Adjusting to the Japan experience as a newly-arrived expat

Adjusting to the Japan experience as a newly-arrived expat

Adjusting to the Japan experience as a newly-arrived expat

For many expats, the lure of Japan is too potent to resist, but adjusting to the country’s unique culture is a challenge.

Cultural struggles are the norm for newly-arrived expatriate professionals in Japan, especially as body language and social cues are often even more important than what’s said or written. The culture places a great deal of value on being non-confrontational and indirect, both rare qualities in the West, to the extent that discontent isn’t shown but is conveyed with subtle hints and verbal clues. Whilst this approach to interaction can be learned over time by Westerners, the vast majority of new arrivals have ongoing problems with the entire concept for at least the first several years.

Learning the Japanese language is a necessity, even although it's one of the world’s most difficult tongues. Writing involves three totally different writing systems, all of which are used in each and every sentence. Kanji characters are the most difficult to memorise as they’re based on traditional Chinese pictograms, with the phonetic Hiragana and Katakana scripts easier to identify and often used for loan words from Western languages. Most Japanese don’t expect expat fluency in their language, and often reply in broken English when spoken to in Japanese by a foreigner. Taking private lessons is essential, along with finding sympathetic Japanese friends who’re happy to help.

For students and younger expats, making friends is easy, especially in the huge cities. Events, meetups and international parties are easy to find, with those aimed at helping locals and expats mingle and mix the most rewarding. One aspect of life as an expat professional in Japan which can cause problems is workplace etiquette, as the boss is the uncrowned king and looking busy is more important than actually being busy. Working hours are long and demanding, and no-one heads for the door until their supervisor leaves. As with expat communities the world over, there are Westerners who can’t find anything good to say about their country of residence but somehow manage to stay in Japan notwithstanding. They’re best avoided, especially by newly-arrived expats having a hard time adjusting.

One thing’s for certain, if you find you’re beginning to feel at home in this amazing country, you’ve opened yourself up to one of the most unique, fascinating cultures the world has to offer, and one you’ll hate to leave when the time comes.

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