Kentucky Lady’s questions were:
1. Did you know Japanese before moving to Japan? Before we moved to Japan we used to come once or twice a year to visit my husband’s family. We did that for about 12 years. Every time we came I picked up a few words or phrases but I couldn’t read or write. I am still studying the language when I have time. I can’t read much but I can hold a simple conversation. The language is a HUGE challenge – especially when you are older and trying to learn it. I have a very full life here and do not always have the time to sit and study so it has been slow going. Hiragana and Katakana I know but there are around 2,000 or something Kanji and I doubt that I will ever learn them all. Written Japanese is mixed with all three–so it’s tough.
2. When I visit, even in a large city, I get many stares. Do you in a small town still get the stares? Yes- this is normal. I get full head turns! Often when my husband and I go out to eat people will crane their heads to stare at me. It’s not unusual for one person at a table to be staring at me, say something to the others at the table and then the entire table of people turns around to look at me. I just ignore it now.
3. My family suggested me moving to Japan after retirement, BUT I don’t speak Japanese and don’t have friends other than family. Ideas or suggestions? That’s a huge decision to make. I am thankful my husband helps me navigate because there are so many things that would be almost impossible for me. If I lived on my own I’d have to try and navigate the government offices that everyone has encounters with. I’d have to navigate the Japanese medical system, insurance, immigration, and much more. I do my best but I’ll be honest and say that I really need my husband’s help with much of it. Perhaps if I had come here during university days and knew the language well it would be different. I have several foreign friends who have been here over 20 years having come when they were much younger and had the energy and time to learn the language well-they probably do fine on their own. We moved here after retirement and that was an entirely different story.
If you are considering trying to move to Japan after retirement you may want to gather as much information about visa requirements as you can. You may also want to research all the various other requirements -the various government offices you’ll have to deal with. Research renting (it’s a bit different here) an apartment or house. If you are planning on working you’ll have to pay taxes to the Japanese government and the US government-US citizens are the only people who still have to pay taxes to the US on wages earned in foreign countries. I’d also do some research on the medical system here-it was a huge shocker for me the first time. There is really no such thing as patient privacy in Japan and it is still hard for me to deal with. The doctor-patient relationship is also very different from what we are used to in the West.
I do love living here but -my spouse is Japanese and that makes all the difference for me personally. I got going as soon as we arrived and found my little niche. I had a lot of help and support from my husband. Japan can be terribly isolating for foreigners. Japanese are lovely people but making friends takes a lot of effort and persistence. I would study everything I could about the culture before making the decision.
I would also start now on learning the language-if you live here you will need to be able to communicate in Japanese because not many people speak English and official forms (government forms etc) and such are in Japanese only.