Living in Japan is the best choice I’ve ever made. I’ve moved beyond five years out here, and I still have to do a double take at least once a day when I catch a glimpse of something out of the ordinary.
Don’t listen to the squabbling naysayers about the impenetrable culture. Japan is an everyday place with everyday problems, and it’s a world of fun for people who are fans of the culture, be it anime, video games, history, robots, food, or whatever, really.
As long as you have realistic expectations and don’t think you’ll find samurai still roaming the lands, you can set up a nice life out here. If you’re thinking of moving, I’ll be more than happy to give you a few pointers. Of course, those pointers come in the form of a few video games that depict the country the most accurately.
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and Persona 4
First thing you’re going to need when moving to Japan is a job. Unless you put in an unprecedented amount of effort, the best option you have for making a foothold is becoming an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. There are huge companies in Japan, like the one I work for, who will pay you a comfortable salary for a skill you’ve been able to do naturally since the age of three. Why is that? Because where there’s demand, there’s a company ready to exploit it.
When teaching, you’re going to be working with kids. Japanese students have amongst the hardest schedules in the developed world. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 or Persona 4 are the best way to get to get to know your audience.
Depending on where you end up in Japan should determine which game you should take advice from. Moving to a big city like Tokyo or Osaka, you should definitely play Persona 3. If you find yourself stuck in the countryside, then Persona 4 will be more up your alley.
Either way, these games do an incredible job portraying the difficult life styles of Japanese high school students, who must plan their days around a very tight schedule. Talk to the girl you have a crush on, contribute to the school culture festival, study study STUDY STUDY at cram school for life altering tests, socialize at the local strip mall, and most importantly, survive the magical witching hour when all time stops and save the world from demons.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on these kids who haven’t even finished puberty yet, and the Persona games can be just as taxing and exhausting to you as a gamer as you manage the life of an average Japanese high school kid. Playing it will give you good insight as to why these kids are passing out in your class and don’t especially feel motivated to learn some days.
As an aside, our own Joey Davidson loved Persona 4 Golden for the PS Vita.
You’ve survived your first day with the little devils, and now is the time to head down to Akihabara or Den Den Town. You can check out the latest Japanese electronic goods or read the newest mangas, pretending you have some idea of what the moon scratch writing really means. Don’t be surprised to find a retro arcade that actually has a working cabinet for Super Hang On or Space Harrier.
What next? Maybe you’ll impress that cute maid on the street with your limited knowledge of Japanese or Space Harrier high score. Please don’t be fooled, she’s lured smarter and more successful men with her cutesy charm before.
8 hours later, you wake up with a monster of hangover after throwing back a few hard bottles of sake with local salary men, and you realize you need to be at work in less than forty minutes. And you thought Japan was going to be all fun and games, didn’t you? That’s where Shenmue comes in to help.
Roughly halfway through the game, Ryo Hazuki is forced to get the most remedial job of all time, working a forklift down at the docks. Although he’s hot on the trail of his father’s murderer, a steady and reliable income still comes first. The game comes to a standstill as Ryo proves himself on the clunky machine, learning from the ground up how to spread his time evenly between practicing martial arts in the park, playing in his favorite 80s arcades, and raising a cat all alongside his monotonous job.
Like I said, Japan is an everyday place with everyday problems. If you want to live here, you’ll need to learn quickly that this is life and not a paid vacation. Get it out of our system and learn to settle down. Life is not always a game, and neither is Shenmue.
Earth Defense Force 2017
No, I’m not being cute here. 90 percent of Japan’s population lives on the coast, so chances are you might as well. Regardless of what the movies might have taught you, giant monsters will not rise from the sea and lay waste to the human population. No, what I want to talk about is housing.
Most of the time, the corporation you work for will provide you with basic housing, so that is at least taken care of when you arrive. If your company is anything like mine, you’ll quickly realize that there are plenty of better options out there than your single tatami room flat. After a year or so, you’ll most likely have enough saved to venture into the unpredictable world of Japanese real estate, but luckily you’ve played Earth Defense Force 2017 to give you the layout of a typical Japanese city.
Japanese cities are the world’s largest and most expensive shanty towns. I don’t mean that disrespectfully, because Japan has some of the most green and beautiful cities in the world, but the residential areas lack the zoning laws of American cities. The result is a mishmash of clashing ugly apartment places jammed packed into every available corner. The Earth Defense Force games are made on a budget with an efficiency over glamor attitude, much like real Japanese cities, and their freakish levels of realism make me rethink the rent I am currently paying.
