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What should you expect when you arrive in Japan?

As a newbie in Japan and coming from a developing country like the Philippines, there are always many things that amaze me and make me utter many “wows”. 

It is impressive to see how organized Japan is.

This organized system has been part of Japan’s culture.

And the Japanese people value this system as manifested in the way they live and do almost everything.

As a new ALT in Japan, there were several things that impressed me and are still impressing me up to this day. 

I am amazed at their transportation system, language, food, waste disposal system, people’s manners, and their aesthetic preferences.

So, as a new ALT in Japan, you must expect the following: transportation system; language barrier; food culture; waste management system; Japanese manners; and the cost of living.

1. Transportation system


If you are a light traveler, you don’t have to worry about the transportation. 

There are buses, subway lines, and of course taxicabs. 

You have the choices from the least expensive to the most expensive one.

On the other hand, if you are traveling with several suitcases, it is not recommended to take a bus or subway since you will cause inconvenience to other passengers. 

In this case, you can hire a taxi. 

But then again, always remember that convenience always comes with a price.

So, if you are taking a taxicab, expect the expensive fare.

But if you are taking a bus or subway, you can save a lot.

However, if you are taking the subway in Tokyo, you must also expect the crowded cars, especially during the rush hours. 

There were many times in Tokyo when I had to squeeze my way through just to get to the training site on time. 

(Just imagine the rush hours when you take the MRT or LRT in Metro Manila). 

Nevertheless, trains are rarely late. 

Other than the regular trains, subways, and buses, you can also expect the super convenient shinkansen (bullet train or high speed train). 

Yes, this is expensive but you can imagine the time you can save when you take shinkansen.

I was fortunate enough to experience this.

After our four-day training in Tokyo, I was instructed to travel to Nagoya since I was first placed there. 

The four-hour and 20-minute drive from Tokyo to Nagoya was just one hour and forty-one minutes in shinkansen. 

This one ride cost 11,300 yen. 

Yes, I heard your question.

The company shouldered the transportation.

Then, the second time I experienced this was when I was transferred from Nagoya City (Aichi) to Hamamatsu City (Shizuoka). 

This time, I savored the experience and I even made a short video. 

If you wanna see my experience, just click this link

Again, the transportation was shouldered by Interac.

2. Language barrier

Unless you can read Japanese (especially Kanji) or understand nihongo, your first few days and weeks in Japan may be a bit overwhelming as far as language is concerned.

You will rarely see romaji in different facilities, trains, buses, and even in restaurants and supermarkets.

I still remember when we ate at Saizeriya in Tokyo with my fellow ALTs, we tried to order with all the nihongo we packed from the Philippines. 

But for some reasons, the crew could not understand us well. 

We were getting impatient since we were all hungry. 

Thanks to the gestures and the simple English we learned during the training, we were able to satisfy our physiological needs. 

We survived the first week and we tried to remember the common expressions that we should say frequently like sumimasen, arigatou gozaimasu, douzo, ohayou gozaimasu, konnichiwa, shitsurei shimasu, ikura desu, toire wa doko desu ka, mizu o kudasai, wakarimasen, hajimemashite, yoroshiku onegaishimasu, and so on.

There are many Japanese who can understand English but are really hesitant to speak English. 

In some cases, when you do not know what to say in Japanese, you can always speak in English. 

But make sure that you say it slowly and use gestures and simple English (don’t mind the grammar). 

They understand easily if you don’t follow the English grammar! 

In many stores or restaurants and train and bus stations, the staff use a certain device that translates into English whatever they say in Japanese.

This happened to me when I courageously bought a bus commuter pass.

I could not understand what the staff was saying. 

So he used that magic device and he let me read the English translation. 

So, I happily left the counter with my commuter pass.


When I was shopping for the first time, I was a bit disappointed because I could not understand the food labels.

I was buying groceries and other basic needs.

For fruits and vegetables and meat and bread and rice, I had no problem.

But when I was on the part of choosing soy sauce, salad dressing, vinegar, oil, yogurt, milk, coffee, tea, sugar, and other spices, I had to use a mobile app that instantly translates Japanese into English. 

The other shoppers might have thought that I was taking photos of every item on the shelves. 

Then, paying at the counter is so easy. 

Just pay and leave.

If you are planning to stay in Japan for a few years or maybe many years, it’s better to learn the language. 

If you can speak Japanese, you can have a lot of freedom to explore the many possibilities in Japan. 

3. Food culture

Japanese food are really good and always presented in an appetizing way.

Their presentation is always worthy of your instagram post.

As for the taste, it will depend on you.

If you love Japanese food, you will definitely enjoy Japan.

But if you are not a fan, then you will need to adjust until you get used to Japanese taste.Don’t worry, rice is always available in Japan.

In fact, I like Japanese rice more than our rice in the Philippines.

Now, I understand why Japanese can use chopsticks when eating rice.

The prices vary from restaurant to restaurant.

If you are a cost-conscious person, you can already have a good meal with your 350 to 500 yen. 

Where should you eat on your first week if you are a cost-conscious person?

