Saturday, August 12, 2006

My Sagely Advice for Those Coming to Japan

Over the past few weeks I have been getting emails and questions regarding Japan and what things people should know before coming here to live or visit. This post is going to try to answer the bulk of those questions and some of the stuff I say here is from my own experience that I wish someone would have told me before I came over here. Now, I am telling you!

For those coming to live or visit here:

1) Internet takes a while to get set up, much longer than it does in the States or Canada. Be ready for this and know that when you sign up for the internet, three weeks wait time is quick here. Mine was set up in two and that was consider by many, an act of God.

2) Learn Katakana before Hiragana. In Japanese classes they teach you Hiragana first and Katakana second. You will use Katakana more then Hiragana, learn it, have it down pat before you come. When you see a grocery store here, you will thank me.

3) Bring some three prong to two prong electrical converters. Anything you have that has a ground plug on it will not work here unless you bring some two prong electrical outlet converters. I have known people just to bust off the ground but I would not advise it. All standard plugs in Japan are two prong.

4) Do not bring clocks, hairdryers, or curling irons if they have to be plugged in. Clocks go absolutely nutty here unless they are bought here. I have seen a hairdryer burst into flame and I have never trusted curling irons either since then.

5) If you have the money, get an MP3 player and a Gameboy DS or PSP. When you ride trains as much as I do, you will be glad you have them. My iPod gets used more than almost anything I own. Books are good to read on trains but books weigh a bit and cost a ton to bring with you. They are also a tad tricky and spendy to find in English here. My advice on books, bring only a few that you love and will be able to re-read.

6) If you think you are going to want a car while in Japan(though I am technically not allowed to by my employer) get your international driver's license before coming to Japan. Its illegal to get an international license while in Japan so you need one before you come.

7) Learn some basic phrases in Japanese. Where is something? How much is something? Excuse me. Thanks. Etc. This is just plain good stuff to know. In my opinion, if you are living in Japan, you should learn Japanese. Many people here will not speak to you in English, don't expect them to. I have found people are a ton more helpful even if you just try to speak Japanese. They set the bar pretty low for white people so if they see you even trying to say something, they will be pleased. On that note, if you come to Japan and already know Japanese pretty well, fake that you don't. A) Its funny to see what they say about you when they don't think you will understand and B) Sometimes if you speak Japanese too well, it weirds them out and they are less helpful.

8)Be patient and good natured and that will get you far here. As a rule, that probably applies to life as a whole but in Japan, its crucial. As I said, not all Japanese people know English and those that do probably will not be fluent in it. Be ready to help them out with whatever Japanese you know. Have a sense of humor about the whole thing and know that they are probably as uncomfortable with the situation as you are, if not more. Do not be rude to them! If you get rude with them, like all people, Japanese can turn into jerks really quick. See how far you get when you have pissed off the only kind of English speaking guy in a place. If Japanese people get the feeling you are being a jerk to them, even if they can't understand you, things go South very quickly. I know people that, while the Japanese people act friendly toward them in person, they say some pretty mean things behind their back and its all because this person was rude to a couple of people one time at a meeting. In my group of people at work, if you tick off one of the Japanese teachers, its a good bet news of what you did or did not do will get around to the others. Bottom line, be nice.

9)When you come here, get the train system down. It looks daunting at first but after a day or two you will see its actually very easy to use. The train is your life sometimes, know them, love them. :) You will find that after a while of riding them, you start to have places on each kind of train that you like to sit more than others. On every train I ride, I have a favorite spot on each side of the train depending on the direction I am going. Maybe I am weird, maybe I just figure if I am going to ride them as much as I do, I am going to be comfy doing it.

10) DO NOT BE RUDE TO COPS! This is a biggy. As I have said in other posts, Japanese cops have the ability to make your life a living hell if you tick them off. If you do not have your ARC card yet, carry your passport pretty much everywhere you go. There will be cops that will stop you on the street and ask to see it. If you need directions and stop at a Koban (police box) be ready to show your passport or ARC card. If you do not have it on you and you walk in to ask for directions, considered yourself fined, if not worse.

11) I feel like I say this almost every post these days but, its really really humid here. Bring the appropriate attire for the climate. Be ready to sweat and have deodorant with you. Its hard to find in stores sometimes. Stay hydrated and cool as much as possible. If you are traveling to a meeting, it may be best in the summer months to bring the dress clothes with you and get dressed up right before the meeting. This will keep you from looking like a wet rat in your nice clothes.

12) Learn to cook stuff without an oven or using only one burner. Apartments vary here but none I have seen have a kitchen like we are used to in North America. Find dishes you like that you can make in a pan on the stove. Prepare yourself to be without an oven for a while. If you are lucky enough to get an oven, be ready for it to be very very small.

13) It may be where I am at but as a whole, Japan can be a kind of lonely place. Try to make as many friends as possible and try to find people to hang out with. Aside from the internet, I do not talk to a lot of people very often. This kind of sucks and its really the only complaint I have about living here. Everyone deals with loneliness in different ways but be prepared for it, it will probably creep up on you at some point.

