There comes a time in every Japan lover's life when they find themselves considering the inevitable: Should I live in Japan? After that comes an even more inevitable question: Is Japan really that great?
It's something that's crossed my mind before and has even become a reality for many of my good friends from college.
To help anyone else who has been thinking about packing up and moving to the Land of the Rising Sun, I've put together this helpful list. I talked to some of my friends currently living in Japan to get their opinions, put it together with what I learned from being in Japan for 10 weeks, and compiled it all into this post. Hopefully you find it useful and informative.
PRO #1: The Shopping and Convenience Stores
Convenience stores in Japan are awesome. You can find almost anything there, and they're always clean, well serviced, and safe. Compared to the average American convenience store it's like night and day. Their shopping centers are pretty awesome too, but I suppose this can be said about most modern nations. To learn more, you can check out Hashi's post here on Tofugu: Convenience Stores In Japan: Surprisingly Convenient.
CON #1: No Individualism
To some, this may be viewed as either a pro or a con (some people like group mentality way more than others), but for the average American/Westerner, the strict group mentality of Japan can be a bit jarring. Everyone has to be involved in business decisions and meetings can take forever as a result with people feeling like nothing is getting done.
This is kind of a broad generalization though, but I would say on the whole, Japan is much more group minded than the average Western nation. But like I said, some people really enjoy this sense of community that comes with the group mentality. For more about Japan and this issue, you can check out Hashi's post: The Nail That Sticks Up.
PRO #2: The Food
Japanese food is great. It's healthy, tastes great, and is fun to eat. They have everything from sushi, to [okonomiyaki]//okonomiyaki/), to fugu. Compared to an average American diet, the average Japanese diet is much healthier. It's definitely a large part of Why Japanese People Live So Long. For more about Japan and its crazy healthy diets, you can check out Koichi's series of posts on How To Eat Like A Japanese Buddhist Monk.
CON #2: The Food
Yes, for some people Japanese food is not a pro, but a con. Seafood and rice is not for everyone, and if you can't handle it then you're not going to be quite as happy living in Japan. Sure, you can find other stuff, I mean, Japan has a pretty awesome selection of fast food joints, but it's definitely not going to be like home. Some things are even pretty hard to find in Japan, such as root beer.
Since Japan is an island nation, seafood is going to be the cheapest and most readily available food, with imported goods being a bit less accessible and a bit more expensive.
PRO #3: Improving Your Japanese
Okay, so maybe this one is kind of obvious. Of course if you go to Japan and totally immerse yourself in the language and culture and society and everything, your language skills are going to benefit much more than if you were back at home in your native land. But maybe this is the main reason you're moving to Japan, so you can get better at the language.
In Japan you'll find no shortage of people willing to talk to you and some will probably be interested in practicing their English skills with you. And for those of you who lack the means to travel to Japan for study, you can check out my guide on How to Learn Japanese Without Really Doing Anything.
CON #3: Less than Ideal Living Quarters
Of course this one depends on what area of Japan you find yourself living in, but on the whole, Japanese housing is going to be a bit smaller and a bit less cushy than what you're used to. Out in more rural areas, you might get lucky and find a place of decent size, but most often you'll be housed in a place a good bit smaller than what you're used to.
Also, central air and heating are a bit less common over there than they might be in places like America, so that's another little annoyance to keep in mind as well. For more on this, you can check out Hashi's posts on whether or not Japanese Houses are Worthless.
PRO #4: Getting a Job
Probably the easiest way to get yourself over to Japan is by getting yourself a teaching job there. Luckily, there always seems to be an abundance of positions available, because Japan always wants to learn more English. For some people, the job market isn't so hot in their home country, so getting a teaching job in Japan can seem like an attractive option. This is what many of my college friends ended up doing after graduation. You get living quarters provided for you, and you get a steady job and a paycheck. For more about how to land such a teaching job, you can check out our Jet Program Guide.
CON #4: Working in Japan Can Suck
So, yeah – they give you a teaching job, but it's not always ideal. Take a look and some quotes from my friends who are currently living and teaching there now.
I think people work too hard here. People stay at work for upwards of 15 hours every day. Before moving here I thought I would eventually want to work in the business world here, but now I'm not so sure anymore. People have no time to see their families and it's not weird for kids to almost never see their own father.
Yes, the work hours can be pretty harsh – even for a teacher. Of course it depends on where you're working and what program it is with, but overall I'd say that the work life is much more stressful over there than your typical Western country.
It's ridiculous that people show up 15 minutes early and stay 90 minutes late every day. It's expected that if you are sick, you use a vacation day rather than a sick day. And to be hire-able at your next job you need to show that you've used as few vacation days as possible.
It's also not too rare for people to have to take weeks or months off of work due to "mental illness" but it's actually because they are so #$!% overworked and stressed out.
When my grandma died, my supervisors expected that I would follow the same rules as everybody else. You get one or two days off work for grieving and travel to the funeral, any other time is to be vacation time. So I had to pull out my contract and remind them that they agreed to give me a week in such an event. So yeah, moral of the story: Japanese people are overworked and under social pressure not to relax.
This all sounds pretty lousy to me. I mean, my job isn't very stressful at all, but I still really look forward to my days off and just having time to relax. I can't imagine living and working in Japan being so stressed out and then being discouraged to take time off. It sounds awful.
PRO #5: Public Transport
Compared to American public transport at least, Japanese public transport is unbelievably awesome. In Europe and other countries, it's probably pretty good as well, but the Japanese have really got it down pat. Their subway and train systems are crazy convenient, accurate, and make getting around the country so much easier. Even their buses are awesome.
When I was in Japan, I never felt like having a car would have made my life more convenient. Having such a integrated system of public transport made getting around very easy and simple and it's one of the things I miss most. Japan sure does love its trains though.
CON #5: Prejudice Against Foreigners
Again, this is one of those cons that depends on the people you're with and the area in which you find yourself. It also seems to depend on the age of Japanese people you're around as the younger crowd seems much more tolerant of foreigners. I've heard some of my friends talking about how whenever they walk around in Japan, older Japanese folk will click their tongues when they see Americans. Like they are tsk tsk-ing them for showing themselves in public.
Overall, I would say that it's not too bad, and to an extent probably depends on the person (what you look like, how you dress, and if you're with Japanese friends when you're out), but if you're already finding yourself isolated and not making friends in Japan, people scoffing at you in public will only add to your depression. For more on this, you can check out Japan Focus' article about Japan's Entrenched Discrimination Toward Foreigners.
So…Is Japan Really That Great or Not?
And there you have it, some of the best and worst things about living in Japan. I feel as though some of these can only really be experienced when you're living there on your own, but some can be realized only after a few days of travel there. Japan is a great country and a fun place to visit. But would I ever want to live and work there though? I can't say. Maybe sometime in the future, but for now, I'm happy where I am.