I first moved to Japan as an English teacher in April 2017. I was living two hours away from Tokyo in a prefecture called Ibaraki, and a few months later, I got a job at a travel company and moved to the big city.
It has been a roller coaster of experiences—from overcoming the language barrier, to settling into the work culture, all while trying to grow and develop as a person.
As I try to survive my second year in Tokyo, I'm reflecting on my experiences as an expat. Here's what I've learned.
1) Tokyo is crowded, no matter where you go
I'm from Toronto, Canada's biggest city. However, Toronto has nothing on Tokyo in terms of crowds.
The obvious spot where you'll see this is on the trains during rush hour. However, it's not just the trains that are crowded—everywhere is crowded. You can't go out to eat and expect to get a seat at a restaurant (especially on weekends) the minute you walk in. Or, if there's an event, you have to buy your tickets in advance, as they're almost always sold out. Having fun in Tokyo requires some planning and the "wing it" mentality is not going to work.
2) It’s okay to do things solo
When you move into the big city without having friends and family nearby, it requires more effort to find a new support system. Since moving to Tokyo, I've made some amazing friends (both locals and expats). However, some expat friendships don’t last that long as people need to return home.
As I see people coming and going in my life, it has made me more comfortable in doing things on my own. I don’t mind going out to restaurants on my own. I don’t mind taking day trips or travelling solo. In fact, despite Tokyo being the biggest city in the world, many of the locals are quite content in being alone. You will find many restaurants that cater for one person. Living in Tokyo has made me more comfortable being alone.
3) Work culture means both overtime and plenty of public holidays
Japan’s work culture is intense, where overtime is expected. Some days, I feel overwhelmed and work 12 hours a day. I can’t change the overtime mentality, but I try my best to maintain an achievable work-life balance. I do my best to go home on time three days a week, and I have been taking yoga lessons to help de-stress.
The good thing about working in Japan is there's a public holiday every month (not to mention the week-long Golden Week holiday) and that’s always an incentive to keep going.
4) All it takes to learn another language is practice
When I moved to Japan, I considered myself a “Japanese noob.” I knew nothing about the culture. And compared to some of the foreigners that spoke flawless Japanese, I felt insecure about my ability to speak the language.
I decided to take Japanese lessons every week to improve my daily living. It has been a huge help. Many English speakers don't feel the need to learn a new language, but when you do, it really opens opportunities and expands your perspective. And like anything, practice really makes perfect.
5) A typical weekend looks much the same as it did at home
To be honest, I haven't travelled around Asia or Japan much, as most of my weekends are spent catching up on sleep. But when I do go out in Tokyo, it’s nothing different than what I did in Toronto. My friends go out to eat, attend festivals, or hang out at one another's apartments.
What I enjoy about Tokyo is that I always have something to do here and I feel I always encounter a new place every weekend (thanks to the amazing public transit system).
6) Homesickness doesn't go away
If you follow my Instagram and have read my previous blog posts, it does seem like I am living my fullest—but there are days where I miss home. I see my friends in Canada getting engaged, getting promoted, or even reaching milestones like buying a house or car. Sometimes, I do miss Canadian culture, too. I miss spending time with my family and the many ethnic cuisine that Toronto had.
7) There will always be one questions on my mind
"Do I stay or go?"
I think every expat asks themselves this.
As I try to survive my second year in Tokyo, this question always pops up in my head. I've made amazing friends here and I feel I like I’m not finished here in Tokyo. It's the reason why I’m always pushing myself to explore and travel, as I know my time here is limited. I'm trying to live in the moment now, but I know that when the time to go home comes, it will feel right.Add this article to your reading list