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life in japan

before coming

Before coming to Japan, I mostly read about teaching English in Japan. From what I read, there seemed to be plenty of work teaching English in Japan. I did read a little on culture shock and Japanese culture, but very little. I studied a little Japanese, but not too much.

I did not arrange work before coming. I had a working holiday visa, which would allow me to work up to a year, and more importantly, work as soon as I found a job. From what I had read, I figured I would be able to find work quite easily. I decided to take a chance and just go. If things didn't work out, I had a return plane ticket home.

Before getting here, I knew Japan was an advanced country, but it was hard to really know what to expect. For me, that was part of the fun! So I jumped on a plane and left for Japan.


arriving in japan

Upon arriving in Osaka, the first thing that struck me was the sheer number of people. There were so many people! I was amazed how many people there were on the trains, especially at the train stations. Plus everybody seemed in a rush. Being from a small town in Quebec, Canada, this was quite a shock.

I also found Japan to be quite urbanized. Looking out the train, I couldn't spot any of the traditional Japanese homes and buildings one might expect to see. Instead, I saw an endless landscape of similar, rather plain-looking houses, apartment buildings and in the city, skyscrapers. I did live in the countryside at first, but even there, I saw little evidence of traditional Japan. Japan seemed so westernized. Even the people wore western clothes. Where was old Japan?

In the city, I found that no matter where I went, my surroundings seemed to look the same. There also seemed to be very little greenery. I found that space, something abundant in Canada, was lacking here. The combination of less space and more people was quite a change from my home in Canada.


adjusting to japan

I adjusted to my surroundings and smaller spaces. As for lack of greenery in the cities, I took trips to the countryside or went to parks when I wanted to enjoy nature. In fact there is plenty of green in Japan with over 78% of the country being covered in forested mountains.

The hardest adjustment for me was all the people. Soon after my arrival, I worked in a small city in Yamaguchi prefecture. It was not so crowded there. The shock came when I moved to Tokyo 7 months later. Tokyo was extremely crowded. Riding the train there during the rush hours is an experience I do not recommend to anyone (think of canned sardines). However, having worked in Tokyo for a while and now the Osaka area, I have pretty much adjusted to all the people. The trick is to accept it and to go with the flow. There are places in any city that are especially crowded. I can choose to avoid those places. If I go, I simply don't stay too long. In my own business I determine when I work and so avoid those nasty train times as well. Today I just flow along within my own comfort zone.

I have found that to really enjoy life in Japan, you just have to go with the flow. It's better to accept Japan's differences from the start instead of complaining about them. You'll enjoy Japan much more if you do as the Japanese do. I highly recommend studying and speaking Japanese as much as you can. If you can, eat Japanese food. Make Japanese friends and go out with them. I have found Japanese people like teaching me about their culture when I show sincere interest in their culture. These things should make your stay here much more enjoyable and enriching as it has mine.


a mix of the old and the new

To me Japan is a mix of the old and the new. You might be walking around in the city, surrounded by skyscrapers, people wearing western clothes and talking on state-of-the-art cellular phones, but then all of the sudden you might see a woman wearing a traditional Japanese kimono among the crowd. Women still wear the kimono in Japan but usually on special occasions. Or you might come across a Buddhist temple erected next to a skyscraper. The Japanese use many high-tech items such as high-tech cell phones, daily organizers or gadgets to ring home and have the bath tub filled to a desired temperature and water level, and the kids all walk around playing with games most NASA guys would be happy to own! However, on the other hand they are still very much attached to traditional customs. This mix of the old and the new makes Japan and Japanese culture fascinating. The more time you put in Japan teaching English, the more you too will notice and I trust learn to enjoy these contrasts.

There are many traditional buildings, and the Japanese are very proud of them. We can see their incredible and ancient woodwork, but they are often hidden. You have to seek them out. If you ask around or look hard enough, you can find many Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, traditional buildings, and Japanese gardens. These offer a taste of old Japan.