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Friday, 3 February 2012

Book Review: Living Abroad in Japan by Ruth Kanagy

Until I started looking, I never realised the lack of (English) books about living in Japan. You can find a lot of travel guides, but face it, a vacation is vastly different from staying a few years. With a vacation, you're more worried about hotels and places of interest. With a medium-to-long-term stay, you're thinking about rentals and jobs. And think about it, while it's entertaining to read about people's stay in Japan, these autobiographical books hardly have the concrete information you need. One of these few general guides is Living Abroad in Japan by Ruth Kanagy.

Living Abroad in Japan is divided into three sections: Welcome To Japan (a short but more than adequete introduction to the country), Daily Life (which covers the move to Japan, housing, medical and financial considerations, etc. ) and Prime Living Locations (which is a more in-depth look at housing, giving details about rents and such).

What I like about the book is that it's informative and entertaining. Ruth Kanagy shares a bit about her life in Japan, interviews others who have lived there, and writes in a rather conversational tone (to see a two-sentence excerpt, I have a teaser here). She also doesn't gloss over the unpleasant side, and talks about the discrimination you may face, especially in housing.

I don't know about you, but I'm not expecting to go to Japan and be welcomed with open arms. While the fact that I'm Asian means I won't stand out as much as a Caucasian, I still don't expect to be treated like a native. After all, understanding the culture and respecting it is only natural, and I'm going to try the proverb "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" (Except for when it comes to my Faith. That is the only thing I won't compromise).

Needless to say, I think this book is very useful to read before you make the move. It helped me to consider issues like inkan, which is a personal seal needed for things like banking (after talking it over with my parents, I decided to make one there once I arrive), the mandatory health insurance (I completely didn't think of insurance), gaijin registration and many such other items. While it does have some reccomendations as to where to go (when talking about Prefectures), the emphasis is on adapting to living conditions there, and the resources mentioned (like the handbook each perfecture has) is useful.

Oh yes, further resources. The 39 pages of the book is dedicated solely to resources, online or print, incuding books (fiction and non-fiction) recommendations and films (not everything is about the data). Some of the books look interesting, and I think I'll try to look for them. But as for consulate information (and information in general), it's mostly about the American, British, Australian and Canadian consulates. Also, the currency conversions are to US Dollars, so... (But anyway, if you're going to live in Japan, you should start thinking in terms of yen instead of trying to convert everything to your home currency.)

Now, one review mentioned that the medicine section was grossly inaccurate. Basically, the book advises bring 6 months supply of personal medication. Now, this (second) edition is from 2008, so some information might be out-of-date - check with the Embassy of Japan in your country. But from what I could find, the Kouseikyoku (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) pdf document (again, I don't know when it was published so it might be out-dated) says that you can only bring in one month's supply of medicine for personal consumption and even so, no stimulants whatsoever. If you need more, you need to apply for a Yakkan Shoumei, which they call "a kind of import certificate".

So here, are some resources that I found on the internet that might be useful to you:

From the Kouseikyoku:
Q&A for those bring prescription medicines into Japan with them (PDF document) - Updated 30 Jan 2012
General Link for bring Medicines into Japan

From the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Procedure Chart for Visas for Work or Long Term Stay
Guide to Living in Japan (PDF Document)


  1. Eustacia-san,
    i knew your blog from my friend...
    she and i will go to Japan too next april 2013, and i'm so helped by reading your posts.
    thank you very much ! ^^

    1. Hi Dyanie,

      Congrats to you and your friend! I'm so glad you two made it(:

      And I'm happy that my posts helped.



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