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What Westerners Say About Living in Japan

Well, I know where I'll be staying...

Well, I know where I'll be staying...

Many people, not just anime fans, become interested in staying in Japan over an extended period of time for work or school. One great way to stay in the country a while is to be an English teacher. This can be done by anyone from an English-speaking country with any kind of 4-year college degree, and the jobs are in high demand, so it's a good way to evade your student loans for a while and soak up an interesting culture. Studying abroad if you're still in high school or college is also popular. If you're really lucky, you might be able to get a job and become a permanent ex-pat, but there are a lot of legal hurdles, and your Japanese has to be very good. Most foreigners in Japan only stay for a few months to a year or so.

Studying Abroad in Japan

This is a group of students from China and Taiwan, who came to Japan to study fashion design.

This is a group of students from China and Taiwan, who came to Japan to study fashion design.

Japan is one of the most popular sites for studying abroad. I would recommend a small town closer to nature than Tokyo or a suburb of Tokyo if you're researching options, but I just have a preference for the country over the city in general. Anywhere you go, you're sure to have an interesting cultural experience and a good time.


  • Many college programs might have scholarships and transfer credits back for Japanese language, history, or cultural classes.
  • Some colleges have programs where you can go abroad with your Japanese professor. I did this with France and it was nice having the familiarity of my professor being there.
  • Most Japanese people are quiet and very polite. Even though foreigners stick out, and they can be met with curiosity, hatred is rare.
  • Japan is one of the safer countries you could send your child to for studying abroad, with a low crime rate and much less civil strife than many other parts of the world.
  • People who stay with host families in Japan always love that experience.
  • Sometimes, groups of college or high school students have organized trips to help with earthquake and tsunami relief, so you could get the opportunity not only to see Japan but to help as a volunteer!


  • Studying abroad in Japan is unlikely to be cheap, and neither is living there, especially around Tokyo or another big city. Airfare, for me, makes making the trip a bit too costly. Plus, getting the real authentic traditional cultural experiences are also sometimes quite expensive.
  • You will stand out as a foreigner, so be prepared for questions and curiosity. They're just being polite by showing an interest in you, not intending to sound racist or xenophobic.
  • You have to remember things are different. I would look into the culture through extensive research before going, but basically the best thing is to be quiet, do not brag about yourself, try not to stand out too much, and be respectful.
  • Some things foreign students have said they disliked are cramped housing (even worse if you're an urban student with a bare-bones budget!), everything being made for short people (Americans are tall), high prices, and one article I found says things are still mostly cash-only. My advice is to get all your spending cash out at once (incurring only one bank fee at a time), keep it in a small safe at the place you're staying, only taking what you need for each day. I did this in France and it worked fine.
  • When I studied abroad, the worst thing was it being over too soon, and I hated having to go home! France was wonderful and I'm sure Japan is just as cool! But I did get homesick, I was happy when I found another American girl to talk to in English!

Teaching English


English is the most common second language in Japan. It's popular for business, science, technology, and entertainment. Since the accents and pronunciation are hard for Japanese people to get quite right, they prefer to recruit teachers from countries where English is the official language or the main language spoken. The good news is, you don't have to be a certified teacher to apply, you can just have a 4-year degree in anything, as long as you're from an English-speaking country: US, UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Kiwiland, etc.


  • Teaching can be very fun, and Japanese students give a lot of respect to their teachers.
  • You get paid, and you get to stay in Japan longer than most tourists, so you get to really explore the country and soak in the culture more. If you have anything specific you'd like to research, this is a good way to do it.
  • You will probably improve your Japanese a good deal.
  • Teaching is good experience and looks good on your resume, especially if you want to be a teacher back in your home country.


  • Most people who've done the program complained that it pays little, and with living expenses being high, it won't feel as carefree as simply being there on vacation.
  • The work is reported to be very challenging, and some have expressed concerns that the programs don't really help the students learn English that much, but everyone's personal experience with that is going to be a little bit different. But expect the Japanese work treatment, which means you might be asked or even forced to work unpaid overtime. This is considered normal in Japanese culture, so bitching about it will get you nowhere.
  • Since it's very difficult for the English teachers to secure a permanent visa, you might feel like you're wasting time growing attached to a country you won't be able to stay in.

Landing a "Real" Job in Japan as a Foreigner

This can be exceptionally difficult. Your command of Japanese has to be excellent, your cultural blending should be such that you don't seem culturally "too foreign", which is harder for a non-Asian foreigner than for an Asian one. It's also easier for younger, less experienced, recent college graduates to job-hunt in Japan than for older people. Japan has this mentality of "the business is your whole life" and the company you work for will take care of you for life, but you are in turn expected to remain loyal. Therefore, getting a job is difficult, but keeping it is easy, but it means signing your soul away to the company forever. But if you can put up with the long hours and crazy expectations (think of Devil Wears Prada), the job will pay off in the company being loyal to you back.

This article talks about some of the possible drawbacks of doing this, but it might just be worth it for the devotee of animation or gaming if you really want to work for a leading Japanese company. Also, English translation doesn't seem like a hard job to get if you have very good Japanese skills. I heard something a few years ago about how the Japanese government was trying to make it easier for technically skilled foreigners to immigrate. There's also a huge need in Japan for nursing and geriatric medical professionals, given their aging population. So, if you have skills, don't mind working hard, and want to move to the country for life, it's possible, but probably not exactly for everyone. I would definitely recommend checking out the country via tourism or more temporary work assignments like teaching before deciding you want to emigrate.



Japanese living requires getting used to long work hours, workplace bullying, small apartments, small everything compared to the U.S., and big expenses. There could also be various issues with culture shock that may arise, depending on what kind of person you are. But, there are still many perks to visiting, studying, or working in Japan. Everyone I believe should experience life in another country at least once, to broaden one's understanding of human diversity and to get a mirror pointed at their own culture. Certainly, my own study abroad experience in France was great, and I hope to visit many countries, Japan included, someday.

Ever live in Japan as a foreigner? What were your experiences? Would you consider taking a job or study abroad program in Japan?

This is my recommended travel guide, as I like the pictures and detailed cultural information.

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