The emigrant life is not for the faint of heart. Wherever you wind up, people will question your reasons for uprooting yourself from the homeland to be seen as an ‘alien.’ That is what I had faced when packing up cardboard boxes and writing a Japanese address on the side.
‘But why Japan?’ was a question put on repeat – even after coming to the Land of the Rising Sun. Though the reasons are many, I have managed to narrow down the top four explanations for moving from the USA to Japan.
1. Language and culture
The magnet that first lured me to tumultuous Tokyo, Japan from a suburban South Jersey townscape was the language and culture. Ever since I was a little tyke with grass stains on my knees, I had felt a connection to martial arts and the philosophy behind it. Though my interests were a mix of Chinese and Japanese teachings, I gradually narrowed the focus to Japan. I will admit that Mr. Miyagi might have had something to do with it.
Then in high school I gradually began delving into the world of anime. I found connections with the cultural aspects of Japan that were prominent in the shows I watched. Somehow, I was one day prompted to research the meanings behind some Japanese phrases… and it has been an ongoing process ever since.
Before I knew it, I had graduated from high school and set a goal for myself – that I would one day move to Japan. During my freshman year of college, I was lost when it came to what I should major in, so I looked into going to Japan for a language and culture course.
The school was located in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Through the course, I not only attained a level of fluency in the language, I was immersed in the fascinating culture. There was no ‘shock,’ just a smooth assimilation. You know you are doing well when the Japanese say you are ‘Japanese-like’ more than ‘American.’
2. Quality of life
The lifestyle of Japan is a total 180-degrees from America’s living standards. I won’t say it is better or worse. It is just different. Respect, tradition and honor are prized within the culture, and that has influenced the quality of life. Where consumerism is accepted in America, Japan is geared towards conservationism. Where America thinks ‘bigger is better,’ Japan thinks ‘make no waste.’
The cost of living in Tokyo is high, similar to New York City. Farther out in suburban areas, the price is greatly reduced. Americans are lucky to have certain fruits and vegetables available year around. In Japan, availability is based on the seasons, because most cities and towns receive their produce solely from Japan. Only a few vegetables and fruits are imported.
Another cool thing is that in an attempt to reduce wasted food, Japan discounts grocery items that have sat on the shelves for a while (this has nothing to do with the expiration date). This practically means that bento lunches, produce and meats get purchased instead of spoiling on the shelf.
Whatever is not used is somehow recycled. By the way, Japan loves recycling. Separating your garbage by materials might seem like a huge hassle, but it is the main reason Japan’s natural world is so unspoiled.
Other things that make the quality of life of Japan superb are national health insurance (full coverage for only 11 USD a month), top-notch public transportation, promotion of an active lifestyle and nutritional balance, reasonable cost of utilities, eco-friendly mind-set and a remarkably low frequency of violent crimes.
3. Work environment
I’d be lying if I said that Japan is a land of golden opportunity. Getting started is absurdly difficult for foreigners. Visa matters make the acquisition of financial stability and professional growth a challenge. Unless you have a Bachelor’s degree, teaching experience, and are actually seeking to become a full-time English teacher, you are going to have a hard time. That does not mean miracles do not happen for people who choose alternative routes.
The best opportunities, not matter the field, come from the relationships you make here. Similar to America, affiliations can be a gigantic determinant in your career, the value goes further in Japan. If you have people willing to support and introduce you to potential employers, you can consider yourself hired for the long term.
In Japan, switching fields is not a common practice. Nor is leaving a comfortable position. Therefore, the Japanese seek out employees who mesh together, essentially forming a close-knit team that can tolerate each other like married couples should. That said, Tokyo is more dog-eat-dog than the rest of Japan. You have to nip at heels or else you will be stepped on.
4. The spirit of the nation
While you might think that ‘spirit’ and ‘culture’ belong in the same realm, I wanted to lay out the other facets of why I love Japan to make the distinction clear. This is the ultimate motive behind moving to this country.
It is why I was able to separate myself from my birthplace. It is not necessarily uniquely the Japanese spirit either. You might feel it wherever you find yourself in the world, but once you find that energy that connects to the deepest regions of your soul, grasp hold of it and do not let go.
When I say the ‘spirit of the nation,’ I am talking about the frequency at which the souls of those around me resonate. The Japanese, beyond their pragmatism and stolid politeness, are some of the warmest, most genuine people I have ever met. Like the land, they are resilient, resourceful and reverent.
Everything the Japanese value stems from forming bonds with others and seeing each moment with those special individuals as the treasures of life. This emphasis on memories and experiences over material belongings is what made me fall in love with this country.
Japan is not for everyone, but it is the place for me. The beautiful language, intriguing culture, group dynamics and Japanese spirit have ensorcelled me. I would not have it any other way. While the emigrant life is challenging at times, I would never dissuade others from travelling the world to find the land that speaks to them.