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Dergonu

Living in Japan as a foreigner - AMA

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Hi there! I'm not sure if there is any sort of demand for this kind of post, but I thought since there's so many people interested in Japanese media on this forum, maybe some of you would be interested in knowing what it's like living in Japan as a foreigner. So, that's what this thread is for. If you have any questions about the topic, ask away!

For those of you who don't know, my name is Andreas, I've been studying Japanese for about four years or so now, and I'm a freelance translator. I spent about half a year in Japan studying the language at a Japanese university, (Josai International University in Togane,) which was honestly one of the most fun experiences of my life. I am going back to Japan again soon to live there for a year this time, (starting August this year,) and I just came back from a short vacation in Japan around a week ago. Needless to say, I like it there. :D I haven't decided quite yet, but I think me moving there permanently down the line is a very likely scenario.

 

Anyways, I'm not sure what, if anything, people would be interested in hearing about the topic, so I picked one thing my foreign friends have asked me quite a lot. So yeah, do ask if you want to know something else!

 

Are Japanese people generally cold and distant towards westerners?

Short answer, they might seem that way at first, but honestly, no!

The thing is, Japanese people are generally just very quiet and closed off in public spaces, as they do not want to bother strangers in public. Get a Japanese person a couple of drinks at an izakaya or a karaoke bar, and you won't be able to shut them up, haha. While there might be some Japanese people who are "racist," / cold towards westerners, most people aren't like that at all, and will open up to you quite easily once you get to know them a little bit! Of course, you have to actually get to know them a bit at first for this, and sure, as a foreigner, it might be a little bit harder to get through that first stage. But, it's honestly not that hard, especially if you have some kind of icebreaker/ meet the person in some setting where it would be natural to start up a conversation, like a university, at your job, or out in a club/ bar etc. Of course, not knowing any Japanese will make this a little harder, as Japanese people generally do not speak English very well.
(International universities are gold mines if you're looking for Japanese people interested in foreigners, heh. We had trouble eating at times during lunch, as we were swarmed by groups of Japanese students wanting to talk to us, lol.)

One tip I'd give western people trying to get to know Japanese people in Japan, try to not be too loud and "pushy". Like I said, Japanese people are often a bit guarded towards strangers, and first impressions are quite important. If you come off as "scary" and loud, it might be harder to get someone to open up to you. Remember, westerners are pretty scary to Japanese people, haha. We're generally a lot taller, they won't know if we speak a word Japanese or not just by looking at us, (and they probably won't know much English,) and we tend to just act quite differently compared to Japanese people in general. The unknown can be pretty scary! So, all these factors can make us quite intimidating. Therefore, try to dial it down a bit, and you'll have a much easier time getting a Japanese person to open up to you.

 

Anyways, that's what I could think of, so hit me with some questions if you want to know more!

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2 hours ago, Dergonu said:

One tip I'd give western people trying to get to know Japanese people in Japan, try to not be too loud and "pushy". Like I said, Japanese people are often a bit guarded towards strangers, and first impressions are quite important.

Then how am I supposed to inform them I'm from the greatest country on earth?

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How decent was your Japanese before you went, and how well would you say that initial half-year did to improve it? 

Also, what do most abroad students do for food?

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Is it true that girls in frilly costumes mind-controlled by magic bunnies roam the streets of Akiba, pretending to fight tentacle monsters when they are really looking forward to being caught?

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5 hours ago, Hiashi said:

How decent was your Japanese before you went, and how well would you say that initial half-year did to improve it? 

Also, what do most abroad students do for food?

My class at uni had been studying for about one year when we arrived, (a rather intense year at that,) and could communicate in Japanes well enough. We were still quite awkward though, and one of the reasons we studied abroad was to learn the language "properly." (Our 1 year at uni took us through both Genki books in their entirety.)

I personally went from having rather awkward Japanese, to being able to converse with natives in Japanese without issues in those six months. So, I improved quite a lot.

