Whatever your plans are for Japan it is important that you can read all kind of testimonies from various people who have been to Japan. Do not let any bad reviews stop you from pursuing your goal but also do not read only the good ones. Whatever it is you’re going to live in Japan it is going to be your experience, and will look like nobody’s else. It will neither be the dream nor the nightmare some has lived and wrote about… Or it could exactly be one or the other and it is up to you to turn the tide in your favor and enjoy your trip to the fullest. And reading about other experiences can help you get prepared for it.
In hope that you can find useful advices, links and read about a Japan in all its (fifty) shades of grey I am collecting interviews of people who have lived in Japan and are willing to share their experience. This is the first of them and I would like to thanks my friend Lauréline who took the time to answer all my questions!
01) Can ou introduce yourself: where are you from? Why did you want to go to Japan? How long did you stay/have you been staying there?
My name is Lauréline and I’m from Paris region. Like many before me I got interested in Japan through mangas and animes. Then I got more interested in japanese arts, the other sides of Japanese culture and its language that I find beautiful. After my degree in English, I wanted to learn Japanese, so much so that I left for Tokyo in a language study program. Also, I’ve always wanted to have a life and working experience abroad and that’s why I’ve decided to stay in Japan after these 9 months in a language school. Today I have been living in Japan for almost 2 years and a half and life here has its good sides just as much as it has its bad sides, but it is an incredible experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world!
02) Under what circumstances did you go to Japan (whv, working visa, student, tourism)?
I first went to Japan between december 2013 and october 2014 with a student visa, came back to France to work and finance my Working Holiday Visa which started in January 2014. And I have recently obtained my Working Visa for three years.
03) What process did you go through before your departure? (research, money, documents)
For my Student Visa I went through the agency AILS specialised in language study holiday. I had previously gone to the US with this agency and was happy with my stay so I decided to use it again to go to Japan. This time I had to save money for 6 months and make a student loan from my bank to afford the trip. However the agency took care of all the paperwork with the school ISI. The school and courses were good but the schedule was quite busy (1pm to 5pm) with a lot of theorie and I didn’t have time to get a part-time job so I lived off my saving.
After 9 months in Japan I decided to come back to France in order to work, refill my savings and apply for a Working Holiday Visa. Since I still had some money left I only had to work 3 months and with a carefully completed file everything went really smoothly at the embassy and I got my Working Holiday Visa in no time.
04) Which websites helped you prepare your trip?
I visited a lot of websites so I don’t really remember their names, well, except maybe for Kanpai. It is quite good although you have to select the good articles from the uninteresting ones.
05) Which insurance did you took? Why?
For my first trip it was included with the fees of the agency (around 500€ ). As for the Working Holiday Visa I took the Japanese Health Insurance which is proposed when you register at the local civil center. It was interesting for me because the school I’m currently working for pays half of it.
06) What was the first thing you did when you arrived?
I left France on the 30th of december 2013 and arrived at Tokyo on the 31th so the first thing I did was to meet with my boyfriend after two month apart from each other and go whatch the New Year Eve Countdown at Shibuya. We then went with some friends visit a temple and we finally ended the night in a karaoke. It was a very successful day!
07) Which share house company did you chose? Why? What did you think of it afterwards?
I moved in the room by boyfriend was renting from Tokyostay. As always, the closer you are to the city center the higher the prices are while the surface is quite small. All in all it’s a correct agency though it depends on the staff you interact with.
08) Which japanese bank did you choose? Why?
I have bank account at the Japanese National Post Bank since it was AILS who did the registration for me. Plus post offices are easily found in and outside of Tokyo so it’s the most handy.
09) What job do you do? How did you find it?
I am an English and French teacher at NES Language Schools which I was introduced to by a friend. I first had a part-time contract of 13 lessons per day between 11am and 9.30pm. It was a lot. A few months ago this contract evolved into a seishain contract: 10 lessons a day between 11am and 8pm. This kind of contract is however a recent innovation of my company which is proposed to long-term teachers who have enough students and have good feedbacks (from students and the company).