Special notes for females coming to Japan:

1) If you are a blonde or a redhead, prepare to get starred at and possibly photographed. Men are not supposed to take pics but don't be surprised if they do. If a guy really starts hassling you, report him to the train conductor or a cop if you see one. They are cracking down on pervs so odds are if you complain, they will act.

2) On trains especially, keep on eye out for gropers. If you want to feel more at ease and the train you are riding has a women only car, ride it. Groping is a problem here, especially if you are good looking and stand out. Odds are, if you are white, you are going to stand out.

3) While Japan is a pretty safe place, if you are alone, do not walk down certain streets at night. You will know the streets when you see them and I would avoid them unless you have a friend with you.

4) If a guy starts to bother you, go nuts on him. I have heard stories of guys bothering women and once the woman starts yelling at him the guy runs away. Japanese do not like confrontation and people getting in their face, use that to your advantage.

Well, thats about it for my Yoda-esque advice. If anyone has any questions beyond what I mentioned here, feel free to email me or leave a comment. I hope this helps, though a lot of it is kind of general knowledge. If you are moving to Japan, be ready for a fun time. Japan is a cool place to live and I have been pretty happy here, hopefully you will like the country as much as I have.


At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Peltzer said...

Thanks for the reply. It really cleared a lot of my initial questions up and your recent moving to Japan post helped as well. As you can imagine, your journal probably serves as one of the best, if not the best, first hand account of somebody working for Peppy’s and the transition to life in Japan. I was fortunate to find it when I did.

Just a few follow-ups:

1) You made mention of not bringing clocks and the oven situation. So, basically, you had to purchase your dishes and such when you got there? Alarm clock? The apartment that Peppy’s gives you…is it furnished and have items like dishes etc?
2) I, as of yet, do not have a laptop. I have been pondering selling off my desktop to purchase one to take with me but, as side options (or while waiting for internet connection) are there internet cafes there or places where one could use the net? Libraries, perhaps?
3) Can you find English reading material in libraries?
4) Can you tell me a bit about health insurance: How much does it cost? Is it taken off your Peppy’s paycheck? How do you apply for it?
5) After rent deductions, electricity bills etc and health insurance what would you say is the remaining balance on your pay monthly?

Okay, that seems to be all for the moment.
Thanks again,

At 11:59 AM, Blogger Mogwai said...

I am glad I can help you! Peppy isn't a bad company to work for, just don't expect a ton of support from them once your out of training. It varies from area to area and how good of a guy your boss is. I like the fact that the company really doesn't bother me very much and I got on a good team as far as co-workers go.

To answer your questions:

1) Every apartment is supplied with two plates, bowls, spoons, etc. Odds are the person that was in the apartment before you has left stuff as well, though technically they are not supposed to. When I came, I picked up a cheap battery run alarm clock for about $10. Now, I use my cell phone for the most part.

2) If it were me, and I am a tad of a nerd, I would get a laptop if you can afford it. My laptop has kept me sane. One of the things I did bring with me was my DVD collection and I am glad I did. Depending on where they stick you, you may or may not have a movie theater in town. My town doesn't have one. DVDs from here also will not work straightaway with laptops with Region 1 DVD drives. You can get some software that takes care of that but I have not found a good one that works solidly yet. Honestly, I download a lot of movies and television shows and odds are most people in your group will have their supply to let you copy as well. As for internet cafes, there are plenty of them around, you just have to find them. For the first month or two I was here, I used the computers at a cell phone store to check emails. I was fortunate that they had free setups for people to use in their waiting room. Usually, when you move to a place, your group will have a little handbook put together for you and that will hopefully tell you where some of this stuff is. As I said, your mileage may vary with all of this stuff because each group is different.

3) English material is general is a pain in the ass to come by here. I know my library has some English books but I have never gone to look. If its anything like the English section at the one bookstore in my town, they have about twenty books. In my bookstore's case, they have about twenty books and of those twenty are every book Dan Brown has written. For me that is like going to the third ring of Hell, I hate that guy and here, I am stuck with him. There are two pretty good places to find English books in Japan and each one has a drawback. First, there is the top floor of the Tower Records in Shibuya, Tokyo. That has the biggest selection of English reading material in Japan and the prices are really really good, almost the price that you would pay for a book at home. The downside, its in Tokyo and there are no Peppy classrooms in Tokyo and I am a $150 train ride from Tokyo. Second place is the bookstore in Umeda station in Osaka. Its much more convenient for me to get to but the selection is a quarter that of Tokyo and the prices are about 40% more. For one reason or another magazines are crazy expensive here. My Wired costs me $14 to buy.

