Living in Tokyo: A Writer From Hong Kong Shares Her Expat Experience

Living as an Expat in Tokyo: A Filipina Writer From Hong Kong Shares Her Experience

Lesson one: It’s definitely not like what you see in anime.

Not everyone has the chance to work and travel in their favourite country — let alone fresh out of graduating from university. But for Filipino writer and otaku Jianne Soriano, living in Tokyo was nothing short of a dream come true. Armed with a degree in ​​international journalism, she spent two years writing for a travel company; a job that gave her lots of opportunities to travel around Japan, and experience it from the lens of a part-local, part-foreigner. 

Now back in her hometown, Hong Kong, she looks back on her time in the Land of the Rising Sun as a cherished experience from her early 20s. Like most people’s first few years post-uni, it had its highs, challenges, and growing pains — but surely, there’s a novelty to spending those years in a foreign land. 

If you’re wondering what it’s like living as an expat (and one in the travel industry, at that), let Jianne’s story offer you some insight; from adapting to the city’s culture to realising which tourist spots are (*gasp*) possibly overrated!  

How she got her start

living and working in japan

(L-R): Yamanashi Prefecture; Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto

The first question that probably comes to mind would be: How did she land the job? 

“It’s actually quite simple — I just applied! But what I did differently was that I applied while I was in [already] Japan finishing up an internship,” Jianne shared. “I found that way easier because I was able to do the interview in person, just the day before I was about to return home.” 

Doing a two-month internship prior to going full-time gave her an idea of what working and living in Japan is like. And even before that, she has already visited the country thrice. But of course, it’s a whole different ball game when you’re an official overseas worker staying long-term and completely on your own. 

Also read: 18 Career Paths That Will Open You Up to Travel Opportunities

Living in Tokyo: expectations vs. reality

living in tokyo

While living in Tokyo, Jianne spent many a downtime photographing the ever-lively streets of Tokyo.

Like most people who grew up with Japanese pop culture, Jianne had certain expectations because of what she had seen in the media. “More so than having expectations of working there, I had expectations of living there, which has always been my dream,” she confessed. Fortunately, she knew well enough that it wouldn’t be the same as simply vacationing there — especially once the thrill of being a newcomer slightly fades and the reality of settling down as an expat seeps in. 

(L-R): Catching the first sunrise of 2019 in Ibaraki Prefecture; A couple strolling along Kyoto’s Sagano Bamboo Forest

Culture shock was clearly inevitable. Even though she had basic knowledge of the local language, it took some adjustment being in a place that didn’t have a lot of English speakers. Some errands were tricky to navigate; from registering her address at the city hall to opening a bank account and getting a sim card. “I took a semester of Japanese classes during university, in addition to learning the language myself. But it’s still a different experience when you actually have to use it,” she said.

Not to mention, the universal truth of how living in Tokyo can get insanely costly. In fact, if there’s one thing she wishes she knew about prior to moving, it would be the many different taxes. “No one told me how expensive paying the residential tax was! I literally had to save some money every month just to pay that off after my first year,” Jianne noted. 

Taken on a weekend trip to Mie Prefecture

As with most people spending the cusp of adulthood in a foreign land and on their own, challenges and feelings of isolation will likely be part of the equation. “It isn’t always going to be easy, especially in a place that’s still, in some ways, traditional, conservative, and homogenous,” she explained. “You dream of being a thriving career woman but in reality, you don’t get paid well as a fresh graduate, you’re alone, and you have responsibilities.”

Her ultimate nugget of wisdom to those dreaming of living and working in Japan? “It’s not like what you see in anime, it’s really not — so just keep an open mind.”

Also read: 10 Essential Tips for Exploring Tokyo on a Budget

On her workplace experience

Jianne admits that she was lucky with her first job in Tokyo. She was part of the content marketing team of a travel company, where the workload was manageable and gave her enough work-life balance — save for busier days when there are urgent projects. “It was also 50-50 locals and foreigners, so I didn’t have to worry about socialising and [going along with] the drinking culture after hours,” she described.

living in tokyo

A panorama of the Tokyo skyline at night

At the same time, she acknowledges the “notorious” stereotype of the country’s work culture, which needs no introduction to anyone who keeps up with the news. “I was fortunately not overworked. But there’s a notion that since I was young and unmarried, I had more ‘free time’ whenever something urgent comes up, that I could take on more work compared to others.”