 

For food we ate out, every day, generally at family restaurants like Saizeriya and Denny's, ramen shops etc. These places are honestly cheaper than making food yourself, lol. (The kitchens in our apartments were also so small, cooking there was a nightmare.) We also bought bento boxes at convenience stores quite often, and supermarkets now and then. (The supermarket versions are more expensive, but much more healthy, as they are made fresh with natural ingredients daily, compared to the convenience stuff, which is mass produced. Still tastes good, though.)

Also, if you are studying at a university, eat there! The cafeteria at our uni was not only cheap, but holy crap was the food good. Checking out what the daily specials were during lunch was one of the highlights of our day, lol. (Mainly because the days were so bloody long and tiring. 90 minute lessons, with only short 10 minute breaks in between except for lunch, lasting from 9 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon, bleh.) Do try to get to the cafeteria as fast as humanly possible, though. Thousands of students, one cafeteria, limited supply of specials. It's a war zone out there.

2 hours ago, tahu157 said:

Do you let on that you're very knowledgeable of otaku media or do you play dumb? I know that's what I'd do 100%.

Mmm, I did not try to hide that I "like anime and manga and stuff" and always told people that's how I got interested in Japan. No one seemed to look at that as weird. But, I did hide how much of an otaku I am, lol. I didn't go on rants about how much I love anime tiddies, for instance.

(A friend of mine did, and needless to say, she got some weird looks.)

Overall, I'd say you shouldn't be afraid of admitting to liking anime and such, though there's a middle ground between that and getting weird and creepy about it in a conversation. :P

5 hours ago, Clephas said:

Is it true that girls in frilly costumes mind-controlled by magic bunnies roam the streets of Akiba, pretending to fight tentacle monsters when they are really looking forward to being caught?

I mean, you see some weird shit in maid cafes, so I'm going to say yes.

10 hours ago, Kiriririri said:

What's the cheapest place to buy JK gamer girl pee?

I know a guy. PM me and I'll hook you up. 

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Uni cafeterias in Japan are amazing. It's freaking cheap, delicious, and you can eat your fill. Now each time I eat at a Japanese restaurant in France I feel ripped off for how expensive it is considering the quantity we get...

There was a karaage shop next to my uni too, and you could eat a BIG and delicious bento (good portion of rice, shredded cabbage, 6 pieces of karaage and a delicious sauce) for 300 yens. I really miss that shop.

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I seriously need to find a decent Japanese program. The one at my uni is pretty bad and from what I've heard from my classmates that have studied abroad, that program wasn't very good either.

I quickly realized on day one that I made more progress with a few months of self-study than they did in 4 years in a classroom. Also, the speaking experience was virtually nonexistent.

When I get the chance to apply abroad, I'll try and pick your university if possible.  

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How did you handle the financial aspect? I guess since you're studying Japanese you could benefit from some kind of university support program? If so, was this only for your first visit or also for your next one, or will you finance that one yourself? I assume you will or already are working as a freelance translator then. Do you find live in Japan cheaper or more expensive than your home country (Norway if I remember right)? Will you stick to VN's or also do other stuff? I think I heard that other translators are also doing sub titles for animes, light novels, manga... and even manuals. :P

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7 hours ago, ChaosRaven said:

How did you handle the financial aspect? I guess since you're studying Japanese you could benefit from some kind of university support program? If so, was this only for your first visit or also for your next one, or will you finance that one yourself? I assume you will or already are working as a freelance translator then. Do you find live in Japan cheaper or more expensive than your home country (Norway if I remember right)? Will you stick to VN's or also do other stuff? I think I heard that other translators are also doing sub titles for animes, light novels, manga... and even manuals. :P

I lived off a student loan last time, and found this to be more than enough to get by in Japan. I tried to avoid eating at super expensive places etc ofc, but overall didn't have any issues living on my student loan. Next time, I'll be living off my freelance work, and plan on sticking to VNs for the moment, as I have a rather good setup with a company that let's me do titles on a fairly frequent basis. I'm also saving up a decent chunk of money for the trip.

