Moving to or even visiting Japan sounds exciting. A new country filled with culture, history, and innovation is a perfect place to explore. However, like any other place away from home, it is easy to find the negative in everything out of the norm. As a highly adaptive individual, I did not have many problems other than finding a gym and where to shop for my groceries, after that I was all set. Although, I know that a different country can take a toll on anyone in many different ways.
It is important to keep an open mind when moving to another country, especially if it is a culture completely different to yours. Customs and behaviors will not be the same as yours and it is something that as a foreigner you should respect. Be sure to do your research on Japanese culture from work culture to social life, it will really come in handy. It will help you adapt faster if you know the unwritten rules such as that people do not usually shake hands, escalators have a system in which standing people stay on the left and those who want to walk pass by the right, no talking in the subways during rush hour, and so on and so forth. Knowing the simple rules of society will go a long way!
Planning Japan and actually making it here changes your perspective entirely. Even if you have done extensive research, youtube videos and articles will not prepare you for the reality of the situation. It takes a lot to make it here and it will take courage to get adjusted.
1. Pack light: Literally everyone will tell you this and I did the exact opposite. As someone that likes fashion and enjoys the uncertainty behind an outfit, I packed a little TOO much. Trust me, you will not need four pairs of sneakers, boots, sandals, and running shoes or six pairs of jeans. Even though my suitcase was just about the right weight, I will pay (literally) the consequences when I return back home with twenty pounds worth of souvenirs and other items.
2. Know how to translate your dietary restrictions: As a pescatarian, it is pretty easy to get around, but even then almost everything has meat or meat broth. However, this could apply to anyone with an allergy or other personal restrictions. You could either print a sort of business card with your dietary restrictions to present to the waiter or you could learn how to say it in Japanese! Either way, it is better to be safe than sorry.
3. Learn key words in Japanese: This is something I thought I did, but should have put more effort in. “Thank you”, “hello”, “bye”, and “excuse me” can only get you so far. Invest some time in learning Japanese business etiquette language as well as the words they say before and after eating. Things like these will allow you to fit in a bit more and not feel so excluded.
4. Be aware of the foods you will find: Do not come to Japan expecting to do your groceries how you always do. Staple products from your home will most likely not be the staple products found here. Fruits and nuts are very expensive. Veggies (especially leafy greens) can be too. Almond milk is only available in some supermarkets and nut butters are rare. This is not a horrible thing, you can get used to other foods as well! Trying new things is always a good thing and it comes with getting integrated into the society. Also, do not be afraid to ask the workers at supermarkets what you are looking for. After thirty minutes of looking for oats I decided it was probably the best idea to ask via Google Translate. The lady happily helped me look for them and I walked out of there happy with my purchase.
5. Pack according to the weather: When I was packing for my internship abroad I did not think (clearly) about the season. I thought, “Well, it is also summer on that hemisphere so let me pack how I would dress during the summer!” I was badly mistaken. When I got here, yes it was summer, but it was also rainy season. Not only did I not pack enough jackets, I had also not packed any rain resistant shoes. So I was stuck with goosebumps on my arms and wet socks. So the moral of the story, be mindful of the weather.
6. Bring A LOT of cash: Japan is a cash based society. I thought I had brought enough cash to last me a while but it disappeared magically into thin air. Unless you want to be taking cash out of the ATM every other day and be charged the fees that come with having an international card, make sure you budget yourself out before arrival and plan your cash withdrawal accordingly.
7. Do not stay in: The more time you have in Japan, the more you think you have time to explore. However, time runs out quickly, especially if your days are filled with work or classes. By the end of the week, you will probably just want to chill, catch up on sleep, and do your chores. Do not let the struggles of daily life get to you. Go out and explore! You will regret not taking advantage of your days off while you are here. Manage your time and allow yourself to indulge in the Japanese culture as much as you can.