The Maze of Starting Over In Japan

A senior manager in Google Japan told the fresh batch of Japan Nooglers some sage advice: “Make a 90 day plan for what you want to get done. Then do it.” This 90 day plan is meant to set the basis of the rest of one’s career and personal life, listing a variety of small and big achievements.

So what is a part of my 90 day plan? And how am I doing on it so far? Well, at the top level, I have

  • Get my self financially setup in Japan
  • Get myself a physical home
  • Get fluent in Japanese

These are all pretty obvious things to get down when moving to a new country that doesn’t fully speak your native language. What’s great about the 90 day plan is that you can then split these high level items into a long list of prerequisite goals and check off success at each micro step. Let’s see how we’re doing 10 days in, shall we?

One goal turns into many

Getting paid in Japan has turned out to be more complicated than I anticipated. First, much to my surprise, Google Japan pays salaries once a month, around the 28th of the month. So if you’re not all setup with payment details by the 9th, you don’t get a paycheck. Since I started in Tokyo on January 18th, this of course means I don’t get paid until February 28th. Fun facts like that always fall through the cracks when switching locations.

It gets worse however. Japan also loves following rules by the book and always in the namesake of security. So of course to get paid, I can’t simply wait around to get a pay check that I can cash at some bank at my leisure. Instead I need a bank account. Getting a Japanese bank account of course has two unstated requirements: have a local Japanese phone and find a bank that speaks English.

Getting a phone may seem easy, but this too requires some footwork before completion. One must register themselves with the center of Bureaucracy, the local Ward Office, and register a permanent (or semi-permanent) address. That process turns out to be pretty simple if a well paid lawyer acquired your Certificate of Eligibility prior to arriving, but does require sitting in a lobby for about an hour while someone writes your address down on the back of a residence card and stamps it. With that done, you can finally get a phone, granted you brought your Passport and Visa credit card (because of course you can’t get a local bank account yet). Simple no?

Feeling so close to that rich rich warehouse of money, one might be tempted to walk into any bank around town, especially one in the foreigner friendly districts, and try getting a bank account. Not knowing the formal process, you’ll be politely told in Japanese that you must first register with the ward office, and you won’t understand until you figure out how to solve the phone problem. Even then, you’ll come back and they’ll just politely say no one speaks English and you know you’re Japanese is too poor to do something as complex as ensure you’ll be paid properly.

So you give up and find the one bank that was previously run by Citibank, and thus has high chance of being English friendly, and give it a shot. Thankfully, Prestia did the trick. Within just an hour, I signed a whole block of documents, very carefully matching each and every signature to the signature card I first signed for authentic signature matching, and got myself a band new bank account.

Now I finally have the capacity to get paid. It’s just a matter of patiently waiting. For a month.

Finding that sweet sweet home

Google Japan has this great but not so great system called gRent. gRent will pay your housing costs with a portion of your salary specifically allocated for housing, pre-taxed. This can obviously save quite a bit of money. However, like all things, it requires a fair amount of Bureaucracy.

Prior to even considering getting gRent for your apartment, you must apply. Applying is as simple as a Google Form, but is as complex as waiting about two months before being able to move into a place. So if you’re lucky enough to apply by February 1st, you can move into a brand new gRent paid apartment April 1st. If you want to do something as complex as have gRent pay the rent for your current apartment, you have to apply by that same time period and arrange some kind of appointment.

I of course didn’t know this until January 18th, so I won’t be delighted with a new apartment of my own until April 1st, at the earliest. This leaves me with a not-so-great-but-not-so-terrible dorm arrangement lovingly called the Basement.

But the fun of finding housing doesn’t stop there. You can’t just get any ole apartment. You have to find an apartment built after some arbitrary year (likely due to some safety regulation). You also need to work with a gRent approved rental agent that’ll do the negotiating and paperwork for you, because you certainly don’t want to do all the paperwork needed in renting an apartment, considering how hard it was to get a bank account. So the two months of living in limbo consists of learning the housing market, viewing places so wonderful you wish could live in but can’t because the timing is bad so you know they’ll go to someone else, and then wistfully dreaming of furniture you’ll one day buy when you have the space for it.

Getting Fluent

This is thankfully just about the only thing I’ve been able to do without any roadblocks. I brought my workbooks with me and have been using the Memrise app, which has gotten dramatically better over the last 3 years, to work through vocabulary and grammar exercises. I’m hoping to beef up my language skills enough to pass the Japanese Language Proficiency Test Level 5 in July. Though I’m sure even applying for that will require magical incantations I can’t yet dream of.

All those minor goals

I have quite a few sub goals that I’ve also made some progress on. I want to get a bike so I can bike to work. I applied for a parking space in the Roppongi Hills office space, I think. At the very least I handed a parking attendant an application and perhaps they just burned it. Time will only tell. I also want to blog more, which I’m doing. I’ve also been scavenging for letter writing materials and have found quite a few that are far too adorable.

Work has started up quite well. I’m resuming duties on my old project and about to get started on a new project.

Eating has been going well. I’ve cooked for myself a few times, a championship given the meager and uncouth kitchen at my disposal. I’ve also found quite a few cafes that I enjoy dearly.

So overall i’ve gotten myself well settled into life in Tokyo. As long as I’ve actually passed all the hurdles between myself and a salary, all shall be well very very soon.

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