Japan is a fascinating country that blends traditions with cutting-edge technology and modern cultural developments. The citizens are proverbially cordial toward "gaijin" (foreigners), especially those who speak English. With its thriving economy, the country offers many employment opportunities for those relocating there. Moving to Japan can be a complicated process, but a few steps will help you make the transition smoother.
Learn the language. If you are to become a permanent resident, you will be expected to show a degree of proficiency in spoken and written Japanese. If you don't have some proficiency already, it's a good idea to get started early, because many outsiders find the written language (with four systems of symbols instead of a single alphabet) difficult to master. English-speaking visitors often assume that many Japanese will be able to communicate with them in English, especially since they might have seen in photos that many signs are in English. But, in fact, it's often hard to find people who speak English at all.
Learn social etiquette. Japanese are very tolerant toward gaijin who don't understand their customs, but you'll want to give yourself every possible advantage, and possibly avoid embarrassment by learning how the Japanese conduct themselves in social situations. It's perfectly acceptable, for example, to ask new acquaintances intrusive questions--such as how much money they make--even though such inquiries might be considered rude in other cultures. It's also quite acceptable to give vague or evasive answers to such questions.
Make contacts. Not only would Japanese friends be able to provide you with useful information and referrals, but you'll need to have a citizen sponsor you to become a resident. Your Japanese employer generally can do this.
Obtain a job. If you have no other prospects, there is always a demand for English teachers. If you are from an English-speaking country and have a college degree, your prospects are pretty good.
Obtain the necessary documents. You'll need a passport, of course. And if you're going to be driving, you'll need a driver's license from your own country to apply for a Japanese license. (An international license will get you through the first year.) You'll also need a work visa, which you can obtain from the Japanese consulate.
Obtain housing. It's customary to rent through an agency rather than directly from a landlord, and you should be aware that many agencies are wary of renting to foreigners, and charge many fees, some nonrefundable. It could cost you as much as five times a month's rent just to move in. But in Tokyo and other large cities, there are also "gaijin houses" that specialise in renting to foreigners at more reasonable terms. Within 90 days of moving in, you must appear at local municipal offices and apply for Registration for Alien Residency.
Western-style toilets are becoming more common in Japan, but some houses might have only the traditional variety. If you are not comfortable with one of those, make certain the quarters you are moving into will have the other type. You may have to sacrifice certain things you are accustomed to, especially with regard to diet. Vegetarian food can be difficult to find, and decaf coffee is nonexistent.
Tips and warnings
- Western-style toilets are becoming more common in Japan, but some houses might have only the traditional variety. If you are not comfortable with one of those, make certain the quarters you are moving into will have the other type.
- You may have to sacrifice certain things you are accustomed to, especially with regard to diet. Vegetarian food can be difficult to find, and decaf coffee is nonexistent.