Moving from Silicon Valley to Tokyo

Chai Jia Xun
a read

I’ve not written anything for more than a year, and this is my first and last post this year. This was due to many reasons; I lost my job, I moved to a different country, ChatGPT was released and I lost all interest in writing anything. But now that I hadn’t written anything for an entire year, I felt like writing something before the year ended.

This writing is at least 70% human certified, with an acceptable level of artificial additives added.
This post is still a stub and missing images, but I really wanted to publish this before the end of 2023, so whoops here it is, unedited and unvetted.

Why Japan?

I wanted a place that was not car-dependent. While I loved my car, I only had it out of necessity and would avoid leaving the house if at all possible because I highly disliked driving. That meant that there wasn’t a lot I could do while in Silicon Valley, and it was a boring place to be.

I also wanted a large city. Being in a rural place (yes San Francisco is rural as far as I’m concerned) means there isn’t a high enough density of people to support more niche shops, events or activities.

This narrowed down the only viable city in the US to New York. While that would solve the car problem, I would still have to deal with all the other things I disliked about the US (which is not the topic of this post). Besides, I had been wanting to leave the US for a long time. My original plan was to stay there for only 2 years, but between the pandemic and relationship issues, I remained there for 5 years.

I could move back to Singapore, but that option would always be open for me, so it would make more sense for me to try living elsewhere, especially while I am still able-bodied enough to deal with moving all my stuff around.

I had also lived in Tokyo as a child and had an internship there during my university days. I would consider Tokyo to be a second home to me (despite not speaking much Japanese) and whenever I travelled there, it felt more like home than a foreign land. So, Tokyo was an easy choice to go for, despite the massive salary cut. At the very least, it was worth trying out for a while before deciding my future again.


I was laid off in October of 2022. Japan had opened their borders on the 13th of October to tourists and I was one of the first few to fly over. The call happened while I was on vacation, and just as well too since that allowed me to fully enjoy my vacation.

I did interviews and found a job in December, and the Japanese visa process would take 3 months to complete. This gave me time to get ready to move out of the US.

In January, I was selling, packing or disposing of all my stuff. The movers came to pick up all the stuff and then I flew straight to Japan.

In Feburary, I was in Tokyo again looking for an apartment. I still needed to fly back to Singapore to get my visa, but I decided to head to Tokyo first so I could leave most of my baggage in Tokyo and not lug it back to Singapore.

In March I was in Singapore, waffling around while I waited for my visa. I flew to Japan again at the end of March and started to furnish the house. I was very lucky to have found a place before even getting to Tokyo, so this meant I had one less thing to worry about. I also started work shortly after.

In April and May, I was gradually filling up my house with furniture and essentials. The shipment from the US arrived at the end of May (After golden week so I didn't even get to use that to unpack. I also went to Vancouver to meet my friends at the end of May to early June.

When I got back, I continued to unpack my stuff, and then I headed to Singapore in mid-June to spend time with my family.

My Q3 was mostly filled with a family vacation, and going back to Singapore again for a couple of weddings.

Q4 was when I finally settled most of my things. I got a working bank account, converted my driver's license (which was a whole ordeal), and finally finished unpacking my stuff.


It was one thing to move from Singapore to the US, since I didn't have to bring everything over, since most of my daily necessisties were handled by my parents. But since then I had accumulated way more nonsense than I had thought. Since I didn't have a family or friends to leave the stuff with, and I was not planning on going back, that meant that moving from the US to Japan would entail clearing out my entire house. Either by throwing things away, selling them, or shipping them.

I tried to ship as little things as possible, but even then, the shipping costs came to just under US$5000. This did include a lot of things that I couldn't bear to throw away because doing so would mean that I needed to buy them again in Japan, so I figured I should just ship them. Looking back at this, I regret doing such a thing. Besides a lot of my stuff getting broken in shipping, (there was no insurance unless you paid even more for them to pack stuff for you) many things aren't compatible with the Japanese household in the first place. So things either had to be thrown away (which costs money in Japan) and rebought.

