The Best (and Worst) Things About Living in Japan

There comes a time in every Japan lover’s life when they find themselves considering the inevitable: Should I live in Japan? It’s something that’s crossed my mind before and has even become a reality for many of my good friends from college.

To help anyone else who has been thinking about packing up and moving to the Land of the Rising Sun, I’ve put together this helpful list. I talked to some of my friends currently living in Japan to get their opinions, put it together with what I learned from being in Japan for 10 weeks, and compiled it all into this post. Hopefully you find it useful and informative.

PRO #1: The Shopping and Convenience Stores

Convenience stores in Japan are awesome. You can find almost anything there, and they’re always clean, well serviced, and safe. Compared to the average American convenience store it’s like night and day. Their shopping centers are pretty awesome too, but I suppose this can be said about most modern nations. To learn more, you can check out Hashi’s post on how Convenience Stores In Japan are Surprisingly Convenient.

CON #1: No Individualism

To some, this may be viewed as either a pro or a con (some people like group mentality way more than others), but for the average American/Westerner, the strict group mentality of Japan can be a bit jarring. Everyone has to be involved in business decisions and meetings can take forever as a result with people feeling like nothing is getting done.

This is kind of a broad generalization though, but I would say on the whole, Japan is much more group minded than the average Western nation. But like I said, some people really enjoy this sense of community that comes with the group mentality. For more about Japan and this issue, you can check out Hashi’s post on The Nail That Sticks Up.


PRO #2: The Food

Japanese food is great. It’s healthy, tastes great, and is fun to eat. They have everything from sushi, to okonomiyaki, to fugu. Compared to an average American diet, the average Japanese diet is much healthier. It’s definitely a large part of Why Japanese People Live so Long. For more about Japan and its crazy healthy diets, you can check out Koichi’s series of posts on How To Eat Like A Japanese Buddhist Monk.

CON #2: The Food

Ain’t nuthin’ quite like a big bowl o’ cod sperm.

Yes, for some people Japanese food is not a pro, but a con. Seafood and rice is not for everyone, and if you can’t handle it then you’re not going to be quite as happy living in Japan. Sure, you can find other stuff, I mean, Japan has a pretty awesome selection of fast food joints, but it’s definitely not going to be like home. Some things are even pretty hard to find in Japan, such as root beer.

Since Japan is an island nation, seafood is going to be the cheapest and most readily available food, with imported goods being a bit less accessible and a bit more expensive. For a look at some of the Japanese dishes very few would enjoy, you can check out Fiona’s post on her Selection of Wonderfully Weird Japanese Foods.


PRO #3: Improving Your Japanese

Okay, so maybe this one is kind of obvious. Of course if you go to Japan and totally immerse yourself in the language and culture and society and everything, your language skills are going to benefit much more than if you were back at home in your native land. But maybe this is the main reason you’re moving to Japan, so you can get better at the language.

In Japan you’ll find no shortage of people willing to talk to you and some will probably be interested in practicing their English skills with you. And for those of you who lack the means to travel to Japan for study, you can check out my guide on How to Learn Japanese Without Really Doing Anything.

CON #3: Less then Ideal Living Quarters

Of course this one depends on what area of Japan you find yourself living in, but on the whole, Japanese housing is going to be a bit smaller and a bit less cushy than what you’re used to. Out in more rural areas, you might get lucky and find a place of decent size, but most often you’ll be housed in a place a good bit smaller than what you’re used to.

Also, central air and heating are a bit less common over there than they might be in places like America, so that’s another little annoyance to keep in mind as well. For more on this, you can check out Hashi’s posts on whether or not Japanese Houses are Worthless, and how Japan Keeps Warm in the Winter.


PRO #4: Getting a Job

Probably the easiest way to get yourself over to Japan is by getting yourself a teaching job there. Luckily, there always seems to be an abundance of positions available, because Japan always wants to learn more English. For some people, the job market isn’t so hot in their home country, so getting a teaching job in Japan can seem like an attractive option. This is what many of my college friends ended up doing after graduation. You get living quarters provided for you, and you get a steady job and a paycheck. For more about how to land such a teaching job, you can check out Koichi’s post on Applying for the JET Program with Jason and his Argonauts.

