I met Alexandra back in 2007 in Bloomington, Indiana (US) when I was studying there. One year later she graduated with a degree in Education, with a license to teach Social Studies in High Schools. Before graduating she did a three month cultural/teaching immersion program in Zibo, China.
Alexandra: “I decided to visit friends in both Taiwan and Japan for a week before returning to the US. It really seemed like my friends were having fun in Japan, and after living in China I knew I wanted to try to live abroad for a longer time.”
“I moved to Japan in the summer of 2009 to Numazu, Shizuoka Prefecture. Even though I don't consider it anymore a primary reason I moved here because my boyfriend was living in Japan. But we broke up a few months after I arrived. And six years later I'm still here! So I can't say that he was the only reason I came or stayed.”
“When I arrived I was living in a small city that was not very convenient to access. Though, every day I could open my apartment door and see Mt. Fuji, and the sea was only a 35 minute bike ride away. So I really fell in love with being able to enjoy mountains, the sea, and also live in a place that had plenty of shops and restaurants.”
“The first few months were really rough. I was working for a very large Japanese company teaching English lessons to kids. A pretty stressful job. The school was an English language school with a staff of about 7 people including two foreigners. I was thrown into the position where I was teaching about 38-40 lessons a week in a 40 hour a week job. So every minute of my job was spent teaching. Also, being a newbie makes it easier for coworkers to criticize you and your behavior in the job or even in the country. Luckily, after about three months I got a new coworker who I got along with very well!”
Friendly city of Numazu
"When I was living in Numazu, the local young people were very friendly to foreigners. If I went drinking with my coworkers we would almost always have a group of people join us to ask many questions, even if they had very limited English skills. I'm very lucky to have moved there before Tokyo. I made many foreign and Japanese friends while living there. Possibly as Japanese people would say the people in the "countryside" are much friendlier. But isn't that the situation in many countries? I'm lucky too because that friendliness is how I met my husband six years ago. If people weren't so outgoing and friendly, we may never have met.”
Tokyo, living the dream!
“I lived in Numazu for 1,5 years and made many great friends but decided to live my dream: move to Tokyo.”
“I remember the first day I moved to Tokyo (in October 2010) with my suitcases and got on the train towards my new apartment. I was shocked that the train had tv screens and was so clean and modern. I thought "Wow, this is what living in Tokyo is like!". Now trains aren't anything I even consider anymore. When I moved to Tokyo, the first six months were really hard. As in most big cities, people weren't as friendly and it was really difficult for me to make friends. I hated living there and really missed the comfort of Numazu. I was really naive into thinking that people would be as friendly in Tokyo. Though I don't want Tokyo to be seen as a "cold" place. I am always amazed that no matter where you are in Japan people are willing to help you. Though there may be a difference between people being "helpful" and "friendly."
Back to the US?
“Today I still live in the Tokyo area and teach at an International Preschool. I have a lot of friends here and am now married to a Japanese man so I have in-laws here as well. Though even after six years of living abroad, there is nothing compared to living near people who truly know you. My husband and I are hoping to move to the US in the next year or so depending on visas etc. We love living here, but I also know how important my family is and it is time for me to spend more time with them. Maybe we will come back to live in Japan someday, but for now we would like to try something new and exciting in America.”
Citylife in Japan
“I already know the thing I will miss most about Tokyo life is the convenience. There is no need for a car, I've gone almost a year at times without riding in one. There are convenience stores open 24 hours on almost every corner. Aside from selling fairly high quality food and goods, you can also come to deliver a package, take money from the ATM, pay your bills, order gift sets for deliver, buy event tickets, and get trash stickers all in one trip.
“It is possible to get a myriad of foreign foods and groceries in Tokyo, but they come at a price. I always trick myself into believing I can't find certain products in Japan. For example, it is possible to find good cheese in Japan, you just have to pay A LOT to get it. I prefer to pretend some goods are inaccessible than spend my paycheck on foreign items.”
“Aside from convenience, Japanese society as a whole really focuses on personal responsibility and courtesy to your neighbors. If you go to a major music festival, people take their trash with them and drop it in the appropriate bins before leaving. If you lose your wallet or cell phone on the train, I would venture to say about 80% of the time you can call the train station and it will be waiting for you....or they may even deliver it to your house for free.”
“A thing people in America or even the rest of the world may not understand about living in Japan is everywhere else seems to look pretty dangerous and scary. One issue I am most worried about living in the US again is safety. Japan has such a low crime rate that I almost never feel threatened or worried about thieves or violence even walking by myself at any hour of the day. This doesn't mean that bad things don't happen, but it is hard for me to imagine living in a place where I have to worry about these things again.”
“On the other hand, what I don't like about Tokyo is the lack of space. It is sometimes shocking to people visiting Tokyo to see how crowded it is and how little space your money can buy. In Tokyo you have to pay a very high price for a small garden and an extra room for guests to stay. Those things are reserved for the upper class."
About moving to the other world
“I feel like my advice to people moving to a new country is to try to have very few expectations before arriving. That will make the adjustment much easier. If you have a set image of how your life will be, it is of course easy to be disappointed. Also, always say "yes." You never know when or where you will find fun.”
“From my personal experience, who you work with really shapes your time in a new country. If you are unhappy with the people you spend most of your hours with, it can really ruin your experience. I have now come to a time when I really get along with my coworkers and have a great working environment. My coworkers have always been a great source of information and help while living here.”
Travelling in Japan
“For visitors to Japan, don't be afraid to try new things. People may seem unapproachable because they may just be respecting your personal space. But everyone is more than willing to help you if you ask. I always want to promote Japan because there are so many wonderful things to see and do here. It is expensive, but if you have the right information, you can do it on a lower budget. If I could survive on helping tourists in Japan I would. If you have time and money in Japan please try to experience the mountains, the seaside, the old temples and the city life. That's the complete Japan experience.”