Being a gaijin, or foreigner, in Japan has been written about A LOT. Mostly from the white male perspective, but that’s understandable considering that in the English speaking community, males outnumber females by at least 4:1 (according to a 2005 study done by the Japanese immigration bureau which is not very up to date, but it’s the most recent I could find: http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/kokusei/2005/poj/pdf/2005ch11.pdf).
In general there are 3 main groups of foreigners that come to Japan, short term, mid term, and long term. Short term residents tend to be students, many from China and Korea, and English teachers looking for an exciting year or two in a more “exotic” country. Mid term residents tend to be expats on a 3-5 year assignment living it up in large houses or apartments with maids, private schools, and large expendable incomes.
Then there are long term residents who I find often end up here by mistake or love. I originally came over as a student and planned to stay until I finished my degree. I was doing well at work however, the recession was in full swing in the US, and I met the man I ended up marrying here though, so things turned out a little differently. I don’t really consider myself a long term resident here yet however, as while I have clocked in over 4 years in Japan, this time I’ve only been back for about 6 months.
I am however married to a Japanese man, have 2 half Japanese children, and will probably never escape the country entirely. We are planning to stay here for at least 3-5 years, but I don’t really have much experience living anywhere long term. I do however have friends who have been here for many years and their experiences, language abilities, and lives are incredibly diverse.
I think Japan has a lot to offer for anyone who is interested in living in the country, but you have to put in a lot of hardwork to get the most out of it. Since living in Mexico, I’ve definitely decided I will be a lot happier once my language skills improve a bit, and I also want to make an effort to make more Japanese friends, something a lot of foreigners struggle with as well. It’s so easy to get caught in the gaijin bubble, speaking English all the time, hanging out with only other foreigners, it can be hard to break out.
Later on I plan to write more on being a mom and a foreign woman in Japan, each of which presents its own challenges and rewards, and each of which are topics that need to be discussed more.