1. When in doubt the phrase “because Japan” comes in handy. Why did a giant cream puff with Himeji Castle on its head just rollerblade past me in the middle of the city singing Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl?”… because Japan.
2. Try everything…think Yes Man. That means food, sports and whatever else you can think of. You do not want to be 98 years old sitting on the front porch saying to your best mate, Mavis, “You know once I had the chance to become a Ninja and I said no.” To which she will no doubt reply, “No you didn’t Beryl…” but you will know the truth and it will haunt you… even if Mavis doesn’t believe.
3. Make a “Japan To-Do” list and actually do the things on it. Mine includes things such as climb Mt.Fuji, learn to snowboard, visit Tokyo Robot Restaurant, attend a festival in Yukata, have a beer or five under the Sakura (cherry blossoms) and learn at least one Japanese song for Karaoke with Japanese people. Some more ideas include: make a friend at an izakaya, eat natto (fermented soybean), or learn to cook Tamagoyaki (they say when you can make this you are wifey material).
4. Get involved in your community. It seems like common sense, but I did not do this straight away and now I am kicking myself. Take a local cooking class, sign up for Japanese classes and visit nearby temples and shrines. I visited a local park and met a lovely man who showed me around for the day. Did you know that Harima-cho has its own archeological dig park complete with really old thatched roof houses? Me either…. until that day.
5. Smile. I know that some days the last thing you want to do is smile, especially when you’re hot and annoyed and you woke up at 4:00a.m. that morning to what you thought was a fire alarm only to remember, “oh wait, that’s just the truck load of cicadas in the tree next to my bedroom”. Smiling can open up a door to so many things.
6. Learn to ride a bike/buy a bike. It is such a fabulous and cheap form of transportation. Without my bike I would not have found the beaches near my house and walking is just so… slow
7. Learn simple Japanese phrases. They go a long way when someone speaks to you in Japanese. Even if you don’t understand what someone is saying, and instead of looking confused and scared you can reply with a confident WAKARIMASEN (I don’t understand). Following this, they will do one of two things: they will stop talking to you, or simply keep going with the knowledge that you don’t understand. This happened to me in Hiroshima just the other day. The lady sitting next to me kept talking happily to me, but at least she knew I had no idea what she was saying and that I was simply admiring her enthusiasm.
8. Make friends and be kind to people. Some days you will need them regardless of how strong you think you are. With good friends, these bad days can be forgotten with a coffee, bike ride, gym sesh, or beer.
9. “Gaijin (foreigner) Smashing” is permitted only when absolutely necessary… for example losing your parking ticket in Hiroshima and having a plane departure looming. If you are using your foreign status just to cut a line or get a seat on the train, please don’t. Be considerate.
10. Ask for recommendations at restaurants. Waitstaff will actually recommend the best thing on the menu, not the most expensive. Therefore they will offer their famous \1,000 Don, not the \20,000 lobster-stuffed turducken that has eaten only the finest truffles throughout its entire life.
11. Buy a pair of crocs and take advantage of the fact that they are hella comfortable and are considered a fashionable form of footwear in this country – and possibly only this country.
12. Omiyage Omiyage Omiyage. Omiyage means souvenir and is the way to your coworkers’ hearts. When you are travelling pick up a box of (insert prefecture name) cookies and your coworkers will love you eternally.
13. Every Situation Is Different (ESID) is no longer advice but a mantra to lead your life by.
14. ICOCA cards are like magical fairy cards that will help you ride the train with a simple tap. Invest in one, love it, look after it and you can avoid navigating the ticket system in Hyogo.
15. Always take a rain coat or umbrella with you in this season unless you enjoy feeling like a drowned rat; in which case, carry on.
Advice from your Senpai JETs
“A good thing to keep in the back of your mind is that for every person, there are many ways to approach, handle or interpret a situation. Never limit yourself to one person’s perspective or anecdote, especially when it comes to ExPat stories. Analyze your situation, take multiple opinions into account and continue from there. Find and carve your own path as much as you can. Also beware of culture shock and all the unfortunate things that come with it. It will absolutely happen, regardless of how many times you have been to Japan or how prepared you think you are.”
.~Kyle “Drop Bear” Cardine
“Set small goals for yourself when you first arrive and try to complete one every day. There’s lots of stress and uncertainty when you first move to a foreign country and balancing the big obstacles with small victories can boost your confidence. Even simple things like “today I will go to the post office” or “today I will understand the kanji on this appliance” can be helpful forms of self-empowerment.”
“Google translate can be your best friend and your worst enemy. Simple English translates oddly but it’s manageable. Anything complex will get you confused looks and a bunch of “ちょっと(a little)” as someone “tries” to help you. If you don’t speak Japanese, I encourage you to try and learn some basics. They will get you much further than Google in some situations. On the other hand, the Google Maps and Hyperdia apps will be life savers. How did people get around before GPS? Hyperdia has timetables for various modes of transportation. It’s very handy to know how many more drinks you can have before the last train home from your enkai.”
~ Kimberly “Mathosaurus Rex” Rosario
“At school, ask questions about the way things are run, the students, the teachers, the surrounding area, the history of the school. Ask a million and one questions and do your best to really get to know the place.
When in doubt use photos. When you need to do something and you’re not proficient at Japanese, take pictures. For example, when I wanted to get a connector cable for my TV, I had no idea how to explain it, so I took a picture of the back of TV and showed it to the store staff. SUCCESS!
MAKE FRIENDS. These are the people that will keep you sane when “because Japan” fails.
ACTUALLY GO TO THE DOCTORS when you’re sick. It’s taken me the full five years to figure this out. Living in Japan can be stressful and often your sickness will linger until you see a doctor. So go before it impacts on your ability to enjoy Japan.”
~Erica “Trivia Master” Reynolds
“Always carry a hand towel in your bag to dry your hands in bathrooms and, in summer, to wipe your sweaty sweaty face”
~Amy “the amazing” Kelly
“Don’t be afraid to spend money on something you really want with your first couple of paychecks. You should buy that rice cooker, oven, or TV/gaming system”
~Arjan “the arjanator” Tulsi
“At school,sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission”
~Anonymous “I`ll never tell” Secret