Moving to Japan to study abroad was probably one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. I mean it was made easier when I was offered the 100% tuition fee scholarship from my school and JASSO scholarship for my first 6 months of living in Japan. But it was still a difficult choice since Japan, at the time, was a complete mystery to a Vietnamese student like me.
But you know what? I just packed my suitcases and came to Japan anyway because the less you know about something, the more you will learn.
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Moving to Japan as a Foreign Student to Study Abroad
The process you asked? It went smoothly. I got my visa easily 2 weeks before my departure time. There was not any nasty someone making the visa procedure harder for me. You just need to fill in all the paperwork (the Japanese love paperwork) and then you’re off to go.
I packed 2 suitcases and one backpack with 1000$ and here I was, ready to go.
My university was helpful showing me how to get there from the airport and there were people picking me up from the school bus stop.
My university is located in Yamanashi prefecture where you can spot Mt. Fuji every sunny day. My first impression of the place was “Omg why are there so many vineyards?”. Yamanashi, along with the sight of Mt.Fuji, is famous for its grapes and peaches.
It’s considered the countryside where I live, meaning there are not many people and shopping malls, but there is always spectacular nature even though it is only 2 hours away by bus from Tokyo.
I have been living in Yamanashi for over 3 years as a foreign student now and every day, this place manages to blow my mind of how beautiful and peaceful it is. It’s like free therapy when you can just look over the horizon and there she is, Mt.Fuji looking back at you.
Student Life - What it's Like to be a Student in Japan
My university is called Yamanashi Gakuin University and I study in the international department called international college of Liberal Arts (iCLA for short).
Yes it is an international school, everyone speaks English and we study in English, but if you think you can get away with learning Japanese while living in Japan, you should think again.
It is crucial to know Japanese when living in Japan because you will need it on a daily basis. So, I have to study Japanese at school with Japanese teachers who are willing to help me deal with any daily problem like paying insurance or going to the hospital.
Being a student in Japan is fun because your job there is to study and explore the country. And let me tell you this, you will never finish learning about Japan. There are always things about this place waiting to surprise you. Also, convenience stores are everywhere where you can buy light alcohol, cup noodles, snacks, and lunch boxes with decent price, which I think is super convenient for students (on your lazy-and-don’t-wanna-cook day)
There are some discounts in museums for students, sometimes bus tickets too, but rather than that, you can’t expect much. The best thing about being a student in Japan, I would say, is that there are breaks and days when you’re not busy. I often cycle around my prefecture, road trips with my friends or just a small walk to the convenience store to buy late night snacks and cup noodles. It’s just so much fun for me.
Sometimes though, you do get homesick and culture shock, I will talk more in detail about this below so keep reading.
Dealing With Adulthood, Culture Shock and Homesickness While Living in Japan
Homesickness and Culture Shock in Japan
Homesickness happens when you find yourself in a new/different environment where you haven’t got enough time to adapt to. Honestly, being in Japan does not help at all because Japan is hands down one of the weirdest countries in the world and by weird I mean unique and hard to adapt to. There are things I wish I had prepared myself for before coming here.
Japan has amazingly unique and rich cultures and traditions, a lot of which you will find really strange such as bowing, taking off shoes before entering anywhere or eating KFC for Christmas…
I came to Japan when I just turned 18, very naive but carefree. Little did I know about all the culture shocks waiting for me there. One thing that frustrated me about Japan was how inflexible people were. Rules are the big thing in Japan and Japanese people follow rules regardless of how ridiculous or inconvenient it is. It was so extreme that it got to the point where I felt like Japanese people could not function without rules telling them what to do.
Getting Used to the Food in Japan
Getting used to the food was also one of the hardest things about living in Japan for me. I’m from a country with very rich food culture. Vietnamese food is flavourful, nutritious and cheap. Japanese food is way less flavourful and there are many ingredients I could not find here. So yes, I got homesick because of food, all the time.
