8 Struggles of Someone Who Has Lived Abroad Currently Living in Japan

Japan is known for being a relatively monocultural society, and from an outsider’s perspective it might be hard to understand the nooks and crannies of Japan. I have compiled 8 struggles that many foreigners or newcomers to Japan experience when they come here.

1. Cringing at the bad English

There is an abundance of incorrect English around Japan. Whether it is on t-shirts or instructions or signs, there is always some odd English to laugh at while you are here. Even if your English isn't perfect, it doesn't take much to know that some of it is off. Some examples include t-shirts that say “puberty,” and people saying “s*it” instead of “sit.” The list goes on.

2. Always being asked to talk in any foreign language you know and read random stuff

Since many Japanese people can only speak Japanese, they are fascinated by people who speak different languages. So when you hang out with Japanese people, you will inevitably be asked to speak another language to a tumultuous round of applause. Personally, I've been asked to read things from nutrition facts to warning signs in English. Any language  is fascinating to many Japanese people who have never left the country before.

3. Being asked if you have foreign blood

A typical conversation with someone I have just met goes like this (I am 100% Japanese, just for context):

Them: “Oh, you've lived in the United States! So, are you half American or something?”

Me: “No…”

Them: “Oh? So why did you live in the United States then?”

Me: *proceeds to explain my parent’s work situation in too much depth and they proceed to get bored*

I mean, it's a valid question but it's definitely something I get asked far too often.

4.Feeling a sense of relief when you meet someone who has lived abroad as well

After experiencing a plethora of pestering and fascination from the Japanese people about having lived abroad, it’s very refreshing to have somebody who treats you as a human and not a foreign-language-speaking machine when you first meet them, as well as someone who can relate to your struggles. I think that’s why foreigners in Japan tend to bond more.

5. Imported foods in Japan are super expensive

Food is definitely an aspect of living abroad that is rough. Sometimes you crave the tastes of your hometown. Fortunately, Tokyo has an excellent international food scene, so it is easy to find foods from every country imaginable. However, you’ll have to be willing to sacrifice a significant amount of money in order to taste some nostalgic foods. Eating out in Japan is pretty expensive in general, but if you’re willing to make that sacrifice, then it’s totally worth it.

6. You find that Japanese food isn’t filling enough

This might not be the case for everybody, but I certainly felt this when I first came to Japan. The Japanese eat extremely small food portions (at least compared to where I’m from) so it took a while to get used to the portions here. The food is delicious, so sometimes it's disappointing when you eat up all of the food on your plate. This, in combination with the ridiculous amount of walking you do in Tokyo, will help you get a nice bod. Or direct you in the right step towards a healthy bod

7. Feeling really overwhelmed on the trains

This one is for my fellow country bumpkins. I’m from a place where you go everywhere by car, and there are essentially no new places to explore. So it’s always overwhelming for me to get on a train and go to a new place, but that’s what makes it exciting to live in Tokyo. Another reason that I feel overwhelmed on the trains is because there are way too many people smushed into the train, especially in the mornings. I think more people are on my morning rush hour train than the population of my town.  And people in Tokyo are used to it? I can’t believe it.

8. Blown away by the service

Last but not least, I was particularly blown away by how nice and polite all Japanese people are, especially those who work in service industries. The workers at clothing stores are extremely helpful, and the people who work in cafes and restaurants are extremely considerate and friendly. The fabulous service is probably why many people come back to Japan.

For those who have been to Japan, do you relate to any of these struggles?