Sunday, March 24, 2013

Japan Is Not For Singles

Anyone who has thought about coming to Japan has most likely seen or heard the rumors that American women get no action from the opposite sex, while the guys from back home are king of the hill. I might examine that at another point, but this Single's Rant has nothing to do with scoring a date. Today, I'll be writing a little about how being single effects daily life in Japan.

When I got my apartment here, I had to pay about $1,500 to the real estate agent as a type of down payment. I believe that we have something similar in the U.S., but, I've never rented an apartment back home, so, I really don't know. What I do know about Japan, is that Japanese landlords and real estate agents are in a conspiracy to take as much money from renters up-front as they can. These translate into the relator's fees, landlord fees, down payment fees and anything else those monsters can think up.

Key money, and various complaints about it litter the web. What's interesting is that, Japanese people don't necessarily like them, but, I don't hear many complaints. What gives? 

This is the start of where being single and without family in Japan hits you; young Japanese have their parents pay apartment start-up fees for them. Moreover, most apartments here have no laundry room, but a spot for a washing machine. They also have spots for ceiling lights, gas stoves and other lighting fixtures. New graduates have their parents buy all of these things for them and the parent can be the guarantor for the apartment . This isn't a small amount of money either.

If you don't want to live in a shithole, you have to dole out. For example, if you want a 1K (studio apartment) that's about 40,000 yen (about $400) a month, you could be asked to pay up to 6 months rent as a down payment, plus two month's worth of rent to the real estate agent and the first month's rent in advance. Then after getting the apartment set up (washing machine, bed, etc.), you're looking at over $6,000.

The University of Tokyo's website for foreign students says that average monthly expenditures are over 136,000 yen a month! (At a $1 to 100yen exchange rate, that's $1,360/month!) So, you would expect that a full-time employee would make twice that. Strangely enough, a person can work full-time, but be paid a part-time rate or, work at a company that just doesn't pay much at all. (My situation.)

Regardless of whether or not one has a degree from a four-year university, when they enter a company, their wages will be the same. The university grad might be put on track to become a section head faster, but aside from that, a university degree doesn't seem to have much meaning in Japan. Again, this is based on my opinion.

However, since Japanese companies know that parents pay for their children's university fees, they know that the average new hire is debt-free. They also know that Japanese parents will put-up the money for their child's first apartment. And, they also know that, despite low-wages, Japanese employees have family that will help them out.

What's low? A take-home pay of $1,900 - $2,200 for a university graduate. Remember, the University of Tokyo estimates that a university student will need $1,360 a month. 

The relatively crappiness of being single extends to other areas besides the pay. Japanese banks operate from 9am to 3pm. The ATMs here are free to use between 9am and 6pm, after 6pm you are charged a fee. And unlike American banks or credit unions where you can check your balance online, many Japanese banks only extend that to credit card users (and if you are a foreigner, getting a credit card from a Japanese bank is close to impossible). 

Most people here check their balance by using a book that they stick into the ATM. The book can also be used to withdraw cash. When you put it in the machine, it prints out your current balance, what's been taken out and any wire transfers. When it fills up, you can make a new one...between 9am and 6pm on weekdays.

Married Japanese men have their wives do this for them.

Back to the low pay, if you are married, your wife probably stays at home with your kid. So, while you're at work making peanuts, your wife will take care of cleaning, take care of the kid(s), the bills and the cooking. Since she's not working, she has time to scour the supermarkets for the cheapest items and cook them up for you.

It sucks to get a small paycheck anywhere. And it also sucks to navigate life without having help from family. But, what I find so strange about Japan is that EVERY aspect of life revolves around having a family. I always thought it was strange that Japanese women quit working soon after marriage or having a baby. But now that I've been here, I see how hard it is for a working person to get anything done by themselves. There aren't even babysitters here!

If you're thinking about coming to Japan to work, consider carefully your financial obligations back home and what you can reasonably accomplish in Japan. *sigh*

Monday, March 18, 2013

White Day and St. Patrick's Day

Thursday, March 14 was White Day here in Japan. 
White Day was created as a counter to Valentine's Day. Here in Japan (and also Korea), single girls make chocolate hearts (or buy them) and present them to the boy they like and hope that he will accept their feelings. Coupled or married females also give chocolates to their significant other.

On White Day, a month later, the boy will give the girl chocolates and hopefully it'll make their one month anniversary. Or, he'll give chocolates to everyone who gave him one. These are known as "giri choco," obligatory chocolates. Female office workers give giri choco on Valentine's Day, and their male co-workers reciprocate on March 14th. 

I put 1,000 yen into my workplace's communal pot to get the men chocolates for Valentine's Day, and they ponied up for White Day. We got brand-name chocolates. I've never heard of the brand, the only expensive chocolates I know of are made by Godiva. 

Interestingly enough, Pi Day is virtually unknown. It does have a Japanese Wikipedia page, though! 

In about four more minutes, St. Patrick's Day will be over. I wouldn't expect Japan to do anything  to mark the day, and there is nothing that does mark the day. Foreigners and bars that cater to foreigners here serve green beer and put up decorations. I never did much St. Patty's Day stuff in the U.S., so I'm not all that disturbed by the lack of celebration. But, I do miss the McDonald's Shamrock Shake. THAT would have been nice to have...

Monday, March 11, 2013

The First Post

I started a blog when first came to Japan. 

I wrote a lot, and now, I've decided to start over again. Since I'm working in Japan, I'll just be posting about my life here, my job (to an extent) and anything else that comes to mind. 

Seeing that today, March 11, is the two year anniversary of the eastern Japan earthquake and tsunami, I won't write too much. Right now, News Zero is following Arashi member Sakurai Sho as he follows a former Fukushima Prefecture villager around his hometown. The man is taking pictures of the town as it appears two years after the earthquake. The village itself is abandoned due to radiation from the Fukushima Nuclear Plant, a mere 2km away.

Well, I think I'll end here for tonight.