For American expat Patrick, living and working in Tokyo, Japan, is an exciting experience


Patrick McCoy

February 17 2007

-Where were you born?
Spokane, Washington, USA

-In which country and city are you living now?
Tokyo, Japan

-Are you living alone or with your family?

-How long have you been living in Japan?
9 years

-What is your age?

-When did you come up with the idea of living in Japan?
I wanted to have some life experiences before engaging in a career as a high school teacher. I also felt that I hadn’t had enough opportunities to travel at that point in my life.

-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
No, I came to Japan as a participant of the JET (Japanese English Teaching) Program as an ALT (assistant Language Teacher).

-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
As a member of the JET Program I had Japanese National Health, but after that I was on my own and without for a couple of years before finding a cheap alternative in Global Health. Once I got employment as a full time university instructor I was back on the Japanese National Health program.

-How do you make your living in Japan? Do you have any type of income generated?
As I mentioned earlier I came over on JET and did that for a couple of years before moving to Tokyo and working in a conversation school. I worked there for less than a year and then through networking I got a couple of part-time university teaching positions, but my main source of income was lost when enrollment went down at my main school. From there I worked at a translation school for a year before landing a job as a contract instructor at a private Japanese university. I was referred to this job by a friend; however, having an academic publication, university teaching experience, and MA degree were crucial factors in obtaining this position.

-Do you speak Japanese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
I am relatively fluent in conversational Japanese, my reading and writing are at the intermediate level. However, you need to know 2000 characters to read a newspaper and someday I hope to get there, but it is a difficult language to learn--you need to open a book and make a concerted effort. It is easy to get by in Tokyo on English alone and I know many people who have rudimentary Japanese skills; however, I think this limits your experience of Japan and the culture. Personally, becoming fluent was important for my autonomy--so that I could take care of problems on my own.

I think you can learn a lot about a culture through the language. It forces you to consider things from a different viewpoint when you analyze what and why you say the things you do in certain contexts. It also allows you to meet Japanese people on their own terms and it opens you up to a whole variety of people that might have been excluded from your experience if you were unable to communicate with them.

-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Of course I miss my family and friends, but I usually visit home at least once a year and often more than that. But I have a large group of international friends here in Tokyo--not just Japanese, but Australian, Canadian, British, Dutch, Swedish, South African, etc. It is a cosmopolitan city. I have ample vacation time (5 months a year) as a university instructor and it allows me to pursue my interests like travel, photography, reading, writing, working out, watching movies, listening to music, etc.

-Do you have other plans for the future?
I usually travel 3-4 times a year. Last month I had a conference in Bangkok, Thailand and visited a Japanese friend in Vientiane, Laos. I’ll probably travel somewhere in Japan that I haven’t been this year and redeem some mileage saved in Asia. But for the time being I still love living in Tokyo and plan to stay here indefinitely--it’s an exciting place.

-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
I rent an apartment with a kitchen and 2 rooms for about $1200 (Tokyo is the most expensive city to live in the world).

-What is the cost of living in Japan?
As I said above everything here is quite expensive, but there are ways of getting around the high cost of living if you are careful. However, the salaries are much higher to match the high cost of living.

-What do you think about the Japanese?
In Japan you will always be an outsider no matter how good your Japanese is or how long you live there. But that doesn’t bother me so much, because you are valued for being different (if you’re not Chinese or Korean). People are mostly polite and friendly. But they think Japanese culture is so distinct and esoteric that they are often amazed that you can perform simple tasks like writing your address in Japanese or using chopsticks. 9 years later and people still tell me how well I use chopsticks.

-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Japan?
Japan is an extremely safe place with an excellent transit system, great food, an interesting culture, beautiful people, as well as impressive architecture and design. But it is expensive, houses are poorly built (most houses are only expected to lasts for 30 years or less so there’s no insulation or double-paned windows), the cities are overcrowded, there is a lot of pollution, poor urban planning, and a bureaucracy that rivals that of any developed country.

-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Japan?
I think that in order to live in any country you need to be open minded and have a sense of humor and be able to have perspective. You will not be able to accept everything about the country you are in and you shouldn’t have to, but you should be able to adapt and make compromises.

-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Japan?
I keep a blog, Lost In Translation, in which I will occasionally write about Japan and Japanese culture, document my travels, comment on food, books, films, music, current events, etc.

Neomarxisme is one of my favorite sites. It critically discusses different aspect of Japanese society.

hi there

jeremiahruth's picture

Dear Patrick,
my name is Jeremiah i am 19 i live in California, and i've been thinking about moving to Japan for sometime now. I'm wondering can you only graduate High School, and become an english teacher over there in Japan.I would love to but i dont go to collage, and i dont know how this works. Please if you can help me i would be honored.
Thank you,
Jeremiah Ruth

teaching with only a high school diploma

zblehm's picture

I haven't been in Japan as long as some others on this site (only about 4.5 years), but I have never heard of a job that will accept anything less than a four year degree as the minimum requirement.

Sorry to dash your hopes, maybe you can get a student visa.

There are also things like training visas, were people (usually from less developed S.E. Asian countries) come to Japan to learn and work, but there has been some abuse associated with these programs. For example employers taking advantage of workers, not paying overtime/minimum wage etc...