Tom Fay, 40 years old, a British writer with a passion for outdoor activities and travel, talked about his life experience in Japan after 17 years living there.
British writer praises life in Japan PHOTO archive The truth
Originally from a small village in North Wales, Fay graduated in medieval history from the University of Manchester before setting foot in Japan in 2007.
“Since childhood, I wanted to live in another country, without having any specific destination in mind“, he says in an interview with Business Insider.
He says he heard about programs that allow people to teach English in Japan, a country he knew “only from video games and TV“. But what he thought would be a one- or two-year fling changed the course of his life completely.
“I chose to live in Osaka and worked as an assistant English teacher in the suburbs of the city. Over the years, I started working more and more as a freelance writer, especially in the travel and outdoor area. Now, I’m primarily a freelance writer and copywriter, although I still teachsays Tom.
You will always be seen as a foreigner in Japan
As of 2022, he lives in a renovated 150-year-old farmhouse in the hills of southern Kyoto. He says he has always been more comfortable living in a rural environment, and after 15 years of living in Osaka, he said goodbye to city life.
“The house is behind a mountain, and monkeys, wild boars and deer come to my garden. I have space for farming and grills and the neighbors are great“, says the writer.
The downside is the high price to renovate an old house in Japan, even if the original purchase cost was cheap. Summers are also hot and humid, although it is cooler in the countryside than in the city.
Tom Fay says Japan is a wonderful place for foreigners. “I love the food, the lack of crime compared to the UK and the general feeling of safety. I enjoy the diversity of Japan’s natural landscapes, the excellent public transportation, and the friendliness of the people“, he points out.
“On the other hand,” says Fay, “you will always be seen as a foreigner in Japan“. “Aside from the general language challenges, there are sometimes annoying levels of bureaucracy. If you can manage these aspects, it’s an easy and comfortable place to live“, he continues.
The writer says he discovered some surprising things during his nearly two decades in Japan.
Japanese cheese is not very good
“I should have brought more cheese with me as it is very expensive and not as good in Japan,” Fay noted.
He also says that he finds it difficult to find effective deodorant or toothpaste in Japan: “the options here are often too poor“.
But he says living in Japan has diversified his taste for local seafood and seasonal vegetables, which are easy to find.
People don’t speak English and the temperature differences are big
Despite the prevalence of Western culture and efforts to teach English in schools, the overall level of English proficiency is low.
Summers are extremely hot and winters are incredibly cold in most of Japan so those who want to live there must be prepared for extreme weather changes. “It may help to research the region you’ll be living in, as localities differ significantly in snowfall, typhoon and tsunami risk,” says Fay.
Japan is not that high-tech, and country life is different from city life
People still use faxes, you sometimes have to print emails, and many government offices have hardly changed since the 80s. The low-tech approach means that things are not as efficient as most people expect.
“I’m sorry I didn’t move to the country sooner“, says the writer. “Rmy monthly mortgage payment is much lower than rent in the city and the quality of life is exponentially better. Country life is much quieter. The neighbors are friendly and offer us vegetables and food from their fields. Being surrounded by interesting wildlife and changing seasons, life never gets dull. The air is cleaner and the summers are cooler than in the city“, he noted.
Learning Japanese history can enrich your experience
Learning the origins of a particular shrine or tradition, such as the “Obon” holiday or the “shōgatsu” New Year festivities, adds an extra level of richness to everyday life and explains some customs that Westerners might find unusual.
Food in Japan is also intrinsically linked to history, often in the way it was developed, eaten or presented. A basic level of knowledge will help you better understand Japan in terms of its infrastructure, society and culture.
A wonderful place to devote yourself to your passions
“After you’ve seen all the big tourist attractions, spend time digging into the things that interest you,” says Fay. “For example, I am fond of hiking“, he continues. “If you are hiking in Japan, even on short nature trails, everyone is equipped like pioneers on a new route in the Himalayas“.
“That’s how it is in Japan: people get totally involved and aren’t ridiculed for it. The same applies to those with much more niche interests, such as obscure manga or bonsai gardening. Here is a great place to be passionate about things. People are not judgmental and finding those who share the same passion is a good way to make friends, especially since culturally the Japanese are more reserved“, writes Fay.
“In the end I can say that I can see myself living in Japan forever, but part of me would like to go back to the UK“, is the opinion of the writer from Wales.