Fukuoka, Japan Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Fukuoka, Japan

Fukuoka, Japan 01/16/07

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No. Moreila, Mexico; Nimes, France.

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2. How long have you lived here?

5 years.

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

JET Program.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

About 17 hours from West Coast. You cannot fly directly there. You have to stop either in a big Japanese or Asian city before going to Fukuoka.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Expensive if you want to live in the city, but doable if you are willing to live in the country. There are organizations that help foreigners rent housing. Beware that some places may not want to rent to you because of your nationality. Also, there is the joyous key money, up to US$3,000, just for the privilege of renting there. Most places will have the toilet separate from your bath. The is a place to shower before you take a bath. It is extremely rare to have a dryer, so unless you like having your clothes take three days to dry during the winter, scout out laundromats near your house. Fukuoka City has a really good transportation system -- bus, subway, and trains. Taxis are expensive but available. If you live outside of the city, there are good train/bus options. However, if you are off one of the lines, it can be expensive to get in and out of the city. A lot of train stations have bike parking, and there is usually a taxi idling outside when you arrive. There are international organizations, like Rainbow Plaza in the IMS Building, that can help you find housing and translation services.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

A bit pricer than the U.S., especially fruit and vegetables. Costco in Hisayama carries most of the stuff you can find in the States. However, if you are living in a Japanese house, it is more than likely that it cannot accommodate a lot of bulk items. Sony Plaza has more foreign snacks. They are on the pricey end, but it's because they are imported. Foreign Buyer's Club on-line offers lots of foreign products, including a specialty Brit shop.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Antiperspirant, medicine (though check if it's legal), favorite foods. You can get a lot through Costco or FBC, but if you have a favorite food, bring it. The summers are hot and sticky, but the deodorant here is good for about five seconds. Bring your own. Also, if you are larger than a size 8, you'll have trouble with clothes. You can find more in Pusan or Seoul.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Good eating abounds in Fukuoka. There is McDonald's and KFC. Lots of decent Italian restaurants and almost any other food you want, except Latin American. Mexican food is becoming popular. If you want to eat cheaply, lots of ramen and udon restaurants, as well as Coco Ichiban Curry House. Gusto (similar to Denny's) has a great burger and fries combo. Hard Rock Cafe is popular for birthday parties. One thing that is hard to come by is a good sit-down breakfast. If you are hungering for true U.S. diner food, Pik's Coffee shop does it right. It even has PB&J, and the staff speak English. Lots of places have picture menus or plastic food outside that you can point at if you don't speak Japanese. Some also have English menus, but don't laugh out loud at the translations!

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Daily Life:

1. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

You can find it, but it will cost you.

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2. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

It is a very safe place, so I always carried cash around without a problem. ATMS have very limited hours. All post offices have ATMS with an English guide, so it is very convenient. In Japan, credit cards are accepted only in limited places, like hotels and convenience stores. Again, it is better to carry cash. Also, they have a system where when you charge something, you can either choose to pay in three installments or pay all at once. They'll ask you which you prefer, which is difficult if you don't speak the language. Just stand and smile and they'll figure it out.

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3. What English-language religious services are available locally?

I don't know if there are any Jewish temples here, but there are some English Christian services. Muslims may want to check out availability at APU in Oita or Kyushu University.

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4. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

Yep. Lots of English language papers offer delievery service. You can also get the International Herald Tribune. They are 150 yen or about US$4,000 for a month. You can get English cable like Sky Perfect or if you have a dish, BS1 sometimes shows English movies. You can usually catch an English language program once a day. If you have the right TV, you can watch dubbed movies in their original language.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

It is really helpful. Though the big push is to get people to speak English, it is still limited, and usually only people in their 20s. However, if you just say Konnichiwa, everyone will complement you on your great Japanese skills. However, there are lots of services in English or places that will help you get them.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Not in the main city itself, as it is trying to keep up with the aging population. The blind can get along well. I took my grandma around in a wheelchair and though it was not the easiest thing, it was doable. Outside of the city, sidewalks can be hard to come by. Again, because of the aging population, cities are trying to adapt. Rainbow Plaza has more information.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Opposite of the U.S., same as U.K.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Yep. I felt safer there than the US. Bus service may be limited in rural areas. Most buses have signs or will announce your stop on-board. Taxis can be pricey, but so is most everything here.

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

I wouldn't bring a car since they can be had for cheap here. I bought a stick shift van with a year of insurance for US$2000.If you live in the city, it's not worth having a car. You can always rent, but if you are not used to narrow roads, prepare to fall into a rice field, like I did. Once you are outside of the city, small streets tend to be unnamed, so it is easy to get lost. Trying to get directions is a pain in the wazoo, since it seems that they must consult with five people (on the plus side, you'll know it's correct) even if you are asking how to get to the next block. There are two types of cars here -- white and yellow plate. White plates are more expensive but safer, yellow cheaper, but almost like a rolling tuna can. Highways are expensive and don't have a lot of exits. Any car bigger than a van is just ridiculous here, especially since you won't find parking. The only people that drive Cadillacs here are young men that dream of being cholos.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Most popular is YahooBB, since it has cheap long distance. It is also one of the few with English support. All the major electronic shops have a variety of Internet offers. All of the providers are pretty good (about US$50 a month). If you need an internet cafe, try the big cities.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

