult years were all in Japan and I blossomed when I moved here, rather than in High School or University, because Japan gave me the opportunities to, rather than the suppression I felt in the US. On the other hand, I learned quite quickly that Japan will never accept me like a real Japanese person, no matter how much I try to culturally integrate into their society.  I never want to become Japanese, but being accepted as knowledgeable and culturally aware is something that I am passionate about, but because I am as foreign looking as you can get, I get a lot of default English and awkward questions about things from abroad.

This question is hard to answer because I feel this pressure to press that default “home culture” button eventually because if I don’t, I will be in this kind of purgatory of cultures because I wont be in my home culture, but I also will never fully be accepted into Japanese society.  At the same time, I feel the Japanese culture suits my personality more, as I am naturally more patient and don’t like as much aggression during conflict. So, I answer mostly with “For the meantime, I want to stay in Japan”, which ultimately leads to the question “Will you live in Japan forever, then?”.

To that I say “I don’t know”. Right now, I feel at home in Japan and after I get my visa renewed this year, I want to lay down my roots more, like with long term financial investments, etc. With that being said though, I am open to moving to another country if the opportunity arises and I think that it would be the change that I need in life, but I think I will always be connected to Japan somehow.

That, however, probably does not mean moving back to the US though. In my heart of hearts, I feel that the US would be the last place that I would want to return to settle down for many reasons, but ultimately I feel that it wouldn’t suit me in the long term. I have seen my home country in a very different light for all of these years and I’m not comfortable with going back into that fully again. I would rather accumulate into another culture,  than re-accumulate into American culture again. Now, will I say I will NEVER move back to the US? No. Life happens and there is a plethora of situations that would call for me to go back to the US for whatever reason, but my preference would be to not go back if at all possible.

What do you think? Have you felt this way about living overseas? Let me know in the comments below!

Seasons of Japan – June 2017 | nihonchique

June 2017. This is the month that marked the last in a chapter of my life. I can’t believe it has taken me this long to get past this month in my life, almost like my blog was kind of frozen in time until I figured out what I was doing. I still now dont know what I am doing and what direction I am going in, but in June 2017, I had the huge high of the NEWS NEVERLAND tour in Tokyo dome with a close friend, followed straight after by the disappointment of hearing that the department/ website in my company I was working for for a year and half would be shutting down and my contract would not be continuing because of it. I was devastated and was extremely hurt that a company I had worked so hard for for a year and a half would just cut me so simply, but despite this I took this as a learning opportunity and got searching for jobs as soon as possible. (Spoiler, I found one and started it at the beginning of August 2017!).

On the topic of the NEWS NEVERLAND tour in Tokyo Dome, that was one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in my life. “U R not alone” since then has become my anthem and even when the DVD came out in January of this year, I cried again right long with them at “U R not alone” and had no shame. As I said in the 4th picture, the end of the NEVERLAND tour isn’t the end, and we truly are not alone. NEWS has been along with me on this journey for almost 10 years now. I feel like I have grown with them and they have supported me all of these years, almost half of them being in Japan.  Thank you NEWS. Thank you and I look forward to seeing you in Hiroshima for the EPCOTIA tour in April, 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Diary – February 2017 | Nihonchique

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Japan has so many faces. This month, I was able to see another side of Japan, in a small island called Toshijima, in Mie prefecture. This was for work, but I felt so lucky to go out into nature and experience something that many tourists don’t get to experience. I also went to Ise Grand Shrine on that trip and it was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been to in Japan. You really can’t understand the feeling unless you go personally, so I highly recommend that if you get the chance, go check it out for yourself!

 

 

 

 

 

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Sumiyoshi Taisha in Osaka!

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Fox Statue at Sumiyoshi Taisha! 🦊

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伊勢神宮に参りました〜!⛩

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Mysterious Vibes at Ise Grand Shrine!

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Working in a Japanese Company – Part 3

The third month was my first month doing the job all by myself and it was quite a difficult, but rewarding. I find that when I am empowered and am able to do the work on my own, I feel the most rewarded at work. The other thing  I learned is that I have a hard time processing Japanese in my head sometimes. I understand what they are telling me, but knowing how to process it for myself inside my head is very difficult at times. I am thinking double time compared to other people, as Japanese is my second language. Recently though, I have been complimented by my co-workers on how my comprehension and ability to communicate in Japanese has gotten better, and I think we are finally all starting to understand each other more and more.

Since my last post on working on a Japanese company was a bit of a downer, I thought I would change it up and mention some fun things that I have noticed throughout the 3 months I have been working here.

Radio Exercises. Almost every Japanese person knows about radio exercises, and throughout my years living in and traveling to Japan, I have too. I also knew that some Japanese companies still did these exercises every morning, but I never expected to have to do it at my company. At first I had no idea what I was doing, but now it’s a routine for me. Every morning after settling in at my desk, the bell rings (much like at a school) and we all go up to the roof of our building. We then proceed to do a 3-minute set of easy exercises designed to help you energize yourself for the day. I thought it was ridiculous at first, and it was a bit embarrassing to do it in font of other companies at a trade show before it started every morning, but I have grown fond of it and it has become a part of my work routine. Click HERE to try these radio exercises for yourself!

Snacks. Snacks galore! The Japanese custom of “Omiyage” doesn’t stop with just family and close friends, but it also seeps into the work place. Whenever someone in the company goes on a business trip, they always bring back a small snack as a gift for the other people in the company. This is normally for the division they work for, but since my company is very small, everyone gets something. “Omiyage” in Japanese means “souvenir”, but in Japan, snacks that are individually packaged and bought in bulk are popular as souvenirs, as compared to key chains or small trinkets in other cultures. Besides this, people who come and visit our company also bring snacks to the workers. So, there is never of shortage of snacks if you get hungry during the day!

Writing Notes. From my personal experience, this is a very Japanese like cultural trait. Of course, this can extend to individuals and other cultures as well, but the Japanese never fail to remind you to write things down. As a bit of background, I have never been the type of person to write things down. I have always had bad handwriting and have never liked to handwrite, so even in school I hardly ever took notes. I relied on reading through the textbook and my computer to get through everything all the way through graduate school. When I started working though, especially at a Japanese company, I found it was a must to write things down. I still dislike it, but with people coming to you, inside and outside of the company, with many requests in a day, it is difficult to keep track of things. I now have a “master list” of things to do on my desk at all times and I write down even the smallest things to remember what to do. It also helps me organize myself everyday and prioritize when I should complete things. I have slowly started to become more organized since working, and I am not sure if it has to do with working in Japan or not, but I am grateful. I am now able to take on many more tasks than I used to in the past because I can see everything at my fingertips easily.

What do you think of this month’s observations? Would you like to try the radio exercises? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Go to Part 2 | Go to Part 4

*This post was edited July 2019 to fix grammar and context