The island nation of Japan has a booming economy and a thriving expat community. While it presents a fascinating juxtaposition of modernity and ancient traditions, culture shock can be difficult for new expats to overcome. Here's a summary of some pros and cons of moving to Japan.
Getting around in Japan
+ PRO: Excellent public transport system
It's widely acknowledged that Japan's public transport system is one of the world's best. Clean, efficient and far-reaching, the integrated network of public transport throughout the country makes it easy to get wherever one might need to go. Though tickets are fairly pricey, travellers can relax knowing that timetables are strictly followed and delays are rare.
Accommodation in Japan
- CON: High prices, small spaces
With such a tightly packed population, space comes at a premium, particularly in major cities like Tokyo. Japanese accommodation is universally small and expensive, so expats moving here will have to get used to paying more for less.
Cost of living in Japan
+ PRO: Affordable aspects of Japan expenses
While Japan is generally expensive, there are aspects of living that can be quite affordable, such as public healthcare, certain foods and some utilities.
- CON: Japan is hard on the wallet
It's no secret that Japan is an expensive place to live, with Tokyo frequently claiming the top spot in worldwide cost of living surveys. The quality of life is second to none, but it's vital for expats to ensure that they will be paid enough to comfortably shoulder these expenses.
Keeping in touch in Japan
+ PRO: Outstanding communications infrastructure
Almost everyone has a smartphone, and keeping in touch is easy. The internet enters most homes via super high-speed fibre optic. Even after the earthquake of March 2011, the networks were still up and running. Nothing ever seems to break.
- CON: Time zone
For the typical expat from Europe or America, the time zone difference to Japan is about as hard as it can be. Eight hours between London or California and 11 hours to New York can make work schedules problematic. Skype sessions with family back home should be planned instead of spontaneous chats.
Culture shock in Japan
- CON: Language difficulties
The language barrier in Japan is an unfortunate reality and can be a significant obstacle for newly arrived expats. Both speaking and reading Japanese are notoriously hard to master. English has few similarities with the language, and native English speakers often struggle to find a jumping-off point. Not being able to speak the local language can lead to feelings of isolation, but simply putting in the effort to try to communicate in Japanese will earn favour with the locals.
Lifestyle in Japan
+ PRO: Some of the world's best food
Eating out in Japan is a dream come true. Tokyo is famously home to more Michelin-star restaurants than Paris. While sushi lovers will be right at home in Japan, there's much to explore in Japanese cuisine. It has a myriad of different dishes to offer at a range of prices from budget to bank breaking.
Kobe beef is literally melt-in-the-mouth, whereas tonkatsu (a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet) will be familiar but satisfying. Teppanyaki (a style of Japanese cuisine cooked on an iron griddle, usually in front of customers) will set diners back a small fortune but is well worth it. Another top choice is the equally delicious but much cheaper yakiniku (grilled meat).
+ PRO: Seemingly endless entertainment options
A country at the forefront of worldwide music and entertainment trends, Japan is brimming with things to see and do, especially in the capital. From Tokyo Disneyland to anime-and-manga districts such as Akihabara, it's hard to get bored in Tokyo. Themed restaurants and cafés can be found in abundance, with plenty to choose from.
►Learn more about housing options in Accommodation in 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 our interview with North Macedonian expat Sania to learn more about life in Japan.
"I enjoy the scenery. Yokohama is a beautiful city that boasts water views and mountains on the horizon." Our interview with American expat Kim has more on moving to Japan.
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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