For two years, I lived in Japan as a foreign English teacher. I got the opportunity to work there with the JET Programme and had one of the best times of my life. The “land of the rising sun” has so much to offer. Here are some reasons why I believe Japan is the best country to work and live abroad.
It has the kindest People
I learned a traditional Japanese dance from Sendai region called Suzume Odori. This was my awesome team.
Of course every country has their share of good and bad apples. Japan overall however, has the kindest people I’ve ever met. A big part of Japanese culture is a value called “omoiyari”, which means being compassionate and considerate towards others. Even as a foreigner, I felt accepted by the local community. I regularly experienced random acts of kindness while living in Japan. I will always remember the teenager who walked me to my destination when I was lost on the street, the old woman who gave me an umbrella when I was caught in the rain, the coworker who volunteered to drive me to the airport, and so many others who touched my heart in unforgetable ways.
It’s very safe
Did you know that kids walk to school by themselves by grade one of elementary school in Japan? Yes. That is unimaginable back in my home country Canada. Yet that’s normal in Japan because it’s so safe. The crime rate is super low here. Two days before I wrote this article, I lost my wallet and phone at a subway station in Sendai. I was panicking because I had A LOT of cash and all my IDs in that wallet. While I was totally freaking out, my Japanese friends helped me make some phone calls. It turned out that someone found my things and handed them in to the station Lost & Found. Nothing was missing from my wallet. Not even a single coin. Japan…you are the best.
Its culture is incredibly cool
A traditional Japanese tea ceremony
From traditional practices such as tea ceremonies, martial arts, kimono wearing, to its modern influences in fashion, cuisine, music, and arts, Japanese culture is so multifaceted. When you live in Japan, you can truly immerse yourself and see many aspects of this unique nation that you can’t experience as a tourist. I have tried everything from learning how to make soba noodles to calligraphy. And there is nothing like festival season in Japan. One of my favorites is the Aoba festival in Sendai, where the whole city is alive with food and performances. Thousands of people dance in the street forming a giant parade (Yes I was one of those people). It is simply incredible.
It’s super convenient
If you’ve already been to Japan before, you would have noticed how crazy efficient everything is. The vending machines everywhere (And they work! Unlike the ones on the streets in North America *roll eyes), the next level convenient stores, the extremely punctual trains, the organized queuing systems, all add up to make navigating in public smooth as butter. I remember going to the super market for the first time, and saw three types shopping carts! A normal kind, a kind with magnifying glass for the visually impaired, and a mini sized cartoon designed one for kids. How awesome and sweet is that?! Totally blew my mind.
It has REALLY delicious food!
Fresh oyster dinner. Matsushima, Japan.
Everybody knows that Japanese cuisine is phenomenal. Imagine having access to cheap and delicious sushi and ramen all the time! But of course there are so much more Japanese food to try beyond sushi and ramen. Almost all regions of Japan have their own specialties dishes. My city was famous for gyutan (grilled beef tongue) and zunda (sweet edamame paste). If they sound strange to you, you are missing out my friends. Every since being back to Canada, I have been disappointed a couple times, either from the taste or price tags, by Japanese food in the city. I am constantly plotting when to get myself back in Japan for the authentic deal.
The living expenses are moderate
Despite the bad rep of being expensive, Japan is not that bad at all in terms of living expenses. I live in Sendai, and my monthly rent is 50,000 yen, which less than 500 USD. My friends who live in Tokyo and Osaka (the busiest cities!) pay around 80,000 yen, which is again less than 800 USD. In the case of living in rural areas, the rent is even cheaper and might even be free! Other expenses are reasonable as well. Comparing to living in Toronto, New York, or Sydney, the cost here is chump change honey!
It has four seasons!
Kyoto in Autumn.
Let me catch you up on what this means as it’s a bit of an insider joke. When comparing Japan to other countries, Japanese people always like to mention that “Ooh we have four seasons in Japan!” What they mean is that seasons are much more defined in Japan. Every season comes with its own beautiful scenery for appreciation, seasonal traditions, and food practices. Spring is pink everywhere with cherry blossom, summer is lush green, autumn is red, orange and yellow with foliage changing colours, and winter is stunning white with snow. Living in Japan is like living in a postcard, with sceneries that will take your breath away everywhere you go!
There are many holidays
There are 17 national holidays in Japan, even more if you work in the banking sector. That’s a lot of day offs comparing to Canada which only has 11 days. 🙁 Japanese people really love to appreciate things and I really appreciate that. Sports day, Mountain day, Children day, Ocean day, they are all wonderful! So you have plenty of time to rest and travel!
It’s easy to travel around the country
Speaking of traveling, it’s easy to get around Japan while you live in the country. Japan is not very big so it’s very possible to make weekend trips to another prefecture (That’s where those long weekends would come in handy). Japan has its own budget airlines like Peach or Vanilla Air, as well as bullet trains and buses. There are so many gorgeous places to see so you can only experience as many as possible if you live here! 😛
Check out some of my favorite off the beaten path places in Japan!
It’s a gateway to the rest of Asia
With those same airlines I mentioned above, you can also trot all over Asia for cheap from Japan. In the two years I lived there, I went to Taiwan (two times), Korea, Malaysia, China, Philippines and Singapore. Japan has a whole week of holidays in early May called “Golden Week”, which is a good time for international travel (would not advise traveling in the country though. It’s damn busy and pricey during that time). Flying from Tokyo is very convenient. In my case, Sendai had its own international airport. Lucky me!
There are many work and live abroad programs to bring you to Japan
As I mentioned, I am currently teaching English in Japan with a program called The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (The JET Programme). JET is a super well-known and well-run program with over 30 years of history. It’s a quite well paid job and I absolutely love how helpful the organization is. As well, there are many other English teaching programs and work abroad opportunities you can find that can bring you to Japan.
There is a lot of support for expats
Exploring with my fellow Sendai ALTs.
I’m made some amazing friends from all over the world while living in Japan. There are many expats living here so there is always a community you can turn to if you ever feel lost. You can join local expat groups or Facebook groups. There is a real sense of camaraderie and compassion towards each other as everyone knows the difficulties of navigating in a foreign land. You just might meet some lifelong friends! 😛
Some of my favorite Facebook support groups
Japan Teaching Resources -“JTR aims to share resources and solve teaching-related problems together by pooling together everyone’s experience.”
A great place to go for English teachers. I’ve used this for my work so many times!
Sendai JETS –“A group for past, prospect and current Sendai JETs.”
This is a group for my local city and it’s super awesome. You can find similar groups for your own area as well.
JET Ladies + – “A platform on which people discuss and debate, share resources, tips and experiences for making life as a woman easier in Japan.”
Discuss any topics from trivial (like what brand of tampon is best in Japan) to heavy (like workplace harassment) and these girls got your back! So much support in this group!
Japan is a beautiful country and you will surely have the experience of a life time! If you have any questions about teaching English or living in Japan, always feel free to drop me a comment!
Note: If you are interested in teaching English abroad in general, check out this comprehensive guide on getting started.