Japan is way cheaper than Norway. Generally people can't afford to eat out in Norway except for special occasions. Eating out one time here will be the same price as eating out like six times in Japan, assuming you pick reasonable-ish options. Rent in Japan was about half of my rent in Norway. So yeah, for a Norwegian, Japan is extremely cheap. Of course, it's not like Japan is a super cheap country, I think it's more that Norway is a stupidly expensive one, lol.

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1 hour ago, Dergonu said:

Japan is way cheaper than Norway. Generally people can't afford to eat out in Norway except for special occasions. Eating out one time here will be the same price as eating out like six times in Japan, assuming you pick reasonable-ish options. Rent in Japan was about half of my rent in Norway. So yeah, for a Norwegian, Japan is extremely cheap. Of course, it's not like Japan is a super cheap country, I think it's more that Norway is a stupidly expensive one, lol.

I would have expected Scandinavia to be expensive just like Western Europe in general, but not that the difference to Japan would be so big. :o

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I am interested in one thing:
You mention how Japanese do not speak good English and don't seem to like to speak English. How good or bad is that really? Because I have heard people who said they had no troubles getting through Japan with just English but in many travel guides they inform you that speaking Japanese is required for booking certain hotels or in various restaurants.

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55 minutes ago, AustriaVNFan said:

I am interested in one thing:
You mention how Japanese do not speak good English and don't seem to like to speak English. How good or bad is that really? Because I have heard people who said they had no troubles getting through Japan with just English but in many travel guides they inform you that speaking Japanese is required for booking certain hotels or in various restaurants.

If you're traveling in big cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, people in service occupations will generally know enough English that you'll get by just fine as a tourist. But, the normal level of English among people outside service occupations is quite frankly atrocious. Their knowledge of the language is limited to being able to say their name, "sorry", "thank you" and hello. That's pretty much it. But, if you're worried about booking hotels and what not, you shouldn't be. At least major hotels in large cities have staff that speaks English quite well. Restaurants too, depending on where you're eating. And you can ofc just point at the menu when ordering, and making a reservation isn't that hard if you go in person.

If you plan on living in Japan, though, not knowing any Japanese will definitely mean you'll have a hard time, as most people simply don't know much English. Tourists will generally manage, as they aren't staying for too long, and tend to stick with popular tourist attractions where people are used to foreigners, but... yeah, the general level is terrible. So, if you're going for something other than tourism, learn at least some basic Japanese. Trust me, you'll need it.

 

Every Japanese friend I have says the same thing. "I want to get better at English, but..."
It's very hard for them, for a number of reasons. To just list a few: bad teachers, an overall bad approach to learning the language from schools in general, and a lack of motivation due to the difficulty both from teachers and students.

Reminds me of this one time I was having lunch with some friends at uni, and I asked them what they could say in English. One girl at the table thought hard about it for a good 5 seconds, then said "this is... a apple!"' それだけWW (That's it, lol) I did not have it in me to correct her "a" to "an", lol.
She later also seemed to remember how to say "my name is Shiho", but yeah, you get the idea, lol.

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1 hour ago, kokoro said:

What do Japanese people know about Norwegian fellas? Vikings, Thor, Loki and stuff?

Lol. I've gotten mixed reactions when I say "Norway", but people seem to have heard of it, at least. They normally bring up either the beautiful nature, how cold it is, or ask if I'm rich, lol. No one has mentioned vikings yet ww

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18 minutes ago, ChaosRaven said:

When you're in Japan, what about joining the official eroge racing association?! :Chocola:

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I guess my favorite cars would be the following ones...

  Reveal hidden contents

 

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I'd probably die of embarrassment driving in one, but it would be so worth it! :kosame:

Haha, nice.

I don't have a license, not to mention that Japanese people drive on the wrong side of the road. (*ノωノ) Cool cars, though.