CON #4: Working in Japan can Suck

So, yeah – they give you a teaching job, but it’s not always ideal. Take a look and some quotes from my friends who are currently living and teaching there now.

I think people work too hard here. People stay at work for upwards of 15 hours every day. Before moving here I thought I would eventually want to work in the business world here, but now I’m not so sure anymore. People have no time to see their families and it’s not weird for kids to almost never see their own father.

Yes, the work hours can be pretty harsh – even for a teacher. Of course it depends on where you’re working and what program it is with, but overall I’d say that the work life is much more stressful over there than your typical Western country.

It’s ridiculous that people show up 15 minutes early and stay 90 minutes late every day. It’s expected that if you are sick, you use a vacation day rather than a sick day. And to be hire-able at your next job you need to show that you’ve used as few vacation days as possible.

It’s also not too rare for people to have to take weeks or months off of work due to “mental illness” but it’s actually because they are so #$!%*&@ overworked and stressed out.

When my grandma died, my supervisors expected that I would follow the same rules as everybody else. You get one or two days off work for grieving and travel to the funeral, any other time is to be vacation time. So I had to pull out my contract and remind them that they agreed to give me a week in such an event. So yeah, moral of the story: Japanese people are overworked and under social pressure not to relax.

This all sounds pretty lousy to me. I mean, my job isn’t very stressful at all, but I still really look forward to my days off and just having time to relax. I can’t imagine living and working in Japan being so stressed out and then being discouraged to take time off. It sounds awful. And for more on the subject, feel free to check out Koichi’s post on how Teaching English in Japan is Total BS.


PRO #5: Public Transport

Compared to American public transport at least, Japanese public transport is unbelievably awesome. In Europe and other countries, it’s probably pretty good as well, but the Japanese have really got it down pat. Their subway and train systems are crazy convenient, accurate, and make getting around the country so much easier. Even their buses are awesome.

When I was in Japan, I never felt like having a car would have made my life more convenient. Having such a integrated system of public transport made getting around very easy and simple and it’s one of the things I miss most. Japan sure does love its trains though. For more about that, you can check out Hashi’s post on Japan’s Love Affair With Trains.

CON #5: Prejudice Against Foreigners

Again, this is one of those cons that depends on the people you’re with and the area in which you find yourself. It also seems to depend on the age of Japanese people you’re around as the younger crowd seems much more tolerant of foreigners. I’ve heard some of my friends talking about how whenever they walk around in Japan, older Japanese folk will click their tongues when they see Americans. Like they are tsk tsk-ing them for showing themselves in public.

Overall, I would say that it’s not too bad, and to an extent probably depends on the person (what you look like, how you dress, and if you’re with Japanese friends when you’re out), but if you’re already finding yourself isolated and not making friends in Japan, people scoffing at you in public will only add to your depression. For more on this, you can check out Japan Focus’ post about Japan’s Entrenched Discrimination Toward Foreigners.


And there you have it, some of the best and worst things about living in Japan. I feel as though some of these can only really be experienced when you’re living there on your own, but some can be realized only after a few days of travel there. Japan is a great country and a fun place to visit. But would I ever want to live and work there though? I can’t say. Maybe sometime in the future, but for now, I’m happy where I am.

So tell me, what are your favorite (and least favorite) things about Japan and how they do things there? Have you ever lived in Japan before? Ever had any first hand experiences with any of the issues listed above? Any interesting stories to share? Let us know in the comments!

  • The Man

    An American from New York would be shocked at the smaller apartments right? American food.. what is that exactly? Mexican restaurants– no, there are zero good ones in my experience. But it’s not a big deal. Brazilian joints are in abundance. Japanese are nowhere near similar to Europeans in their demeanor. Newbie I take it?