3) Health Insurance....yeah....its confusing. In theory, I am on the national plan that most Japanese citizens are on. The part that confuses me is they said I had to fill out paperwork and I never did but in theory, I somehow got put on the plan. I need to check that so thanks for reminding me. The other route is travel insurance but if you plan on staying for a while, I do know the Japanese plan is more cost effective. I have also heard that there is a way that Canadian residents can keep their national insurance plan while here. Your guys' setup is a lot different than the American way when it comes to insurance so you may want to research that a tad. I know that had I stayed on US travel insurance, I would have paid a mint. The insurance comes out of your check and Peppy will help you with it if you choose to get on the Japanese plan.

5) As far as what my actual take home is after taxes and deductions, its pretty good. The big thing is taking into account you do not have a car to put money into here. Usually, I take home after everything is taken out, about $2000. But taking into account that the apartment, my gas, my water, and my internet were already paid for, and I don't have the car, I live like I were earning the Japanese equivalent of about $36,000 a year. As I was saying, its easy to save money if you play your cards right. Also, what utilities are deducted from your check, if any, vary from apartment to apartment. The reason for this is because some apartments here have communal gas and water payments and so the charge gets tagged on to my rent. My internet is also tagged on to my rent because that is the way my ISP does business. The fun part is that I am not sure Peppy has caught on to that yet. :) If you come here and they tell you your apartment is what they call a, Leopalace, you will have internet pre-installed in the apartment and its part of your rent.

If there is anything else let me know, answering your stuff has made me realize how much knowledge I have of this place for not being here that long. Its kind of fun, I feel useful. Also, keep in touch and if you end up here, let me know where you are and I will be able to help you out a little more. I have been almost everywhere in Japan other than the Northern and Southern islands. If you get placed relatively close, we may be able to hook up at some point.

At 5:54 PM, Anonymous Peltzer said...

A few more but first: Man, somebody else besides me remembers Zombies Ate My Neighbours! You just brought forth a deluge of memory. Do you recall the huge baby you had to battle? Yikes!

Okay, so, speaking of a deluge, you've been more then helpful with the onslaught of questions. I actually wrote a few other Peppy teachers from a webposting I find but, alas, no reply.

1) Did Peppy's help out in getting your Visa? (Are you on a Work or Working Holiday?) How long did it take you to get your Visa? What were the costs?

2) Money! Lordy, does this freak me out above all things. How did you get used to the currency change? Thankfully Yen has numbers on it but was it hard to get used to the huge denominations?

3)Do they make you do any mock teaching in the interview? What sort of questions are asked? Did you meet with Robin Noftel as she is the one I would be meeting with? I know you mentioned that it is an easy in but could you elaborate a touch on the interview process, what is expected and what you think you did to get you the gig?

4) How long after the interview was it before you got a placement? I am not looking for anything too soon but something early next year/Spring'ish.

As for meeting up in Japan: of course! I'd be going there knowing nobody, always a daunting experience, so any contact would be most welcome. I owe you a saki (sp?) for all this help anyway. But first I must get the job. ;)


At 5:59 PM, Anonymous Peltzer said...

PS: Did you apply online via the website or send in a resume? Did you have any teaching experience beforehand? What do you think would be good advice for me in these initial stages, anything I should add to the resume, etc?

At 10:32 PM, Blogger Mogwai said...

Hey again! Yes, Peppy help out with your Work Visa stuff...I am on a work visa, the US doesn't have a working holiday one.

As for the money, you get used to it. The best rule of thumb is if some is for example, 1500 yen, its $15.00. Just put a decimal point to the left of the last two zeros and that is how much Canadian dollars you are looking at roughly.

You do not have to do any mock teaching or anything like that for your interview. The interview is a cake walk so I wouldn't worry too much. I saw their ad on and sent the lady my resume from there. After that, I had to go up to BC for my interview.

Talk to you later!

At 8:47 PM, Anonymous y said...

Hi, this is pretty useful so I wanted to say thanks first :) I'll be heading there in a couple of months with Peppy, so I have a couple questions too if you don't mind.

1. How often do you have to wear the formal office clothes?
2. Did you bring 2 suitcases with you?

I guess I'm concerned about packing at this point =D

At 10:13 AM, Blogger Mogwai said...

Hey Y!

As far as the "office attire", I almost never have to dress up. There are meetings everyonce in a while that are more formal and you have to dress up for that but other than that, not often. In theory, if you are visiting your area's office then you are supposed to wear slacks but my office seems to be a tad lax on that policy.

I did bring two suitcases. One of the ones I brought weighed almost 80lbs. I knew I would be here a while so I snagged all I could fit. I am a bigger guy and most Japanese clothes will not fit me. My shoes would have to be custom ordered here and my shoulders are usually to broad for their shirts. I knew this in advance so I just figured I would bring all of the clothes I may need.

From now on, if there are anymore questions, just go ahead and leave a comment in my newest post. That way I will see the comment for sure and reply to it quicker. As it is now, I have to scroll down a bit to check this one and I don't want to leave any questions unanswered. Keep em coming!


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