Have you ever wondered about packing all your stuff and move to a far away country? More and more people are choosing Japan as the ideal destination to fulfill this dream.
The charm of Japanese culture is constantly growing in the collective imagination, especially in the western one. Recently, Japan became popular not only for the best-known subcultural aspects (as anime, manga or the kawaii culture), but also for its unique traditions and customs.
What makes this country fascinating is, at the same time, what makes living challenging. You have to consider various practical matters (i.e. how to rent a house or use a mobile phone) and take in consideration the effort required to fit in a different society.
This article aims to give a general overview of the most important matters related to this topic. For in-depth information, we suggest to consult the Guide to Living in Japan by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA).
Content list directory:
Working and studying in Japan
If you intend to move to Japan, you are surely taking in consideration the possibility to find a job, joining a Japanese university or enroll into a language school.
For long-term study plans, you have to apply for a student visa. The school you are going to attend will deal with the bureaucratic procedure to obtain this necessary document. This type of visa also allows students to apply for a part-time job. Since school tuitions can be very onerous, many students decide to cover part of the expenses by working for a maximum of 28 hours per week.
You can find further information on the Study in Japan website. Check also Go! Go! Nihon: they offer free support to students looking for the ideal Japanese school, helping them with the visa procedure and assisting them with everything related to life in Japan.
If you completed your studies or if you are already a professional, you may wondering about applying for a job. Learn more about working in Japan in this article.
After succeeding in getting a student or working visa, you will receive your Residence Card, a necessary document for foreigners staying in Japan as residents. This card will certificates your status of residence and it will also be essential to access various services. You will be required to carry it with you anytime.
Life in Japan
Your destination is finally set: you found a suitable school or employment in Japan! Now it’s time to consider all the practical matters related to the upcoming new life.
First of all: what about safety?
Japan is well-known for one of the lowest rate of criminality. Without surprise, the Economist’s Safe City Index Report revealed Tokyo as the safest city in the world. Although crimes are generally unlikely to happen, no place is perfect: you better pay attention to potential risks and always stick with common sense.
Some people are also afraid of natural disasters, as earthquakes or tsunami. Even though Japan is characterized by a frequent seismic activity, the actual danger is very low. This is possible thanks to the most up-to-date anti-seismic buildings, reliable warning systems and efficient rescue and assistance procedures.
How do I find an accommodation?
Generally, it’s not very easy to find foreigners-friendly estate agencies. If you don’t speak Japanese very well, you may consider the possibility to ask a Japanese person to help you with this matter. If you are going to enroll into a school or university, contact them prior hand and ask for assistance. In case you found a job, be sure to ask your employer or colleagues to guide you in the research of an accomodation.
Big cities, though, offer a wider range of possibilities. It will be easier to find estate agencies for foreigners (whose staff is proficient in English) or inexpensive accommodations like guesthouses.
How do I open a bank account?
To open a bank account, a long-term visa is required (tourist visa holders cannot open it). Along with the visa, the Residence Card is also a necessary document. Among the various Japanese banks, some offer English support and consultation. Shinsei Bank is one of the most popular among foreigners.
What about mobile phone?
If you want to keep in contact and communicate with your friends in Japan, you will surely need a mobile phone. Here is how to get it:
First, you can opt for a pre-paid mobile phone. For example, Softbank offers this service. This solution can be a little expensive, but the procedures to get and recharge the phone are quite simple.
Second, if you want to keep your own phone, you can choose a pre-paid mobile traffic SIM card, useful to use VoIP services. It won’t allow you to make standard phone calls, though. B-mobile offers various options.
Lastly, you can decide to subscribe a tariff plan with a Japanese phone company. You will be required to show your Residence Card and have a Japanese bank account. Some people opt for this solution because, even if the procedure is a bit more complicated, it is surely more affordable than the previous two.
Are transports efficient?
Japanese transports are truly punctual and convenient. In most of the cases, you will forget the need to ride a car. As a resident, you will not be eligible to subscribe tourist passes (as the Japan Rail Pass). Yet, various local passes are available depending on the area you live in.
SUICA and ICOCA are very convenient method to pay your rides on train and buses. They do not provide special fares or discounts, but these IC cards let you save some time (and worry) by avoiding the need to buy a ticket for each ride you take. SUICA is issued in Kanto region (Tokyo), while ICOCA can be bought in Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara). They are compatible all around Japan.
A very useful app to consult time tables and calculate train fares is HyperDia.
Normally, if you work in a Japanese company, your monthly transportation expenses will be completely refund.
Fitting in Japanese society
Living in Japan is, without any doubt, an exciting and fulfilling experience. You will be welcomed by friendly and polite people that will gladly introduce you to their fascinating culture and traditions. Fun experiences, delicious meals, advanced technology and safe cities will become part of your daily life.
However, do not forget that it will implicates some effort to adapt your habits and attitude to such a different environment. After the initial phase of wonder fades, you will face the true contrast between your culture and what being part of Japanese society really means.
As a foreigner, you will lack most of the basic knowledge to behave and interact with a society you haven’t grown into. Learning it from scratch can be somewhat frustrating, but at the same time it is an interesting challenge. It will surely widen your mindset and enrich your life.
To get the best out of this experience, therefore, be ready to be as flexible as possible.
Living in Nara
When approaching Japan as a tourist, it’s easy to be captivated by the efficient trains, the colorful signs and the lively shopping streets that provides fun all day long. You feel like a kid living in an amusement park, where even the smallest detail pleases you.
As a resident, though, this perception may change with time. The first phase of amazement will gradually disappear and the surrounding environment will become part of your daily life, because Japan will be nothing but your new home. As the punctual train enter in your routine, you may find their crowd bothersome. The colorful signs will look a little more discolored in the background of your everyday existence and, after a tiring day at work or school, you may desire the shopping street you walk through to be a bit quieter.
Therefore, you better ponder about what kind of life you wish for. If you are used to metropolis, there will be no problem in moving to cities like Tokyo or Osaka. On the other hand, if you are looking for a slow-paced life where you can enjoy strolls in nature or wander through peaceful neighborhoods, a smaller city may be the best option.
Thanks to its position, Nara is characterized by a good balance. A life surrounded by its thousands-year old historic heritages, peaceful rural areas and fascinating traditions, just about 30 minutes away from larger metropolitans areas like Osaka or Kyoto.
Find out more about living in Nara reading this personal story.
- Alice Meniconi
I am an italian designer in love with Japanese culture and Studio Ghibli's movies. In 2015, I moved to Nara for my academic internship. Since then, this city became my second home. After I graduated at ISIA Firenze in 2016, I came back to my beloved Nara to enjoy a three months working experience.