Interested in moving to Japan? Here’s what you need to know:
Japan: Quick Facts
- Japan has a population of approximately 125.9 million.
- The Japanese live long lives: the average life expectancy is 86 years for women and 79 years for men. Has the highest centenarian (100 years old or more) rate in the world. Most reside in the Okinawa area – their excellent health is largely attributed to a healthy lifestyle and diet.
- With the highest percentage of elders among all world populations mixed with low fertility rates, Japan is at risk of a rapid population decline.
- The 60s, 70s and 80s were periods of strong economic growth (the “Japanese asset price bubble”) and brought Japan prosperity. Unfortunately, the country did not fare so well in the 90s (known as the “Lost Decade”).
- Japan’s GDP measures to nearly 10% of the world’s total.
- Currency: Japanese Yen (JPY).
- Spoken languages: Japanese is the official language. Though scarce, the Ainu constitute their own minority language. Other indigenous languages such as the Ryukyuan languages of Japan’s southern island trail (notably Okinawa) exist. Regional dialects in the Hokkaido and Kansai regions are slightly varied from the standard Tokyo dialect.
- Major religions: 67% non-religious, 22% Buddhist, 3% Shinto, 2% Christian.
- Major races: 99% Japanese, 1% other (primarily Korean and Chinese). Japan is one of the most racially homogeneous countries in the world (along with South Korea).
- Largest cities: Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo, Kobe, and Kyoto.
Why move to Japan
- Offers one of the world’s best public transportation systems, of which include the bullet train (shinkansen) and an elaborate network of rail service that covers most of the island – making it possible to go anywhere in a matter of hours.
- Regardless of city or area, Japan is known to be a safe place, and has one of lowest crime rates of any country.
- Impeccable sightseeing and scenery in a location where old meets new. Historical architecture and temples are scattered all over the country (some hundreds of years old).
- The whole country is remarkably clean.
- The Japanese are some of the most hospitable and respectful people you’ll meet.
- Fantastic cuisine and some of the freshest seafood in the world.
- Prestigious academic institutes (e.g. Tokyo University) offer internationally renowned education.
- It’s relatively easy to navigate through Japan as an English speaker (English is compulsory in the Japanese school system).
- Has a great healthcare system (relatively inexpensive, and even offers coverage to illegal aliens).
- A mecca for tech enthusiasts and futurists alike – Japan remains consistently at the forefront of robotics and high-tech research.
Reasons Not to move to Japan
Note: these are common expat complaints, and may not apply to you.
- The cost of living in Japanese metropolitan areas tends to be high (comparable to New York City and similar).
- Knowing Japanese is an absolute necessity if you wish to fully integrate yourself into the society.
- The workplace environment in Japan is stressful, acknowledgement of inferiority is often expected, and working overtime is often the norm.
- For the person from an individualistic society, Japan can be quite communal and the concept of face applies in group settings.
- The complex network of public transportation in Japanese metropolitan areas can feel like a labyrinth to foreigners.
- Homogenous Japan can be overwhelming and can easily make a foreigner feel outcast if not ethnically Japanese. Some expats report that it’s near impossible to be fully accepted into the society, no matter how long one lives in Japan (“you can live here for 20 years and still be an outsider”). Many report that visiting and living in Japan (as a foreigner) are two very different experiences.
- The hierarchy of respect in Japanese society can be hard for a foreigner to accept.
- Housing can be a challenge to locate, and landlords may prioritize Japanese citizens.
- As in South Korea, the legal/judicial system generally favours locals (foreigners are treated with a “guilty until proven innocent” mentality).
Getting a Visa and Finding Work
Most western countries have arrangements with Japan that allow a tourist to spend up to 90 days without a visa. Countries not on the arrangement will need the temporary visitor’s visa if they desire to spend no more than 90 days in Japan.
- Temporary Visitors Visa (valid for 90 days): not permitted for intentions of financial gain, although business contact is permitted.
- Working Visa (valid for 1 to 3 years): work visas are provided based on your status (humanities/international service, engineer, intra-company transferee, skilled labor, or investor/business manager). Applicants will first have to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) through the immigration office in Japan (can be done in person or through a sponsoring party).
- Official Work Visa (valid for 1 to 3 years): applicants must have the status of diplomat/official, professor, instructor, artist, religious activities, journalist, legal/accounting services, medical services, researcher, or entertainer.
- General visa for cultural activities (valid for 6 months to 1 year): applicants must be intending to pursue cultural or artistic activities with no intent of financial income. Non-paid university interns can also apply for this visa.
- General visa for students (valid for 15 to 27 months): submitted via the enrolled institution (e.g. university, high school, language school).
- General visa for training (valid for 6 months to 1 year): for applicants intending to incorporate training of technology, knowledge, or skills in Japan through an organization.
- General visa for family stays (valid for 1 to 3 years): for children and spouses of individuals staying on work visas in Japan. Relatives of trainee and temporary visitor visas are excluded.
- General visa for technical intern training (valid for 6 months to 1 year): required for those who have gone through the trainee visa and desire to go through an internship.
- Specified visa for Spouse or Child of Japanese National (valid for 1 to 3 years): for children or spouses of a Japanese national.
- Specified visa for Spouse or Child of Permanent Resident (valid for 1 to 3 years): the relative in question must possess permanent resident status.
- Specified visa for Long Term Resident (valid for 1 to 3 years): for refugees, individuals with children of Japanese nationality, those divorcing a Japanese national, etc.
- Specified visa for Permanent Resident: the permanent resident holder must acquire a re-entry permit if desiring to travel abroad.
Most working visas require the prospective employer to be a sponsor. Online search engines such as Gaijin Pot (see below: Further Reading & Resources) are a fantastic way to find visa sponsored employment. Restrictions should be observed accordingly. For instance, some work visas do not permit working at bars.
Permanent Residency and Citizenship
- Permanent Residency: available to those who have an existing (alternative) residence status (alternatively, to those who have previously renounced their PR status). The process is much more thorough than temporary residency and will require prior residency of 10 years in Japan for most applicants without relations to a Japanese national. For more details, see links under Further Reading & Resources (below).
- Obtaining citizenship: the path to Japanese citizenship is lengthy and has been recorded to take up to 18 months. The prospective citizen should have 5 consecutive years of residence in Japan. Naturalization requires a history of good behaviour in Japan (family and background checks are also done). It’s noteworthy that although the process can seem cumbersome, 99% of applicants eventually obtain citizenship.
Starting a Business in Japan
Anyone interested in starting a business in Japan that is not a Japanese national will either need to be a permanent resident, the relative of a permanent resident, or will need the investor/business manager work visa (described above). To be eligible for the status of an investor/business manager in Japan, you must invest at least 5 million yen (~$50,000 USD) into the business. Supportive documentation will be required for the investment confirmation.
Starting business in Japan can be a lengthy endeavour, and may involve heavy fees and application delays. In general, anyone looking to start a business in Japan is going to need to:
- Create a company seal
- Receive the certificate of seal registration
- Register at the Legal Affairs Bureau of the Ministry of Justice
- File a notification of business commencement at a tax office
- File to the Labor Standards Inspection Office any labor insurance information and employment standards.
- File to the Japan Pension Service any applications for health insurance and welfare pensions
- File employment insurance to the Public Employment Security Office
Note: the Japanese tax system should be studied carefully, as taxes and fees may be different for foreign business owners and local ones.
Links & Resources
- Immigration Bureau of Japan – official government website
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