Di Clarke and her husband lived in Northwest Louisiana until they were struck with a strong desire to travel. In 2003 they upped and moved to Japan, where her husband taught fifth grade on an American military base. They remained in Japan for six years before moving to Germany.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Northwest Louisiana
Q: Where are you living now?
A: A village adjacent to a small town in far-western Germany – but I'm going to tell you about where I lived for six years, in western Japan, near Hiroshima.
Q: How long you have did you live in Japan?
A: We were there for almost six years.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
A: Yes, my husband and two children.
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: My husband works for the US Department of Defense Dependents' Schools.
Q: What did you enjoy most about your host city? How was the quality of life in Japan?
A: I loved the mountains and the Inland Sea, high-speed trains, delicious food, 100-yen shops, great street fashion, the politeness of fast-food employees – so many things!
Q: Any negatives? What did you miss most about home?
A: Being able to read things around me, everywhere – I am such a visual person, and I'm always reading (or, in this case, trying to read) everything!
Q: Is Japan safe?
A: Extremely – Japan has to be one of the very safest places in the world, especially the towns and smaller cities.
About living in Japan
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Japan?
A: Accommodations in the city tend to be quite small, but in the small city where we lived, larger apartments and houses were available.
Q: What's the cost of living in Japan compared to America? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: A lot of things in Japan are quite expensive, especially imported items – but there are many ways to economise, such as shopping in 100-yen stores and buying meals from the wonderful convenience stores like Family Mart and Lawson.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: We lived amidst a sizeable American community. We did have some Japanese friends, but many Japanese, especially those who speak little English, often keep to themselves. Even if they don't want to hang out with you, they are extremely nice and polite!
About working in Japan
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: It really depends on whether you're working for and with all or mostly Japanese or if you're working with mostly non-Japanese. Japanese tend to work long hours and stay with the same company for many years, and the work setting can be very hierarchical and regimented.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: The US government took care of our move, thankfully!
Family and children
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?
A: Nope – but we were both really excited about moving to Japan.
Q: Did your children settle in easily?
A: Yes – they were only 5 and 8 when we moved to Japan – kids that age are very adaptable!
Q: What are the schools in Japan like? Any particular suggestions?
A: It's tough to start out in Japanese schools if your kids are older and don't know much Japanese. The best thing is to start in Japanese kindergarten, or yochien – but be aware that non-Japanese children never fit in 100% in Japanese schools; it just isn't possible. Get used to not fitting in – it's not always such a bad thing!
Q: How would you rate healthcare in Japan?
A: My husband found the prices quite reasonable, especially when he went to get an MRI.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Take in as many cultural experiences as you can. Explore different neighbourhoods and become an expert people-watcher. Most of all, do your best to enjoy Japan – I can assure you that you will miss it terribly if you leave (I do!).
– Interviewed February 2010