A Life in Japan

80 minutes 8.5/10 based on 28 votes

Documentary. Japan through foreign eyes. Interviews with nineteen foreign residents in Japan. Personal experiences and opinions, both the good and the bad stuff.

Ever wondered what it would be like to live in Japan?  This is the story of men and women who dropped their lives back home and set up shop in Japan. Some people found new lives and others found loneliness and alienation. Rather than an objective overview of life in Japan we see this special country through the stories of individuals that have lived there for a few months or even several decades.

What others have said about the documentary:

“[…] I think that ‘A Life in Japan’ would be most useful for people who are considering moving here from abroad, or for Japanese who might be interested in getting a fresh perspective on their own country […]. I would happily recommend it to anyone who is curious about life in Japan, or perhaps even as an educational tool.”

— Michael Lambe

“I watched ‘in solidarity’ at home from here in L.A. I lived in Kyoto from ’78 to ’86 and must say it brought back so many memories. I found myself agreeing with so much of what was said, remembering my own experiences. Beautiful images, and really nicely edited. Thanks for making it available.”

— Ed Shorer

For more background on the film, please visit alifeinjapan.com.

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Discuss This Documentary

  • I enjoyed this doc. I did have to laugh at the english subtitles on an english language documentary, especially when the typesetter obviously does not speak english as a 1st language (many typos that appear very… Engrish).

    • Petri

      The subtitles are fixed. There could still be some typos but it’s much better than before :)

  • Jchoi

    Interesting take on Japanese society. It seems that there is a lot more to this nation’s social structure than first appears.

  • As an expat myself, I really enjoyed looking how it is for other expats living in one of the most unique countries in the world. Hope I get to visit Japan some day!

  • AZryan

    If you want to see a documentary about Japan, but want to make sure that you hardly see anything of the Country and get no insight into who or what they are from a native’s perspective…then this weak film is for you.

    This was basically just shuffling edits of little interviews with foreigners living in Japan. There are some simple insights and perspectives that are at rare times uniquely informative, but too much of it just seems like random chit chat and stuff most people already know if they had any interest in Japan already.
    The Japanese are very polite, but very guarded. You’ll never really fit there because they’re so insular. It’s very safe and clean, but heavily controlled.

    A particularly strange example has one of the guys talking about some ‘Dave’-who isn’t in the film at all, who’s 45 and was with a 16 year old girl!? The film doesn’t mention if she’s Japanese, but you’d have to guess ‘yes’. Later on in the film this guy mentions Dave gettin’ it on behind the other side of a paper wall. I’m assuming it was with the 16 year old, but it was edited so stupidly, and the filmmaker didn’t seem to care at all about that ‘issue’. It was really just presented at some random anecdote about how paper walls are ‘bad for sound’. How ’bout…”you and your friend seem to be self-amused pedophiles”.

    They showed a guy who bothered to learn Japanese and wears Kimonos regularly, but the film never mentions what his job is. It looked like he was maybe selling something on the sidewalk with a cardboard sign nearby?? It was so odd I wanted to know what they’re showing us!? No one else in the film bothered to really ‘try’ to be Japanese, so he had something particularly unique to say, but there was no depth to this one guy’s story at all. Hardly in it even.

    They don’t make it clear how long anyone had been in Japan or what they all do. That I think would have been very good to explain as part of their perspective. We never really got to know anyone interviewed because it was all just tiny snippets of stuff.

    One woman talked about having a hard time dating because Japanese guys are either married, or want someone who speaks Japanese. Uh…no kidding?? That seemed so obvious, understandable and global that it was pointless. And I know little else about this woman.

    One guy makes the claim that if a car hit his own car from behind, and there’s a baby in that car without a seat belt and the baby is killed, the foreigner could be held responsible for that. Really?? It was a VERY BOLD claim, and frankly I wasn’t willing to just take him at his word. But the film didn’t bother to look into the issue at all. Does that happen a lot? Does it happen EVER? Is that guy full of it? Is there a larger issue of foreigners being oppressed in Japan? I dunno. This film is way too lazy to actually research anything whatsoever.

    More than anything though, I disliked how it was pretty much all just close-up, still shots of talking heads. You see almost nothing of Japan. Hell, you don’t even really see any Japanese people in it. Should have shown these foreigners going places, doing their jobs, living with their families and Japanese friends. What it’s like to live there as the title says.
    This might as well have been a radio program.

    • bertieballs

      Dood leave a comment not a novel…….i found the doc interesting personally, im finding similar problems as an englishman intergrating into portuguese society, and the people in this doc were just pointing out small things that when you actually move there for a long period of time could drive a foreigner nuts.

      • AZryan

        “Dood,” you must hate magazine articles, and think books without pictures are just insane. Thanks for your brief but completely useless points. We’ll all be watching you on Twitter.

  • Hannah

    As a Brit living just across the water in Korea for the past 5yrs, I enjoy hearing about Westerner’s experiences in Japan.
    From what I’ve gathered, Korea and Japan are very similar in their attitudes to foreigners, but Japan has a lot more to offer in terms of lifestyle.
    I agree with some of the other comments here, for example, it would’ve been nice to learn a bit more about the interviewees’ lives, and I also found the guy talking about his friend with a 16yr old a bit odd, but still it was interesting^^

  • Petri Storlopare

    A new version (including spell checked English subtitles!) is now on Youtube:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prNYOW0_kms

  • Ronald Ivan

    I quite agree with the Australian fellow (at least I think he’s Australian) doing the interview from inside the car. How are you expecting living in Japan to be easy if you don’t work hard? Even as a super skilled expat (which is just fancy way of saying immigrant), you’re a foreigner in someone else’s country! You’re never going to be ‘one of them’. I can’t even believe how people would think that’s possible. At the same time, I’ve never heard of any country, developed or not, that treats any foreigner with god-like humility and respect by 100% of its people, and has no problems whatsoever.

    Sometimes, I think we expect too much of Japan and its people. Just because they have nice things, have great food and treat people generally better than most other country treats foreigners in their countries, doesn’t mean Japan is this perfect child and is unable to do anything wrong. It’s a country that does its best like any other country. It pretends to be better than it really is, like any other country does. You don’t see Dubai advertising it’s close proximity to terrorist groups do you? “Come to Dubai. We’re on the other side of the Gulf of Oman from Iran and just 500 miles away from Iraq and Afganistan.”

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