Photo: Lucia Romero/Shutterstock

10 Things That Happen to You When You Move to Japan

by Suzanne Bhagan Dec 9, 2015

1. You’ll use strange heating devices in your apartment.

Many apartments in Japan are small, poorly insulated and lack central heating. To keep warm during winter, the Japanese have invented the kotatsu, a low, heated table covered with a blanket. What you do is you sit on the floor and dive under the blanket so that your lower body and toes stay toasty under the table. Some people even sleep under the kotatsu.

2. You will realize that if you’re on time, you’re late.

If your boss tells you that work starts at 8, you’d better be at your desk fifteen minutes early. Rolling in when the clock strikes 8 is considered late. Also, don’t even think about leaving the office on time. In the Japanese workplace, it’s the norm to stay after hours. If you do leave on time, remember to say, “Osakini shitsurei shimasu!” which means “Excuse me for leaving early.”

3. You’ll start a collection of slip-on shoes.

In Japan, it’s customary to take off your shoes in the genkan or entryway before entering homes, temples, shrines and even schools. You’ll realize that shoe laces and buckles just make the process awkward. Also, you’ll learn that wearing clean socks with no holes is the key to avoiding funky feet embarrassment. Slip-on shoes will become your go-to shoes and you’ll never go back.

4. The konbini will become your one-stop shop.

The convenience store is one business Japan has perfected. They can be found almost everywhere and are open 24/7. At the konbini, you can buy almost anything: drinks, snacks, cigarettes, alcohol, even pantyhose, and umbrellas! Need a hot meal on the go? The staff will gladly heat your food in the microwave. You can also buy concert tickets, pay for online shopping, make copies, post packages and settle your bills at the counter.

5. You’ll start noticing that almost everything is kawaii.

The Japanese marketing industry is saturated with cute and colorful mascots that promote everything from toothpaste to toilet paper. Even prefectures, cities, and towns have their own cuddly mascots and since 2010, there’s been a national competition called the Yuru-Kyara Grand Prix where the public votes for its favorite mascot.

6. You’ll get accustomed to people bowing all the time.

In Japan, bowing is serious business. Everyone bows. Students bow before entering the staff room. Shop attendants bow and yell “Irrashaimase!” every time a customer enters a store. Even the cashier bows when you pay for your shopping. It’s so contagious that you’ll start bowing when someone opens the door for you or thanks you for doing a good job.

7. You’ll get serious bang envy.

Almost all the women have perfect, precision cut bangs. It’s the number one haircut for Japanese females of all ages. It looks kawaii on little girls, gives young women that “innocent yet sexy” look, and hides wrinkled foreheads on older ladies.

8. You’ll get used to people staring at you all the time.

Because Japan is generally an ethnically homogenous nation, if you don’t have Japanese features, you will definitely stick out. This can be good and bad. Some people may seem afraid of you. Others may shout “Herro/Hello!” at you and run away. However, in general, once people get to know you, they’ll stop staring and actually try to have a conversation.

9. You won’t miss your driver license.

The buses and trains frequently run on time and almost everyone, even children, ride “granny bicycles” in the countryside and in the big cities. Not only does riding keep the Japanese people fit but it also helps to reduce their carbon footprint on the planet.

10. You’ll wear a mask when you get sick.

When it’s flu season, the sterilized masks come out. In Japan, it’s never weird to see several people wearing masks on the train, in the workplace or at school. The first time you put one on you feel ridiculous, but you soon get over it.

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