The Handbook for Life in Japan
By Terrie Lloyd, Daijob.com, March 29, 2008
I don’t review many books because to be honest I don’t have a lot of free hours in the day. But when I heard that a new handbook intended to help foreigners learn and understand the regulations of life in Japan, and how to plan ahead for unexpected situations, I jumped at the chance to get a preview copy. The Japanese don’t make it that hard for foreigners to come and work in Japan, but once you get here, you soon find that no one really seems to know what the actual rules are – whether for visas, finding and keeping a job, taxes, getting married, retirement allowances, etc. Visiting the many Internet information boards can yield some information, but it is often out of date or wrong due to the writer’s lack of legal knowledge.
Well, there is now an authoratative guide to how to get to and live in Japan. It is called HANDBOOK for Newcomers, Migrants and Immigrants to Japan (“Handbook” for short) and is written by Arudou Debito, a well-known blogger and writer who naturalized as a Japanese citizen in 2000, and his cohort, Higuchi Akira, a certified Gyosei Shoshi (Administrative Solicitor).
This is a rather unique book because it takes the view that the reader is at some progressive point in their life in Japan, somewhere prior to first arrival right through to having your remains back home! It gives a general framework of major regulatory issues that each of us as residents in Japan have to deal with in our daily lives. In that respect it is an ideal manual for new arrivals wanting to know what they should and should not do in this rather opaque society. It’s also good for general updates for old hands like myself.
In several chapters, the Handbook gets quite specific, offering advice on what to do if something not so positive happens to you – such as if you get arrested, need to get divorced, get fired unfairly, get discriminated against, etc. These are things that are not spelled out in an authoratative way anywhere else that I can think of, and thus make the publication something you’ll want to keep handy all the time.
The Handbook starts out by defining exactly what documents you need to get into Japan and be legal for various types of activities – in particular for work. It does a good job of clarifying just what documents are needed to get into Japan and how a visa is not the actual certification that lets you stay here, a Status of Residency (SOR) is. It personally took me years to find out how the immigration system works – now you can read about it in just 12 pages.
There is a whole chapter on Employment, covering all the basics such as the labor laws, termination, salary and holidays, deductions and taxes, how the social insurance system works, what the difference is between full-time, part-time, and contract workers, and where to go when you need to get help. I have covered many of these topics over the years, but nonetheless found some materials relating to contract workers which covers new ground. While reading, I found myself making a mental note to follow up on this and get more information about it.
Indeed, this is one of the outcomes of reading the Handbook – it prompts you to want to find out more. Although the book has 376 pages, half of it is written in Japanese so that someone who you might be seeking advice from (a lawyer or Japanese friend or “senpai”) can quickly grasp the nature of what you are asking, and give you a more specific answer. This means that the Handbook is not only a quick read, but also is intended to be a framework rather than an exhaustive reference manual. Arudou addresses this fact by providing copious notes on where to go to get follow up help.
By the time you read this, you should be able to pick up the Handbook at your local bookstore. But just in case you can’t, Arudou maintains a pretty comprehensive website at www.debito.org, and right on the front page there is a link with instructions on how to order a copy. I checked Amazon.com, but obviously the book is still too early to have gone through their registration process yet. The retail price is JPY2,415, and my personal opinion is that it is worth every yen. A necessary read for newcomers, and useful “gap filling” information for longer-term residents.