The Great Japanese Adventure

 In International Travel, Szew Law Group Blog

The Great Japanese Adventure: Sushi, Shinkansen, and Serious Immigration Insights

So there I was, boarding a flight to Japan, armed with my trusty laptop, a pocketful of curiosity, and a healthy fear of jet lag. My mission: to meet with clients and immerse myself in Japanese culture to better understand the hurdles faced by Japanese individuals who aspire to immigrate to the United States. Spoiler alert: I came back with more than just a suitcase full of mochi and an obsession with Shinkansen (bullet trains).

Tokyo: The City That Never Sleeps…And Neither Did I

First stop: Tokyo. Imagine New York City but with way more vending machines and a population that actually respects personal space. Tokyo is a blend of formalities and politeness, sprinkled with a surprising amount of humor. Yes, Japanese people have a great sense of humor, and they appreciate a good joke, especially when it’s at your own expense. Just don’t mess up your bow—trust me on this one.

Kyoto: Temples, Tea, and Time Travel

Next, I ventured to Kyoto, where ancient temples and tranquil gardens made me feel like I’d stepped into a time machine. This city offers a more traditional approach to life. Discussing challenges of adjusting to American life here felt almost meditative, surrounded by centuries-old architecture and the best green tea I’ve ever had.

 Nara: Deer Whisperer on Duty

In Nara, I got up close and personal with some friendly deer who have a penchant for bowing (and stealing your snacks). This serene setting made it the perfect place to talk with clients and Japanese residents to really start to fully understand the social challenges Japanese immigrants face in the U.S.

Osaka: Food, Fun, and a Little Frenzy

Finally, Osaka—known for its culinary delights and lively atmosphere. This city’s vibrant life and amazing food (takoyaki, anyone?) provided the perfect backdrop to end my trip allowing me to really start grasping what my clients (and future clients) hurdles will be when faced with the choice to immigrate to the United States.

The Hurdles Faced by Japanese Immigrants

Language Barrier: English and Japanese are about as similar as sushi and hamburgers. Many Japanese immigrants face challenges in mastering English, which is crucial for everything from job applications to casual conversations. The way Japanese learn English is also very different and can create further challenges in communicating in the United States without some exposure before coming.

Cultural Differences: The shift from a society that values collective harmony to one that champions individualism can be jarring. Japanese people are used to a structured, respectful interaction style, which can clash with the more direct and casual American way. I have to say that this was so apparent from the moment I stepped off the plan…well really from the moment I got on the plane since I took a Japanese airline. The level of respect for others was so refreshing and I miss this very much since returning (which is really sad).

 Work Ethic: Japan is known for its rigorous work ethic and long hours. Adapting to the American work environment, which can vary widely in terms of expectations and practices, is a significant adjustment. The concept of “work-life balance” is almost as foreign as, well, me in a kimono.

 Living Conditions: Space is a luxury in Japan, especially in cities like Tokyo. Moving to the U.S. often means dealing with larger living spaces but also the accompanying culture shock of suburban sprawl or the hustle and bustle of American city life.

 Transportation: Japan’s public transportation system is a marvel of efficiency. In the U.S., the car is king, and navigating this shift can be daunting. The idea of driving everywhere is a big change, not to mention the terrifying prospect of navigating American traffic laws and the DMV.

 Social Interactions: Americans are known for their openness and friendliness, which can be overwhelming for someone used to more reserved interactions. Building a social network from scratch in a new country is a daunting task.

 Tax Differences: Now, let’s talk about taxes—a topic as thrilling as watching paint dry but essential for anyone considering a move. Japan and the U.S. have fundamentally different tax systems, and understanding these differences is crucial for immigrants.

  • Japanese Tax System: In Japan, the primary tax is a consumption tax, similar to a sales tax, currently at 10%. Income tax is also levied, with rates ranging from 5% to 45% depending on income levels. Additionally, Japan has a resident tax, which is a local tax paid to municipalities and prefectures.
  • U.S. Tax System: The U.S. tax system is more focused on income taxes, which can be quite complex. There are federal, state, and sometimes local income taxes. The federal income tax is progressive, with rates ranging from 10% to 37%. Each state can impose its own tax rates and rules, leading to a wide variety of tax burdens depending on where you live. Additionally, the U.S. has payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, sales taxes that vary by state, and property taxes.

Transitioning from Japan’s tax system to the U.S. system can be overwhelming. The paperwork alone is enough to make anyone want to curl up in a futon and never come out. Understanding deductions, credits, and the infamous IRS forms is a steep learning curve.

Final Thoughts

Immigrating to the United States from Japan is no small feat. It requires navigating a labyrinth of legal, cultural, and personal challenges. But it also offers incredible opportunities for growth, new experiences, and the chance to bridge two fascinating cultures.

My journey through Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka not only broadened my understanding of these challenges but also deepened my appreciation for the resilience and adaptability of those who embark on this path. Plus, I now have a strange obsession with Japanese convenience stores.

So, whether you’re considering a move across the Pacific or just dreaming of a vacation, remember: every adventure is a chance to learn, grow, and maybe, just maybe, become a deer whisperer in Nara.