Hi, I’m Erica Knecht, mother, trailing spouse, freelance writer, and lover of airports and train stations. I’m originally Canadian, but I’ve lived in six different countries, and currently call Kyushu in Southern Japan “home.”
The first time I moved abroad I was sixteen. As a starry-eyed teenager with an ardent case of wanderlust, I did a semester abroad in the South of France. I did two more stints in France before moving on to India, Switzerland, China and beyond.
Most recently, I found myself in Japan at the behest of my husband’s career.What challenges did you face during the move?
The move to Japan was fairly straightforward, well-organized and relatively painless. The biggest challenge was getting our two Chinese cats into the country, a feat which required a Herculean effort of bureaucratic maneuvering. There was a ton of paper work involved, we had to send blood samples to Switzerland for analysis, and the cats needed to be in quarantine for six months. Eventually, we were all happily reunited and the cats are THRILLED at all the fresh Japanese tuna.
How did you find somewhere to live? (e.g. how did you locate a suitable property? what was the buying/renting process like?)
We worked with an agent to find a suitable place to rent. Apartments and houses are small. Kitchens are tiny with little storage or counter space. We eventually found a place that met our needs, but it required a lot of leg work, and some modifying of expectations.
Renting a property in Japan requires a hefty upfront payment. There is a deposit, key money, and several months’ rent that needs to be paid before moving in. Most of this will not be returned when you vacate the apartment.
One thing to be aware of in Japan is that furnished apartments are a rarity, especially outside of the larger cities. Apartments come totally empty and it is up to the renter to supply all appliances, including A/C units.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are few expats in our neck of the woods, and the ones who do live here typically are very well integrated with the local population.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
My relationship with the locals is kind but distant. Japanese people are notoriously shy, and unless you speak very good Japanese, it can be hard to make strong connections.
What do you like about life where you are?
Japan is very clean, orderly, and safe. My daughter was born here, and it is a wonderful place to raise babies and small children. There are all sorts of resources for mothers and their kids such as free drop-in play centers, wonderful parks, and nursing rooms in all department stores. Public transportation is clean, easy and efficient. The city we live in is fairly small and easy to get around; it’s a 20 minute bike ride to the beach, and 20 minutes to downtown.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The social aspect of life in Southern Japan is difficult. As I mentioned, it’s challenging to make strong and lasting friendships with locals. Further, there is a weak expat community, which means that one can often feel quite isolated.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Learn Japanese. If you are moving to a city outside of Tokyo or perhaps Osaka, learning Japanese is a must. English is not widely spoken, and so learning to speak Japanese will make life a lot easier, helping with daily errands, social life, and even professional pursuits.
What are your plans for the future?
As serial expats, we’ll be moving on before too long, seeking out new and wonderful adventures in the Asia-Pacific region.