Moving to Japan: Is it Worth it?
Japan has always been one of the most popular destinations around the world. To the Japanimaniacs, let's face it: we all dreamed of living in Japan someday, too. That's because we think that all the fancy Japanese traditions, cultures, anime, J-pop, J-Rock, J-drama, and everything we see from the media will finally be a part of our lives the moment we step into this country and hopefully find a local partner, get married, and live there forever.
...I wish it would be that way! 😅
Now on my fifth year living in the country (and engaged to a wonderful Japanese man), I often wondered where those dreams went---that's because most of the things I thought would happen in my life living in Japan never really happened at all!
The five stages of life in Japan
I categorized five stages of my life as a foreigner living in Japan. These dramatically changed the way I see life in general and my life in Japan as an outsider (OUCH! That word doesn't sound nice at all, but this is literally the meaning of the the term 'gaijin' in Japanese).
Stage One: The Japanese Dream
The Japanese Dream is an ambition to live and work in Japan for the rest of one's life. It's like the American Dream, you know what I'm sayin'? (Relax, I made up this term myself; you wouldn't find this word in the dictionary.) Like most Japan fans, my Japanese dream bloomed from the love of anime, Japanese culture, food, and architecture. I started dreaming about Japan at the age of 9, when I was designing Japanese school uniforms inspired by the 90s shoujo anime, Sailormoon. Since then I often told myself and my friends, "When I grow up, I'm gonna live in Japan!" (And then laughed hard because I thought it was the biggest joke I ever told myself!)
But after 21 years, who would've thought I'd actually move to Japan?
Thanks to my host family who accommodated me to stay at their place in Chiba Prefecture for 2 weeks back in 2014. They were my students when I worked as an online English teacher in Manila on the same year. They were so pleased that my student's wife, Yuko-san, invited me to visit Japan and experience the life there. They also helped me look for a job when I returned to Manila, got the job the following year, and the rest is history.
Stage Two: The Honeymoon
Of course, coming to Japan as a tourist is such an amazing experience. But coming to Japan to live for a long period of time (if not forever) would be even better---I thought! 😂
But as we all know, living in a foreign country would mean leaving our home country, family, friends, pets, some valuable things, our favorite local food, a huge part of our language (especially if English is not your native tongue), and in short, our comfort zone. But what the heck? We can compromise! 😎
The moment I landed in Hokkaido was like one of the best days of my life. It was such a unique experience. It was my first time seeing snow, foreign trees (yeah, I noticed that), different architecture, and so on. Every time I woke up it felt like a refreshing day. Everything was an opportunity to experiment, feel, learn, and observe. Those were the days until...
Stage Three: The Culture-Shock
It was on the fourth month of my first year when my world suddenly paused. I just realized I have been eating, sleeping, traveling, and working on my own---EVERY SINGLE DAY. It would have been great at first because freedom was at my feet. I lived with my family for 30 years, didn't have my own space, and I was in 'prison' under my Dad's house laws. And now I am free as a bird.
Unfortunately I felt like a bird in a cage. Because I was foreign, nobody talked with me, made friends, nor even a neighbor cared to knock on my door and welcome me in that town I first lived. Perhaps it could've been different if I lived in friendly Osaka City, or got lucky to be assigned near my host family's place. But I was in Kyogoku, a beautiful landscape with such wonderful nature yet cursed with such hostility among the residents. Naaah, I was kidding. It's not that they're mean; Japanese people are just not naturally open to foreigners, especially those living in the countryside because of lack of awareness, exposure, and English language ability. Through these experiences, it later evolved into the next stage which is...
Stage Four: The Struggle
Keeping a positive mindset and a busy lifestyle can maintain one's sanity---literally. But it's not enough when you're dealing with life alone without any human support. Yes, we may talk with colleagues once in a while, have an online video call with family members and friends, and the itinerary goes on. But people will be busy, and we cannot depend on them all the time.
Another struggle is missing the food from our home country. Maybe to some, it's not a big deal. But as a Filipino, eating local food for me is important. The lack of ingredients here in Japan makes it almost impossible to do some of my favorite foods like halo-halo, manggang hilaw, tinapang bangus, and the list goes on. Luckily, there are still a few available ingredients around that are local and imported, but most of them are really expensive.
There's also the inability to use my native language, Tagalog. And although I can speak English fluently and have a basic level of Japanese conversation, speaking in a foreign language doesn't make it natural and it makes me homesick. Do you know that speaking in English and Japanese, like forever, makes me crazy?
And the most difficult for me is enduring the four-season environment. In my home country, the Philippines, we only get two seasons all year (summer and rain), and our average temperature ranges from 20 degrees Celcius the lowest and 40 degrees the highest (and this goes on for a long time). Seasons in Hokkaido are short, but winter is the longest, about half a year, with the lowest temperature about -17 degrees Celcius. An average Filipino cannot handle that cold, and sudden changes of seasons make us literally sick!
Stage Five: Survival
The last stage would be the desire to withstand everything during tough times. It will even depend if the survival is successful or not. Some overseas workers endure the struggle for a certain period of time; and when exhaustion comes they decide to quit and return to their home countries. Others, like me, commit to strength and persistence for a reputable reason. We all have different reasons after all. But the moment of survival will always strike again and again.
So those are the stages, folks! I have to say it's a never ending process. In fact, in my personal experience, stages 3, 4, and 5 are repetitive. So the question is,
Is it worth it?
Personally, yes. My decision to move to Japan changed my life forever. Since I moved here, I Iearned the value of true independence, saving money, understanding other cultures, embracing Japanese culture, cultural differences, acceptance, contentment, minimalism, self-discipline, cleanliness, and the list goes on. Of course, it may depend on an individual. Some people regretted their choice to move here, others are happy to be here. I guess it's a matter of patience and endurance.
If you have some questions related to moving to Japan, please write your comments below and I'd be happy to reply!