Moving to a new country is always a daunting thing, especially when it is a country wildly different to where you come from. If you’re heading out to Japan to start your teaching career, take a look at these first impressions of arriving in the Land of the Rising Sun to know what you’re in for.
Japan is Super Clean
This is one expectation about Japan that is almost always spot on. Japan is known for being a neat, tidy country and this extends to general cleanliness. You’re unlikely to see rubbish on the streets, and when you walk into public spaces like shopping malls, restaurants and parks, they are always cleaned to high standards. However, this cleanliness isn’t always all that is seems. You see very few rubbish bins in Japan (the only place you can find them is outside convenience stores) and so end up having to carry rubbish around with you. Also, while public toilets are usually very clean, they often have no soap or hand dryer installed.
The Food is Amazing
Whether or not you like sushi, your first few days in Japan will have you agreeing with this statement. Japanese cuisine extends far beyond the super healthy and stereotypical options of green tea and raw fish. Once you’ve sampled a few bowls of salty ramen, crispy tempura, hearty okonomiyaki, cream-filled desserts and knocked back a few glasses of sake, you’ll have a good impression of real Japanese cuisine.
Japanese People are Workaholics
It doesn’t take long to know figure out that the Japanese are hard workers. Pop into your local convenience store early in the morning, and it’ll likely be the same shop assistant greeting you when you visit again in the evening. Salarymen in Japan don’t work a regular 9-5. In fact, hop onto the subway at any point in the evening and you’ll see them coming home from work at as late as midnight. While your first impression of the Japanese work ethic might be one of awe and wonder, don’t be fooled – it is universally held that working this hard is unhealthy, both for the individual and for society. Overworking is a big problem in Japan which the government will need to tackle more seriously in the years to come.
Japan is Overly Crowded
Tokyo does crowds like no-where else in the world, but saying that, isn’t it true that every major city has a busy, bustling vibe? In Tokyo, you can’t escape the crowds, especially if you use public transport during rush hours. The sea of salarymen in their matching suits is like a tsunami of people, and when you’re out on popular shopping streets you’ll find it just as jammed. However, once you venture out of the main city (or even just off the main streets) there are quiet spaces to be found, especially in smaller towns.
Japan Isn’t a Futuristic Technology Hub
While the blinkering bright lights of Akihabara district and the bustling streets of Harajuku may live up to this stereotype, your first impressions of Japan will be that is isn’t actually as futuristic as you thought. While the movies like to make out that Japanese cafes are all run by robots and their computer systems are akin to the human brain, technology in Japan is quite often dated and disappoints foreign tourists.
Japanese People are Super Polite
This is a first impression that will completely blow you away. Even if you’ve been told before that Japanese people are kind to tourists, you won’t quite believe it until you’re there. Go into a convenience store with a problem, and the chap behind the counter literally will not stop until he has solved the problem for you. Get lost meeting your contact on arrival and a stranger is bound to offer you their mobile phone. Go for a walk in a park and you’re almost certain to bump into some friendly octogenarian who just loves chatting with foreigners in rusty English. However, this is a first impression only – once you’ve been living in Japan for a while, you’ll start to see how Japanese culture really works. While this is a nation that goes above and beyond for first impressions, it’s a place where foreigners frequently find it difficult to make friends, and genuine kindness can be hard to find behind false smiles and sycophantic compliments.
Japan is Beautiful
If you aren’t a big city person, this might not be the first impression you get when stepping off the plane and entering the cramped hell of Tokyo’s subway. However, once you spend some time getting to know the country – visiting the mountains and temples, forests and rivers, historical museums and art galleries – it is hard to deny that this is a country filled with outstanding natural beauty and a fascinating culture. From the samurai swords and kimonos to the sakura blossoms in spring, Japan is a truly beautiful country with so much to explore.
About the Author
Celia Jenkins is a freelance writer and TEFL teacher. She spent over 5 years teaching English in China and Japan and now fits in Skype teaching around her busy writing schedule. She currently lives in the UK.