You can eat at Sukiya or Saizeriya. 

You can search the nearest one in your google map.

In case they are really far, you can find food in many convenient stores.

Family Mart, Lawson, and Seven Eleven are all scattered throughout Japan.

On the other hand, if you are willing to spend 500 to 1,000 yen, you can enjoy the famous ramen that comes in many different sets. 

There are many ramen restaurants in each city in Japan. 

Just use your google map for the nearest one or the best one.

One last thing, don’t be surprised with the small serving of food.

This is typical not only in Japanese restaurants, but also in homes or schools.

4. Waste Management System

The waste management system of Japan is something that is worth sharing to the world.

Japan is so strict when it comes to waste disposal system.

There are scheduled days for disposing your burnable rubbish, non-burnable rubbish, plastic containers and packaging, bottles and cans, and special items like batteries, fluorescent tubes, disposed computers, etc.

So when you come to Japan, be mindful of how you dispose of your garbage.

You will notice that there are no available trash bins along the streets.

If you have trash, you have to put them in your bag and dispose of them properly when you get home. 

Each town has a designated plastic where you can segregate your garbage and bring them out on the collection day.

When you file your home address in the City Hall, you will receive a sort of welcome kit with some trash bags, calendar or schedule of garbage collection, and some important emergency numbers. 

You have to be very careful in accumulating stuff especially big items. 


This is because when you leave your apartment, if you go back to your home country for good or you are transferred to another city, you cannot easily dispose your garbage or furniture. 

For big items to be disposed of, you need to call a certain office and pay certain amount. 

This happened to me when I bought a folding bed from an ALT who was moving back to the Philippines for good. 

The folding bed was a big item and heavy. 

It was already late when I realized that disposing of this could be a problem.

So when you come to Japan, be careful what you accumulate.

5. Japanese manners

Do not be surprised when Japanese people keep on bowing.

Expect a lot of them. 

And learn to do them and their variations (high, low, lower, lowest). 

Japanese politeness is not only expressed in the way they bow.

Their politeness is so much obvious in their language: the way they talk and the words they use. 

Levels of politeness are seen in the words they use.

Having said that, be careful with the words you use.

Be aware of the honorific titles used in addressing your Japanese colleagues. 

Besides bowing and the language they use, you can also observe Japanese manners on how they behave in public places like in a subway or train or bus, malls, stations, and so on. 

Silence is a sacred thing for them. 

So avoid making calls while on public transportation.

As much as possible minimize your voice when conversing with your colleague while in public places.

Also, you will constantly hear the word “sumimasen” or “gomen” when they make the slightest actions or gestures that they think may cause you discomfort or inconvenience. 

My Filipino-American friend who visited Japan described to me that Japan is a land of gentle people.

Well, what does it have to do with you as a new ALT in Japan?

Of course, be aware of those Japanese manners, be sensitive around you, and learn some life-saving words like “sumimasen” or “gomenasai” or “toire wa doko desu ka”. 

They will save you many times.

When it comes to exchanging business card, remember the proper way to do this.

Receive the card with your both hand.

Give your card with your both hand too.

Your card must be facing your Japanese colleague.

Take time to look at the card. 

Gently put it on the table if you still need to discuss something.

Otherwise, put it in your coat`s pocket close to your chest.

Not in your pant`s pocket or bag.

The way you treat the business card reflects your treatment with your colleague.

So, be careful.

6. Cost of living

Since you will be working in a First World country, you must also expect that the cost of living is quite different from the developing country like ours.

I clearly remember my first few days in Japan.

Our training was held in Tokyo.

Since we stayed in a hotel for a week, breakfast was never a problem.

It was always a buffet.

But for lunch and dinner, we wanted to buy food that were within our spending capacity.

We used to convert the prices from yen to peso whenever we look at the menu displayed outside. 

The lowest prices were from 800 yen to 1,199 yen.

My Filipino colleagues and I were always converting the prices and we ended up buying sandwiches in the conbini (convenience stores like Seven Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawson). 

For almost five days, our lunch and dinner were from conbinis.

They were not bad food but inexpensive enough whenever we converted the prices to pesos.

Until we moved to our respective placements, we kept on converting the prices of almost every item we bought.

Then I realized that I should stop converting the prices because I was not only buying the items I needed, but also the qualities and conveniences included in the package.

Hence, whenever I go to a supermarket or shopping center, I rarely do the conversion of the prices because I already have the price ranges of which I am willing to spend. 

Although the cost of living in Japan is higher than the Philippines, you can be assured that the wages are also higher. 

If you are creative enough, you can actually save and cut your expenses. 

You will learn ‘how’ to do that when you are already in Japan. 

Surely, there are many things that you need to expect.

The things I enumerated here are just the obvious things that I myself have experienced.

Let us know the other things that should be expected by a gaijin who will arrive in Japan for the first time.

Use our comment box below as we love to hear your thoughts.

Yoroshiku onegaishimasu!

Thank you in advance! 

(Airport image by susie07100 from Pixabay other photos are also from Pixabay)