    Source — 10 years in Japan and fluent in Japanese.

  • hollietellstales.blogspot.jp

    Lack of aircon to save on energy whilst Yamada denki is allowed to blast out screens from every available wall surface in and outside of the shop! Madness!

  • taylah

    hi i’m doing a project on japan any boady got any info

  • taylah

    hi

  • taylah

    brandon is gay

  • japan chick

    I love this list you posted! Recently I have been deciding if I should leave for japan once I finish college and this web page helped me a ton! Overall I feel like this pushed me in the direction of going and I sincerly thank you ^^
    Hpoe you go too!

  • Renmi

    A strange thing happened to me when I was in Japan. I was ignored almost entirely. There were no funny looks, no tisks from the elderly, and I was played almost no mind even when I was clearly lost.

    Do I just not stand out (a 5’3 white girl with dark hair/eyes) or is it some form of discrimination? Or does Tokyo just not care?

  • truth

    I wouldn’t say all European are fake but definitely brits are only polite till you are in the same room, they never say what they really think and think of themselves as privilige nation. They are unable to do a simple house work employ others to clean their tiny flats justifying that they give job to people when in fact they are the dirtiest nation I have ever had a chance to meet. DISGUSTING. No wonder they probably find it difficult to work when they are so lazy and sloppy. I’m European and had chance to live in 5 places in world and UK (London) was a real nightmare, I was sent to by my company in pervious place but I couldn’t stand so much that I had to leave. No regrets expect for ever moving there. So yes, Brits, before judgements about Americans and other nations which are far more open and honest about EVERYTHING, think of yourselves first.

  • Stephanie Buck

    Finally, a post about Japan living that includes intelligence.
    My boyfriend and I have been talking about moving there possibly. He was an exchange student there about 12 years ago. I’ve asked a lot of questions. He said Japanese people love westerners but I think it depends a lot on age and looks.. oh and manners. The majority of asain cultures like white people in my experience. My boyfriend said they will probably stare at me and really like me.. because I’m tall and pretty ._. Which in a way is flattering but messed up because not all americans will get the same respect. Its strange because I notice the attention I get from women especially in asian cultures who say how pretty I am or ask questions about me.
    Jobwise I want to go for my dream as a professional mermaid performer / model, and also bring awareness. The chances I land gigs in Japan could either be huge or none. I’m hoping it becomes an attraction.
    I love everything about Japan and the lifestyle, I hope it gives me a home that America couldn’t give me. That’s why I want to move, so I can have success in a future family. I didn’t get the parenting or education I needed and it really messed up my confidence and mental health. My parents were selfish and turned me into a black sheep early on which made it hard to care about school.
    I would like to believe Japan has more to offer as far as education, dicipline, and safety. But I would hope my kid wounldnt be picked on for being the only white kid.
    What do you think??

  • Stephanie Buck

    Oh one more thing, I’ve read and also noticed myself that Japanese people tend to be shy.. I think American culture has an advantage with this. Not to exclude any other cultures, I just don’t know what they’re like.. so this applies to me alone I guess.
    I would think that confidence is an advantage in getting along with people, finding a job, or a place to live. Because I think foreigners come off a little weird or even disrespectful to more diciplined cultures. Which I’ve experienced personally..
    Japanese people like funny, happy, polite foreigners who come off confident.. I think its because when we are quiet or serious it puts an awkward tension between you that comes off like you don’t want to make friends with people like them.. sadly I think if you aren’t confident, you may come off as racist or annoyed with their precence.
    But too much confidence is ugly to them, they see respect in shy people, its humble to them. I guess just smile and say thankyou a lot but don be afraid to look people in the eye when you smile, it makes a more personal connection that I think could break the awkward feelings.
    I also think they dislike foreigners who make themselves obvious, like being loud or disorganized. Its weird to say but grace is attractive in Japan.
    I think for men its different or especially older people, to find a nice spot in the social circle. Young people have an advantage especially if they have manners and are good looking. Sorry to say :/ but in Japan, looks get you attention and respect because its so rare to see such features there, its almost shocking to them to see a very tall, athletic, model looking person ever in real life.
    So I hate to admit it but I hope that it helps my mermaid career. And I’m naturally shy but polite and smiley so I’m crossing my fingers that Its not like my life in America.

