An Englishman in Japan 2
Updated: Sep 30, 2020
What's it like moving to Japan? For me personally there is one word to sum it up and it's amazing. That's not to say however that there are no issues to contend with.
My first two weeks living here were like any other holiday or vacation. I went sightseeing, shopping and indulged in the local delicacies, for which Kyoto has many. Typically speaking, most foreigners come Japan for a two to three week period and usually divide their time into even segments, allowing sufficient time to see and explore each area they visit. In geographic terms, Japan is a very long country and is made up of many islands, meaning its impossible to visit a lot of places in such a short time. Thus people tend to visit the main cities and their surrounding areas such as Tokyo東京, Kyoto京都, Osaka大阪 and Hiroshima広島 etc. Today though, Japan's high speed travel network, which is arguably the most efficient in the world, makes intercity travel remarkably quick and easy. With an average annual delay of around thirteen seconds, yes you read that right THIRTEEN, the Bullet train, or Shinkansen 新幹線, is the envy of every country in the world and to this day is still one of my favourite things about Japan. People can now travel cross country in a matter of hours without the need to check baggage
or wait around in traffic. For example, with a distance of over 500km, it takes just two and a half hours to travel
between Japan's two largest cities, Osaka and Tokyo. For comparison, Newcastle to London with a distance of just under 500km would take almost four hours to cover by train. There is a premium to pay however as it's not the cheapest form of travel. The reason for this is that the shinkansen network is extremely expensive to run. Bare in mind that it was designed to cut down journey times between major cities to allow businessmen to attend meetings and appointments in the same working day. I wouldn't recommend travelling all the way from Osaka to Hokkaido though for example as in some cases it could be four or five times more expensive An N700 series train between Tokyo and Osaka and would take around seven to eight hours. I'll go into more detail in a future blog regarding travel and costs though.
People visiting Kyoto usually tell me they’ve allocated around three days to see the sights. “Is this enough time?” they ask. Sure, if you want to see the main shrines, Imperial palace and the "world heritage site" Nijo Castle etc. These are all located within a 5km radius of Kyoto’s main station. “How many shrines are there though?” you might say. Well in Kyoto prefecture alone there are around two thousand shrines and temples alone. Don’t worry as even Kyoto locals have only Kyoto's famous Fushimi Inari Shrine visited a handful. Again though, I’ll cover local sights and things to do in Kyoto in a future blog.
All good things must come to an end though. After two weeks, instead of going home like most holidays I had to face reality. Usually when you move house you just have to update your address and passport/driving license etc. Moving to Japan however is a much harder process, especially as the majority of foreigners coming here have limited language ability. Luckily for me my wife is Japanese making the process much easier for. Still though, I had to prepare myself for many trips to the local ward office and post office. First though, to do all that you need to have a Japanese phone number. This thankfully is a simple process and requires just a fifteen or twenty minute trip to any phone store. Japanese sim card in hand you can now visit the bank and open up an account. I chose the post office as JP post also have banks attached to most of their branches. They also have the least requirements to open an account. For example, some of the larger banks require a minimum of six months in Japan before you can open one. Around seven business days later and my card arrived in the post and I could make the first of countless trips to the local ward office (and I literally mean countless). Seriously this has to be my least favourite thing about living in Japan. Japanese society still heavily favours the in-person method when conducting business and they prefer to take the paper route rather than doing things online. This means anything from updating addresses to applying for pensions must be done in person. It’s relatively straight forward but there are just so many back and forth trips and there seems to be a separate counter for just about everything. For example, I had to go to register my residence I.D card and address, apply for health insurance, pension, "my number card" (which to this day I still think is separate to insurance but as far as I’m aware is the same thing). Honestly it can be a minefield if you’re not prepared and can take a lot of getting used to. I had my wife to help me but other people struggle on their own and encounter many problems. Today though there are many services out there that you can use, such as hiring locals who will offer assistance with any help you might need, for a fee of course.
A common sight in Japan is to see business people asleep on trains. I used to think it was due to overworking but now I know its down to those many visits back and forth to the ward office!
All that aside, moving to Japan was still one of the easiest things I’ve ever done and I still have many amazing things to share with you about it. In the next blog I’ll start to discuss Kyoto’s many famous sights and delve into some of my favourite local eateries as these blogs are going to be from my perspective rather than a visitor, meaning you can choose to venture away from the typical tourist hot spots if you so wish. Honestly, I always recommend to our guests they should do something off the beaten path if they have a little extra time. It can get extremely tiring dodging crowds at all the famous spots.
As always stay safe and I hope to see you when this global pandemic has decided to bugger off. In the meantime, I have some business to attend to at the ward office again, sigh!