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How to Build Community in Japan as a Foreigner

Hi, this is Claire from Borderless House! I’m here this time to talk about a really important topic, which is how to make friends and build a supportive community as a foreigner in Japan.

Effortless Sharehouse Community

To be honest, when I decided to move to Japan last year, I was only considering living alone in an apartment next to my workplace. However, I ultimately wasn’t able to secure a place and was forced to choose another option. Although at the time I was sad that I lost my opportunity to live solo in Japan, I am forever grateful that I was able to instead find a home at Borderless House. It will forever be one of the best decisions I made throughout the past year. I am a social person, and with limited opportunities to meet people around my age group at work, as well as an irrational fear of going places by myself, living alone would have certainly ended in a lonely disaster.

Needless to say, it is important to have a strong support system when moving to a different country. One way to immediately set yourself up for success in making friends and community when moving to Japan is by choosing sharehouse accommodations that allows you to make both foreign and Japanese friends! You will be able to relate to your foreign friends as a fellow non-Japanese resident, and also will be able to get a more authentic experience of Japan through the knowledge and camaraderie of your Japanese friends.

My Sharehouse

This leads me to my current situation. Since the beginning of August 2019, I have been living in Borderless House Iidabashi1 with 14 other housemates. I often find myself using the words “friends” or “family” to describe my fellow sharehouse residents, as there is an extremely special bond that forms when you get to go through daily life with other people. When I began my time at the sharehouse, I chose to live in a single room which meant that I was able to slowly get to know my housemates when hanging out in the common areas and go back to my room if I ever felt overwhelmed or needed some quiet alone time. Since getting to know my housemates, I recently decided to live in a share-room with one of my closest housemates. I was skeptical about staying in a shared room at first as I felt like I wanted to have my own independence and space in a single room. However, looking back I honestly wish that I had made the move to a shared room sooner as I have formed even deeper bonds with my Japanese roommate, making it feel like I have a sister here who I can talk to about anything.

What makes Borderless House so special is that it keeps the ratio of its houses to 1:1 in terms of both nationality (Japanese/foreigner) and gender (male/female). I am always tempted to make friends with people who are very similar to me, which means that I most likely would have only made female, American friends here in Japan. Now, of course, having friends who are similar to you and who understand your background are by no means bad. However, now living at Iidabashi house, I have come to realize the deep value of making friends with people who come from backgrounds are different from my own. I have been moved while listening to the stories of my housemates; I get to see the love they have for their family when they speak about their hometowns, feel my mouth water when they describe their favorite foods back home and be inspired hearing about their goals and aspirations for the future. Because of these interactions, my own mindset has expanded and thanks to my housemates I believe I have become a more compassionate and understanding person. I am now much more able to step out of my comfort zone and have overcome some of my timidness.

BH Online Language Exchange Program

One question that may come up for some readers is “How do I form a community in Japan before moving there?” Recently, due to the Coronavirus, many people have missed out on the opportunity to come to Japan and Borderless House has responded by creating a Language Exchange Program where you can get matched with a current resident Borderless House sharehouses here in Tokyo! Not only will you be able to connect with Japanese residents and practice Japanese, but due to Borderless Houses’s unique mix of people, you also have the option to learn a variety of languages and cultures from around the world. By speaking with residents you can prepare for your trip to Japan by getting insider knowledge about Japan from a Japanese resident, or get answers to your questions and worries through the real-time perspective of a foreigner living in Japan. Why not join the program and start building a community in Japan ahead of time? Your language partner is waiting to meet you!!

In-person Meet-ups

Just as it is important to build friends outside of your family circle, of course, it is also important to branch out and have friends outside of your share house or other living accommodations. Given that Japan is becoming more international with each successive year, you are never alone in your desire to make friends and meet new people. One way to get connected to this community is through Meetup, which offers a platform for people to create get-togethers and events in Tokyo. Events are usually associated with shared interests such as sports, coding, gaming, language exchange etc. It can feel a bit intimidating at first to step into a room full of strangers, but remember that everyone attending the event shares the common goal of making friends. Walk into the even confidently and with a smile, and you will be surprised at the amount of people who will want to hear your life story and be friends with you! I have had a very positive experience at these events and made some lasting friends, both Japanese and foreigner. If you don’t have a strong inclination towards any of the interest group meet-ups offered, one of the easiest ways to get involved in the meet-up community is through attending a language exchange event; Grab one of your Japanese housemates and go to a Japanese-foreign language exchange together!

Sports and Interest Clubs

goofing off with my swim teammate

Another way to create a fast and lasting community is through joining an established sports or interest group. Many of the same types of clubs and groups that existed in your home country also exist in Japan! It’s a great opportunity to use your Japanese skills in a familiar setting. As I was a swimmer in America for 17 years, I decided that one way for me to create friends here in Tokyo was to join the swimming community in Tokyo. Doing something that I am familiar with while meeting new people helped me have the confidence necessary to step out of my shell and interact with others. I was able to learn new swim-related Japanese and improve on my skills at the same time! Within my own share house there are people like me who are involved in familiar hobbies by being a part of music groups and bouldering teams. You should also feel free to take up a new hobby if you want to! In addition to swimming, I started taking dance classes for the first time in my life, and although it is extremely far out of my comfort zone, after going to class consistently for a few months, I have made incredible friends and have become a member of the dance studio members club!!

In contrast to Meetup events, joining an established club or community makes it more likely that you will continually meet with the same people each week, making it easier to build a long-lasting community. To find these groups, you may need to network a bit and do some google searching, but usually sports and other interest communities are vast and eager to help. If you are a college alumni, see if there are any alumni in Tokyo that you can reach out to, and with social media it is easier than ever to find people with similar interests who are living closeby. Don’t be afraid to contact people out of the blue. Humans are social animals and we love to connect and help each other, so don’t be intimidated!

Other Advice and Take-aways

When first moving to Tokyo from a foreign country, making friends can seem intimidating. Borderless House undoubtedly is an immediate way to make lasting friends and connections, and we are ready to welcome you with open arms! For making friends outside of your sharehouse family setting, my best piece of advice is to find like-minded people with similar interests. As many things are new and unfamiliar, find a situation where you can feel most comfortable and freely express your personality. Be sure that you also consistently show up to each meeting or practice if you join a group- building connections takes time and effort!

However, make sure that for each comfort zone that you have here in Japan, you find another place that challenges you to grow. One pitfall that I would caution against is only joining an international community during your time here in Japan. Again, joining a Borderless House and some of our programs, such as the Online Language Exchange, are easy ways to make sure that you will be able to immerse yourself in Japanese language and culture by making connections with locals. Don’t be afraid to join clubs or groups that don’t have many non-Japanese participants! You never know the bonds and self-growth that you’ll be able to make by pushing yourself a bit outside of your familiar zones.

A whole community of exciting and passionate people are waiting here in Tokyo to become your friend, so start networking, start exploring, and watch your experiences in Japan brighten and expand!

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