Why I'd Never Move to Japan Again (2023)

For the past few minutes I’ve been sitting frozen with my fingers on my keyboard trying to think of a way to start a post where I’m basically going to say that I hated my time living in Japan. Whoops, spoiler, I guess now you guys don’t need to bother reading more (which might be a good thing, since this post islong).

Though before I start I also want to say that while my time living in Japan was difficult, I think it’s a wonderful country to visit! If you’re wondering where to start, you can read my one week Japan itinerary here.

My family moved to Japan for a year when I was six and I LOVED it. Considering thecountry’s obsession with all things cute – it’sa place where bank cardsare covered in Moomin cartoons and grown women tryto look like little girls – ofcourse Japan wouldbe a dream world for a six-year-old girl.

When I ended up moving to Japan again at 22, I quickly fell in love all over. Not only was I excited to live and work in Japan, I had received maybe the coolest placement on the JET Program: I was living on Tanegashima, a tinyisland south of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands.

Tanegashima is home to the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, and as most of the islanders haveno interest in swimming, the only people I would ever see on them were the few surfers who had moved down to Tanegashima to chase what they told me were the best waves in the country.

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Also, there isa space station on the island, meaning that every few months I got to see a rocket launch!

But the best part? I was teaching at three high schools, andone of them wasn’t on Tanegashima. For a few days each month I would take a ferry to the neighboring island of Yakushima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to Princess Monoke and a 7,000-year-old cedar tree.

There my school would put me up in a cozy mountain lodge and give me some extra money for the inconvenience.Because, you know, spending a few days a month at a monkey-inhabited mountain paradise was SUPER inconvenient.

Why I'd Never Move to Japan Again (8)


But the other teachers I was working with didn’t agree. When I asked them if they enjoyed life on Tanegashima, they all responded by telling me how many years of “island duty” they had left. High school teachers in the prefecture had to change schools every few years, and at least once in their careers they would have to spend3-5 years on one of Kagoshima’s islands.

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It was a shame, because Tanegashima deserved to be loved.

Of course that’s not to say life there was easy. Being the only blonde woman on the island and about a foot taller than most locals, I didn’t exactly fit in. People seemed to be constantly watching me (or I was constantly paranoid) and it became normal for me to meet someone for the first time and have them tell me that they had recently seen me in the supermarket. And then they would proceed to list everything that had beenin my shopping basket, oftencommenting on my eating habits.

Tanegashima isalso incredibly conservative compared to the rest of Japan. Very few of the teachers I worked with gave their students any room for creative thinking, always stressing the importance of social harmonyabove all else. It was great for those who fit in, but the students who didn’t really struggled.

When gay comedians came on television, people would laugh and say that obviously it was all an act, and a Japanese friend on Yakushima told me that she had once asked her doctor for birth control and, very begrudgingly, heprescribed her one week’s worth of the pill (instead, abortions arevery common).

When it came time to renew my contract in February I decided to stay, partly because the job paid well and the cost of living in Japan (or at least on Tanegashima) was quite low, but mostly because I felt like I needed more time to find my feet in Japan.

And then the tsunami hit.

Tanegashima was far south enough that we had several hours warning, and in the end the wave had lost its force by the time it arrived. In southern Japan, the tsunamiwasn’t a big deal at all.

Except it was a huge deal.

This was when I finally felt the full brunt of being an outsider in Japan. No one wanted to talk about the tsunami with me, and whenever I brought it up they would once again ask me to tell everyone in America that I was fine and the nuclear problems were not as big of a deal as Western media was making them out to be. I did admirehow instead of falling into hysterics and making the disaster all about them, my colleagues simply worked harder.

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This wasn’t my first experience with a natural disaster in Japan.

My family had been living outside of Kobe during the Great Hanshin earthquakein 1995. I have vague memories of some of our neighbors stumbling out of their homes covered in blood and my father going to help dig out bodies, but most of my memories of the earthquake were actually really pleasant. Everyone kept giving me candy and my teacher called to tell me that all of my classmates had survived, and in the shelter peoplekept piling my family’s mats with extra blankets and snacks. Fun times!

But this time I could. Not. Stop. Crying. I kept having dreams about earthquakes, probably mixing childhood memories with fantasy, and aonce beautiful drive along the ocean to one of my schools became hell.

Staring at the water that had just taken so many lives, it took me a full month before I was able to get through the 40-minute drive without pulling over in tears.

I know, I’m such a baby.

Thinking about the tsunami somehow made me feel even more alone on the tiny island, and instead of feeling closer to the other people there I felt shut out.

My second year in Japan was better. I could communicate more easily in Japanese and made some real friends, particularly a new English teacher who was my age and also a dancer. Miyuki’s mother is from the Philippines, so she always managed to laugh at Japanese life on Tanegashima, andat the end of the year we performed a belly dance routine at a localfestival that I’m sure scandalized half the island.

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When people now ask me how I liked life in Japan, or if I would recommend teaching English in Japan, I’m never sure what to say. Thankfully I didn’t quite seeit at the time, but after moving to Thailand I realized how depressed and simply not myself I had been for a lot of my time in Japan. But I also have friends who taught in Japan and absolutely loved it!

I think part of the problem was living on Tanegashima and working with teachers who didn’t want to be there. I also tried too hard to fit in and act Japanese, which always left me frustrated when I failed.

The foreigners I knew who most loved Japan either had studied Japanese for years and could communicate fluently – they usually came with the intent of staying in Japan forever – or they barely spokeany Japanese and were happy staying the fascinating foreigner, ignoring the locals’ pained expressions when they broke one of Japan’s endless rules of social etiquette.

