Japan flagThe application window for the 2011 round of the Monbukagakusho scholarships is now open in many countries. Three years ago when I was contemplating to apply for these scholarships, the biggest fear that I had was how my family was going to cope with life in Japan. I am sure many eligible married people are scared of the same.

In my case, all the people, that I had previously interacted with, clearly told me that Japan was still a closed country such that it was very difficult for foreigners to adapt even when they are “happily” single.

They also mentioned that it was very difficult for a foreigner to be proficient in the Japanese language and that the cultural gap between Africa and Japan was too huge. On top of that, the cost of living in the land of the rising sun is very high. But my interest to obtain a PhD from a Japanese university seemed to outweigh all these potential hurdles.

After some encouragement from my good friend, Chomora Mikeka, who, by that time, was a Masters student at Yokohama National University, I decided to apply for the 2008 Monbukagakusho scholarships. By God’s grace, I was successful and I am now in the second year of my PhD research at Tokyo Institute of Technology.

My wife and two kids (5 years and 3 years old) joined me in February last year. While life has generally been difficult for me and my family here, I must confess that it has not been as tough as I initially thought. Here are some of the reasons why life has been relatively easier for us and many others here:

  1. The Japanese people are generally very kind and honest. If you ask them for help, they usually leave their own work and attend to you. On several occasions when I have asked the Japanese people to give me directions to a particular place, some of  them have literally escorted me all the way to my destination. I also see their honesty almost everyday. It is very easy for them to trick foreigners with documents written in kanji but I have never heard of such incidents at all.
  2. There are many international friendship associations here which make life easy for foreigners. For in stance, when I was staying in the Komaba International House, Meguro-ku in Tokyo, we had the Komaba International FrieNDship Association (KIND) and the Meguro International Friendship Association (MIFA). Here in Yamato, we have the Yamato International Association. These associations organize many events which help to enhance mutual understanding of different cultures and nourish friendship and humanity. Several families that I knew through these associations have been very helpful to us.
  3. The Japanese government provides child allowance even to foreign families which are legally staying in Japan. With effect from April, 2010, the monthly amount per child has gone up to 13,000Yen.
  4. Even foreigners can apply for government houses. Rental fee for these houses is extremely low because they are heavily subsidized by government. For more about this, please follow this post.
  5. According to folks like Tom Broome, who have been here for many years, Japan is becoming more and more open. It is, therefore, becoming much easier to find foreign families with which long lasting relationships can be established. Survival tips in Japan can also be shared.
  6. You generally do not have to worry about household items because there is a high likelihood that you will get used ones from friends for free. In our case, we have received a refrigerator, a washing machine, chairs, tables, microwave oven, toaster, TV, clothing etc. Even when you cannot get them from friends,  you will buy them cheaply from recycle shops.
  7. Small children do not pay for trains. In our case, we only have to pay for the two of us.
  8. For those coming from countries where they do not offer credit cards, you will have the opportunity to own a credit card which will make life easy for you, especially when you are in financial difficulties. Japanese credit cards charge no interest if you pay the full amount owing at the end of the month.
  9. You can buy foodstuffs and other items from online shops, which are much cheaper than most shops in the city. And besides that, they use the home delivery system (takkyunbin [宅急便]).
  10. While the language in Japanese elementary schools is basically Japanese, some schools have teachers, who are good at foreign languages such as English, Spanish, Portuguese etc. Their duty is to help foreign students on specific problems. The folks at the ward offices will make sure that foreign students are put in schools that have these kind of teachers.  A kid of  Nigerian friend of mine is one of the beneficiaries of this system here in Kanagawa prefecture.
  11. Japanese technology also helps to make life easy. You can buy electronic devices at relatively cheap prices. Children too have a lot of small gadgets to play with. The internet speed is very fast. For in stance, we have a 100Mbps So-net connection for which we pay 6000Yen. With one optical fiber, we are able to use the internet, phone, and TV.
  12. Japan is a relatively safe place to stay. Crime is much lower than say in South Africa. When you are away, you don’t have to worry for the safety of your family members

I, therefore, encourage all married people who are interested in coming to Japan not to give up their dream. Go ahead and apply for the Monbukagakusho and any other related scholarships.

Just make sure that you can speak Japanese to some extent. Life becomes much easier that way.