The Untold Horrors of Japanese Administration.

Japan is known to be a land of bureaucracy and I thought I was prepared for it. But I was not prepared for how broken and defunct their systems were. As it is, many people say that the systems are much better than they used to be, but the rabbit hole goes way deeper than I had imagined. Of course, all of these were made way worse by the fact that I do not speak or read Japanese at a level that would allow me to easily deal with paperwork. (Honestly, I can't even deal with paperwork in English anyway.)

Famously, there is the paradox that if you want a bank account, you need a phone number and address, and if you want a phone number, you need a bank account, and address, and if you want to rent a place, you need both of the above. Some companies will help you solve this by getting you a bank account, a place to stay for the first month, and a phone number as part of the relocation package. Mine didn't help me with this. Luckily, I had friends already living in Japan. My current roommate helped me with signing the rent agreement before I even moved there, so I had the address part settled when I first arrived. I also managed to find a carrier (UQ Mobile) that accepted payments via a foreign credit card. With those two things, I went to open a bank account with Shinsei Bank.

Unfortunately, I was unable to withdraw money from any ATM with Shinsei, I could not link it to a credit card for payment, nor could I link it to PayPay (Japan's mobile payment app). So, this bank account was pretty useless for anything except rent payments and collecting my salary. Fortunately, I still had money in my American accounts which allowed me to draw money and pay for everything with a credit card. Which is why I took more than half a year to rectify the lack of a bank account.

Speaking of a credit card, you would expect that anywhere that accepts a master card or visa card would allow me to make a payment with the existing card I have, but as it turns out, some places only accept credit cards that are issued in Japan. Which sort of defeats the point of being on the Visa network in the first place? Good thing I still have my roommate who had a Japanese-issued credit card.

When I eventually tried to apply for a credit card and new banks, I get hit with really stupid errors. Their systems typically expect a last name, and a first name, without spaces in them. Unfortunately for me, and I guess anyone with a slightly complicated, non-standard Japanese name, there is a space in my name. This wouldn't generally be a problem because I'd just type my name without a space, except that when they check my identification cards, it would not match the data I had entered since there would be a space in my name on my ID card, but no space in the form I filled up. I would use my Chinese name, which does not have spaces, but those characters are not registered on the official Japanese identification cards.

Eventually, after trying a bunch of banks and cards, I managed to get one to accept my apparently extremely difficult name. (The US is not much better, they can't fathom the concept of a space in my name without classifying it as my middle name). For anyone wondering, the bank is the post office bank, which charges money for bank transfers, boo. and the credit card is the Rakuten Card, which didn't even ask for any ID during the sign-up process before approving me?? To be fair, the delivery guy did check my ID to make sure it matched the card.

Getting a Japanese Driving License deserves a whole blog post by itself. In summary, most other places I know usually allow you to convert your license by taking a written test and showing your existing license. For Japan, they had an interview process, then a test, then a practical test where they only give you instructions in Japanese before they'll allow you to convert your license. And all of these steps involved the classic Japanese bureaucratic processes that took an entire day. Since these could only be done on weekdays, they also expect you to take days off work I guess. Tangentially, it's apparently not standard practice to have an allowance for sick days off and you need to take your vacation days if you're sick??

Unrelated: Due to the chip shortage, they had also stopped selling their transit cards. Fortunately for me, the random iPhone I acquired could be used for mobile transit, but for anyone using an Android phone not purchased in Japan, they'd be SOL.

Settling In

Have I settled in? Yes. It took me more than half a year to do so, but I can finally say I've settled in.


Do I regret moving to Japan? No. It is still everything I ever dreamed of, and my quality of life has improved so much compared to when I was living in the US. The only thing I miss about being in the states are the friends I made there.

I still don't know how long I intend on staying here, but I'm going to give it at least 2 years, and we'll see how things go from here.

Share on:
Chai Jia Xun
Chai Jia Xun

Jia Xun speaks of himself in the third person when writing his bio. He thinks he's being cute but we all know that's just cliche. Being meta is so passe. Why do people still do it?