Adulting in Japan - a newbie's guide


I'm going to start with some unabashed bragging - right now I feel extremely proud of myself. Adulting is hard at the best of times, and somehow I chose to do it for the first time in, of all places, Japan. I moved to the UK by myself at the age of 19 as an undergraduate - now, as a salaried member of society, how hard could it possibly get?

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Very hard, as it turns out.
[Note: none of the people I dealt with below, except the university support office, spoke any English. I speak very little Japanese.]
Immigration. It's great that work permit procedures are all dealt with by the employer - I expected to get a one-year visa, and receive my residence card upon arrival at the airport. Reality: I got issued a 3-month visa because of admin error, waited 5 weeks to receive residence card, and spent those 5 weeks as a non-person. Surprise: the immigration office, which specifically deals with non-Japanese people, does not have any English-competent staff (at least in the Osaka branch) - I was directed to call up the Malaysian embassy to ask about my visa extension application status. That can't be right...

Bank account. No residence card, no bank account, received 2 months' salary in cash and stashed under pillow. Once my existence was verified with residence card, I found that a bank account requires a phone number - but a phone contract requires a bank account. (You can get a minimal-functionality account e.g. at Japan Post Bank with no phone number, but I insisted on having an English online interface - which pretty much narrows it down to Shinsei Bank.) Bluffed it out with my guest-house reception phone number registered as my 'home phone'. 

Phone contract. No residence card, no bank account, no phone number. ALSO, without a *Japanese credit card* (not foreign, not debit), my only obvious options were 2-year ¥6000+/month contracts (Softbank, Docomo, AU) that come with a provider-locked phone - all other MVNOs (providing short-term sim-only contracts for cheap) insist on credit cards. Staff at Yodobashi Camera offered to try and set me up with OCN on my foreign debit card, but made it clear that the chances of success were next to nothing.Eventually, with helpful advice from colleagues, I found that Rakuten Mobile will accept direct debit from a bank account (albeit for a small extra fee).

Credit card. Any number of gaijin-authored posts online will tell you that, with a one-year visa, you application goes straight in the bin. In many cases the approval process itself takes ~a month. I was due to move 3 weeks after receiving my residence card, which meant that even though I applied for cards immediately afterwards it was highly likely I wouldn't even receive their decision notification letters (because obviously it has to come in the post). Miraculously, I did in fact receive 3 rejection notifications in that period, plus another one - 3 days before my move - saying the copy of my ID that I'd attached was 'unclear, please send another'. Even more miraculously, I have now had my very first application approved - again by Rakuten - gaijin-friendly ftw!
Card even comes with a cute panda design. Image taken off Google Images [source: http://usedoor.jp/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/rakuten_card-panda-design.png].

Renting a flat. This all went spankingly well thanks to help from the Osaka University Support Office. One little hitch - I can't pay my rent by direct debit from my bank account, because the housing agency isn't aware that Shinsei Bank exists and therefore can't possibly do business with them. Option 1: do a monthly bus trip over to the housing agency office and pay it in cash; option 2: open another bank account (easily done now woohoo), transfer money into that, and let the agency suck the money out of that.

Moving. I had 3 suitcases of stuff. Call a taxi, sorted. Except - step 1) moving into city A - go to A city hall, randomly pick the most likely-looking form to fill in, which is not even a little bit bilingual. Step 2) moving out of city A - go to A city hall again, fill in the exact same form with the second box ticked instead of the first, obtain evidence that I have informed the powers that be of my intended move. Step 3) moving into city B - go to B city hall, fill in the exact same form with the first box ticked again, hand over aforementioned evidence, obtain evidence that I have completed your move. Simple! Only took 2-3 hours each time, and only a stack of 5-or-so forms to fill at work for change of address. 
Also, asked my bank how I should register my change of address after my move, was told I could do it through online banking - sweet. Log onto online banking (English version), see no such option, mysterious. Make note to ask bank again. By mistake (!) log onto online banking (Japanese version), there is the option right there. Whut. Never trust the English version of any Japanese website to give you the full picture...

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Shinsei English homepage lets you do about 5 things. Japanese homepage tells you about ALL THE POINTS you can get when you sign up for an account with them.
Gas, water, electricity. Just phone them up and tell them you want to start using utilities! Sure, easy peasy. What ought to be 5-min phone calls become 10-min phone calls because you spend 5 mins just shouting your name down the line: NO, NOT N. M, AS IN...M FOR... (oh crap they don't spell things with letters in Japanese). On the bright side, one of the call centre staff helpfully suggested 'M for Makudonarudo' and 'N for Nippon', so I know how to do this next time...

Internet. NTT Flet's/Softbank Hikari fibre optic, all signed up for while I sat in Edion waiting to pay for my electrical goods, well done me. Guy comes to my flat, plugs it all in, leaves a setup guide (Flet's version), good luck. I follow said setup guide, computer throws an error - with a message it can't actually display because it's in weirdly-encoded Japanese. Much googling later, discover how to resolve the error, and the application runs successfully - but doesn't open. MORE googling later, discover application only works on a Japanese OS. Scour gaijin forums for answers, discover 2 more sets of obscure login details (Softbank version) to try, and one of them worked - it only took 24 hours!

It's a bit unbelievable how many obstacles I ran up against in my first 2 months of living here. The Japanese system runs like a well-oiled locomotive, which is excellent if you are IN the system - if you are trying to get on from the outside it will run you over, and over, and over. But I'll get on eventually, and then I hear I will find it very hard to get off again. But in the meantime, just let me bask in this feeling of triumph that I have bashed through what is hopefully the last wall - and also to share some of the realities of what it's like to set up life as a foreigner in Japan!

Lynnie Lim