After Living In India All My Life, I Moved To Japan. This is My Story

30th Apr 2018
Photo of After Living In India All My Life, I Moved To Japan. This is My Story by Divas Bahuguna

It's impossible not to thank your lucky stars when such a massive opportunity knocks on your door; the opportunity to start making your travel memories and kick-starting your backpacking experiences from a place that has been capturing the fascination of millions of travelers around the world - Japan!! I still remember the indescribable feeling of joy and excitement I felt when I was asked to move to Japan and work from there, thereby giving me my first taste of life as an expatriate. So undoubtedly there were a lot of firsts and a lot of lasts, each contributing to the travel philosophies that I have been harboring ever since. But after all these years of backpacking across multiple countries around the world, I do realize that Japan is an entirely different world as viewed through the eyes of a traveler, just rushing through the country in a few days, than a person who is living in the society deeply enriched by interesting customs and traditions. So how much does an Indian feel at home when living in Japan - here are few of my personal experiences to help you understand that.

1. It's more than just a bunch of islands

Travel guides fail to see beyond the common stereotypes about Japan being a group of beautiful islands with lots of historic sites. Undeniably these are some of the most prominent and popular aspects of this nation, but this common stereotype is precisely the reason why I believe Japan is entirely different when experienced as an expatriate than as a backpacker.

In Japan you can find almost all the geographical landscapes that you can find on earth, even little deserts!! Ever heard of The Tottori Sand Dunes, anyone?

If you though these were Arabian sand dunes, you need to know so much more about Japan!! (c)NationalGeographic

Photo of Tottori Sand Dunes, 2164-661 Fukubecho Yuyama, Tottori, Tottori Prefecture, Japan by Divas Bahuguna

In winter there are also hundreds of ski areas you can enjoy. In fact, the ski village of Zao in Yamagata prefecture is one of the few regions in the world where you can see Snow Monsters - unique snow deposit patterns on high altitudes!!

Who said monsters aren't real? - Yamagata, Japan

Photo of Yamagata Prefecture, Japan by Divas Bahuguna

There are thousands of points of interest other than Kyoto, Mt. Fuji or similar spots you can find on the guidebooks. I bet you’ll never forget what you can find in the Kushiro’s wetlands, which are rarely mentioned as one of the Hokkaido’s view points. These are the kind of places you can easily get to know when you are living in Japan and talking to locals regularly.....did I say talking to the locals?

2. Language is the key - to everything

You might get lucky with sights like these when you get lost on a trail...or maybe not!! (c)Divas

Photo of After Living In India All My Life, I Moved To Japan. This is My Story by Divas Bahuguna

Japanese language, though being as challenging as it is, is the key to survival in this island nation. During my initial days in Japan I have been lost on hiking trails, resorted to randomly selecting food from the Japanese menu in small street food shops and trusted Google translate to help me choose groceries from the local shops - all because I did not know how to read or speak in Japanese. As a backpacker I could easily navigate around these challenges, but doing it on a daily basis was definitely not practical.

Unless you want to restrict your social experiences and interactions to a handful of compatriots or native English speakers, I cannot stress on the need to learn Japanese enough before you come here. Even while travelling, having a basic knowledge of Japanese language and culture will dramatically influence your travel experiences here. Even simple things like choosing what to eat becomes challenging when there is no English-speaking help around, especially when you are a vegan or vegetarian - which brings me to my next point.

3. Look out for what you eat

When in Japan, appearances are often deceptive!! (c)Divas

Photo of After Living In India All My Life, I Moved To Japan. This is My Story by Divas Bahuguna

While in Japan, I was around a lot of vegetarian and vegan Indian colleagues of mine, which made me aware and sensitive to the issues they faced. If you are under the impression that you have at least french-fries to give you company, then think again. It is really common to find almost all food items, unless you are 100% sure about it, cooked in fish oil or oil from other non-vegetarian sources. What may seem like a dish made up of only vegetables in first glance could probably contain non-vegetarian sauces or cooking oil. Therefore, your options are drastically reduced if you are a vegetarian living in Japan - unless you intend to cook all your meals by yourself. In contrast, I being a non vegetarian and sea food lover was in food haven for the time I was living there!!

