Last time, I posted a Japan Thrival Guide on what to do before, after, and while in Japan. I think as a JET who’s been in Japan for 3 years, there are some things I wish I knew before coming on. A new country means lots of changes, but we also shouldn’t forget some of our own values in the process. I’ve spoken with previous JETs about what advice they wish they had or should have taken with high hopes this can give advice for moving to Japan to JET or English teachers.
1. Pack what you REALLY, REALLY like
If you absolutely cannot survive without Sour Patch Kids, bring a few packets, but don’t bring your entire kitchen. Foreign goods may be more expensive in Japan, but you can check Amazon Japan to see if they have your favorite beauty products, electronics, etc. By the way, electronics are super cheap in Japan compared to other Asian countries! Winning!
Also, most people overlook this, but as a woman, I find myself hating on Japanese bras because they’re teeny and stuffed full of padding. If you’re well endowed in your rear end or bust, bring a lot of underwear.
2. Be prepared to drive
It never hurts to get your International Driver’s Permit. There may be a situation where you have to drive a drunk coworker or friend home in their car or just an emergency situation. IDPs are usually inexpensive and great to have.
3. Learn how to budget
Most of us get paid once a month so it’s good to have your finances in check and learn what you spend and where it goes. Some JETs go over the top with expenditures and end up eating Cup Noodles until the end of the month. Yikes…
4. Know all the great websites for cheap shipping or easy access to foreign goods
One of my favorites while in Japan has been: www.iherb.com. This wonderful website has been a life saver with its $4.00 international shipping on everything! It’s the best value for your money. You can find almost anything on there from herbal supplements to food.
Another favorite has been The Flying Pig.This is a great way to get cheese in Japan from Costco. Granted you can’t go to the grocery store and get it right then and there, but the shipping is quick and painless.
5. Learn to love yourself
I find this to be one of the most relevant pieces of advice I can give. Once upon a time, I was considered attractive in America. I’m tall and tan and have been described as “exotic.” In Japan, I was no longer beautiful, but too tall, too tan, too strong, too fat. My self-esteem took a huge hit and I started to feel ugly and down on myself. Don’t EVER let others dictate how you should feel about yourself! You’re amazing, unique, and wonderful. Look in the mirror and know you are the author of your self-worth. If you’re interested in what the standards of beauty are in Japan, check out my guest post Are You Attractive in Japan.
6. You will deal with racism
A lot of us have been lucky to dodge this bullet and don’t come into Japan with the mindset people here are racist pigs. They’re not. Wherever you go there will be racism. Even in America, we have the ethnocentric, ignorant idiots who don’t care about others. The racism here is a bit more subtle. For example, I have seen establishments that say, “No Americans.” Others have been denied housing for being a foreigner and carrying the stigma, “foreigners are loud, unruly, and disrespectful.” It’s important to recognize it can happen. If it does, act with poise and rationality. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. You just have to let it go. Check out some of the difficulties Japan poses to foreigners here.
7. You’re not going to like everyone you meet
The truth is, you’re not going to like or get along with everyone you meet. Some JETs can be downright cliquey and you’ll feel like the odd one out. Don’t feel pressured to bond if you don’t like the person but always treat them with courtesy and respect. You may also be at a school where the atmosphere screams Debbie Downer and no one talks to you or you feel ignored. Talk to someone about it. You can’t change others, but you can control how you feel.
8. Get down with your bad self
There will be lonely days and nights. You’ll get homesick and wish you could go home. Find out how to get involved in your community, do some volunteer work, or get a new hobby and polish and old one. JET is all about exploring you and testing your limits. It’s about discovering a different part of yourself and developing your best self!
9. Don’t change the culture
Don’t come here thinking you’ll be a savior and expose people to their “wrong ways”. This is a cultural exchange. Learn the culture and understand where they’re coming from. You don’t have to like or accept it or change into being Japanese, but realize they’ve been doing some things a certain way for thousands of years and it still works. If it didn’t why are they still here?
10. Sometimes your job is going to suck
Not every day will be roses and unicorns. Some days the kids will be awful, or you’ll have a class you hate or a teacher you don’t get along with. Take these days to appreciate the good ones and don’t focus on it. I love my job and working with high school students, but kids will be kids. They’ll want to push your buttons and see how far they can take it.