A small island in the Pacific, Japan has a big reputation for innovation in technology and is a bucket-list destination for many thanks to its fascinating history and culture. Expats moving to Japan often come for work initially, but end up staying longer than intended as they delve into the adventures and experiences that the island nation has to offer.
Living in Japan as an expat
Japan prides itself on its innovation, strong economy and rich heritage. Expats often comment on the friction between the country’s strong traditionalist roots and its worship of modern technology and forward-thinking ideals.
Like most major global cities, life in Tokyo is fast-paced and full of interesting and unusual experiences. In the countryside and smaller cities, expats will be more likely to taste the traditional Japan of old, commonly associated with tea ceremonies, tatami mats and rice paddies. While Kyoto feels more tranquil and laid-back, Osaka boasts a bustling nightlife and is a popular destination for live international performers.
Great pride is taken in Japanese regional variations and specialities, making for a strangely differentiated experience at times. That said, the entire country has an extremely well-developed infrastructure, with efficient public transport systems, postal services, communications technology and road networks.
Cost of living in Japan
Tokyo is infamous for being one of the world's most expensive cities to live in, and other major Japanese cities also command a pretty penny. Rural areas are much cheaper but salaries are lower, too, and most expats will find themselves in business centres rather than out in the countryside.
Working in Japan can be especially lucrative for expats. Despite the country’s reputation as one of the most expensive destinations in the world, competitive markets have made for good salary offerings for expats. We advise carefully calculating costs ahead of time, though, to ensure that the salary offered easily covers the high cost of living in Japan, especially Tokyo.
Expat families and children
Japan has a lot to offer families and is a wonderful place to raise children. The country is extremely safe, with little crime. Healthcare and schooling are of a high quality, though some expat parents prefer to send their child to an international school rather than a local one. On weekends, there's lots to explore, including Tokyo's very own Disneyland.
Climate in Japan
Japan has a varied climate, ranging from Tokyo's icy winters and humid summers to Osaka's more temperate conditions, marked by mild winters and rainy summers.
Expats moving to Japan with an open mind will find themselves immersed in the wonderful idiosyncrasies of Japanese culture, coupled with abundant opportunities for adventure and degrees of acculturation.
Population: About 126 million
Capital city: Tokyo (also largest city)
Neighbouring countries: Japan is an island nation in East Asia with its closest neighbours being North Korea, South Korea, Russia and China.
Geography: Japan's terrain is mostly rugged with over 70 percent of the country being mountainous. The country's highest mountain is Mount Fuji which reaches an elevation of 3,776m (12,388 feet). Japan is also located in a volcanic zone. Low-level earthquakes and tremors are common. More severe earthquakes do occur occasionally.
Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy
Major religions: Shinto and Buddhism
Main languages: Japanese. English is only spoken by a small percentage of the population, though younger locals in large cities are more likely to speak more fluent English.
Money: The Japanese Yen (JPY) is the official currency used in Japan. The banking system is sophisticated and ATMs are readily available throughout the country.
Electricity: 100V, 60Hz in the west (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima), and 100V, 50Hz in the east (Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohoma). Flat two- and three-pin plugs are used.
Internet domain: .jp
International dialling code: +81
Emergency numbers: 110 (police), 119 (ambulance/fire)
Driving: Cars drive on the left-hand side. Japan has an extensive and sophisticated public transport system. It's unlikely that expats living in the major cities will need a car.
►For more about the ups and downs of life in the country, read Pros and Cons of Moving to Japan.
"I love how clean and safe it is, I enjoy their food the most and I love how polite and kind people are here." Read about Sania's experience of living in Japan in her interview.
"Japan is different from Western countries and this sometimes takes a toll in stress levels as people acclimatise." To learn more about Jonathan's thoughts on Japan, read his interview.
Are you an expat living in Japan?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Japan. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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