So you’ve made it to Japan. You’ve left the plane, passed through immigration, convinced customs that those weren’t the droids they were looking for, and you’re officially a gaijin.
So after you get over the taxis with the SKYNET smart doors, smack your forehead a couple of times into low hanging door frames, and check into your hotel for your training; you’ll have to begin the long road of learning to live in a foreign country. Here are some pointers and insights to help you through the transition.
Be careful where you party
I’m not talking about avoiding places that don’t serve foreigners. I’ve never seen such a place and I probably wouldn’t be turned away anyway… I’m talking about partying efficiently. If you love bars/pubs then you’re used to spending plenty of $$ for a night out on the town. As for me, I was used to Kansas house parties and hot co-eds crowding around my keg-o-rator I kept stocked with Boulevard Wheat. When I did go out, my drinks were usually on the house or set over by groups of giggly farm girls.
Japan is connected by trains and the major cities will have large train stations full of stores and restaurants. Tokyo has lots of very large stations. Your training period won’t be in some little hick town, mine was in Tokyo, but Fukuoka, Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, and Shizuoka are also popular training locations. Cities of that size will have decent sized main stations that are central locations that make for good landmarks for meet-ups.
A general rule of thumb is to avoid drinking at the station. Or if you want to drink at the station make sure your party is subterranean. Basement level establishments at the station and/or places that are 1-2 blocks away from the station have much lower rent and are much more affordable places to drink away your inhibitions or at least drink until that one chick with the dragon tattoo jumps from a 4 to a workable 7…
Sure, washboard abs, forearms that look like steel cables wrapped in skin, and a dark wash pair of jeans paired with any high quality wool top will show everyone that you have a gym membership and a subscription to GQ, but if you want to really impress a bunch of brand new gaijin then be a little prepared.
Don’t be that douche that knows everything about everything and won’t STFU about it. But keep a little notebook and write down some different foods you’d like to try. Then when you’re out and everyone is ordering off the pictures in the menu you can try something you’re actually interested in trying.
Two things you’ll want to ask about are nomihodai’s and tabehodai‘s. A lot of different restaurants and even karaoke joints will have a nomihodai option. It’s all you can drink from a limited drink menu, usually draft beer, red & white wine, and a few different types of sake. Yakiniku restaurants will often have a tabehodai option, which like the nomihodai, is all you can eat from a select menu.
Buy old sushi
Supermarkets typically close around 8:00 p.m. Around an hour before they lock their doors, all of the prepared food they have left-over will go on sale. This includes all bento boxes, onigiri, and sushi & sashimi. If you wait to shop then you can save a ton and still eat like a king.
I used to buy bento boxes with assorted foods for around ¥270. I bought shredded crab over rice for around ¥450. Boxes of sushi dropped down between ¥300-600 depending on the contents.
This, and raiding the local vegetable gardens is how I survived my first year in Japan.
Japan has 2nd hand shops that make the thrift stores I shopped at in Kansas look like… well… like thrift stores you’d expect to find in the middle of Kansas.
They’re called “Recycle Shop” and like you’d expect of Japan they’re clean, safe, and meticulously maintained. The electronics work, the clothes are clean, and the porn is… well… plentiful.
Shopping at a Dollar Tree in America is a mission to actually find something worth a $1… one that usually ends in failure unless you place a higher value on plastic harmonicas and bubble wands than normal people… The Japanese relative of the dollar store is the aptly named “hyakuen” which just means “100 yen.”
Now ¥100 shops are actually ¥105 with tax, but they’re still great places to get office supplies, hangers, dishes, eco bags, cleaning supplies, slippers, etc. It’s actually difficult to not find something that would in some way improve your life in Japan.
I always recommend getting on the National Health Insurance. If you work for Interac they’ll recommend a 3rd party international insurance company called Global Health Insurance. Japan doesn’t recognize this company. You’ll have to pay all costs up front in full, save your receipts, and then file more paperwork to get reimbursed. Being that I hate paperwork I opted to get onto the National plan as quickly as possible.
Now the National plan is based off of your salary from the previous year. As you are new to Japan, you did not collect any salary last year so there is next to no price difference between Global and the National plan. However… your second year in Japan your insurance rate will probably double, which turns some people off to the National plan, but you should still probably get on it.
Japanese companies are required by law to either provide company based insurance or enroll their employees in the National Health Insurance. How dispatch companies and English schools skirt around this I’m not sure, but there are plenty of angry bloggers who have already discussed that issue.
The thing that I want you to be aware of is if you’re in Japan for a long time and using a 3rd party international insurance and then want/need to switch to the National coverage, you’re up a metaphorical creek of excrement without any means of propulsion or steering… You’ll be expected to make back payments for those years you’ve been in Japan not paying for any health insurance that Japan recognizes. Now there are ways around this, or at least I’ve heard rumors of people who have been able to dodge the bullet, but again… that’s more work than I want to do.
I could go on and on about tips for living in Japan. But being dervishly witty and a humorous rake gets old after a while…
If I’ve made any mistakes or your experience has been otherwise please let me know. If you have any other hints that might help the 新外人, then please let me know!