I graduated from university last summer with a degree in Anthropology and Chinese. I had a variety of options open to me, but after four years of living in London, I knew that I needed a change of scene.
I spent the summer months roaming around the Balkans, swimming in the turquoise Adriatic, trying to speak Serbian, basking in mountain meadows reading books, and getting very excited every time I saw a snake. It was a glorious summer, but I was still no closer to deciding what to do when the summer ended. On my return to London, hair bleached even blonder by the sun, and skin tanned by the same rays, I had a golden flash of inspiration and decided that the time had come to move to Japan.
At the Doclea Roman Ruins in Podgorica, Montenegro, 2019
My Journey From Rural England to Tokyo
I have long had an interest in Japan. When I was 8, I came across a Japanese language textbook on my cousin’s desk and was bewitched by the look of written Japanese with its angular Chinese characters and elegantly looping hiragana. Not long after this discovery, I saw Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” (千と千尋の神隠し) for the first time, and my love for Japan crystallized into a lifelong passion. I taught myself how to draw manga characters, marinated a lot of my food in soy-sauce, and began to teach myself Japanese in earnest.
At home in England with all the darling kittens
My love for Japan wasn’t just a phase, though, and eight years later, not long after my sixteenth birthday, I made the journey from rural England to Tokyo. I stayed with a Japanese family for a month. My host-family showed me around and gave me the most wonderful time. We went to lively summer festivals, incense-shrouded shrines, snaking rivers, mountain hot-springs, elegant sushi restaurants, noisy arcades, antiquarian bookshops, and even to a feast on the slopes of Mt Fuji! Japan was overwhelmingly brilliant, and just as exciting as I had imagined. I was enamoured. I decided that, one day, I would live in Japan. That day came last August…
Larking around in a river at Chichibu, Saitama during the summer of my first visit to Japan
Realising that I had nothing to keep me in London, I booked a flight to Tokyo for the following week, and before I had time to question this instinctive (read: impulsive) decision, I was dragging a far-too-heavy suitcase across Narita Airport and preparing to reactivate the dormant part of my brain that could speak Japanese.
4 Questions to Research Before Moving to Japan
Prior to moving to a country other than your own, it would be wise to conduct a little research into the formalities and practicalities of making the move. You might consider the following questions:
1. Do I need a visa?
2. Where will I stay and how will I find a place to live?
3. If I wish to work, then how will I find employment?
4. Is the visa one that will enable me to work?
These questions seem highly logical and obvious now, but before I left for Japan, I did very little research into any of the questions listed above. As I was anxious not to waste any more time, I left in a rush and neglected to do the obvious (i.e. apply for a visa). I trusted my instincts, however, and told myself that things would work themselves out in time and that it would be simple. I assumed that because I speak Japanese and have lived abroad before, I’d be settled into life in Japan before I knew it. As you may imagine, it turned out to be rather more complicated than I had thought. But I have arrived!
The real test of my Japanese!
Initially, the difficulties encountered when first moving here put me in a perpetual state of mild annoyance and frustration. Firstly, I found out that the only way to apply for a Working Holiday Visa was to return to England, and therefore had to fly all the way home and back again (more about that in a future post).
Having obtained a visa and boomeranged back to Japan, I then entered on the bureaucratic nightmare of finding somewhere to live, opening a bank account, and getting a telephone number.
I was impatient and wanted things to come easily. But, of course, it wasn’t always quite like that. For me, it took a journey back to England, a nasty cold, a broken tooth, a visit to Northern Poland, 10 days of silent meditation, hundreds of emails written in ultra-polite Japanese, and rather too many pieces of paper until I was finally settled in Japan.
Alright, some of those steps aren’t strictly necessary, but I think you get the point. Now, I am happy to announce that I have found a darling place to live, and I have a bank account and a telephone number.
The view from Mt Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan
Solving these problems one by one, it occurred to me that when I encountered the difficulties of living abroad I gained an awful lot of knowledge that could not be gained on a simple holiday. I desperately needed to be able to communicate properly, therefore I had to improve my spoken Japanese. The sometimes humorous faux-pas I committed enabled me to learn more about Japanese culture, society, and etiquette. The hours spent at city-halls, banks, post-offices, train stations and waiting rooms forced me to understand the official workings of this country. I had to work it all out by myself from scratch, and the things I have learnt (and am learning) have enriched my vocabulary, understanding, and ways of thinking.
Bertie Coningsby in the city. Aoyama, Tokyo
I Will Be Your Guide to Life in Japan!
I now understand the process and paperwork involved in moving to Japan in detail, and am ready to share some insights and tips with you. The series of articles that will follow will be both a practical guide to life in Japan, as well as a collection of thoughts and ideas on the benefits of living abroad. I will explain how to get a visa, find somewhere to live, open a bank account, set up a Japanese phone-number, find work, and adapt to life in Japan. Of course, along the way, I’ll be discussing the cultural differences I have encountered, negotiating etiquette and social situations, navigating the Japanese language, and other experiences that you may find useful or, at least, entertaining!