21 November 2018

Donald Cherry - Expat in Japan

Donald Cherry - Expat in Japan

We’ve had the chance to talk to Donald Cherry, 57, an American expat who has moved to Japan alone but is now living there with his family. Mr Cherry, who has been living there for 27 years works as a teacher. Read more about his experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you from originally?

A: The United States. Chicago.


Q: What made you move out of the US?

A: Wanderlust, curiosity, and crushing student loan debt


Q: Where are you living now? How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: In Hiroshima now. Came here for a tenured position at a university.


Q: How long have you been living In Japan?

A: Since 1988, with a 3-year break from 1991 to 1994, during which time I travelled with my wife around the Americas, and then went to graduate school in Vermont.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? If yes, how are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I live with my family, but they’re not expats. My wife is Japanese and my kids are something close to that.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes? How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I consider Japan my home. I miss the United States less and less with each passing year. I do miss good deli food (pastrami, olives, etc.) and live English theater.


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Depends which ones you're talking about, but on the whole I think they’re just fine.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialise with other expats in Japan? How did you manage to find a social circle there?

A: I have been pretty busy working and raising kids. I have made friends, both Japanese and non-Japanese, probably more of the latter. Made friends through my kids' school, my work, and around the neighborhood.


Q: How does the cost of living in Japan compare to your home?

A: Japan used to be really expensive, but now it’s pretty similar to the U.S.


Q: How much is a cup of coffee?

A: anywhere from one to four dollars


Q: How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: Between five and eight dollars.


Q: How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: For me, an expensive meal would begin at about $40.


Q: How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Wine and spirits are VERY cheap in Japan. Cheaper than the U.S. Cheaper than anywhere on the planet. Beer is also reasonable. Cigarettes, I think, are cheaper than the U.S. I quit smoking, so I don’t pay attention anymore, but I think they’re about 3 or 4 dollars a pack.


Q: Do you have any tips for future expats when it comes to opening a bank account Japan?

A: First, decide how you’re going to render your name in Japanese katakana, the Japanese alphabet used to write foreign words. Sometimes you can write your name in more than one way. Choose one and stick with it. Use that for ALL documents. You’ll probably need a hanko, or a name stamp, for the bank. Some banks don’t require it, but many do. It’ll cost you about 20-30 dollars to get one made.


Q: How will you describe your experience with government paperwork such as applications for Visa and work permits? Why is that so?

A: It’s gotten pretty easy. I don’t think it’s much more difficult than in the U.S., but you might need a Japanese friend to help translate some stuff. Renting an apartment or buying a car is a bit complicated, and a Japanese friend would probably be helpful.


Q: Would you say that healthcare in Japan is reliable? Any preferred clinics or advice for expats?

A: There is national healthcare in Japan, and it works pretty well. It may be difficult communicating with doctors outside big cities, unless you speak Japanese. But the doctors are pretty good, and will do their best to communicate with you. Might need to get a translator.


Q: Did you secure a health insurance in Japan or the US? What should be the essentials in the coverage for expats, in your opinion?

A: Once you get here, just get onto the national healthcare plan. Talk to your employer.


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Q: What was the most memorable about the packing and moving process to Japan? Which was the mover you chose and how was your experience with them?

A: I threw everything I owned into boxes and got on an airplane.


Q: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced as a new expat?

A: The language. Getting set up in an apartment.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Japan?

A: I obviously like Japan, otherwise I wouldn’t have stayed here this long. The language is challenging, but it’s also fascinating and fun to learn. Japanese cities are exciting and easy to navigate by train. The food is great, the people are kind and considerate, the festivals are fun, and there’s just generally lots of cool stuff to do. You may have some problems with Japanese people making assumptions about foreigners, and there will always be cultural misunderstandings, but that’s going to happen anytime you enter another culture. My advice is to go into the experience with an open mind.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Any particular recommendations for future expats?

A: In Hiroshima, I enjoy taking ferries to islands in the inland sea. I go there and hike or ride my bike around. There’s Itsukushima Shrine nearby, which is a popular tourist spot.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: No


Q: What tips will you give to expats living in the country?

A: Keep a non-judgemental, open mind.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Japan?

A: There’s a good one about Hiroshima at gethiroshima.com. There’s a humor blog I have about Japan at eddietrombone.com.