Life in Japan. The second month.
Moving to Japan will be the best decision that you ever make. It is life changing. This is what happened to me during my second month in Japan.
I’ve been living in Japan for 6 years. Wow, time goes by fast. Check out the first entry if you wanna start at the beginning.
The Second Month
I’m thinking back, trying to recall the second month I lived in Japan. And it’s hard because the experience was filled with so many alternating extremes in emotion. It’s like suddenly teleporting to a world where everything you are accustomed to is reversed. You can’t understand a single word anyone is saying. The train comes exactly on time. Bizzaro land coming from NYC’s MTA. On top of that I gained the bad habit of subconsciously doing the head bow to everyone I walked passed on the street. (Try not to do that.)
The one thing I want to express is the feeling of altering powerful experiences you will have when you first start living in Japan. Every day, every hour, every minute and every second you’re in Japan, your mind is changing for life. I just don’t know how to put it into words. It’s like a high you’ve never had before.
While walking, you are teleported to another dimension as your senses are bombarded endlessly with minute details of another life and another time. Every single object suggests another lifetime you’ve never imagined. Every room is a collage of a mysterious culture. The glimpses of Japanese culture that you experienced in your home country are laid bare. You can feel your old perceptive burning away, like tissue paper in front of you. Despite affirming to yourself that you won’t have culture shock, you will learn that you were wrong. You are not prepared.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The second month was filled with some painful experiences.
I had to go to school again. Studying Japanese was nothing less than a pure hell-scape nightmare. I was suddenly placed in a group of 20 to 40 year olds from all different countries. We only had one thing in common. We all wanted to speak Japanese. But just like in the military, a lot of us were doomed from the start. Japanese language school is brutal. If you are not a school oriented person, you’re going to need to work harder than you’ve ever have. Prepare to see yourself fall behind while others miraculously succeed. Espeically Taiwanese and Korean students. Not just them though. In my experience, all students from asian countries have much better work ethic than my western compatriots and I did. A lot of Vietnamese students worked part-time 4–6 hours a day and then studied for another 6–8. It wasn’t a vacation to them. In constrast, most of the westerns (from Europe and North America) didn’t work and spent a lot of time clubbing and dating. (Though a lot of western students also worked very hard on their Japanese.)
Making new friends is shitty. You need to find a friend group right away or you are going to have severe depression. I’m pretty introverted and before going to Japan, I had my handful of friends and that was that. Going back to school and being friendless is not a good feeling at all. That combined with not being able to speak a word of Japanese made it so I couldn’t even talk to my host family, let alone make friends with Japanese people. Most people (including myself) quickly join a gaijin (外人 : Foreigner) friend bubble and never leave it. Get ready for a lot of study nights at your nearest Hub.
After a few weeks, I was pretty depressed. I was suddenly face to face with the consequences of my actions. I didn’t study Japanese before coming to Japan. I had no network there. I was alone.
The culture difference will mess with you. Before I came to Japan, I thought of myself as an agreeable person. I was 100% confident that there was no situation or requirement of me that would make me upset or would offend me. I was very very wrong. The thing is, Western and Eastern thinking is extremely extremely different.
One example: I walked a block away from my language school to get lunch. Bought a bento and sat down next to a construction site to eat outside. All the students normally eat right outside the front of the school, but I was feeling good and wanted to sit in the sun that day. Few bites into my meal later, I hear a woman shrieking at the top of her lungs. I immediately jumped up, thinking there was a murder or something. She keeps yelling and yelling something. But she’s yelling in Japanese in the middle of the most populated area in the city. My New York reaction to this is to ignore it. I continued my mouth watering bento. A few minutes later, this woman comes out from the building across the street from me. It turns out, she had been screaming at me from her 3 floor apartment window! I’m sitting on a short wall next to a construction site. There isn’t another person in sight. Am I about to die? I prepared for my last seconds on Earth. She’s right in front of me now. What’s going to happen? It turns out, she really did not like me eating outside (which is a no-no in Japan) and need to scream at the top of her lungs at me to teach me that.
Maybe she was just having a bad day. I don’t know. I have a hundred of situations just like that. I don’t want to go into examples because what happened to me won’t happen to you. But I promise you, you will be tested. Japanese people will be frustrated with your actions and you will be frustrated with theirs.
A few one offs that will hurt.
You’re gonna get really sick.
You won’t be able to sleep properly.
You will have to go to the Ward Office and get a stack of paper an inch thick that you cannot read and have no idea what to do with. You will have to figure out how to sign up for nation health care which is explained somewhere in that inch of paper.
