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The Philippines property market is positioned to generate the strongest property price increases over the next 10 year thanks to ongoing economic and administrative reforms by the Arroyo government. The ASEAN countries have yet to exhibit the price gains of Western markets, which is just another sign that this super cycle is far from over. The current credit crunch will provide a great opportunity to profit from property foreclosures.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Expat Living in Japan

I lived in Japan for around 2 years at several locations in and around Tokyo in the last 4 years. Mostly I lived in apartments before finally buying my own house. My ex-girlfriend was Japanese, which made life easy, though on a previous occasion I lived in company accommodation for 9months. There are some huge challenges living in Japan, though these tend to be overcome within the first 3months. Mostly they relate to getting accommodation, cell phone service, etc. Anyway, let me start with the benefits:
1. Convenience: Japan must be one of the most convenient countries in the world. Its hard to find yourself too far from a 7-11 store (or equivalent), drink vending machine.
2. Beauty: Japan is an incredibly beautiful country, with its quaint village communities, tree-lined rivers, mountain scenery. Ignore what you hear about Japan being a concrete jungle, there is considerable wilderness, its just that Japanese people scarcely travel in their own country. Its expensive for them.
Japan Rail offers foreign tourist visa holders the opportunity to travel around on train services at subsidized rates.
3. Diet: Japan has a diet and grocery store selection very familiar to westerners. Whilst the range is not as good, and the prices very high, the servings small, you will not have trouble finding foods you like.
4. Transport: Japan has the best rail service in the world, though train services in the countryside, like other countries, is not as good, but its always on-time.
5. Peaceful: Japan is quiet and harmonious. With the exception of drunken old men, the place is very quiet – all the time, and that’s despite the high population density. It is quiet everywhere. The exceptions are places like Nerima or Shibuya, where you have fire or police sirens blaring, political and local government announcements.
6. Activities: There are a lot of activities you can do in Japan. My advice is find things you can do cheaply, eg. Biking, canoeing, hiking, and embrace the services of the local community centre, library, they are free. Japan is extremely bike friendly, whether it’s the cautionary vehicle drivers, the empty suburban streets or the plethora of good quality paving, its easy to get around. The blind corners do however limit the speed unless you are in a farming area, then it far better.

7. Safety: Japan is without a doubt the safest country in the world – never came close to danger, though I probably deserved a beating sometimes. People are very compliant. Never encountered any yakuza.
There are not so many public spaces in the cities, but the best place is along the rivers. Though these are very stale, homogenous environments.
8. Climate: The Japanese climate has a strong seasonal influence which makes for a refreshing change. Its not too cold in winter – though it snows in Tokyo
9. Infrastructure: Japan has the best infrastructure – in fact public projects are a source of corruption scandals. I have often wondered was it necessary for that highway to go out to sea, for there to be 3 bridges within 1km of each other, for a 20km tunnel when there is little traffic.
10. English friendly: Japan is an easy place to live as far as getting around. A lot of signs are in English. Some people are exceptionally friendly, most pretend not to understand....even your Japanese. Most people speak some English, though they are often too shy or uncomfortable using it.
11. Government support: Japan offers foreigners support through local government offices, though it very much depends on the prefecture, as often there are few foreigners. For technical or government assistance, expect some reluctance to deal with you. Businesses are generally very unhelpful, though this has created a thriving business in ‘gaijin service businesses’ and online support forums to help foreigners, eg. Japan Guide.
12. Expat support: Japan has a great expat community – a fun place to go out!

13. Accommodation: Foreigners can experience discrimination when it comes to getting accommodation. If you face this, search for 'Gaijin Houses', as they offer cheap accommodation for short periods. They tend to be in the main cities only. Leo Palance is an option, but the conditions might put you off, and it might be difficult without a Japanese sponsor.

Now Japan also has its challenges, of which I found the following a particular burden:
1. Japanese traffic moves at a snails pace – glad I don’t drive
2. Architecture: Japan urban architecture is very boring – all the homes are the same kit home style. It appeals because its unfamiliar, but it’s the same everywhere in Japan.
3. Superiority: A lot of Japanese people are condescending, arrogant and distrustful of foreigners, whether its because of fear, resentment, ignorance or national pride. But then there are a good many kind-hearted, thoughtful people whom will go out of their way to help. These people tend to have had a meaningful or protracted ‘foreign experience’.
4. Service: Japanese service is generally good, though in certain instances its shockingly bad. If you need technical assistance, you will encounter sales staff (generally women) who have no idea. Westerners tend to be more fussy about capacities perhaps, or is it just me. But ask them non-standard questions, and they don’t know, but they will say ‘yes’ anyway, so always get a 2nd and 3rd opinion, and ask guys if you have a choice because they are generally more technical.
5. Rigidity: Japan is a highly regimented society. The bureaucracy is nightmarish close and fussy. Fortunately if you are sponsored to work there, you wont have to deal with them, so this is a Japanese problem.
6. Purchasing power: Japan is very expensive. Buying food at the supermarket is really pricey, the servings are small. Japanese have hollow cheeks until they eat overseas..wich is kinda nice. Best diet strategy I can recommend. Eating out can be expensive, so I mostly ate at izakayas (drinking venues). Eg. The Hub is good to meet expats. Utilities are another big expense – specifically the telephone and electricity.
7. Discrimination: Discrimination is ever-present, though it’s a little different from western-style discrimination. Firstly the government for political reasons creates the perceptions that foreigners are the cause of all crime, but there is a great deal of ignorance and fear in Japan because of the insularity. You might encounter discrimination entering a bar “No foreigners” or problems renting an apartment. Don’t expect a direct rejection. You might enter an empty restaurant and they will say no spare seats, or require you to have booked. If they are directly racist, it might be for the sake of their regular customers. Anyway I think they open themselves to more mocking with such signs. I always go in and make a scene anyway.

1 comment:

Lindsay said...

Wow thanks so much for posting this. I am moving to Japan in May and have been doing tons of research. Your post was the most harmonious one I've read so far. You seem to be pretty balanced and grounded yourself, perhaps that's why. But I find it to be unbiased account of Japan as it is, not through tainted eyes. Pretty much what I was looking for. If you can recommend any other information sources, I trust that your reference will be of like quality. Thanks again!

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