Brief expat guide to Japan

More and more people from around the world are considering relocating to the Asian powerhouse country of Japan – a country that is hypermodern in the bustling cities and tranquil and traditional in rural areas. There are currently around 2 million expats living in The Land of the Rising Sun, with about three-quarters being from neighbouring countries. Japan has a unique culture, and this can sometimes prove difficult for westerners to get to grips with. However, most find it extremely worthwhile. Peter Matanle is a sociologist and director of the University of Sheffield’s Doshisha Centre in Kyoto, who wrote in The Guardian: “Interestingly, and unlike Africa and southern Europe, in my experience in Japan the British expat culture is less evident, other than among smaller isolated groups in some of the large cities. One reason could be that Japan is attractive to Britons who are looking to discover a new language and culture, and who want to absorb themselves in local life, or because Japan doesn’t easily tolerate long-term residence from foreigners unless they demonstrate a strong willingness to establish a personal stake in the country.” He added: “Many British people…do learn the local language to an advanced level, experience and understand the local culture, eat the local food (Japanese breakfast is a good test of a person’s resolve!), and also make friends with local people. It is immensely rewarding to do so, and opens up a whole new range of experiences, new perspectives on the world, and stretches one’s personality and world view.”

Renting in Japan

Rents are typically very high, compared with other countries in the region. Most rental properties in Japan are unfurnished, so many expats will start by renting serviced accommodation. You should expect to pay the equivalent of a month’s rent for an estate agent’s service and most landlords will only sign leases for 12 months or longer. You will also need a local guarantor (usually your employer) to co-sign your tenancy agreement. You’ll also have to pay several fees, including a reservation fee to hold the property until the agreement is signed, a damages deposit (often a month’s rent) and, in some cases, key money.

Cost of living

Japan, the world’s third largest economy, is also one of the most expensive countries on the planet. However, most expats have a high standard of living due to high salaries and employment packages. Housing costs in the cities are comparable in New York, Paris and London. Utilities are expensive, especially electricity, with bills for phone, TV and internet services also costly.


The school year runs from April to March with three main holidays in March/April, July/August and December/January. There are more than 200 international schools in Japan. Many of these follow the American curriculum.


Japanese is infamously hard for Western expats and communication can be difficult, especially in rural areas, but English-speaking medical facilities and other amenities are available in the bigger cities.

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