Who are you?
I’m André, 23-year-old, Portuguese!
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
Ever since my childhood I grew interest for Japan. From the anime to the culture, from the culture to the language, and from the language to the society itself. After finishing my Computer Engineering University Course in Portugal, in March 2012, I decided to change my life and pursue my dream of studying and living in Japan, because it was an experience I wanted to have, and I somehow felt that Japan would have an important role in my future.What challenges did you face during the move?
I’m someone quite attached to my personal things, so it was kind of hard to leave all my stuff behind. But somehow, I faced it as an opportunity to clear my mind of material values, and take the essential with me, the inner values. Maybe unlike many people, missing my family and friends, came after some time had passed. Of course I miss everything and everyone related to my previous daily life, but I have learned to convert that into motivation to do my best everyday. I think putting my values to use in my new life is the best way to succeed in all the challenges I face.
How did you find somewhere to live?
My accommodation is divided in two moments. At first, when I came to Japan, I studied in a Japanese Language School. This school had an accommodation program in which foreign students could live with Japanese host families. I didn’t have a clue about the city, my Japanese was by far insufficient to have a normal conversation, and I thought I might need some help in my everyday life, so I decided to apply to this program. After a long time living there, I decided to move and live in an apartment by myself, as I was going to proceed to a Professional College (where I’m studying today), and I wanted to have my life more or less stabilized by then.
Finding this apartment was quite easy, to be honest. Maybe I had some luck in finding an excellent real estate agency, with very professional and welcoming people working there. We searched together in their database for the type of room I was looking for, we gathered a couple of them, and they offered themselves to go visit the properties with me. I ended up choosing a quite good one near the same station I used when I lived with my host family. I was most happy to be able to do it, as I could do the moving all by myself in a short time, and I didn’t need to change my commuter pass. Also, as I live close to them, I’m able to visit them once in a while!
What do you like about the life where you are?
Well, first of all, it’s the country I like. Not only I think there is a great sense of community, but there are many things in Japan that should be perfectly common in other countries as well. For instance, there is a priceless feeling of security almost anywhere. Be it walking a dark street at night, riding a train,… Being free of the feeling of fear of being robbed has no price. Well, of course it’s always advisable to have some kind of awareness, but it’s a perfectly safe country.
Taking the example of the train, I use to compare Japan with Portugal like this: in Portugal, the announce being broadcasted in the subway is: “Please be aware of pickpocket, especially when riding and leaving the train” and in Japan it is: “Please be careful not to leave your belongings behind” or “Please turn off your phone when close to the priority seats and turn it to manner mode everywhere else”. I think it explains quite a lot. Oh, and trains arrive on time (shouldn’t it be like this everywhere?)
Also, it’s quite clean pretty much anywhere. Narita Airport was elected one of the cleanest airports in the world for some reason.
Another point. Although Japanese people drink a lot of alcohol, there is quite a strong sense of responsibility when it comes to driving after drinking. There is a service of professional substitute drivers who you can call to drive you (in your car) home, from the place you had the party, for example. It’s completely unthinkable in Portugal.
There are a lot of this kind of aspects which I love in this country. With so many people in a so tiny space, I think it’s because of a good system like this that the country actually works.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Of course there are also some negative points about living here. As it is widely known, Japan is a very professional and competent society, rigorous in its rules, to the point of being annoying sometimes. Certainly it’s thanks to a lot of bureaucracies that the country works well, but for foreigners that have experienced other systems; some details can make us lose our patience.
The other day, a friend of mine was copying some documents in a convenience store (yes, every convenience store has a copying machine! (good point)) and he stopped after the first copy to let another man copy his documents, saying it was common sense to do one copy at a time, as the person waiting might end in an instant. Certainly, it’s good to think of others, but I think it’s not a crime to think of our own rights, since we are paying to use a service. Anyway, better than leaving, I think talking directly to the person asking if he/she has a lot to copy would solve the problem in an instant, or maybe even that person would ask to copy first since he/she might be in a hurry or something like that. But talking to strangers in Japan is quite difficult. I feel people don’t want to have much trouble thinking about others’ stuff, but then again, most people help you if you ask for something or are in trouble. It’s quite a confusing feeling.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Be yourself. Do your best. Make friends. Don’t stop doing what you like. It might be a really tough society if you have a lot of work to do, but you must be able to find a good routine so you can actually “live” your life and say “stop” when you think it’s too much.
What are your plans for the future?
For the time being, I want to finish my course, which will happen in March 2015. Until then, I want to have a job decided, so I can start earning my own money every month, and support my own living. Along the way, I intend to continue doing the things I like, with the people I like. I don’t know about other people, but I only have one life, and I want to make the most of it.
André shares more information about expat life in Japan through his blog, The Rising Sky.