EVERYONE has one. It is hard to get one without signing a one year contract. They have English phones with guides, but it may be a hassle getting one without speaking Japanese. Try getting one near Tenjin or Hakata and they can find someone who speaks English.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

You can get phone cards at the local convinence store or use Skype. If you have YahooBB, intenational calls are really cheap.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

They love pets here, especially small dogs. I don;t know about kennels, but lots of vets abound.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Lots of language teaching and IT jobs.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

People dress up for work, but may change their shoes. Basically anything goes public wise, but don't show off a lot of skin and have clean clothes.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Good, though there are limited public trash cans, especially at beaches. Watch out for smokers, though they are cracking down on them in Tenjin.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Very, very few. Your biggest concern will be having your bike stolen. Some women have reported being groped, but I heard a story like that maybe once every two years. Foreigns are blamed for more crime (part of the xenophobia) than are on the receiving end. I have walked around alone in the dark at night both in the country and the city without a problem. For women who are concerned, there are women-only cars in the morning on the trains going into the main city.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

There is an EXCELLENT Dutch doctor in Tenjin who speaks six languages and knows both Western and Eastern medicine. He can refer you to a specialist when needed. Most foreigners go to him and his prices are reasonable. He can handle any problem. Japanese hospitals can look a bit seedy, but the quality is good. Most surgeons speak a bit of English and there are hotlines you can call for translation. Probably the only bad things are 1)lack of privacy, especially if you stand out and 2) women's health. Getting a Pap is not that common here and the experience is very different from getting one in a Western country. Also, the Pill is of a higher dosage here.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Cold and dry in the winter, hot and humid as hell in the summer. Add that to cicadas and July and August are unplesant. There is a rainy season in June.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

There is an international school by Tenjin and lots of foreigners in the area. Most international kids go to the local schools, where there is usually one English-speaking teacher.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

It depends on what the needs are. If it is an issue, it is best to contact Rainbow Plaza or the Fukuoka Prefecture Board of Education for information. There are special schools for kids with special needs here, but they are limited and I am not sure how they would work with a non-Japanese speaker.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Lots available, though can be pricey. Most try to have an English-speaking component. You can also look for caretakers that are bilingual.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Sizable, with consulates and international students. Lots of services available to help out.

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2. Morale among expats:

Pretty good. The disgruntled ones usually dislike Japan, not Fukoka.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Tons, especially in Fukuoka City. Getting drunk at a work party is more than acceptable. Japanese are very hospitable. However, if you are uncomfortable being naked in front of others, turn down the offers to go to onsens, public baths. However, going to an onsen is one of the best things about Japan.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

All of the above. Lots to do-museums, temples, theme parks, travel, etc. People are generally friendly and love talking to foreigners. It is relatively easy to get around without a car, so you can go explore. In the bigger cities, Fukuoka City, Kitakyushu, and Kurume, there are clubs, late night eating, and bars, so you can go out and party.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yep. There is a drag bar in Tenjin as well as some g/l clubs. Japan likes men that dress up as women, though I would save it for the evening hours.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Fukuoka is a very international city, since many Asian students come to study here. Since there is a military base in Nagasaki, some clubs may discriminate if they think you are a Marine. There are churches here and on a whole, Japanese are open to any faith. Women of certain races may be thought of as working in snack bars. They may assume if you are of African descent, you are either a TV or rap star. Most racism here is not malicious, just ignorance. It is at a low level at best. You'll need a sense of humor sometimes. If you remember that this country was isolated for a long time and realize that people want to get to know you, not enforce the stereotypes they have, you'll do very well. One problem is the people that like you ONLY because you are a foreigner. It tends to be middle-aged women that know some English. Prepare to have them always come over/invite you out to events. Be judicious in what you tell them, because they will tell everyone, including your boss, about what you said. Those of Asian descent sometimes feel that they are ignored when everyone is oohing and aahing over the new foreigner, but they don't have to deal with people coming up to them and asking them to teach English.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Everything! Trying out ethnic restaurants, weekend trips to Korea/China/Hong Kong/other parts of Japan, visiting temples and museums, surfing down in Miyazaki and Kagoshima, lots of cultural events, baseball and soccer games, English bookstores and cafes, international festivals. If you like the outdoors, there are lots of places to bike and hike nearby. There are always places, like Acros Plaza, that introduce Japanese culture to foreigners.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Japanese clothing, dolls, cloths, amazing food.

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9. Can you save money?

Yes, if you don't go out a lot and plan well.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

YES! YES! YES! It is a great city, with something for almost everyone. There is a thriving international community, but it is easy to sneak away to have an all Japanese experience. Plus, when you need a break, you can always go to Hong Kong.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Idea that all in Japan is zen or superhyperhappycool.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sense of humor and flexibility. If not, Japanese standards can drive you mad! If you sweat, bring your supplies. Fluroide products. Clothes that fit.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

If you want a big city Japan experience, go to Kyoto or Tokyo. If you want something manageable with a range of experiences, Fukuoka is the place.

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