Japanese apartments are pretty cheap, and the older the building you live in, the cheaper they become. Just remember that when looking for an apartment, there is always a better choice. If it doesn’t look like an Earth Defense Force 2017 building, don’t bother.
Eventually, you’ll have to get out and hit the town to make some friends. Most of your Japanese friends will have some kind of hobby, whether its playing golf, shopping, cooking, fishing, etc. You’re guaranteed at least one answer when asking a Japanese person what their hobby is, and if you don’t have an interesting one to reply with, you’ll feel foolish.
The Yakuza games provide a nice look into the remedial tasks of finding the right hobby for you. Sandboxes at heart, these games are lauded for their flawless recreations of Japanese nightlife. When Yakuza kingpin Kazuma Kiryu is not smashing rival gangster face into a nearby streetlamp, he’s busying himself with retro arcades, playing traditional board games like mahjong, taking a few swings at the batting cage or driving range, or winning prizes at crane games.
In fact, some would say that the mini-games are the real draw of the Yakuza games rather than the story or combat. Playing any of these games should open up the interesting nightlife of Japan, but I’m going to go ahead and choose Yakuza 2 as your best bet. Why? Because hopefully you’ve made the right choice and moved to the Kansai region of Japan surrounding Osaka. Nobody wants to live in Tokyo. They just sometimes have to.
Yakuza 2 and its perfect recreation of the Dotonbori Bridges are a typical Saturday night on the town for me, drinking at the cheap izakaya restaurants, going to karaoke, and playing games with friends. The real place is a 30 minute train ride from my apartment. Not a horrible commute if you need a break from your local bars. Just be sure to catch the last train home because Osaka all nighters are tough.
The World Ends With You
Now you’ve nested in your snappy new place and have gotten into the routine of balancing pleasure and work. How about some romance? Certainly these are things all young people in their 20s crave, and Japan is the perfect place to have a good time with the opposite sex. To do that, you’ve got to manage your wardrobe. You’ll quickly learn that black video game shirts and khaki cargo shorts are not the best way to attract anybody. If you don’t, then nobody attractive is going to want to talk to you.
Fashion is huge in Japan. The World Ends With You‘s heroine, Shiki, isn’t bluffing when she lays out Neku for not caring about his fashion, claiming that fashion is the best way to share your personality with the world. The streets are littered with women and men alike, constantly up to date on the latest trends. I see it all the time: fashion zombies who lurk the streets wearing what the latest glamor magazines tell them to. Last year, it was these weird flowery maternity clothes, and this year it’s tattooed leggings.
For dudes, we have it easy at least. Collared plaid shirts or a nice hoodie, layered with t-shirts. Girls also dig a murse, so don’t feel insecure about wearing a shoulder bag.
Luckily, shopping in The World Ends With You will help you ease into the deranged world of Japanese fashion. The outfits Neku buys from the local retailers are ludicrous, but chances are, you can find somebody here willing to wear it. The stat boosts they provide might not translate into real life. The game’s randomly generated NPCs walking by also provide some good tips for how to dress like a sharp love hound on the prowl.
ぼくの夏休み3 (My Summer Vacation 3)
And when the hustle and bustle of the big city just gets too much for you, remember that the Japanese countryside is amongst the most beautiful in the world. Boku no Natsuyasumi 3, translated into My Summer Vacation 3, dives into this nostalgic image of a perfect summer holiday in the Japanese countryside.
A young boy leaves his big city home to visit his aunt and uncle on the northern island of Hokkaido where he enjoys the simplicities of country living: fishing, catching cicadas, sliding down grass hills, morning stretches, swimming, and learning how to milk cows.
You’ll quickly learn that Japanese summers are absurdly hot, but it’s also the most fun season, blessed with fireworks, eating yakisoba from the food stalls and dancing in the local parades. Power bills soar thanks to overpriced air conditioners, but the atmosphere is so grand that you just don’t care about those few extra dollars it takes to get a good night’s sleep after a fun day in the sun.
When next winter rolls in and the clouds begin to fog the sunny skies and the mood changes to the solemn winter blues, be sure to play Boku no Natsuyasumi to remind you that paradise is only six months away.