Moving to Japan can be a very difficult and laborious task. I never focused on the end goal, but instead opted to focus on the next task at hand; bid farewell to my life in England, pack my suitcase, board a plane, find my hotel, get a train pass, and so on. This enabled me to stop and focus on each minor task, ensuring a smooth and swift transition into my new life and surroundings.
Having travelled to Japan several times in the past, I thought I knew what to expect, but I soon came to realise that travelling to a place and living in a place are two very different ball games. There were many small and large things that I certainly wish I knew before moving to Japan that would have helped me out in my hour of need. So I'm going to list my Top 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Moved To Japan.
I absolutely adore Japanese cuisine, so I never had any concerns about finding food that I would enjoy. However, in those moments of comfort eating, I wish I had researched beforehand if, in fact, I would be able to purchase my favourite foodstuffs in Japan. It wasn't until my hour of need and in moments of intense cravings that I realised that I wouldn't be able to purchase British staples such as squash cordial drink, sausages (the non-frankfurter version), cider and even hummus. I would seek out British restaurants that claimed to have sausages on the menu, only to be disappointed when another german hotdog arrived on the plate. I would be forced to pay extortionate amounts for a pint of bland draft cider just to get my summers evening fix, and I never realised how much hummus I consumed in the UK until I was unable to find it. Luckily friends would send over care packages full to the brim of all my favourite goodies, but I was forced to wait until I could return home to eat British sausages (it turned out I no longer liked them anymore!), and I learned how to make hummus which was a lot easier than I had first thought.
Before relocating to Japan, I was advised to research exactly where in Tokyo I would like to live. So I became well-versed in all things Japanese apartments; the size differences, all the fees, the pros and cons of certain features and what constitutes a good location. I had sent over 10 or so apartments for the real estate to arrange viewings in, but one thing I could not prepare myself for was the response of the landlords when they learned of my nationality. Upon arrival, I was shocked to hear that 90% of the apartments I had selected refused to rent out to foreigners. And thus began the laborious task of finding an apartment with a very limited pool of places so search through.
The dreaded Japanese TV broadcasting provider. Representatives of the company will come to your house at random, knock on your door and insist you pay them for your TV usage. Like many other ex-pats living in Japan I myself didn't own a television set and so I would have to go through the persistent conversation each time they came knocking. In the end, I would simply hide behind the door and refuse to answer the door because they are trained to not take no for an answer. Knowing this beforehand would have saved me a lot of useless and awkward conversations.
4. KNOW YOUR TRAIN SEATS
The end seats are the most desirable, and people will do their utmost in order to occupy them. This took me a while to realise, and I assumed people were moving away from me for a multitude of other reasons. Had I had known this initially, my silly, newly found paranoia could have been avoided.
5. EARTHQUAKE SAFETY
There are a lot of earthquakes in Japan. A LOT. It can never hurt to familiarise yourself with the protocol and what is expected of you in those situations. For the most part, it is advised to open all doors and to either stand in the door frame or under a safe table. For the more extreme measures where it is advised to evacuate, know the location of your nearest school as they will be your safe space. I strongly advise you to have an earthquake emergency pack ready to take at a moments notice.
6. CHANGING ROOMS
When trying on clothes in a store, it is important to know the changing room etiquette in order to avoid the embarrassment I was forced to feel upon first moving to Japan. You will be expected to remove your shoes beforehand, step onto the small piece of carpet and then try on your items. You may also be expected to use the disposable inserts provided in the stalls to prevent any makeup or dirt rubbing onto the unsold items.
Know your lightbulb fixtures and room requirements before you purchase them. This may sound like common sense, but I was subject to many an embarrassing moment when I didn't realise that my room didn't come equipped with a light switch, so I had to repurchase a bulb with a remote control or attached pull-string.
8. SHAVING FOR MEN
I used to receive compliments for my designer stubble throughout the course of my staying in Japan. It wasn't until the two-year mark when a friend told me that complaints often present themselves in the form of a compliment, that I asked my supervisor if it was ok to have stubble in the office. He told me that all-male staff members must be clean-shaven at all times. I shall think twice before I accept a compliment so freely from now on.
Never underestimate the difference in hair quality. It took me several attempts to find a hairdresser that was able to cut my hair the way I liked it. This wasn't due to the fact that I was being fussy or that the hairdresser was doing a poor job; I discovered that most hairdressers cannot and are not trained to cut caucasian hair. My hair didn't grow, fall and style the same way as the locals and I was left with some (in hindsight) hilarious looks for a few weeks on end. I was very lucky to find a wonderful expat-friendly salon by the name of Assort Hair in Harajuku who offered wonderful service and I cannot recommend them enough. I would always look forward to my monthly pamper session and I was sad to leave them after such a long search.
10. MASSAGE PARLOURS
Let's put it this way. If you see a huge sign saying MASSAGE, it is not just your innocent massage parlour. I suffer from back pain and require regular treatment, so I was very shocked to find that all of these seemingly cheap massage parlours offered more than I bargained for. I swiftly left feeling super embarrassed (a running theme in this blog) and had to turn to a colleague for some advice. He laughed hysterically and would often remind me of the time when I almost paid for a prostitute!