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Working and Living in Japan – Things You Want to Know

Working and Living in Japan – Things You Want to Know

If you pictured Japan to be a country with beautiful scenery, intriguing culture, delicious food, and kind people, then guess what, you are right! Japan is truly a country like no other. It really takes living here to soak in everything it has to offer. You will learn interesting cultural things daily while you immerse yourself as a member of the Japanese workplace and society. You will have opportunities to explore some amazing places during your free time. And you will meet some wonderful people that will stay in your heart forever. Of course, you will have many challenges living in a foreign country. Everything is different from the language, to the way people interact, to the food. Sometimes it can feel lonely and frustrating. So in order to get a lot out of the experience, you do have to be someone who is open minded, adaptable, and willing to learn. Conquering these barriers is a part of the adventure. Each challenge is an opportunity that will help you learn about yourself and gain new skills.


In this post, I will attempt to cover a couple questions that myself have wondered before I moved to this wonderfully foreign place.

Will I have time to travel if I work?


The reason most people want to come to Japan is to satisfy their wanderlust. So the answer to the burning question is: YES! When you live here, you will have plenty of opportunities to explore. Japan is not a huge country (unlike Canada, where I am from), so it’s not hard to travel around. It’s entirely possible to go somewhere really cool and different just for a weekend. As well, you can totally venture out to surrounding countries for cheap. Taiwan, Korea, China, so many possibilities! There are many public holidays in Japan. Also, you get yearly paid days off while you are employed. I personally have 20 days off yearly working with the JET programme. (For learning more about teaching work programs, check out Teaching English in Japan – What is the Best Program?)


What are the living expenses like?

Despite the whole reputation of Japan being expensive, I really don’t think it’s all that bad. The detail expenses really vary depending on if you end up in somewhere rural or urban. You can expect to pay anywhere in the range of 10,000 to 80,000 yen per calendar month in rent. I also know foreign English teachers who are given FREE accommodation in the countryside. Utilities, such as electricity, gas, and water, are around 10,000 – 20,000 yen per calendar month. (This depends largely on the season)

To help you get a rough idea, here is my personal expenses from February 2017. (I live in Sendai, a big city.)

Category Expenses
Rent: 50,000
Grocery: 14,200
Transportation: 11,100
Travel: 8.900
Health/doctor: 6,610
Shopping: 5,498
Electricity: 4,115
Water: 3,289
Eating out: 2,200
Miscellaneous: 32,500
Cell phone 4,500
Unlimited home internet 7,000
Total: 149,912 yen

Roughly, it’s around $1500 USD. To me, that is really not bad considering that rent alone back home (in Toronto) would cost this much!


Will I survive without knowing Japanese?

Depending on where you end up being placed, the need for Japanese could be less or more. The more rural places will definitely speak less English (expect close to zero). Big cities like Tokyo and Osaka have more foreigners so you are more likely to encounter people who can speak some English. Either way, you WILL have to study at least some Japanese for surviving the day to day like shopping, eating at restaurants, communicating with coworkers, etc.  It may sound crazy now to learn a new language, but it’s really not that bad. There are plenty of resources to study Japanese that you can find in Japan as well as online. My favorite site to study is I learned almost all my Japanese from this site and I am now at an intermediate level. Their lessons are quite interesting and easy to follow. Highly recommended!

What is it like to be placed somewhere rural?

Many people apply to teach in Japan hoping to go to a big city like Tokyo but end up in what the Japanese called “inaka”, the countryside. The rural life can definitely be very different from the city life. There are not as many conveniences like big shopping malls, public transport system, etc. This may seem daunting for some. However, you might actually find the experience to be quite refreshing. There will be smaller communities so it’s an opportunity for you to really connect with the locals. Being a foreigner, you will likely be a celebrity there. Your living expenses will be lower. My friend pays about 10,000 yen a month for her two rooms apartment in the country side. Meanwhile, I pay 50,000 yen a month for my tiny bachelor in Sendai. *cry. You will be able enjoy amazing sceneries everyday like the one above. (Taken when I visited my friend who lives in Mishima, a small town in the Fukushima prefecture).


How is life as a foreigner in Japan?

It’s quite interesting to live as a minority in such a homogeneous society. You will stand out. So inevitably you will get stared at a lot. As well, you might often get asked some stereotypical questions. Know that all of it comes from a place of plain curiosity. The Japanese population are not as exposed to the people and culture of other countries, so everything about you may seem fascinating. Japan is increasingly trying to enhance its internationalization and connect with other countries. So this is a great opportunity for you to help educate about your culture and represent your home country.

A note for my “Asian looking” foreigners, people will think you are Japanese. It can be great and it can be strange at times. Being Chinese Canadian myself, I enjoy the ability to blend in most of the time while I am out and about in the city. (much to the envy of some of my foreigner cohorts). However, sometimes you will come across confusion, especially from kids and elderly, who just don’t understand that you are not from here. Oh what do you mean you don’t speak Japanese?


Moving to a new country can be exciting and scary at the same time. I hope some of these answers help you in your preparation process! Come with an open heart, be willing to jump in and try anything, and in no time, you will fall in love with Japan. If you have any other questions, feel free to leave a comment!

Living and working in Japan

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