Interview #1 – Things Nico Did On His First Week in Japan / Moving to Japan

Today’s interviewee is Nico who just moved to Tokyo from England. He will start working at a Japanese company from this April. Today we talk about how he started his life in Japan.

Hi Nico. Thank you for taking your time today. First of all could you tell us the reason you moved to Japan?

I’d been working as an IT Consultant since I graduated from university in 2009 and was fortunate enough to travel throughout England and other parts of Europe for various different projects. I always felt that ‘settling down’ in England with the house, wife, dog and kids wasn’t something I was ready to do until I’d seen more of the world and had really experienced daily life in a completely different environment.

At the same time being English meant that learning another language wasn’t something that I had prioritised at a young age and I wanted to rectify that. If I’m being honest I prefer learning niche subjects so rather than Spanish I focussed on Japanese which began shaping my desire to live and work there permanently.

Finally I’d say that when I came up with a shortlist of destinations to experience, Japan topped the list. It is still a developed country with all of the employment opportunities that brings but at the same time has a culture as far away as it could be from European/American norms that I grew up with. I decided that would give me the best platform possible to reach out of my comfort zone and grow as a person.

Where did you stay at first week in Japan and why you chose that?

I stayed at the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku which is a really posh 5* Hotel that I don’t belong in. I had been there during a trip the previous year and loved the atmosphere including the awesome views from the Jazz bars on the 51st floor. It was also walking distance to Shinjuku so was pretty convenient for most things I needed to do.

The hotel was just a stepping stone for me and a way to slowly acclimatise to daily life in a foreign world. It had all the comfort of home (and more) and I saw it as a treat to myself for keeping up the language practice and persisting through the countless interview processes I’d done over the year. After that I’d scale down to cheaper accomodation and then finally move in to a place of my own.

What did you do your first week in Japan?

For the first few days I just tried to get over the Jet Lag, enjoy a weekend of stress free dinners with friends and try to make sure that my landing experience had that feel good factor. The car I booked to take me to the hotel never turned up at Narita Airport though so that didn’t exactly go to plan!

Once I finally got around to preparing to start my new job I made a checklist of things to do and had Residence Card Registration, Phone Number and Bank Account as the big 3. Without those the list of things you can’t do in Japan is ridiculously long.

– Registration

Registration could only come after I had moved in to the Serviced Apartment during the second week as I needed a fixed address to be able to receive my residence certificate and other things.

I was fortunate that while I was signing my apartment contract in Japan the receptionist told me that there was actually a subsidiary office for the Minato-ku ward 5 minutes down the road so I didn’t have to go to the main ward office in the end.

In order to register I needed my Residence Card which I received at the airport and my passport. It was actually quite a complex process and the english versions of the forms leave a lot to be desired. You can (and should) request copies of your Residence Certificate and you can select to have this display your new ID number (like a social security number) which is something I had no idea about but is actually very important.

The place wasn’t that crowded as it was a subsidiary office but I needed handholding through most of the form filling. I also didn’t know that you couldn’t forward date your new address so I was lucky to be moving in the next day. Finally just as an FYI it costs a small amount of money for the certificates to be printed, less than 1000 Yen if i recall.

– Getting phone contract

One of the first things I tried to do was get a Phone as I was getting killed by data charges from my UK phone. I decided not to get a prepaid SIM for tourists which maybe was a mistake in hindsight as navigating Tokyo without google is a nightmare.

I went to Yodabashi Camera in Shinjuku and just randomly walked in to one of the providers booths because I didn’t know any better. Ended up talking to Lin from IIJMio who was super helpful and she explained the details. As it happens the provider had some pretty decent deals and I’m not the type to stream or play games on my phone so I didn’t foresee any issues. I couldn’t get the number there and then though as you need your address registered on the back of your Residence Card before you are allowed to buy a non temporary SIM…A Credit Card is also required.

After the first week, what’s your next plan?

After my first week I moved to a Serviced Apartment in Roppongi purely because my future office is close to Roppongi Itchome station and I figured it would be convenient for the first few weeks.

I had made the reservation before I left England and it did require several forms being filled in, Passport Info and Credit Card details etc. The plan is to use the serviced apartments as a base while I search for something permanent. It also helps me get used to life in Japan as I need to buy groceries, try to understand the needlessly complicated garbage recycling policies and generally take care of myself in an unfamiliar place. However, I have the luxury of still having a reception desk who kindly answer my stupid questions.

Could you give some advices or messages for someone who are moving to Japan?

In terms of things I didn’t know before I came here, just understand that there is a running order to the things you need to do. Registering at the ward office comes first and you will need to be currently living in the apartment you are trying to register. That will get you your Residence Card Signed and your Residence Certificate which should contain your ID number. Then you can get a phone number using the newly signed residence card and then finally you can use all of the above to get a bank account. Those also, generally, are the prerequisite steps to starting at a new company should you be moving here for work.

For more general advice I’d say take the time to acclimatise, bring yourself down from comfort one step at a time. If you move straight in to a small cramped room in the middle of nowhere you will feel the culture shock instantly and will have second thoughts. Instead make sure that you spend a bit extra to soften the landing and where possible make sure you have a support system in place. Im fortunate to have some good friends here who I can call in a pinch, including native speakers. My HR Lead has also been great in fighting through the red tape for me on things like Bank Accounts which will just be an absolute nightmare if you are on your own. (She spent 2 hours filling in bank forms for me, I’m not joking)

Practically, trim down your luggage as much as possible. It’s a big move but you don’t need all those clothes and electronics because you can get anything you need once you are here. The more language ability you have the better you will cope with the transition but be prepared to mostly hear polite formal Japanese while you are in the initial stages. Keep in mind that as soon as a native speaker thinks you can speak the language they will hit you with both barrels which will leave you wide eyed and helplessly nodding at times.

Finally I would just say remember that Japan is just another country and Tokyo is just another big city. There are a huge amounts of positives you will find when you are here but just like any city you will find a lot of negatives too. Prepare yourself to be the exact same person you are today but in a new city with new opportunities, whether you find and take those is up to you.