How do I deal with it, you ask? I guess I try to balance things. As much as I want to complain about how tasteless Japanese food could be, I remind myself (sometimes I have to force myself to think) what is so good about Japanese food and how lucky I am that I could learn and taste a whole new different cuisine from home. Ohh yes sushi, tempura, gyudon (牛丼), miso soup and yes, sushi again.
Also, talking to my professors helped a lot. Luckily most of my professors are also foreigners living in Japan, so they helped guide me mentally and my Japanese professors would help me deal with physical problems.
Student Life - What it's Like to be a Student in Japan
First Impressions and Looking For Friends in Japan
Making friends in Japan was easy for me at first, but not in the long term. In the beginning of my stay, everyone was friendly and excited just as much as I was, so we all bonded together. However, after a while when people start settling down, I found myself not having any group of friends that I can actually connect to. I’m talking about international friends. Making Japanese friends is 10 times harder for me.
Japanese people are very distant, especially towards foreigners. Not because they are rude but because they are shy and detached. I also noticed Japanese people are not very fond of foreigners. In a way, it’s because they believe foreigners can’t understand or adapt to their cultures, traditions and their social “rules”.
The Japanese students in my school only wanted to hang out with one another because they are afraid of the language barrier and frequent misunderstandings with foreigners. I agree that it is not convenient to make friends from other countries, and the Japanese love convenience, so…
Finding Friends While Living in Japan
Anyway, after a while, I managed to find friends and communities. I just went on Facebook and searched “Vietnamese people in Japan” or “Vietnamese people/students in Yamanashi” to be precise. I found a group of people that were willing to welcome me and help me anytime. I also found a group of foreigners in Yamanashi where people hold parties, offer English teaching jobs and sell their used furniture and clothes.
Another community I found was through my part-time job. I always recommend that people find a part-time job if they live in Japan. Whether they actually need the money or not a job is probably the easiest and most authentic way to befriend Japanese people. It also helps you understand Japanese society and culture in a way that school could not teach. This brings me to the next point
>>> Read our 8 Simple Tips for Making Friends While Living Abroad
Working Part-Time in Japan as a Foreign Student
Disclaimer: before you look for a part-time job in Japan, you need to have a working permit which you can apply for at the city hall. This will allow you to work 28 hours a week and 40 hours during holiday. You should also be able to speak basic Japanese in order to be qualified.
Finding a Job in Japan
Depending on your level of Japanese, you can expect different kinds of part-time jobs which offer better salaries.
Generally, working at convenience stores, restaurants, shops and factories are common for students. If a shop or restaurant is hiring, they will stick posters outside stating who is eligible, how much they pay per hour (the salary would be less if you are a high school student and more if you work night shift). The best thing is to look around your local place to find a job that is close to you.
If not, there is a website where you can find part-time jobs around you. It lets you choose exactly around which train station, salary range,… You can then apply through the website.
I found my part-time jobs mainly through friends and my school. My school would send us emails if any business around is looking for English speaking workers (because we are the only international school in the city).
Applying For Jobs in Japan
So you have found the jobs that you would like to apply for, what do you do next?
The person in charge (could be your future boss or manager) would give you an appointment. At the day, you will have to bring in a form that was filled by you and attached your photo.
If you apply through the website, the form will be online, you can submit the form there and they will be in contact.
After that is the interview, which is the most stressful stage for me. This really depends on the boss but if you are a foreign student, they just want to make sure your Japanese is enough for the job.
Work Culture in Japan
It took me a while to get used to the working environment and culture here. Japanese people value cleanliness, punctuality, manners and respect for your coworkers (especially people who were there before you, called senpai).
On my first day of working in a sushi restaurant, I was taught every step I have to do before entering my workplace, including putting on my uniform, name tag nicely, putting on apron and shoes, washing my hands, drying my hands, disinfecting my hands, drying my hands again, putting on hand gloves, putting on facemask, walking to the gate of the kitchen where everyone could see me and shouting “おはようございます” (meaning Hello) while bowing 90 degree. Then, my boss will ask me if I have a fever or stomach ache and I’m supposed to say no, then he will tell me which position I will be working today.