She also mentioned how, during her earlier months, she would stay in the office until late hours — despite being already done with her tasks — since she had to wait for her seniors to leave. “I don’t think these apply only to Japan, though, but I definitely experienced it more there.” Now that she’s working in the magazine industry in Hong Kong, she admits that her work back in Japan was still less demanding by comparison.

On her memorable adventures in Japan

living and working in japan

(L-R): Viewing Mount Fuji from Yamanashi; Spending a birthday trip in Kanazawa, Ishikawa

Writing for a travel company meant getting to visit various exciting places on the job. But if Jianne had to narrow it down to her favourites, Yamanashi Prefecture would certainly be on top of the list. “It’s the best place to really see Mount Fuji in all its glory,” she gushed. There, she was able to see the iconic volcano in full view. This came after four attempts from previous visits, most of which were foiled by cloudy weather. “I also recommend Mie if you like something quieter, but still not far off from Tokyo,” she added. 

A trip to the coastal city of Ise in Mie to see the Ama female divers. These locals keep alive the tradition of freediving (without any modern equipment!) for seafood.

In fact, travelling solo was one of the first things she crossed off her bucket list during her time there. “It’s [clearly] inevitable when you live alone, but also so satisfying. I usually travel with my family, so for me, that was a different experience,” she shared. She then talks fondly about her solo trips to the more under-the-radar prefectures, which both allowed her to immerse in the culture and compelled her to go beyond her comfort zone. “Now, I feel like I could do almost anything!” 

Also read: 32 Things to See and Do in Japan for First-Time Travellers

Exploring Tokyo, from the lens of a foreign resident

(L-R): Tokyo Tower; Suga Shrine Staircase

Whenever someone refers to a destination as their other home, it only makes sense to ask for their recommendations on which places to visit. In Jianne’s case, she strongly suggests going beyond the actual city and into the greenery-filled suburbs of the vast metropolis. “Most travellers [in Tokyo] would just stay in the city, but there’s more to it than that. It’s understandable, but I think it’s a shame not to explore places like Tama or Ōme.”

A fun day out  in Ōme with her colleagues

Like many expats living in Tokyo, her weekends were all about taking a break from the frenetic pace of working days. “I loved wandering without an agenda or itinerary. I think that’s the best way to explore the city,” she shared. Fortunately, there’s never a shortage of things to see and discover — even for those who aren’t exactly tourists anymore, but not full-fledged locals either. 

Jianne’s hobbies included cafe-hopping, scoring cheap finds, as well as discovering and photographing the backstreets. Among the more popular districts, Asakusa and Ueno are the ones she enjoyed frequenting. 

living in tokyo

Witnessing the city’s sakura season in full swing

Of course, we also had to ask about the more popular spots that she doesn’t recommend. After all, anyone who has lived in a renowned destination can probably name at least one tourist attraction that they realised isn’t exactly worth the hype. “Shibuya Crossing is overrated… but I say that because I used to cross it every day to get to work!” she admitted with a laugh. 

P.S. — For those who want to follow more of Jianne’s adventures, check out #jiannetraveldiaries on her Instagram account!

Also read: 12 Best Tokyo Districts and Neighbourhoods to Visit on Your Holiday

Got an interesting travel story you’d like to share? Well, we’d definitely love to know more about it! Click here to find out how you can be our next Featured Traveller. 

All images are credited to Jianne Soriano, unless stated otherwise.

Featured image credit: Starcevic via Canva Pro

About Author

Marcy Miniano
Marcy Miniano

A fast-talking caffeine-dependent wordsmith, Marcy has never been one to shy away from sharing a good story or two. If she’s not in a quiet coffee shop somewhere, she enjoys spending afternoons in a museum or art gallery — whether it’s around Metro Manila or a foreign city she’s visiting. She wishes to retire in a winter village someday, so she can fulfil her lifelong dream of wearing turtlenecks all year round and owning a pet penguin.