6 Things to Do Before Moving to Japan


Mt. Fuji from the Shinkansen

So you’re moving to Japan! You’ve been hired, you’ve read, signed and mailed every bit of paperwork and by now you might also have even Googled every bit of information about your new home the internet possesses reaching back into its darkest corners.

But what now? You still have a few months to while away the time before your adventure starts and you’ve already memorized the Street View of your entire town with a 50km radius!

I remember these last few months before departure feeling like I was in some strange kind of limbo. You’re still at home living your life, but something else is coming. Something new. Something big.

So before you go too batty I’ve put together a few ideas to hopefully keep you grounded in the present moment while also helping you to prepare for the exciting next step of your life. Having something to do keeps the time a-movin’!

1. Learn Katakana and Hiragana 

And so much more...
And so much more…

This may be the single most helpful thing you could possibly do! I’m serious, being able to read at least a little bit of your surroundings will save you in more ways than one. But if you have to only choose one, go for the katakana. Those words are based on foreign languages, usually English, so if you can sound them out you can generally figure out what they mean. Hiragana is only Japanese words so while you’ll be able to read them flawlessly, the meaning may still evade you. It’s the kickstart you need to start learning the language though, motivation to beef up your vocabulary, and will help you pick things up much faster! Check out my post on studying for the JLPT for great resources to help you learn 2 out of the 3 alphabets! And even the third, for the truly ambitious. (Kanji is fun though, seriously!)

2. Figure out your 1st Day Logistics

My first glimpse of Japan, I couldn't stop staring at my first foreign country...
My first glimpse of Japan, I couldn’t stop staring at my first foreign country…

Let’s be honest here. Moving to a foreign country is a big, exhausting job and unless you currently live in China or Korea, this island nation takes awhile to get to! Traveling is tiring at the best of times and when you’re constantly panicking because you can’t remember where your phone is or if you closed the garage door, only to realize it totally doesn’t matter because you don’ exactly have those anymore, it starts to wear you a bit thin. When you finally land in that place of all places, Japan!, you will love your past self for figuring out, writing down and printing out plans and maps for your first day here. Think: how are you leaving the airport? What are you doing with your luggage (for the love of chocolate, don’t think you’re going to carry it everywhere with you for a whole day!)? Where are you going to stay? (Have the phone number and address.) What are you going to eat? If you’re landing on the day your company expects you, this should be pretty easy. But if you’re coming over early or don’t yet have work here you definitely want to be figuring this out in detail! Your post-12hr flight(s) with delays and re-routes self (yes, it happens) will heartily raise a glass to you!

3. Survival Japanese

While you can get around Japan pretty easily (for the most part) without any Japanese whatsoever, if you’re going to a more rural area or if you’re intimidated by people spewing long series of garbled consonants and syllables at you and not having a clue what’s happening when they look like they want an answer then some basic, survival Japanese would be good for you! There are a million and a handful of Japanese language resources out there waiting for you, from textbooks to podcasts to Anki decks to language exchanges and tutors. Find what’s right for you and you’d be surprised how far a confused look and an “ありがとう ございます” (see what I did here? Now you have to go learn hiragana!) will get you. People love when you make an effort, no matter how small. It encourages them to also make an effort to communicate with, and/or, help you out. Again, I have that studying Japanese post with a list of my favorite resources to get you started! (Hint: The phrase to get you through the first month of work is definitely よろしくおねがいします。 Do it. Go!)

4. Spend time with friends and family

My family <3
My family

All right, we’ve focused on your move and now we need to pay attention to the loved ones you’re leaving behind. This is a bit of a rough time for them; it’s always easier to be the person who leaves than the one who has to watch you move on. Use these last few months to see everyone important to you. More than once even. Make memories that will make all of you smile when you think about each other. You can even be super efficient and make those memories while eating all the food you won’t be able to find in Japan! (Tacos guys. Eat all the tacos!) Whatever you do, make the most of the time you have left with your important people and pets. It’s probably going to be a long time before you see them again.

5. Stop worrying about the to-do list

If you really really need a list of things to get done before departure, you can look at the one I made for myself right there. I remember being super stressed about how to take my money over, whether or not I needed おみやげ (see that? I did it again!), what to pack, and a bunch of other little, unimportant things. You just have no idea what to expect and that gets stressful man! But here, I’ll make it easy for you. Take cash–Japan is safe and if you practice common sense no one’s gonna know how much money is in your bag–, don’t bother with the gifts–no one expects them from you until you’ve gotten to know them (that’s why I don’t tell coworkers now when I’m traveling. I cheat the system!)–, and pack what you are comfortable wearing–try to make it more conservative unless you’re in an international community. And if you’re still worried read about what I regret packing and not packing for Japan. There, done. Now go and eat a taco with your mom!

6. Binge watch YouTube videos!

One thing that really helped me figure out what to expect, and that my family loved doing with me, was binge watching YouTube videos about the people who had come before. We watched a million videos about Leopalaces before learning I had a regular apartment, and then we moved on to destinations in Japan, Interac training, weather (we didn’t know what seasons were!), culture, and all those quirky little things you find around you when you live in Japan. Watching with your friends and family help draw them in to the life you’re going to be living and keeps them included in your preparations and excitement! Some of our favorite Japan YouTubers are SharlainJapan, OneOKUsagi, HannahinJapana, RachelandJun, TexaninTokyo, LaurenNIHON, AbroadinJapan, BusanKevin and many more! (You can also watch my channel if you feel like it!) A lot of them have left now, but their videos are still helpful and relevant and the others are still going at it, spreading information ready to be gobbled up by people like us!

So there you have it. A few things to keep your sanity from spiraling away in a craze of indoor shoes vs gym shoes vs laces vs velcro vs ugh, I’m getting dizzy…

Basically, it’s cool to be excited. It’s cool to be prepared. But remember where you are right now and cherish it, because never fear, very soon you will be in JAPAN!

Any more Japan veterans out there? What should we add to this list? Curious minds want to know!

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