Living in Japan as a foreigner – Your Big Questions Answered

by Viola
live abroad in Japan

Considering moving to Japan or already packing your bags? Congratulations! The land of the rising sun is a wonderful country. Its beautiful scenery, intriguing culture, delicious food, and kind people have captured the hearts of countless expats, including me. Before you go, you are probably wondering what it is like living in Japan as a foreigner. Everything seems so different and unfamiliar! Don’t freak out. This post will answer the big nerve racking questions you have about moving to this mysterious land. Let’s jump right in!

Tip: Use the Table of Content to skip to questions relevant for you.


What are some jobs in Japan for English speakers?

If you are not a high level Japanese speaker, there are still options for you! A popular path for foreigners is to teach English in Japan as ALTs (Assistant Language Teachers). Once you have built up fluency in Japanese and familiarized yourself with Japanese culture and lifestyle, you can consider searching for other jobs in Japan.

Personal experience: I came to Japan with the JET Programme. It’s one of the most prestigious and popular English teaching programs for Japan.



What can you tell me about Japan work visa?

There are two ways you can get a Japan work visa. 1. If you already have a job offer in Japan, ask your employer to assist you in your visa application. 2. If you want to work in Japan but don’t have a job lined up yet, you can search for a job in Japan on a 90 days tourist visa. Once you have found a job, have your employer sponsor and help you apply for a visa at the Japanese embassy.

Personal experience: The JET programme took care of the whole application process for me when I was preparing for Japan. All participants had to do was fill out the relevant forms, provide some photos, and give in our passports for some time. The visa we were granted lasts up to three years.



How expensive is it to live in Japan

Living in Japan as a foreigner Time to address the elephant in the room. Japan has a reputation for being expensive. Is it pricey for certain things? Yes. I always cry over how ridiculously high fruits cost. But is living cost so bad overall? I don’t think so. People always talk about accommodation and cost of food in Japan as tourists. But when you are living here, there are many ways to save as a local.



The detailed expenses really depends on where you live. Rural and urban settings can vary drastically. For rent, you can expect to pay anywhere from 0 (rural) to 80,000 (urban) yen per calendar month. 0???? Yes sometimes rent cost is subsidized for foreign English teachers on a program.

Utilities, such as electricity, gas, and water, are around 10,000 – 20,000 yen per calendar month. (This varies according to seasons.

To give you more ideas, here is a list of my recent personal monthly expenses. (I live in Sendai, a big and charming city in North Eastern Japan)

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

In US dollars, it would be around $1500. To me, that is really good considering rent alone back home would cost this much!


What are the best places to live in Japan?

Living in Japan as a foreigner

I’m going to whip out the response people love to hate: it depends. What is your personality like? Do you love big cities? Do you enjoy quaint small towns? Are you looking to save money? Can you deal with cold weather? Here are a couple factors to help you choose where to live:



The more north you go in Japan, the colder it will be in winter time. So if you are someone who cannot survive and curl up crying in the corner as soon as the temperature drops below 10 degrees, maybe the north is not for you. Especially considering that houses in Japan have terrible insulation and no central heating system. On the other hand, the northern cities/towns enjoy cooler temperature in the summer while folks down south die in sweat from the humidity. So give or take! Consider which option sucks less is better for you.



Big cities usually have efficient transportation systems. We have all heard about how on time trains are in Japan. It’s true. Although rush hours could mean death by crowds. Have you ever seen viral videos of people getting pushed on to packed train carts in Tokyo? It’s hilarious yet so sad (why I recommend avoiding Tokyo as a place to live). In contrast, when you live in the countryside, the most you have is the occasional bus. So you better know how to drive and own a car.


Living cost

As already mentioned, living costs in rural places and big cities like Tokyo are crazy different! If your dream is to live in Tokyo, be prepared to pay for about 80,000 yen per month for a shoebox outside of the city center.

If you are hoping to save money, small towns are the way to go! The rent is cheaper, the food is cheaper…Hey! You might even be able to eat fresh produce if you are lucky to live in a farming town.

Personal experience: My friend pays about 10,000 yen monthly for her spacious two rooms apartment while living in a small town in Fukushima. Meanwhile, I pay 50,000 yen monthly for my tiny bachelor in Sendai. Excuse me while I cry of jealousy.



Big cities have more people so naturally it means more opportunities to make friends. You are more likely to meet expats and be more understood as a foreigner in social settings. Living in rural places in a lot of cases means you are the only foreigner in town and that can be lonely. However, depending on your personality, you can also seize the opportunity to connect with locals and really immerse yourself in the Japanese lifestyle and culture.



How do Japanese treat someone living in Japan as a foreigner

Japanese people are collectively very kind and treat “gaijins” (foreigners) with respect. They are very curious, so expect a lot of stares if you are very visibly foreign (I.e. if you have the stereotypical blond hair and blue eyes combo). Japanese people, especially young people, think foreigners are cool, especially if you bust out the fluent English. They will probably exclaim “Kako-ii!” (so cool!!) with hearts coming out of their eyes. Although big cities like Tokyo and Osaka are very used to international visitors, so you may no longer be a big deal there. In the work place, the usual expectations for Japanese workers (read high amount of work) may not apply to you as a foreigner. Enjoy the mini-celebrity status. 😛


Will I survive without knowing Japanese?

Living in Japan as a foreigner Again you are going to hate me..the answer is: Depends. The more rural places will definitely speak less English (Think close to zero). Metropolis like Tokyo and Osaka are more international so you can probably scrape by. Either way, it’s a good idea to study Japanese. Aim to at least be able to survive Japanese daily life like shopping, eating at restaurants, communicating with coworkers, etc. It may sound daunting now to learn a new language, but it’s really not that bad. There are plenty of resources to study Japanese like books as well as online tools!


Living in Japan as a foreigner Conclusion

So I hope this article gave you some ideas about what’s it like to live in Japan. Inevitably, you will have many challenges being in a foreign country. Everything is different from the language, to the way people interact, to the food. Sometimes it can feel frustrating. But as long as you keep an open minded and are willing to adapt, I promise the experience will be immensely rewarding and growth inducing. Do you have any other questions about living in Japan? Should I write another post to cover more of what it’s like to live in Japan on a daily scale?

Let me know in the comments!




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living in Japan as a foreigner


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