Studying abroad in Japan: Expectation and Reality


Foreigners who travel to a certain country will definitely have different perspectives than the ones who actually live there. Moreover, certain expectations can also be found when we think of a reputable country that we have never lived in before. Sadly, reality tends to shatter our expectations. In this article, our columnist, Made Ayu Sayaka attempts to elaborate the reality of certain assumptions that foreigners tend to have of Japan.

Studying in Japan is a dream for many people. Japan has a good reputation as being a country that’s safe, has achieved amazing things in technology, great food– it seems like a perfect country to live in. Yet there are many misconceptions that people have of Japan. Like all other countries, Japan has its flaws too. Many foreigners come to Japan and find that the Japan they came to was very different than the one they imagined before. Today I will talk about some of the common misconceptions about Japan and why you probably should rethink about your decision to come here.

  • Japan is not only about anime and manga

Most people stereotype Japan as the land of anime. There are numerous people who dream to live in Japan because they are huge fans of anime & manga, and think that Japan would be perfect for them since it is the origin country of anime. This is the most common misconception about Japan. Anime is not Japan. In fact, it’s just a small part of Japan’s culture.  So, for those who are considering to study abroad in Japan only for the sake to look for anime, I strongly suggest against it. Most Japanese just don’t care about anime, and if you try to talk to them about it, they will probably get annoyed. There are anime clubs in universities, but it is not as big and common as you might think. Well, it’s obviously a different story if you do, say, a digital art/ manga major, but generally, the average Japanese know more about Disney than anime. You will probably come here as a student, which means that basically your life here will consist of studying, working part- time jobs, joining organizations– which, none of them will give you the ‘anime’ experience.

No, people in Japan don't dress like this.
No, people in Japan don’t dress like this.
  • Traveling is different than living there. 

Japan is a great destination for traveling; however, when it comes to studying abroad, it’s a whole different story. This applies to every country, and it speaks true for Japan as well. Just because you visited Japan once and loved it, doesn’t mean that you will love living here for long time. There is a term called the ‘honeymoon’ phase, in which around your first year here you will feel excited. You get to know your new environment, try various delicious Japanese food, and visit many places. You start learning Japanese and it all seems exciting. Then after quite a while, generally after a year, the excitement wears down. You start feeling homesick, you miss your country’s food, and even after a year of learning you still can’t speak Japanese fluently and you can’t seem to bond with the locals. This happens to a lot of foreigners who’ve lived in Japan for quite a while.

  • Life in Japan will be tough if you don’t speak Japanese

It will be hard for you to live in Japan if you can’t speak Japanese. The average Japanese generally don’t speak English well, so you’ll have to be the one to speak their language. Also, English support is still very poor. Even though they have started adding English translations to public signs for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic, most people can’t speak the language. And if you can’t speak/read Japanese, basic daily things will be challenging. Simple things such as shopping (which one is the shampoo and which is the body soap?), going to the doctor, opening a bank account will be frustrating. Talking to Japanese people will be difficult, and so is being friends with them. So if you want to live here but don’t want to learn Japanese, I would strongly recommend against living here.

Lack of English translation– what does this sign say?
Lack of English translation is common– what does this sign say?
  • Japan’s crazy working culture

Overworking is a huge problem in Japan. Generally, Indonesians are more laid-back, while Japanese are more serious about their jobs. Indonesians tend to prioritize their family, but the Japanese prioritize their work. Japanese people are infamous for their crazy long work hours, and there have been cases where people die from overworking. The government’s attempt has been poor. It is in their culture to work more. Also, they take their work very seriously in Japan. While you’re probably thinking of just studying and not working, you can’t ignore the possibility that you will end up working after graduation. Also, typically students work part time jobs here, and at first, it will be tough. Be one minute late to work and you’ll be scolded. Your boss won’t be as forgiving compared to the ones in Indonesia. Japan also has a very hierarchical culture– you have to respect your ‘senpai’s or someone’s who’s older/ more experienced than you– no matter what. Japanese take their work seriously, and that’s why they were able to achieve success especially in the field of technology, science, etc., but it comes with a cost– the poor work-life balance of Japanese. So if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like to work a lot and want to be more ‘free’, then Japan might not be for you.

A common sight on Japan's trains– tired 'salarymen' or workers sleep on the trains after a long day at work
A common sight on Japan’s trains– tired ‘salarymen’ or workers sleep on the trains after a long day at work

But, in the end, there are people including myself who want to settle here. Japan, with all its flaws and its beauty, is captivating, and I don’t regret coming here. I learned numerous things that I will never be able to in Indonesia. Studying abroad here will be tough at first for foreigners, but if you just try to be more open and accepting to new culture it will be fine. All of the things I mentioned above are just a matter of how different Japanese culture is from Indonesia’s, and that it’s not necessarily a negative thing. It’s how you settle through the culture shock and handle the difficulties that matter. Every country has its quirky culture that we might disagree or dislike, and so does Japan. But every country also has tons of great things we might fall in love with. Japan is a great country, with rich history, great food, nice people, amazing architectures, and much more. Just do your research, talk to people who’ve lived in Japan and find out as much as you can before deciding to come here, so the gap between reality of Japan and your expectations won’t be far.

Picture credit goes to author.


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