You will lose your JR ticket stub and be faced with figuring out how to exit the train station with it.
You’re friend is going to have better Japanese than you. They will be seemingly be the star of the conversation as you sit, listen to gibberish, and sip beer.
You will feel like you dropped 50 IQ. Basic tasks will be impossible for you (incl. washing your clothes, using the microwave). You will hear a lot of impatience in the random Japanese sounds that people parrot at you.
You say “はい” and “ありがとう” over 100,000 times as a response to anything even if your Japanese isn’t that bad. Your brain will shut down and fail you.
The lows are low, but the highs are very very high. The second month was filled with a lot of life-changing incredible experiences.
I made friends in my Japanese class. One guy in particular had been to Japan many times and spoke Japanese better than anyone in our class. His name was Mark and He happened to be English, making him the only westerner in our class with excellent Japanese. Through him I was introduced to Japanese night life.
Mark wasn’t interested in the gaijin bubble. He wanted to go out, party hard, and study Japanese like a demon. He had a lot of Japanese friends and I was really lucky that I made friends with him. I started hanging out with him on the weekends in Shinsaibashi.
I’ve never had more fun in my life than I had in Shinsaibashi with Mark.
To preface, I grew up in NYC. In NY, for fun you go to expensive bars for 1–2 overpriced beers in the LES, sit in a crowd of 3–4 dozen hipsters, and try to get the bartender stop ignoring you. Or you smoke weed at your friends house. Or you go to a house party. Japan is the complete opposite. There are bars next to bars on top of bars with other bars inside them. Bars bars bars bars bars. A bar for smoking cigars, and bar for gigalos, and bar for anime, a bar for reggae. A bar for every country on earth. A bar for eating insects. A bar for pool. A bar for darts. A bar for poker. A bar for dressing like a baby. A bar for singing. A bar for crying. All on the same street.
At each bar, the bar master really wants to keep you as a customer. The competition is great. So each bar normally the bar master is very attentive to you. They want you to have a great time. So even if your Japanese is barely intelligible, they will talk to you and be your friend (as long as you keep paying).
Exploring. Every place you go will be a life changing experience. You will go to what is basically a garage filled with garbage, but for you, it will be unimaginably provocative. I saw so many things I had never imagined before. It’s hard to put into words, but every little thing in Japan is different than in the West. The endless novelty is constantly bombarding you. Just the way customers interact with shop owners, or the way little kids are walking home alone in the middle of a busy city. The way teenagers are hanging out on the street, or the way normally ultra reserved salarymen become life of the party extroverts after a couple beers. I can’t write it using words because it’s everything. Everything is different and it almost hurts your brain as you try to reach normalcy.
You will make Japanese friends. In Japan, you will be a mini-celebrity. Westerners are very very rare in Japan. Japan is 98% homogenous. Over half of the 2% of the immigrant population is either Chinese or Korean. Another 25% of that represents the Philippino and Vietnamese population. That leaves about 5–10%, representing the number of immigrants in Japan that are western. That’s about 75,000 people. And a vasts majority of that 75k live in Tokyo. You are an ultra rare pokemon in Japan.
Get ready to be invited to countless parties and dinner and events. You’ll never have a boring weekend. However, it is frustrating at first. Inevitably, your friends will start speaking Japanese and you’ll be forced to stick your thumb up your butt. It’s good motivation to learn thought.
You’re gonna have really, really, really good food. Coming from New York City, which is the international capital of the world in my opinion, I thought I ate some pretty good food. I was wrong. Japanese restaurant are next level. These people setup little restaurants everywhere, and they are artists. The food is straight up better than sex (bad sex). I recommend searching for legendary restaurants. There are a handful of small yet famous restaurants in every city. They normally don’t cost any more than anywhere else but the food they make is to die for.
Man, just writing this brings back that uncanny feeling I had daily during the first year living in Japan. After 6 years living in Japan, I know what to expect. I can understand the language, but more importantly, I can read the culture. I know what people are thinking. But when you first move, you feel like you are in a theme park. Everything, EVERYTHING, is novel and your dopamine is soaking your brain like a hose.
Not only that. In such an extremely new environment, cut off from your normal life, you will learn a lot about yourself. You will grow in ways you never imagined. At least for me, I was forced too.
And that’s all I have to say about that. If you wanna read more stuff like this, leave a comment and I’ll write another one asap. Thanks for reading. 読んでくれてありがとうございます。🐶🇯🇵🇺🇸