-Where were you born?
Omaha, Nebraska, USA. Though I've lived all over the Midwest.
-In which country and city are you living now?
Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan
-Are you living alone or with your family?
I am living all by my lonesome self.
-How long have you been living in Japan?
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Japan?
While in college I randomly decided to study Asian History. Then I randomly decided to go abroad to Japan for part of my senior year of college. While abroad I randomly decided to apply for the JET Programme. I went back to the US, somehow passed the interview for the job, and was soon back in Japan working as an English teacher. I don't really know how I managed to end up here, but I think the driving force behind it was that I found Wisconsin to be really, really dull.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Not at all. My job set it up for me. As a whole getting a VISA as an English teacher is really easy. You can apply for a job while in your home country, and your job will arrange the VISA for you.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
Not really. National health insurance is decent enough to cover most of your problems. You can also usually pick up supplemental insurance through your job.
-How do you make your living in Japan? Do you have any type of income generated?
I'm one of thousands of English teachers leeching off Japan. My job has me teaching at several public Junior High Schools in my city. If you see a non-Asian person in Japan there’s about a 90% chance that they're either working as an English teacher or a stripper. Japan teaches English at all levels of its public schools, yet has some of the worst test scores in the world for actually using English. Thus there is a large market for teaching in public schools as well as teaching private lessons to adults. Most people, like myself, apply for a teaching job while living in their native country. I went through the JET Programme which has a rather long application process, but on the upside you always end up working in the public schools. Many people end up working for large English teaching companies such as NOVA, GEOS, or ECC. Still others I know have just showed up in this country and found jobs easily enough. The demand is high, and all most places require of you is a college degree of some kind and a native understanding of English.
Income varies between the many teaching jobs. Full-time teachers starting out here tend make between $2,000-$2,500 a month. Many jobs give you nice side bonuses such as subsidized housing or utilities. These things vary between cities, prefectures, and companies.
If you really want to find a job in Japan that doesn't suck horribly, as many large private English teaching schools tend to do, the best option is to get a job in one of those horrible private English teaching schools. Once you're in the country, have a teaching VISA, some cash, and a few Japanese friends, jump ship and find a different job. You'll be a much happier person.
-Do you speak Japanese and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Speaking Japanese isn't important. It's probably only important if you plan on just showing up in the country and finding a job. Usually most jobs recruiting English teachers have people who speak at least a decent amount of English. These people can usually help you out with the major things: apartments, official papers, utilities, getting arrested, that sort of thing. Day to day life is a bit different. While most young people in the country learned English in school very few will actually be able to communicate with you in it. It helps to meet them halfway. Having bad Japanese skills shows that you're not a complete fool and usually that is enough for someone to take pity on you and call up their friend who actually does speak English. It’s amazing how often this happens. Expect to easily get around any major city with no Japanese skills at all.
The key to understanding Japanese customs is to just stop trying to understand Japan. Japan is one weird place. No one, not even Japanese people, knows what’s actually going on. Many say they do, but if you actually ask them "why" they'll quickly change the subject. The sooner you realize that no one knows what’s going on the easier it is for you to just go with the flow.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I do miss my family sometimes. The first six months I was in country were rather tough for me. The problem isn't that you're out of touch with your friends and family, the problem is you're too in touch with them. The internet has made it so you know what’s going on all the time back home. I actually find it annoying. I travel halfway around the world and yet I still get weekly drunken emails from people about how much they hate their relationships yet can't break up because they're in love. Good lord people, take the international hint, leave me ALONE. On the upside I can at least download the Daily Show and Lost during the week.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
I plan on being a bum in Japan for at least another year. Maybe two. My job is too comfortable and I enjoy using my monthly pay to travel around Asia. I recently started a SCUBA diving obsession, and being in Asia gives me some places to dive. Hopefully when I'm finally done in Japan I can bum around Europe for a couple of years. I really have no urge to go back to Wisconsin any time soon. (Though I do miss the cheese. Japan lacks cheese in the worst sort of way.)
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
Japanese apartments suck. If you're in a decent sized city and live anywhere near downtown you can expect to pay upwards of $600 a month for one small room and a kitchen and bathroom area that will make you cry. If you live in any smaller city or in the countryside you can get a nice big apartment with several rooms for well under $500 a month. It’s all about location location location. The problem with Japanese apartments is Key Money. It’s a system where you "bribe" your landlord with a couple months worth of rent so that they'll let you move in. You'll never get this money back. It’s a byproduct of their eviction laws (look at me, I took a class on Japanese case law while studying abroad!) and there really isn't any way around it. This is why it’s helpful to go through a private English teaching company. Many will either set you up with an apartment or sublet a place to you, bypassing the whole Key Money issue.
-What is the cost of living in Japan?
It’s comparable to living in the US or Europe. If you can get by without owning a car you'll save lots of money. Most people can, thanks to the wonderful public transportation system. Japan isn't cheap, but it isn't overly expensive either. For example, a bottle of Coke costs less in Japan compared to the US, while a block of cheese will cost you twice as much. Beef is expensive, but fish is dirt cheap. It all evens out in the long run.
-What do you think about the Japanese?
For the most part the Japanese are the most kind and honest group of people you'll meet. Most people are surprised and excited to see you, especially if you're in an area that doesn't get many foreigners. Some people take it to the extreme and will pester you with bad English until you're forced to run away. Some people act very shy towards you, but most of the time this is because they're not sure how to communicate with you. Still you sometimes run into people who are openly hostile towards foreigners. This is rather uncommon, and most likely if someone does dislike you they'll just ignore you. It’s not very Japanese to be openly hostile with people in public.
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Japan?
It’s a very easy country to live in as a foreigner. It’s extremely Western, yet you can easily find very Eastern things. There’s English everywhere and a lot of people speak it. Great public transportation. The people are usually very friendly and helpful. Traveling to the rest of Asia is really easy to do. Japan pays well.
The downside is that you stand out like a sore thumb. As a foreigner you'll never be "part of the group." Sometimes you really can't find anyone who speaks English. Anywhere. If you're tall you'll find yourself hitting your head a lot. There is a surprising lack of Giant Robots.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Japan?
Learn a bit of Japanese. If nothing else get the two basic phonetic alphabets down before you come so you can have a very basic reading skill. Be open-minded about everything. Japan is weird, but sometimes that weirdness is what you learn to love.