Written by: Aisha B. Ihsan

Many people who dream of moving to Japan usually have some form of exposure to Japanese culture — whether it is through learning the language or the anime that they grew up watching. My journey to Japan, however, has been quite different. I never imagined leaving my comfort zone and moving to a foreign country, especially without my loved ones by my side. You must be wondering what led me to take this big step that ultimately changed my life, in a good way, forever.

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A Life-Changing to Japan

I heard about the JET Programme (The Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme) when I was in my last year of university, completing my Bachelors of Science. I aimed to pursue a career in Health Care and still hope to do so when I move back to Canada.

One day, while I was rushing to class through the Student Centre, a young man stopped me to talk about the JET Programme. “I am not interested in moving to Japan,” I told him. I had no knowledge about the culture or the language. He insisted that I read the pamphlets and look into the program because it was a life-changing experience for him. I took the pamphlets but had no intention of applying.

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Soon, it was time to apply for my Master’s degree. I was unsure which path to pursue but eventually applied for a Master’s in Public Health. I was skeptical whether this plan would work out for me, so I considered looking into the JET Programme pamphlets. They had all the information I needed to know about moving to Japan.

If I was accepted into the program, I would receive many benefits and a lot of government support. But, I was still not convinced. I was not ready to move to Japan and start a new life without any friends or family by my side. Nevertheless, it was a great opportunity and I was curious to see if I would even get accepted.

So, I decided to apply to gain experience, but still with no intention of moving to Japan.

A few months later, I was contacted by the JET Programme and invited to the Japanese Consulate in Toronto, for an interview. I felt mixed emotions and disbelief that I passed the first stage. I did a lot of research about Japan to prepare for my interview and began to fall in love with the country along the way.

Suddenly, I was excited by the idea of living there. I always thought Canada was the safest country and the place I wanted to live forever. But, after learning more about Japan, its beauty, its culture, and its nature; I wanted to experience it all for myself.

Fortunately, I made it through the interview stage and was accepted into the programme. I’m grateful my family was supportive and understood how amazing this opportunity was for my growth and future.

The whole process of moving went smoothly and everything was taken care of. This included boarding my first flight to Japan, arriving at orientation in Tokyo, and finally stepping inside my small apartment in Onomichi, Hiroshima.

I did not have to stress about anything except being apart from my friends and family.

When I arrived in Tokyo, I instantly fell in love with the culture, the beauty of the country, and the manners of Japanese people. I had forgotten all my worries and was ready to start my new life here!

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Hello Japan! Here I am!

I worked as an Assistant Language Teacher in multiple Elementary and Junior High Schools in Onomichi. I had everything ready and waiting for me when I arrived. The JET Programme and my city took good care of us. They made sure we had everything we needed to start our life here.

Nevertheless, the motto of JET is “every situation is different”. I was lucky with my placement and the people I had the privilege to work with. They were very kind, helpful, and understanding. If you are from an English speaking country, you may be eligible to apply for the JET Programme. I highly suggest looking into it if you want to live and work in Japan.

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As a Muslim, my biggest daily struggle was food. My bosses and coworkers knew I am Muslim and have dietary restrictions.

They were considerate and helped me become familiar with the kanji, especially for meat and pork. They often assisted me when I ordered food in restaurants.

Another struggle I faced was the language barrier. I came to Japan with zero Japanese ability. It was extremely difficult to communicate with the locals and those around me. I was frustrated at times but, within six months of living in the country, I started to speak and understand basic phrases. It made life a lot easier!

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What I Can Advise

My advice to those who want to work in Japan is to come with an open mind. Do not set high expectations. Learn and respect the culture as much as you can. Learn simple Japanese phrases to help you conveniently get around and be more independent.

Japanese work culture is a big contrast from the Canadian norms. I adjusted to their expectations. Remember, you are making the decision to move to another country. Their way of life will be different, so be respectful and cooperative with the rules of their workplaces and country.

Although I came to Japan not knowing what life would be like or how I would adjust to the new environment, I would do it all over again if I could. This experience has been life-changing!

I discovered parts of myself I would not have if I did not step out of my comfort zone and move to Japan. I feel like I am living in a dream. How can life be this beautiful?

I spend each day with a grateful heart and immeasurable gratitude to be blessed with this amazing experience. My advice to you is: to follow your dreams and be open to the new opportunities that come your way. Be grateful for the little things in your life and do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.

Life is what you make of it, so step out into the world and embrace all the challenges with a smile on your face and an open mind.

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