A vegetarian delight, indeed!! (c)Chie Takemoto

Photo of After Living In India All My Life, I Moved To Japan. This is My Story by Divas Bahuguna

But don't lose heart!! Shojin ryori, traditional Buddhist cuisine, is one of the most popular and delectable vegetarian cuisines you can easily find in Japan. Even the largest of restaurants review websites in Japan now has a category for Shojin Ryori. Japan also has a wide variety of excellent pasta on its menus, with a wide range of sauces. Japanese fruit and vegetables are often prepared in interesting ways to add an element of excitement - try a simple vegetable salad, for example. Also, good sushi shops can create a vegetarian menu for you if you ask beforehand.

I found this link really useful when selecting vegetarian dine-outs. Hopefully you will find it useful too!!

4. Default solo-travel mode - ON :

No matter how may times you have seen or heard about the smiling, cheerful and ever-so-helpful Japanese locals on online travel guides or videos, a few days is all it takes to understand that things are a little different from what you experience at first glance. Given how seriously Japanese feel about their social obligations, their caring and cheerful nature is their honest effort to present their best behavior during a social exchange, which does win your heart over.

Perfectly happy in their perfect personal spaces - difficulties of social assimilation in Japan (c)LiveJapan

Photo of After Living In India All My Life, I Moved To Japan. This is My Story by Divas Bahuguna

However, the more time I spent in Japan the more I realized that assimilation and social integration here is so much more difficult, in-fact almost non-existent, as compared to other countries around the world. More often than not I was yearning for casual conversations with a local over topics as simple as weather or food!! If you think you have made friends with a local, more often than not the reality is substantially different from those in other countries. Japanese locals are generally less honest and open than what you may expect from a typical friend, preferring to keep things to themselves more often than not. That's one of the reasons why most of the English-speaking expats usually search for Gaijin pubs - pubs for foreigners, unless you are happy living in isolation. (I know generalization serves no great purpose, but some observations were glaringly obvious for me during my stay.)

Insider Tip : Given the impetus Japan is now giving to "mandatory" learning of English language, you will come across a lot of young dynamic Japanese locals who would be more than happy to practice their spoken English on you - and it works best when you have alcohol and food to give you company!! Wait for the night to descend over a weekend in a pub, let the inhibition meter drop down a few notches and now you can engage in truly exciting, sometimes memorable, conversations with the locals.

5. It's really, really safe here!!

You can be almost sure nobody is touching your belongings while you are away!! (c)KawasakiSnowCool

Photo of After Living In India All My Life, I Moved To Japan. This is My Story by Divas Bahuguna

There were a lot of good things about living in Japan: safety, low crime rates, cleanliness and convenience to name a few. I have spent late nights on railway platforms and have seen female commuters wait patiently for the last subway on a deserted platform alone, without ever facing safety issues. Most Japanese are extremely honest as well - I once left my phone on a coffee table without realizing it and the person sitting next to me literally ran over to return to me when I left the store!! I still remember my first night in Japan when I got off the airport bus at the bus stop in the outskirts of Tokyo. Amidst the chaos of the city around me, I had lost my way around the streets even before I knew it. In that moment of panic I had approached two teenagers, with a small hope they might know about the hotel I had to reach. I will never ever forget that night - for they walked almost a mile leading the way, turning back every once in a while to make sure I was following them correctly and only left my side once I had checked into the hotel and taken the room key from the reception!!

It's very easy to let down your guard and ignore the impulses of common sense when living in such a safe and honest society, but that's a mistake many expats do and end up in isolated and rare unfortunate incidents. Growing up in India, we already have a very powerful social gauge built into us which you must keep handy when in tricky situations or circumstances where you have to trust the locals. The good thing is that you can keep the gauge on its minimum setting - worked wonders for me.


As you can very well imagine, having had the privilege of living and observing such an intriguing, colorful and culturally rich society from such close quarters is definitely one of the most cherished moments of my life. More than the landscapes and the thrill of living in a country which is on the bucket list of many, Japan played a really prominent role in kick starting my backpacking journey and transforming my ideas about travelling in general. Needless to say, you need not think twice about spending some time in this island country - it will transform the way you look at the world!!

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