Sign in to follow this  

Living In Japan As a Foreigner

Recommended Posts

I put the whole article here instead of the link because the pictures are not, shall we say, family-friendly. 

Questions about Foreigners in Japan. What’s it like to live in Japan as a foreigner?

Although we view Japan through special lenses because of our love of anime other things Japanese, of course Japan is just a country like any other, with its own problems and challenges. That said, Japan is a pleasant place to live where you always feel safe. I feel the general hardworking nature of Japanese people influenced me early on and helped me become successful with J-List.


Assassination Classroom

Do foreigners have a bad reputation in Japan?

I would say definitely not, although there are some exceptions. First of all, the word 外国人 gaikoku-jin (“foreign-country-person”) is usually reserved for non-Asians who are clearly visually different from Japanese. Chinese, Koreans etc. would more likely be referred to with specific labels to their countries, e.g. chugoku-jin, kankoku-jin.

If you’re a visitor to Japan, you’re an okyaku-san or a guest, and every Japanese person is happy to have you take an interest in their country, and of course help out the local economy.

The only foreigners with bad reputations are specific groups that are not following society’s norms, such as when mainland Chinese would visit Japan in large numbers and do things like cut in line or climb sakura trees to cut off cherry blossoms to take home. And even then, most Japanese would generally gaman (stoically endure) these unpleasant situations, leaving less polite people like me to call out the offending foreigners as doing something that’s inappropriate.

(Another group with a deserved bad reputation were members of Iranian gangs making counterfeit telephone cards and selling them back in the 1990s.)



Can a foreigner overcome his “gaijin” status if he lives long enough in Japan?

No, and why would you want to? Foreigners in Japan have the best of both worlds in Japan: you’re kakko-ii (cool) by default, can have interesting conversations with many people, and are not expected to follow every social rule that Japanese would be required to follow. In Tokyo I regularly drink with many foreigners, fun Italian magazine publishers and hardworking Russian programmers, and each of us has found a balance between being foreign but adapting Japanese language and social rules.


Bubblegum Crisis

Why is Japan so safe?

Japan is famous as being a country where if you drop your wallet, you’ll almost certainly get it returned to you, even if you lose it in the middle of Shibuya’s rowdy Halloween celebration. I had a friend lose his wallet three times in three different parts of Japan, and it was found and turned in to the police all three times, with all cash intact.

All humans live in societies that put pressure on us to behave in line with social norms. We sometimes think of this “peer pressure” as a bad thing, and yet it’s part of every human interaction. In Japan it’s atari-mae — taken for granted — that people should behave in an honest and upstanding manner, and this is a good thing for Japan.

I remember once, soon after getting here, I happened by a vending machine that had been left open by its elderly owner. Back in America, I might have been tempted to help myself to some free drinks, but after living in Japan, I couldn’t conceive of such a thing, and instead found the owner and told him his vending machine was open.


Kaguya-sama: Love is War

What is socially acceptable in Japan but would not be okay in the U.S.?

Lots of things. Slurping noodles while you eat, or picking up your ramen bowl to drink out of it. Casually commenting, “Haven’t you put on weight since the last time I saw you?” The Japanese also love to read over a person’s shoulder, especially at the funny American keeping a journal in Japanese, which would be considered terribly rude back where I come from.


Saint Young Men

Questions about Foreigners: What is an “only in Japan” moment you’ve experienced?

Japan is a country known for its yakuza gangsters, who operate various illegal enterprises but are generally polite guys. Soon after arriving in Japan I learned that there are places called “saunas” which are 24-hour public baths with saunas built into them, which you can sleep at, sleeping in reclining chairs provided for this purpose. An alternate to other cheap accommodations like capsule hotels, you can stay for $15-30 even in the heart of a city. I started traveling around Japan and staying in these establishments, saving money and having some interesting experiences along the way.

Then I decided to visit Kyoto and stay in one of these 24-hour saunas, where I learned that Kyoto is basically Yakuza Central. I spent an uneasy night surrounded by the scariest gangsters you can imagine…and yet they were all very polite.


Mobile Suit Gundam Thunderbolt

What are some bad things about Japan?

Lots of things. Bad work/life balance for most people. Extremely muggy summers. Over-urbanization. Earthquakes. Silly right-wingers driving around in their speaker trucks, which everyone just ignores.

The Japanese have some weird hang-ups they need to get over, too, like their mistrust of people with tattoos. This culturally stems from the yakuza, above, but has become positively bizarre. If you’ve got tattoos, you might not be able to visit a gym or public bath (though there are a lot of baths that have no problem with them — here’s a list), or you might be asked to cover your tats up. Back when the Olympics were a thing, Japan debated making a temporary law allowing tattoos everywhere, because of all the tattooed foreign athletes who would be visiting the country and who clearly are not yakuza gangsters society needed protection from.


What culture shock have you experienced in Japan?

I’ve lived in Japan so long, I only get culture shock when going back to the U.S. to be honest. Like ordering a drink at McDonald’s and getting a significantly larger cup than I expect.


Uma Musume Pretty Derby

Questions about Foreigners: What should not be done in Japan?

If you’re planning a visit to Japan as a tourist, the good news is that there are very few things you can do to cause offense, and you can relax and enjoy yourself while you’re here. For residents like me, the list of social rules I’m expected to pay attention to is longer.

Here’s a list of six things you should not do in Japan.


Grave Of The Fireflies

How did Japan manage to forge such close relations with the U.S. after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

This is one of the great questions when it comes to Japan. We dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese, yet they’re the most pro-American countries in the world. I believe this is precisely because the Allied victory over Japan was so decisive. That, and the infectious positive attitude Americans had during the Occupation, that Japan could rebuild and become a peaceful country that was a benefit to the world.

As an American living in Japan, I’ve had a few discussions about the war with Japanese people, usually hearing things like “losing the war was the best thing that could have happened to Japan,” and women of my mother-in-law’s generation are extremely thankful to Douglas MacArthur for “saving Japan from itself.” Only once did I get any shade, when a drunk farmer in Toyama Prefecture asked me, “Why did big American beat up on tiny Japan?” His family immediately interjected, telling him to shut up because Japan was at fault for the war.


Clannad After Story

How will Japan manage its declining population problem?

In my long post about understanding Japan’s birth rate challenges through anime memes, I discuss how all developed countries have falling birthrates, and how Japan’s real challenge is how to manage its society and allow in more foreign workers in a way that’s successful for all parties. There’s really nothing that can be done about Japan’s population, which peaked in 2008 at 128 million and is now falling, as deaths outstrip births.


Lucky Star

Thanks for reading this post with questions about foreigners and Japan from Quora! Got any other Japan questions you’d like us to write about? Ask us below, or on Twitter!


  • Like 6

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this