From The Asian Reporter, V13, #1 (December 31,
2002 - January 6, 2003), page 16.
New guide to Japan boon to foreign residents
A Practical Guide to Living in Japan:
Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Settle In
By Jarrell D. Sieff
Stone Bridge Press, 2002
Paperback, 220 pages, $16.95
By Oscar Johnson
Thanks to all the books I read, I knew how to properly present a
business card and catch a taxi when my jetlag and I arrived in Tokyo. But
using a simple payphone was my first challenge in this ultramodern city
where sleek rice cookers resemble CD players and upscale toilet seats are
electric with an array of buttons to push.
"How do the countless English-speaking immigrants that trickle
into this country manage," I thought, "especially if they don’t
have any contacts here?"
No doubt, the plight of other so-called "gaijin" — many of
whom hope to live and work in the Land of the Rising Sun — has become
more palatable with Jarrell Sieff’s A Practical Guide to Living in
I was lucky. My Japanese wife, Miwa, helped me with the basics: paying
utility bills at convenience stores, applying for an alien registration
card, translating my résumé, and convincing me that the often mandatory
photo, at best, was a necessary evil in a society not exactly known for
its equal-opportunity employers.
But Sieff’s Practical Guide is a long-overdue work with
answers that even most Japanese nationals may not know. This is
particularly true of rules that apply only to foreigners planning an
From job hunting and renting or buying a home, and navigating the maze
of immigration laws, to getting a Japanese drivers license or purchasing a
car, the book packs invaluable information for expatriates — both new
and old — within 220 pages of straightforward detail.
Guides and books abound for the would-be tourist in Japan. But many
wishing to join the ranks of expatriates often have to decipher deceptive
legal similarities and blatant cultural differences between their native
land and new home largely on their own.
(Those transferred, relocated, or otherwise sponsored by corporate
employers will likely have a wealth of high-end services to choose from.
This book is for the rest of us.)
It’s a challenge that all international travelers face. What is an
embarrassing gaffe for a tourist, however, can for an immigrant mean
whether you get the job, or have an honest mistake forgiven following the
Complete with a glossary of useful Japanese words and phrases, this
survival guide offers steps for acquiring mandatory health insurance and
explaining to a physician — many of whom may not speak English — that
it is not the obvious possession of a buttocks (shiri), which ails
you, but the diarrhea (geri) by which you are possessed.
That’s not all. Tokyo, and to a lesser degree the rest of Japan, has
a public transportation system that puts those of New York and London to
shame. (It is massive, well-kept, and impeccably punctual.) Japan’s
immigration system favors its political allies to the West, and foreigners
are often forgiven for not mastering the complexity of cultural niceties.
Sure, there are plenty of cursory texts on Japanese etiquette to choose
from. But this manual’s lists of payment options for regular train
commuters, and details on how to extend or change your visa, are rare and
required reading for those bent on more than just passing through.
A Practical Guide also sports an impressive list of important phone
numbers such as postal and international phone services, embassies,
consulates, and immigration offices. National holidays, traffic sign
definitions, religious organizations, and universities with foreign
programs also are among the book’s notable lists.
Sieff has even added a handful of brief anecdotal stories in the rear
of the book so as to make it complete. As thorough as it is, however, it
says nothing about how to operate those electric toilet seats.