After my shift ends, I’m supposed to stand at the same point where I said hello to my coworkers and say “お疲れさまでした。お先に失礼いたします” meaning “You have worked so so hard and I’m sorry that I leave before you”.
You are also supposed to buy Omiyage if you go on a holiday, apologize your ass off if you are sick and can’t go to work or late.
It might sound so overwhelming but you will get used to it. My coworkers and boss were really nice to me, so I absolutely love the job.
Daily Life in Japan: Living in Yamanashi
My everyday life in Yamanashi is pretty peaceful and somewhat aesthetic.
I wake up in my own apartment, cycle to school (sometimes I pass by a convenience store to buy breakfast). I have lunch at the school cafeteria. After school, I go to the local supermarket and make dinner. Sometimes I would go cycling with my friends or eat in a sushi restaurant.
Life in Yamanashi is just like that, it’s peaceful, quiet, simple, convenient and I’m surrounded by beautiful nature all the time.
Sometimes, I catch a bus that costs 30$ both ways to get to Tokyo and just walk around with my friends, go to museums, or Vietnamese restaurants 🙂
One thing that happens quite often that I need to get used to though, is earthquakes. It happens every once in a while, if it’s a big one, you will get a warning on your phone, if not, everything just starts shaking for 5 minutes while you sit there being scared for your life.
Getting Around and Traveling Around Japan
Transportation is the most expensive thing about Japan (compared to other countries that I’ve been to). Trains and buses are always on time. There are different kinds of train depending on how far and fast you want to go.
There are some railway pass that give you some discounts but they are seasonal. I also recommend using a night bus instead of a bullet train if you want to travel far away.
Traveling around Japan is really recommended because each prefecture has its own specialties. Japan has a lot to offer, from mountains to beaches and islands, temples and pop culture streets.
Cost of Living in Japan
Living in Japan can be expensive but it doesn’t have to be. There are ways that you can use to save up money and be a smart expat. I will sum up here the average cost of living in my prefecture. Keep in mind that the cost of living changes drastically depending on the prefecture, so obviously living in Tokyo would be more expensive than in Yamanashi. Here is the cost of living rundown for Yamanashi prefecture:
(1$ is about 105 Japanese yen).
- Monthly rent for one: 25,000¥ (Japanese apartments don’t offer beds, you will have to buy one yourself or sleep on the floor with futon)
- Cost of commute monthly: 10,000¥ (this depends on whether you have a bicycle or not, it would be cheaper if you do and if you don’t go to other city too often)
- Coffee from a local cafe: 250¥
- Beer from a local bar: 450¥
- Common lunch box in convenience store: 500¥
- Local eat-out for one: 700¥
- Decent dinner in a good restaurant for one: 1500¥
- Typical grocery bill for a week of shopping: 5000¥
Now You Know All You Need About Living in Japan as a Foreigner Studying Abroad
There you have it – a glimpse into Japanese culture and what it’s like living in Japan as a foreigner and student abroad. Daily life is not without its challenges, but the opportunity to learn about and live in a new culture is incredibly rewarding.
From the cost of a beer to how to make friends, this should give you a base of knowledge on daily life in Japan. Whether you’re moving to study or work, you’ll never stop learning as an expat living in Japan.
Minh Thu Hoang was born and raised in Vietnam before she started her journey as a foreign student in Japan. As a foreign student, she loves writing about her knowledge to help others who are going through the same struggles of being young, confused and far away from home. That is how she became the founder of That Foreign Girl. Check out her blog posts to find out about study abroad tips, financial management for foreign students, scholarships and more. You can also find her on Pinterest and subscribe to her newsletter to be the first to know about her new content, tips and more.
If you’re moving to Japan, currently living or studying there or just curious about living abroad, leave you questions for Minh below in the comments.
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