How to Make Friends and Build a Network in Japan

Moving to a new country is equal parts exciting and intimidating. Living abroad offers endless potential, but unlocking this potential means leaving a lot behind, including frequent interactions with the friends, family and colleagues that define life in your home country.

In our latest video roundtable discussion, I joined the Kokoro Media team to talk about making friends, building a network, and finding social support in Japan. In this article, I’ll share some of the highlights from our discussion.

Making Friends: Wear Your Hobbies on Your Sleeve

Despite potential language and cultural barriers, making friends in Japan—for the most part—is no different than anywhere else in the world. One of the easiest ways to forge new connections is by seeking out others who enjoy the same hobbies and activities as you do. Regardless of your ability to speak Japanese, you’re bound to find like-minded companions on Meetup or Facebook Groups. You can even meet new people via Twitter by connecting with accounts that follow your favorite hashtags.

Building a Support Group for Life’s Challenges

As an island nation, part of what makes Japan such a fascinating place to live is its uniqueness. However, this also can be a source of hardship and frustration as seemingly simple procedures such as opening a bank account or getting medical treatment can quickly become complicated.

One way to prepare for this is by building a support group before you move to Japan. Get involved with local Japanese communities in your city and see if they can connect you with a few people in Japan who are willing to lend you a helping hand. If you travel to Japan for work or leisure, make sure that you are keeping in touch with the people you meet on your trips. If you do this, moving to Japan will feel more like a shift in perspective than a leap of faith.

If you can’t build a support group before you depart, see what resources your employer (or university, if you’re a student) can provide. Employers that are willing to sponsor work visas often provide support for finding housing, setting up bank accounts, and more.

Once you arrive in Japan and start building relationships, friends and co-workers will be able to help you during difficult times. It’s also a good idea to get to know your neighbors. A simple greeting or a small gift is all it takes to get started.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, familiarize yourself with government resources. In the greater Tokyo metropolitan area, many city halls offer at least some support for foreign residents in English and other languages. Learn about what kind of aid your embassy can provide–especially in case of emergencies.

Networking: The Intersection of Friendship and Career Development

Regardless of whether you’re working for a company or running one, professional networking is a great way to make friends and build support groups all while advancing your career. Get to know new people through the projects you work on and the organizations you collaborate with. Don’t just collect business cards—actively follow up with the people you receive them from.

Make an effort to meet professionals outside of your field. New people and perspectives can enhance your career and increase your opportunities for success in unforeseen ways. Seeking out new communities to engage with can be daunting, but articles like this one will help you get started.

Just the Beginning

These tips should ease your concerns about starting anew in Japan. However, if you still need some convincing, check out our full discussion for even more ways to make friends and build a network that you can call on wherever in the world your life takes you.

Originally from California, I've been living and working in Japan, now my second home, since 2009. My work as a communications consultant lends a unique perspective to my writing, and I often explore the business behind Japan’s beauty. When I’m not working, you can find me hunched over a screen reviewing kanji flashcards in my never-ending quest to master the Japanese language.