1 hour ago, MirāNoHebi said:

Pwease send photos of the cars and clothing while you are there?:Chocola:

Well, uh, I have a couple of pictures of people in traditional clothing from Kyoto:

Spoiler

 

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Bunch of western people in the way in this one, but still :P :

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I didn't really take any pictures of cars there, as ... well, it's not really something I'm intrested in, personally. But, I did find this on my phone:

Spoiler

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There's a front of a car, at least, lol. There's lots of pretty unique car types in Japan, most that look like this. They are pretty short and... square, lol.

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2 hours ago, Dergonu said:

 

I didn't really take any pictures of cars there, as ... well, it's not really something I'm intrested in, personally. But, I did find this on my phone:

There's a front of a car, at least, lol. There's lots of pretty unique car types in Japan, most that look like this. They are pretty short and... square, lol.

Ah yes, a third generation Honda Acty. I've owned one, very nice to drive. The clothing pictures are nice, but I also would like to see the more ordinary fashion. The web stores I browse very least don't seem to show everything at least if you go by what kind of clothing is seen in manga.

Thanks for the pics, but I do hope to see more when you live there again.:wub:

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On 29.4.2019 at 5:20 PM, Dergonu said:

If you're traveling in big cities like Tokyo and Kyoto, people in service occupations will generally know enough English that you'll get by just fine as a tourist. But, the normal level of English among people outside service occupations is quite frankly atrocious. Their knowledge of the language is limited to being able to say their name, "sorry", "thank you" and hello. That's pretty much it. But, if you're worried about booking hotels and what not, you shouldn't be. At least major hotels in large cities have staff that speaks English quite well. Restaurants too, depending on where you're eating. And you can ofc just point at the menu when ordering, and making a reservation isn't that hard if you go in person.

If you plan on living in Japan, though, not knowing any Japanese will definitely mean you'll have a hard time, as most people simply don't know much English. Tourists will generally manage, as they aren't staying for too long, and tend to stick with popular tourist attractions where people are used to foreigners, but... yeah, the general level is terrible. So, if you're going for something other than tourism, learn at least some basic Japanese. Trust me, you'll need it.

 

Every Japanese friend I have says the same thing. "I want to get better at English, but..."
It's very hard for them, for a number of reasons. To just list a few: bad teachers, an overall bad approach to learning the language from schools in general, and a lack of motivation due to the difficulty both from teachers and students.

Reminds me of this one time I was having lunch with some friends at uni, and I asked them what they could say in English. One girl at the table thought hard about it for a good 5 seconds, then said "this is... a apple!"' それだけWW (That's it, lol) I did not have it in me to correct her "a" to "an", lol.
She later also seemed to remember how to say "my name is Shiho", but yeah, you get the idea, lol.

Ahh, thank you so much for your detailed answer! It seems to be even worse than what I thought. It is amazing that their English is that bad when they should learn that language in school. But I guess that also comes from the huge difference of how the languages work. I mean, I have been learning (on myself) Japanese for 2 years now and even though I have the Kanji and Kana down now it is still such a difficult language to me. With a lot of stuttering I guess I might have a simple conversation now, but not much else.


Well, there is one more topic I am interested in, sorry I didn't ask before. That topic would be religion. Not that I am particularly interested in that topic per se, but I am still confused about the many temples and religious group in Japan. Many temples seem to be Buddhist, there also seems to be Konfuzianism and also some Christians and even nature religion(?). How is that really? Did you make any experiences? How important does religion seem for the Japanese?

Thank you in advance :)

Edited by AustriaVNFan

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33 minutes ago, AustriaVNFan said:

Ahh, thank you so much for your detailed answer! It seems to be even worse than what I thought. It is amazing that their English is that bad when they should learn that language in school. But I guess that also comes from the huge difference of how the languages work. I mean, I have been learning (on myself) Japanese for 2 years now and even though I have the Kanji and Kana down now it is still such a difficult language to me. With a lot of stuttering I guess I might have a simple conversation now, but not much else.


