A giant leap for one man - part 1

I know from correspondence that many people often toy with the idea of moving to Japan. Sometimes it's based entirely on their love of manga or anime, sometimes they fell in love with the place after a few holidays here. Whatever your motives there is one thing you should do if you want to make the move: just get on with it!
It is no great accomplishment that I managed to get settled here and build myself a career. Sure, it took some work, some study and a little bit of luck, but it is very do-able. You should not stop yourself due to some misguided idea that it is almost impossible.

Some issues you will have to deal with:

  • Language; it is a safe bet to assume no one in Japan speaks English. Of course some people do, and do so very well, but you can't rely on them and they are but few. In your daily life, at work (unless you're an English teacher), you will need to speak Japanese. Once you're here and you're surrounded by the language it is much easier to learn but you should do yourself a favour and get started as soon as possible back in your home country.
  • Culture shock; though Japan likes to think it is a unique and impenetrable place, it isn't. But it is very different from what you're used to at home. Things work differently here. People interact differently here. Body language differs. Houses and apartments are different with, if you're unlucky, different types of toilet. Food is different. Attitudes are different. In short, it's different. The best you can do is soak it all in and learn as you go.
  • Homesickness; apart from having friends and family halfway across the globe, you will also miss a few comforts and foodstuffs simply not available over here. Your craving for Sheppard's pie may crop up occasionally, but luckily Japan offers plenty of its own wondrous foods and services that if you just get broadband and a webcam to stay in touch with your loved ones the homesickness can be combated.
  • Racism/frustration; you look different and sometimes people will act on that. Often as a benign kind of "positive racism" (be prepared to be called "cool" even if you're blatantly not), but sometimes also an annoying xenophobia. In my case the latter has been extremely rare, and I don't think I've been unduly lucky. People that come here expecting to totally integrate into society will fail and they always go home bitter and twisted, hating Japan and the Japanese. Don't even try it. Just accept you're no Japanese and make the best of it. Your biggest frustrations will be due to bureaucracy, but I'll post more on that some other time.

But you will be rewarded:

  • Japanese language and culture; learn a new language and see something of the world. Though it has many bad points Japanese culture is also rife with little gems and pleasures.
  • Achievement; you didn't take the easy route. You moved half-way across the world to start a new life, and it is very satisfying to achieve that.
  • The Motherlode; if you're a geek you'll love it here. Games, comics, films, gadgets, you name it, they've got it here. It's not always cheap but it is very often very desirable.
  • Opportunity; you'll have many of those in Japan. Though some jobs will obviously be out of bounds for you until you are absolutely fluent at the language, in other areas you being foreign can be an advantage. I'll elaborate more on this in a future post.
  • A happy life; once you battle your way through the frustrating period, when everything just seems crap and convoluted, and when you come to realise Japan is just a country like any other, with its good points and bad points, you'll come to find life here can be very good. You can walk around safely with your entire month's wages stuffed in your wallet. You are spoiled for choice if you want to go out, and you're almost guaranteed not to get any aggro at the end of the night from drunken yobs. There is good food everywhere. The summers are bright, hot and humid and the winters crisp and clear. You can ski in Japan as well as go mountain climbing or diving. In short, life is good, if you let it.

In future posts I'll detail some of the pitfalls of the actual move to Japan as well as handling the tricky aspect of finding your first job in the Japanese game industry.


  1. Excellent write-up, Shanks. You hit all the right points. I still use your "five stages of culture shock" example when trying to explain this stuff to people who ask about Japan.

  2. Have any advice for parents of small kids thinking of moving to Japan?

  3. I'll post something about living in Japan with kids. I have no children myself but I can see the problems all around me.
    JC Barnett