  • Stephanie Buck

    I hate negative generalizations against societies as a whole. Japanese people are not generally all discriminators or sexist and racist. Older people in almost every country are often the ones with those problems. And the women of Japan like their places in their society.
    The younger generation is more shy and accepting than the older generation, and if you’ve seen anything young people are into there, you would see that they are dreamers and lovers and part of the society too.
    Japanese people respect people who respect them. If you scowl at their stares or comments, you are just giving them good reason to keep hating. But not all japanese adults dislike foriegn people. And with comments being made like how you think Japan is a very racist and sexist society is exactly why you should close your mouth before you claim cultures hate you for no reason.
    America and every other country has people who make their country look bad. Does that make every person in the world a nasty image of their country? No it doesn’t, duh. Personally I dislike the culture I grew up in and id rather live in Japan where people respect intelligence and have dicipline. I don’t want to live in a high crime, lazy, selfish society like America. My kids won’t have a neglectful, druggie, stripper mom like I did. They won’t get molested like I did. They will have resourceful education unlike me. They won’t feel rejected like me. They won’t miss a cheer team at every sport performance and art performance like I did. And much much more if I go to Japan.
    I’m not sticking around with the poor teaching and dicipline and badly behaved kids to influence my kids in the future.
    I can’t control the thoughts that haunt their heads, if they hate me they hate me. That’s their problem but I’m going to smile because they have no idea how awesome I am. Its unfortunate that people hold anger and generalizations against any race or sex, cause those people are very very unhappy.

    About the teaching thing, maybe its not that great but when do you get the chance to teach a coopriative and diciplined group of people who also are of another background and will laugh easily at your cartoony foreign voices or silly faces?
    Otherwise.. why the hell are you in Japan if you didn’t set up a career choice that was exactly what you wanted? Cause youre never gonna be happy unless you suck it up and make Japan into a door opener and not a door closer on your smiley new japan life face.

    This is why people who have a short list of pros naming why some place is awesome, who move to that country, end up unhappy with the results. The only way to make it through the first steps is if you love the country as a whole. What idiot moves from for example the US to Japan if they can’t give up the life they loved less enough to make such a huge decision. If you want to complain about it then go home to your less loved country and complain about your own country for not being better than Japan.

    We can talk all day about each thing we dislike about each country, but there’s not a place where you get everything you had at home plus a job you love and a culture that’s perfect. If people want it easy they can head back home. Its rediculous how many people write about another Country like they were born there after a year or less and after failure to make it work. Not every person who reads these things can smell the b s people spew out before thinking. People who fail to accept the differences in what they change, are the ones who accept no change in differences.

    The mean things you say don’t go unseen by Japanese people. And the lack of nice things said by Americans in general is why people have hate for eachother. If you had a personal experience with someone who was disrespectful then name it, but you are so wrong to involve innocent and good people in your judgment. Its hypocritcal to expect out of people before expecting the same for yourself. That’s why you could never understand, cause you never tried.

  • Satoru

    This is simply not true. Just last week I was browsing a real estate window in Shinjuku where tatami mats were used as measurement.

  • james

    You’re right, and Im from America…..but not all of us

  • Robin

    So you’re saying that Japan is a country that doesn’t want foreigners? Funny, I’m hearing everywhere that Japan as a whole is trying its hardest to to become more international. My guess is that you came to Japan, hoping to become Japanese and to blend in perfectly with the culture, and were then crushingly disappointed by reality. The reality that one’s culture is with them forever, and one cannot change that. I, however, refuse to believe that it is impossible to grow your roots into society. I think that you mistook the disappointment you felt due to your foolish dreams as an indication that Japan does not want ANY foreigners in any way. I’m sorry that you took it so badly, maybe next time you move to a new country, you should go with an open mind and a free spirit.

