10 Years Living in Japan - A Reflection

Sunset in Yukuhashi, Fukuoka

I officially made 10 years living in Japan.

It’s hard to believe. I arrived in August of 2009, landing in Tokyo ready to start a new job with the JET Programme teaching English to junior high kids in Fukuoka prefecture.

To be honest though, I had no real interest in teaching.

WHY I MOVED TO JAPAN

After visiting Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima) on a high school graduation trip, I became intrigued, always wondering in the back of my mind what it’d be like to live in the country. It had that kind of impact, and I’d occasionally think about it throughout college and while I worked at a Silicon Valley startup.

I finally applied and luckily got into the JET Programme, pulled the trigger and decided to make the jump. I’ll experience life in Japan for 2 years, I said to myself.

Well, those 2 years flew by.

WHY I STAYED IN JAPAN

It was 2011, the US economy hadn’t fully recovered, the yen was stronger than the dollar, I liked my job, made some good friends and I was having a great time. It didn’t make sense to go back. Another year, I decided.

3rd year. 4th year. With the JET Programme, you can only work for 5 years so I decided I might as well finish it out. But I felt that I still wasn’t done.

I always wanted to live and work in Tokyo, it was the image of “working in Japan” that I had. Tall buildings, energetic crowds, catching the trains. So I found a job (here’s how I found a job in Tokyo) and made it happen.

Back to my former field of marketing working at an agency in Tokyo, 5 years quickly became 10.

Japan has become my second home, and the days of being a wide-eyed tourist are long gone. Despite that, like with living in any foreign country, living in Japan continues to have its fair share of challenges.

WHAT HAS KEPT ME LIVING IN JAPAN FOR 10 YEARS?

Simply put, it’s the overall quality of life.

Japan is not perfect and life in the country is full of frustrations and wtf moments, and I can really get into that when asked. But aside from some language and cultural hurdles, it’s a pretty easy place to live.

1) I feel safe.

I was shocked shortly after I moved to Japan when I saw little kids and elderly women walk down small, dark streets alone at night. I hesitated going down alleys myself, it’s something we avoid doing in the US.

Yes, there is crime but I’ve never felt threatened or actually been threatened like I did while living in places like San Francisco or Los Angeles.

2) Food is good. And AFFORDABLE.

Japan has an image of being expensive, and while it’s relative, it seems cheaper to go grocery shopping in Tokyo than anywhere I lived in the US. I do tend to eat more Asian foods, which helps, but prices like tofu for less than $1 and a bag of bean sprouts for $0.30 are hard to beat.

Eating out can be just a good of a deal. There are decent quality beef bowls for about $5. If you pay more than $9 for lunch, it’s considered expensive as many of my colleagues spend half that.

I’ve had dinners with 48-piece sashimi platters, a few other dishes, beer and Japanese sake for 4 people for $90.

And no tip.

3) APARTMENTS ARE REASONABLE AND OF GOOD quality.

My first studio in Tokyo was about $950/month. In a 10-year old building with an elevator and secure lobby, I had my own gas stove, my own washing machine (I had to buy it), bathroom, AC/heater, and a balcony, and it was only a 3-minute walk from the station within Tokyo proper. That is very hard to find in any major US city.

To top it off, the average studio in Tokyo is in the $700-range, and other cities in the country are even less.

4) THE DAY-TO-DAY IS Relatively smooth.

Most days are quite normal - go to work, go home. People tend to mind their own business and do little to disturb the peace or attract attention to themselves.

People are more or less presentable in public with relatively few aggressive drunks, druggies or crazies, even in a large city like Tokyo.

5) It’s clean.

Anyone who’s visited Japan can tell you that it’s almost abnormally clean and borderline sterile, even in the huge city of Tokyo.

People are mindful about their trash, and the trash system has been requiring everyone to separate their garbage for quite some time.

Even the little things like not having to worry about coming in contact with a bunch of old gum under a table makes a difference.

YEAR 11 AND ON…

I’ve never planned on living in Japan forever. Even though I’ve stayed 5 times longer than I had planned and some American friends think I’ll never return, I do plan to sooner than later.

I’ll look to work and live a life that connects the two countries.


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