Five Ways to Survive in Japan
The idea of relocating to a new country is definitely one exciting experience for anybody. You learn and appreciate new culture and customs. It expands your understanding on how other nationalities differ from yours. At some point we get to correct some prejudices we may previously had for that country. On the other hand, it still has its pros and cons which we have to deal with as well.
Looking back at the time I first set foot in the “land of the rising sun” Japan for an English teaching job, it was certainly challenging knowing that it’s completely different from what I used to have back home in Philippines. Most of the concern was how will I survive in a city where everything is constantly at fast pace. But, I won’t deny I was thrilled to come here. A childhood dream finally realized. Little did I know there will be surprises in between. Now, how did I really “survive” it?
Well, here are five ways that helped me make it..
Take the Initiative
When I first got the offer of working in Japan, I was full of doubts. I was entirely asking myself questions of “how”. InitiaIly, I don’t speak Japanese and of course I’m not familiar with the culture and customs practiced here. But after three months of staying in Tokyo, I came to my senses. If other foreign tourists made it then why wouldn’t I?
So here’s the deal. I realized that we need to always be proactive and consistently take an initiative on things we would want to achieve. It goes similarly with living in a new country. Everything I’ve learned so far here was primarily because I took the risk of doing the things that would help me in living Tokyo. I did my own research on how to use the city’s transportation system and how to purchase items in convenience shops and supermarkets.
Keep an Open Mind
The fact of moving to a new place, everything is undoubtedly new. Immersing yourself in a foreign place requires a lot of patience. I was of course reluctant to change some of the things I previously thought was “OK”. There was this certain instance when I was in an Izakaya with a Japanese friend and I had to hang my coat in a hanger however, it was placed quite higher than my arms could reach. So, I stepped on the bench without taking my shoes off which was a big mistake. Japanese considers it a rude behavior for it defeats their manner of keeping things clean. Of course I asked and explained to my friend that it was okey to do that in my country only if it’s necessary. But I realized that I’m not in my country. Likewise, Philippines and Japan are different. So, I set aside those differences and deal with what’s on the table and welcomed new knowledge with humility.
Learn the Language
For most tourist visiting a country, having a language guide book or language app is necessary to get by. Not only it allows you to make yourself understood by locals but it could also be an additional skill to have. I took the former quite seriously though.
Apparently, I did learn some basic Japanese expressions however, it has its own asperity particularly with vocabularies since I have shorter memory now that I got older (I’m still in my 20’s though). I had to take notes from time to time. Good thing people here are enthusiastic to help you understand some difficult expressions. So it was fun learning the language naturally plus you get to expand your understanding on the country itself.
The main point here is, language is definitely what makes us connect with people. And to live in a new environment requires us to adapt to whatever is necessary for survival.
A year living in Japan also gave me some fair share of culture shocks too. You would feel alienated most of the time. It’s as if you are an non-existent outsider. So what I did, I studied how Japanese behave. These includes the gestures they make and the common expressions they use for certain situations which I’m really keen on even up to this time. I’ve experienced being stared at probably because they knew I was foreign. However, as time goes by I get to acquire certain Japanese manners naturally and it felt great because it was self-taught. So blend in as much possible.
Don’t Lose the Humor
I don’t mean you have to be a clown or anything to that matter. We all know how shy Japanese are, so starting or keeping a conversation is quite a challenge. Obviously we all have jokes we enjoy back home but it really won’t matter though especially with what I experienced here. As you translate jokes it inevitably lose its effect.
Maintaining a lively atmosphere is an advantage. I’m more on a talkative person so I had to minimize it (a bit hard actually) since it’s been quite of a struggle starting a conversation with a Japanese knowing for a fact that they are shy by nature. But keeping a friendly vibe would definitely take you further.