Well, there is one more topic I am interested in, sorry I didn't ask before. That topic would be religion. Not that I am particularly interested in that topic per se, but I am still confused about the many temples and religious group in Japan. Many temples seem to be Buddhist, there also seems to be Konfuzianism and also some Christians and even nature religion(?). How is that really? Did you make any experiences? How important does religion seem for the Japanese?

Thank you in advance :)

Yes, it's simply too hard for many of them to bother giving it any real attention. Japanese people do learn English from an early age in school, but because of the factors I mentioned above, they rarely actually learn much from these lessons. The people who are quite skilled at English probably learned most of it from the internet and self study.

 

I think religion is more of a cultural thing than an actual sign of faith in Japan. I can only speak from personal experiences and from the information I know from my friends and what not, but it seems like most people go to shrines and temples more because it's a social and cultural "norm" instead of strong faith. That being said, it does seem to be important to them. At least from what I've seen, people act very respectful towards shrines and temples, and many do go there to pray fairly often. Though, once again, I think this type of prayer is more of a cultural thing than actual faith, but nonetheless, it's fairly important to Japanese people from my knowledge.

As far was what the most common religions are, I believe shintoism, the native Japanese "religion", (which is more of a collective term than an actual singular religion,) and buddhism are the two most widespread religions in Japan. There are quite a lot of buddhist temples, and as well as shrines for shintoism around in Japan. Christian churches etc are far fewer in number, though there are some of those too. Most native Japanese people will go to either a local shrine or temple for holidays and what not.

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I haven't got the chance to visit The Land of Rising Sun, yet thanks to great information tech we've nowadays, i talk with J people through text almost everyday. I've been self-studying Japanese since Middle School. After entering University, i started learning business-oriented Japanese (敬語) that we most commonly see in Anime used by high profile ojousamas, butlers, kings etc. This is my personal experience that if one uses this specific form of Japanese, they can easily interact with almost any Japanese, regardless of Gender and age, as proper respect to family and elders is well-ingrained in Japanese social values. All in all, it is an amazing experience that i hope, would grow even further when i finally get to visit Japan :)

My query is related to interaction with elder Japanese, as I'm deeply interested in Ancient Japan. i feel if one befriends elders, then they can also make friends with their family members n become part of their friend circle. How about it ?

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7 hours ago, vizualfan said:

I haven't got the chance to visit The Land of Rising Sun, yet thanks to great information tech we've nowadays, i talk with J people through text almost everyday. I've been self-studying Japanese since Middle School. After entering University, i started learning business-oriented Japanese (敬語) that we most commonly see in Anime used by high profile ojousamas, butlers, kings etc. This is my personal experience that if one uses this specific form of Japanese, they can easily interact with almost any Japanese, regardless of Gender and age, as proper respect to family and elders is well-ingrained in Japanese social values. All in all, it is an amazing experience that i hope, would grow even further when i finally get to visit Japan :)

My query is related to interaction with elder Japanese, as I'm deeply interested in Ancient Japan. i feel if one befriends elders, then they can also make friends with their family members n become part of their friend circle. How about it ?

I have mainly been talking with younger people in Japan, and haven't been introduced to anyone's family or anything yet, so I haven't actually spoken much with older Japanese people at all, beyond just very short conversations in passing etc. I must admit, I'm more of a fan of the current generation in Japan, as they are more modern and open to western ideas, compared to the rather conservative older generation.

As I haven't talked much with the elderly in Japan, I honestly can't give a good answer to this, I'm afraid.

 

About keigo, you generally don't need more than teineigo in Japan to have normal conversations with people. Keigo is normally reserved for business talk, or when you're speaking with someone above you in rank, which won't always be all that relevant to a foreign person, as you're kind of... "outside" of Japanese social rankings. (Unless you work there.)
Knowing keigo is a great way to impress older people though, I'm sure. But, if you're just planning on traveling and speaking casually with people, you'll be fine with teineigo. In fact, using overly formal Japanese with someone you're close with will just have the opposite effect, and can sound strange. Once you've befriended someone, you usually switch to more casual styles, either a casual form of teineigo, or just futsuutai altogether.

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