  • Platonic_Finger

    “And the women of Japan like their places in their society.”

    They enjoy being subservient? I don’t really think you are know what you are talking about in this case.

    There are huge barriers for women attempting to make careers and become independent in Japan. Many of them leave the work force, after having a child, and live a relatively unfulfilled life at home. Some may like it but I can guarantee the majority do not, and there has been agitation, just Japanese culture has been rather Conservative about it all.

    less than 10% of management positions in Japan are filled by women, and almost all Offices employee women, or “Office Ladies”, for the most menial of tasks. Some companies openly discriminate often remarking the job is not for a woman. In other cases sexual harassment and abuse are not dealt with appropriately, it’s quite a problem in fact, resulting in workplace intimidation. The society as a whole is rather defeatist, especially since the Bubble, and there has been a relative despair among Japanese women that often dream of traveling and living abroad.

  • Somename

    NOOOO Im mexican why is there no tacos in japan!!!!

  • mark

    Strange, I’m a Black man and I have been to Japan many times When I was in the Navy and After I got out of the Military, and I found very few racist comments.For the Most part,folks were very respectful and gracious towards me and I got along well with folks.Not to say that there weren’t any, there was one Man that did not like Darker skined americans, But after meeting me and getting to know me as a Person, he later had a change of heart. In fact…he had invited me into his Home and I stayed for the rest of my trip. I don’t think that i said anything special to him, maybe it was the way I presented myself to him or being well dressed, Can’t say for certain. Anyway, Japanese people are very gracious and Helpful.And Yes, there is some hate or nasty comments thrown at americans but that is from a Individual point of view. My last visit to japan was in 2005,and had not experience any form of racial slur.But to live in Japan,way to expensive.

  • Meikia

    First japan is great Am currently learning japanese, and my boyfriend is asian….Ahhh so hot! Every country has something bad about it. Secondly America is great and has had many successful women plus men that has made this country great. I would also like to remind you that a lot of foreigners come to America for better opportunities, so that they can go back to their country with something new or if they decide to stay and make a living here. Thirdly, your reply to this seems more like a deep personal issue. I think you should go see a psychiatrist! I agree with you on something’s you said, but you went so far off the topic.

  • Michael .

    She seems overly hostile, eh? I *love* japan, and while you read negative things about it there are always pros and cons for every country and society. The Japanese culture isnt big on confrontation. …loved some of your thoughts, you dont think there are drugs in japan, how naive, you dont think your kids are going to be molested? How incredibly stupid and ignorant!

    As far as discrimination, thats in every country you will ever go to, its just a matter of how much and wether or not you will put up with it. Im VERY forward when it comes to being intentionally offended and have NO PROBLEM addressing the problem verbally, legally or even addressing the persons family or employer to cure the problem. I always give everyone respect until they prove they are unworthy, my grandparents prejudices have been thrown in the trash as far as Im concerned!

    Curiously nobody mentioned having to bribe the landlady while trying to rent an apartment, hehe.

  • Athena

    JAPANESE WOMEN LIKE THEIR PLACES IN SOCIETY? YOU OBVIOUSLY HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT LOL. Why the hell do you think Japanese girls aren’t getting married and popping out babies, because in fucking Japan once a woman gets pregnant she’s pressured to quit a job. Women want to be independent in Japan so they’re finally realizing how luxurious the single and free life is.

    Why do so many people have negative shit to say about Japan? Because it’s not perfect, ever heard of the phrase “it’s not greener on the other side?”. Because it’s not. Japan is overhyped and overglorified on the internet and people who worship the dirt of that country are delusional. Japan has a lot problems, you can’t deny that or basically one of those delusional people that will support and defend that country because you simply *~*::*~*love*~*::*~* Japan no matter what.

    Obviously not everyone is racist in Japan, but as a society there’s a lot problems