10) What difficulties did you faced in Japan?
It is relatively easy to live in Japan. However, and as many other foreigners before me found out, the Japanese ways of thinking about gaijin (foreigners) can either be adorable or completely biased. For example: when looking for a flat to rent in Tokyo, we were lucky one of us was working in a big Japanese company otherwise we would have been unlikely to find a flat so fast. As long as you can speak japanese everything gets also easier. Still, we were unable to visit some appartements because of a non-foreigner policy. However the mini mini agency knows this well, and helped us a lot to get on the good side of renters. I’d like to take the opportunity adress a special thanks to Kan-san, our agent at mini mini, who understood well our troubles since he went through it himself.
11) Which city(ies) did you lived in? Do you think the cost of living was expensive there?
Since I arrived in Japan I have been living in Tokyo. I honestly think that the cost of life in Tokyo isn’t prohibitively expensive but it is still quite expensive and you’ve got to be prepared. However, and even though I knew this, when I arrived in Japan I didn’t realised right away what it really meant.
During the first months the yen’s value was quite foreign to me, my rent was payed for three months and I was happy that I had various choices in bento and onigiri at the combini nearby to try out for diner. But things changed of course! To put it simply, aside from the renting prices similar to any big city, it’s the transportation and food prices that are higher than France.
12) Where did you travel to in Japan? What was your favorite place?
During my first year I had a lot of free time but I lived off my savings (I have saved for 6 months and had to keep enough to last for 9 months) so I didn’t travel much. And now it’s the reverse: I have a salary but not enough time. So for now I’ve only been to Hakone, twice at Kyoto (once for the kouyou -autumn- which I highly recommend), Nagano and Mount Fuji which I climbed. I still have a lot of travels I want to do but I can say, with no originality whatsoever, that my favorite destination was Kyoto. Thanks to the amount of temples, gardens and sanctuaries the town is not only beautiful but charged with History.
13) What unexpected places do you think are worth visiting?
I don’t know if it’s really “unexpected” but I recently went to the Snow Monkey Park in Nagano Prefecture and it was worth it. The place itself is nice and I really enjoyed watching those famous monkey walking around freely and lounging in the onsen.
But aside from that it is sometimes by chance, around a corner in Tokyo,that you meet nice people or find lovely places and make good memories.
14) Overall, what do you think of your experience in Japan?
My experience in Japan is not over yet but so far it’s been rather positive. I like the life I live here and I’m very happy about it. Of course it is not always ideal and Japan work world is, as far as I’m concerned, unhealthy. I know some people who came to Japan with a real passion for the country but because of what they experienced at work (over 120 hours overtime, working all night, colleagues sleeping in the office, unrespectful bosses etc..) their feelings are not as positive as it could be in such interesting country.
15) What’s your best memory?
My boyfriend saying “I love you” for the first time? (Laugh)
More seriously, I have a lot of good memories, especially with my friends, so it’s difficult to choose one. My trips also made a big impression on me… There is one, though I don’t know if it’s my best memory because it was so grueling, but I think that climbing Mount Fuji is something I’ll never forget. The feeling once at the top, finding out that you’re above the clouds and watching the sunrise is indescribable.
19) Is there anything you want to add about your experience, an advise for those who plan to go to japan?
The only thing I’d like to say to anyone who want to go to Japan is to prepare their trip with lot of care, not only on the practical level (savings, rent etc) but also on the cultural level, find information on the everyday life, on Japanese behaviour concerning foreigners. It can sound obvious on paper but I can assure that it does hurt to do it!
But the essential part is to enjoy your trip. Japan is unique in its good and its wrong sides and you’ve got to see as much as you can when you’re there.
The pictures you admired are Lauréline’s who lent them to me to illustrate this article.