日本に入国- Japan as a new home, and how to make it a success.

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As one of the most dynamic present day world cultures, Japan has pulling power worldwide. The Tokyo region will be covered in a future article as a destination in itself, what you read today is in reference to Japan as a whole.

How can I work there?

Well there are many different ways people make their way to the land of the rising sun (which is part of the fun to find out when you get there) but the most common way (for native English speakers or others with qualifications) would be as some form of English teaching-related employment. Some of the better known companies regularly recruiting include

  • AEON
  • GEOS
  • ECC
  • Gabba
  • The JET Program

Applications are done online and in the case of AEON the interview process was all carried out as close to home as possible (mine was in Sydney). On your arrival you will most likely undergo some kind of training specific to your company and their methods. In my case this also included a general introduction to Japan and any useful tips they could provide me with. I have notably excluded Nova from this list as a well publicised collapse of the company occurred during my time in Japan with many staff and students left upset and out of pocket. I am lead to believe that Nova is still operating either in minimal measures or under new direction/management but cannot confirm the current state or security of the company.

What are the Japanese experiences not to miss while i’m there?

  • Izakaya (Japanese traditional bar/tavern)- Best place to try all kinds of Japanese food together and Japanese Alcohol
  • Karaoke – You’ll soon find it’s not about if you can sing but more about getting drunk and staying out till all hours)
  • Japanese summer festivals- They may be on the beach, or on a street but the food and atmosphere are unique plus people dress in summer kimonos
  • The Sumo- despite being rocked by controversy and under a lot of pressure there is still no substitute for the real thing
  • Temples and shrines (if possible I would go with a Japanese person so they can explain everything to you)
  • J-pop experience- if you can stomach it, get to a concert, or a public appearance or something, the value of Japanese pop is appreciated by millions worldwide 🙂
  • Order something you can cook yourself at a restaurant- this is something that is not done in many countries so is a great and enjoyable novelty for newbies
  • Go to a baseball match
  • Go to a hot springs (Onsen) or public bath (Sentou)
  • Japanese ‘cherry blossom viewing’ or hanami

What else do I need to know?

  • JCOM as an internet company provide cheap, fast and reliable internet, they also have English language customer service (up to you if you want to indulge)
  • Depending on your phone network (I was with softbank, thanks to Brad Pitt and a cute dog called ‘Otousan’ on the advertising) there should be a site/application or ‘routefinder’ that will allow you to search for train/transport options, prices with information down to the minute and single yen. When you get a phone (and yes you will have a phone) find out which one your network uses. Mine was even in English…
  • Metropolis magazine comes out on a Friday (for the Tokyo and Eastern Japan area and can be sourced online) and is a great English language resource for events, local news and a familiar perspective on Japanese culture. You can find out about some great Japanese cultural events here.
  • ‘Suica” or “Passmo” cards are handy ways to pass through transport (mostly train) without time spent buying
    Suicatickets and checking prices. These will usually work for JR (Japan Rail) run trains as well as private run lines (and a small selection of vending machines) and are similar to London’s ‘Oyster card’.
  • Police boxes or ‘Koban’ are handy places if you are lost or need some kind of help. You can find these at many intersections, train stations and other places with pedestrian traffic.
  • ‘Maihashi’ is the trend of people having their own chopsticks to take with them to work/school/university etc and help (marginally) to reduce the amount of disposable chopstick waste. Mine personally were ‘winnie the pooh’ with a matching case.
  • ‘Gaijinpot.com’ is a useful website where people (the foreign kind) can find anything from a job,  furniture through to a language exchange partner in your area. A link to this site has been put on the GTG’s homepage.

What should i be wary of?

  • Overstaying your visa– Most people will not have much trouble extending if taken care of before it expires. A visit to your consulate/embassy may save you a lot of time, stress and money when leaving the country.
  • ATMs– These will often be less available than you expect and some actually close at certain times. Japan is a cash-based society so it is always a safe move to be prepared to work that way. With many bank holidays and less places using card facilities it is a good idea to turn up with enough cash to get you by until you find a system that will work for you.
  • Last Trains- between certain times trains will stop so planning may be required to make sure you can get home ok or be where you need to be on time. I learned through a 9000 yen taxi ride on a Sunday night before work on Monday morning to take this seriously.

    JR Tōkaidō Shinkansen

    JR Tōkaidō Shinkansen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Bills- They may look like some piece of junk mail that doesn’t concern you but more than one person I know received letters warning them their water was going to be cut off because they hadn’t paid the bills not knowing what they were. Simple really, you get some paper with figures, work out what it is…
  • Drugs-not knowing anyone personally who has had difficulty with this issue in Japan it is hard for me to caution appropriately other than to simply let you know Japan has a low tolerance to many substances that are used socially around the world (including Japan) so be careful. On my first night out at a bar in Japan I was talking to a Japanese guy who was lamenting his time in South-East Asia and his panic at nearly being caught smoking Marijuana in Japan told me enough.
  • Taxis and directionsaddresses are done quite differently in Japan, by the order the buildings were built amongst other things so knowing landmarks, and how to direct a taxi driver if you can will be very useful. When looking for a new place it is also very handy to know which exit of the station you will need to use once you get off your train as you may end up somewhere completely different if you take the wrong one.
  • Your Gaijin or Alien registration card– I have been told this week that the rules are changing but once you have this card it is your primary form of identification in Japan and should be carried with you at all times. It will answer some of the questions officials (or police) may ask you quickly in Japanese. Never being asked to show this myself I am again working with hearsay but I would still suggest carrying it with you to avoid awkward situations.

Gaijins behaving badly

Gaijin is a somewhat derogative term used to describe foreigners but has a much more playful modern context. People will generally not inform you of your unacceptable behaviour so you have to look a little harder to get your social cues. Things like eating while walking along the street or talking on the phone while on the train or leaving your chopsticks stuck in a bowl of rice will mark you as a foreigner more than your non-Japanese appearance and may end up isolating you from the culture you are keen to learn about. This said, being the ‘ever so subtle extrovert’ that I am, I was never going to blend in and have learned how to use this to my advantage, and just make every effort possible not to offend people.

But I don’t speak Japanese!!!

Good, you can learn, and there is no expectation that you can even say hello. Having said this, anything you learn beforehand is a bonus and will help you feel more comfortable at the very least. You will likely make friends with your co-workers, maybe students or others around you that will be eager to teach you things as you go along. Where I was living the local youth centre ran weekly free Japanese language classes from beginner to advanced levels and all good bookshops have textbooks that will help you with grammar, characters and other parts of the language you may wish to work on. Many situations can be navigated by pointing to a menu or gesturing theatrically. Having studied the language in theory beforehand, moving there was an invaluable opportunity for things to sink in a little more.

Well there you have (in attempted brief) a few pointers that may make you a little more comfortable or spark your curiosity regarding what it is to live in Japan. Should you have any specific questions please don’t hesitate to ask and I will do my best to fill you in.