What is it like living in Japan as a foreigner?
Japan was my life dream until I really lived there.
I chose Japanese language and culture as my major in university, I felt the sound of Japanese language was extremely attractive that every night I listened to my text book record as a¨lullaby¨ before sleeping.
After graduating, when I got an offer from a company in Japan, I felt like I won a lottery. So I started my Japan living experience as a foreigner.
The first shock was during the 3 days newbie training in Tokyo head office.
I learned a word 相槌 (aiduchi) which basically means when somebody (especially a senior in the company) talking to you, no matter what he/she talks, no matter you agree with him/her or not, you must keep on nodding, saying そうですね (soudesune)、なるほど(naruhodo)、はい(hai)、ええ(ee)、勉強になりました(benkyo ni narimashita) etc with a perfect smile, to show your respect. I understand and admire the social convention and manners like this, and actually it was a part of my "fancy elegant Japan" image, still when I had to do it nonstop for 8 hours, keep a polite sweet soft voice(which is not my usual, or, let me say, real voice), and keep those sincere "I admire you, senior" eyes... It did drive me crazy.
The second shock was in the "welcome party". We newbies were the "main characters" who were supposed to give some special "show" as a tradition. I was lucky because I was both a female and a foreigner, so nobody asked me to do anything except for a short speech introducing myself. But my "douki"(the coworker who attended the company same year, so my newbie coworker) was a Japanese guy. Senior coworkers in my apartment forced him to drink a whole bottle of Tabasco in that party in front of everybody. It was a situation he had no way to escape. He did. Then he vomited terribly. I helped him cleaning and later we became friends- I realized why in Japan lots of "douki" coworkers have way better relationship with each other than with other coworkers- They kind of need a "union" to protect themselves from seniors in this strict "upper and lower relationship society"(縦社会 tatesyakai、上下関係 jyogekannkei).
I said I was lucky to be a female that no male coworker in the company "bullied" me that much to feed me a bottle of Tabasco. But soon I felt maybe to be a female was not that lucky.
In our office (and lots of traditional Japanese companies), there were 2 kinds of positions. "総合職 sougousyoku"(general position) and "一般職 ippansyoku"(common position).
Former is the positions you can get promoted step by step, usually require higher education background; and latter is the positions basically you can never get promoted, usually ONLY for women who wouldn't work for a long time, would quit job after get married or give a birth. (I have never seen any male in a "common position" in Japan. But if there is please correct me). So in our office, all men were in "general position" and all women were in "common position" except me. I was the only female in a "general position". At first I was kind of, a bit proud of myself. But soon I found it was a complicated situation. Every morning female coworkers make tea or coffee for the male coworkers who they were working with. But it's hard to say it's part of their work as assistants or it's just kindness. Still I have never seen any male coworker making coffee for a female coworker or a male coworker. I was a junior, I had a senior male coworker as my trainer. So I very much hesitated if I should make coffee for him. Finally I did, still I felt it's something I HAD TO do otherwise I would look not nice and would be DIFFERENT with other girls which would make me a difficult situation in the office.
Couples years later when I made some real Japanese friends, I tried to ask them why I always saw Japanese women pour tea, pass chopsticks and tissues when eating in restaurant for man, but seldom see men do such things for women? They answered me honestly "Hmmm...we got used to it... and the tea made by women is more delicious."
I found some "benefits" to be a woman in Japan too. Though I needed to serve beer for male coworkers when eating in a restaurant like my other female coworkers do, girls usually pay less than guys when separating the bill. I guess it's somehow a "balance" in this society.
Another shock is overtime work. In the first year I lived in Japan, I never finished work before 9pm, the average was 10pm. Sometimes I finished work earlier, or had nothing to do. But I dare not go home, because my boss and seniors were still working. It was too shame to let them know I was "free". Later I got to know sometimes my boss and seniors do the same, they don't leave the office because it's too shame to let their staffs know they are "free". And of course, the overtime is basically no pay.
In this answer I omitted all really amazing points of Japan because they are so obvious. Honestly to me, Japan is like a fantastic "lover" who makes me love and hate.
I'm not living in Japan now. Still Japan is my favorite place to travel. Perfect service, high quality products, clean and safe, beautiful and unique- I guess to be an "outsider" and a "customer" is always easier than to be "one of them".
Well, still I love Japan. ^^