I wish I had done the latter. I ended up understanding much more Japanese than I could speak, but many Japanese refuse to believe that foreigners can learn their language (even their English textbooks placed a huge emphasis on the uniqueness of Japanese culture), so people always seemed comfortable talking about me in front of me, assuming I couldn’t understand them (even when I would respond to what they were saying).

It made for a lot of awkward situations, and continued confirmations that everyone thought I was basically a different species. It would have been much better if I hadn’t understood them.

Is anyone still reading this? Probably only my mother (thanks, Mamma, hope you have fun in Boston this weekend!).

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I guess I could have summed up this entire post simply by saying “my feelings about Japan are complicated.” There’s so much I do love about Japanese people, the beautiful islands, language and intricateculture, and I always am super excited to meet Japanese people on my travels, but I also have so many negative emotions surrounding my time there and after teaching Japanese students I worry that many Japanese (at least in conservative areas) are too weighed down by the pressures of maintaining social harmony to have a real chance at findinghappiness.

On the bright side, my two years in Japan gave me the means to travel for the past two and a half years. I left Japan with a lot of savings, andbecause my time earning that money was difficult, I’ve focused on only spending that money on things that will truly make me happy. If I hadn’t gone to Japan I would not be where I am today, living a life that I love immensely.


Why you dont want to live in Japan? ›

12 Reasons NOT to Move to Japan - YouTube

Why is moving to Japan so hard? ›

Japan has made it difficult for foreigners to settle in the country. It has imposed complex tax structures, like a steep inheritance tax that applies to even short-term foreign residents, that force some to question whether they should reside in Japan for longer than a decade.

Is migrating to Japan a good idea? ›

A Strong Economy

There are lots of opportunities for expats and foreigners wanting to work in Japan. The work centres of Tokyo, Yokohama and Osaka are the best places to find employment, with almost 15 million people spread amongst those three cities alone.

Is living in Japan as a foreigner hard? ›

Living in Japan is very comfortable, but it will not be easy for you to feel like home. One of the aspects that struck me the most when I first arrived in Japan was that, unlike in Spain, in Japan people talk very little (or almost nothing) about controversial issues such as politics, religion or taxes.

Is life in Japan stressful? ›

Yes, Japan is a stressful place to live especially in the city with all the social rules and guidelines, but when you are on top of all the rules and guidelines and they don't control you anymore, you no longer feel stress trying to observe them because you just do them without thinking, and suddenly, Japan is a ...

What is the dark side of Japan? ›

The Dark Side of Japan is a collection of folk tales, black magic, protection spells, monsters and other dark interpretations of life and death from Japanese folklore. Much of the information comes from ancient documents, translated into English here for the first time.

What's wrong with Japan? ›

Japan is facing both cyclical and structural challenges as it begins the new year. Its cyclical challenges are global supply chain bottlenecks and labor market frictions, which continue to put downward pressure on its economy as it strives to recover from the global recession.

Is living in Japan cheaper than America? ›

Living in Japan costs about three times as much as living in the United States! Even Japanese people understand that prices in Japan are higher than in many countries.

What is the easiest country to immigrate to? ›

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What are the disadvantages of living in Japan? ›

Pros and Cons of Moving to Japan
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  • Cost of living in Japan. – CON: Japan is hard on the wallet. ...
  • Keeping in touch in Japan. + PRO: Outstanding communications infrastructure. ...
  • Culture shock in Japan. – CON: Language difficulties. ...
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Do Japanese like foreigners living in Japan? ›

Why Japanese Don't Like Foreigners Living in Japan - YouTube

Is getting a job in Japan hard? ›

Finding a job in Japan can be more difficult than in your home country because maybe the job you're shooting for isn't in demand. Or you have some skills the company is looking for, but not everything they're looking for.

Are Japanese scared of foreigners? ›

"The majority of Japanese feel that foreigners are foreigners and Japanese are Japanese," said Shigehiko Toyama, a professor of English literature at Showa Women's University in Tokyo. "There are obvious distinctions. Foreigners who speak fluently blur those distinctions and that makes the Japanese feel uneasy."

How do Japanese feel about foreigners? ›

Cross-national public opinion surveys have shown that many Japanese people are relatively positive about having immigrants in the country, compared with respondents in other countries, saying that it would increase cultural diversity and revitalize society.

Are Japanese people happy? ›

Japan is ranked nr. 54 on the list of the World's happiest countries. There's a huge happiness gap between the Nordic countries and Japan. Why?

Do Japanese like foreigners living in Japan? ›

Why Japanese Don't Like Foreigners Living in Japan - YouTube

Why does PewDiePie want to move to Japan? ›

While answering questions from fans in a recent video, PewDiePie revealed that the biggest reason he loves living in Japan is that he doesn't get recognized as much as he used to. Not many people in Japan seem to know who he is, so he is able to live a much more private life these days.

How does it feel to live in Japan? ›

Japanese society is vibrant, safe, orderly, and welcoming to strangers. Once you take care of a few details, you'll be able to settle in without too much hassle and begin living an exciting new chapter in your life.

What is it actually like to live in Japan? ›

Like many Asian countries, Japan is surrounded by convenience. 7-Eleven and Lawson shops can be found every few blocks, providing people with such items as basic groceries, hot meals, medicine, liquor, and even small electronics. Transportation is expansive and efficient. It is easy to live in Japan without a car.


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