Where everybody knows your name.

Living in Japan can be a little lonely sometimes. Everyone seems to be busy most of the time. No matter how good your Japanese is, it’s still not going to be 100%. You spend a lot of time on trains in the company of strangers who aren’t interested in a conversation with a random (to them) foreigner.

I discovered a useful tidbit when I lived in Nagoya, and I’ve found it works here as well. To anyone moving to Japan by yourself, I offer it as helpful advice.

Find a place you like — a bar, restaurant, 居酒屋, café, or other hospitality business — and go there every week on the same day and at the same time of day (afternoon, evening, night). It’s important to be friendly and consistent, but you do not have to spend lots of money — just order what you like. After a month or so, the staff will not only recognize you, but start treating you like a 常連 — a regular. While this doesn’t entitle you to any deals or discounts, it will get you a bit of extra recognition and conversation, provided you make the effort. (Overly-shy people will see greatly-reduced effects.) The staff will take an interest in you and look forward to your visits, and you’ll feel more of a connection there. This is possible at places you visit less frequently, but it will take longer and you’ll have to be much more memorable.

I can’t guarantee this will work, but I’ve done it in both Nagoya and Tokyo, and it’s helped me feel just a little less like part of the faceless crowd. If you find yourself in urban Japan, even for just a few months, give it a try.

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