When I first decided that I wanted to move to Japan from the US, I unknowingly began a long journey of preparation and research.
The problem was, I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to do it.
It may be like that for you too as you’re considering moving to Japan. You’re worried about so many things like if the process of moving to Japan will be difficult, or if you’ll be able to afford it. As someone who’s already gone through it all, I’m here to tell you my personal experience of moving to Japan, and how much it actually cost me to do it.
Just a quick note, if you need help with moving to Japan and avoid all these headaches, check out our assistance to help you move!
Check out free resources and useful tools for more information about moving to Japan!
Why Did I Move To Japan?
My family and friends knew that I’d wanted to move to Japan for a long time. It just seemed like the natural course for me; I had previously interned in Chiba and I’d graduated with a Japanese bachelor’s degree. So, in the first semester of my last year in college, I began looking for a job in Japan. After receiving an offer at the Boston Career Forum, I was on the plane within three months.
Whenever I met someone who didn’t know my background or ambitions, their first question was always, “Why did you choose Japan?”
That was when I realised that people are just genuinely curious as to what would drive this decision. Why would you move to Japan? What do they have there that is so appealing to you? What makes it worth leaving behind your previous life for a new one?
After all, when you’ve lived in one place your whole life, it becomes part of your identity and it’s difficult to imagine a world beyond your current one. But that’s why I say that making that leap to move to Japan is one of the best things I’ve ever done, and living here now is worth all the difficulty I faced.
How I prepared to move to Japan
I came to Japan to work, at least that’s what it says on my visa. But besides that, I decided to make the move so I could break the everyday cycle of my daily life, which had grown too comfortable for me.
In preparation for my eventual move to Japan, I watched Japanese travel videos and enrolled in a Japanese language partner program at my school. Through that preparation and dedication to my goal, I was able to make the transition when it was time. My Japanese was good enough that I could apply for jobs other than teaching English, and I had prior experience in offices that benefited my CV.
However, even with that it took months of looking and active persistence to land the kind of job I did, and I can’t say that the whole process of moving to Japan was a breeze, because it wasn’t.
Was the Moving Process Difficult?
Let’s face it: despite globalisation and the widespread use of the Internet giving us access to so much information, many people have only a surface level of knowledge when it comes to Asian countries. As a Taiwanese-American living in the States, it never failed to shock me how many people thought I was Thai because I told them my parents were from Taiwan.
One of my Caucasian friends, who has lived in Japan for five years now, would always tell me how her family thinks all East Asian countries speak Chinese, and how they would ask her to speak it when she returned to the U.S..
Needless to say, some people don’t quite understand the appeal of going to East Asia or even what it’s like. It becomes hard to justify your decisions when you pick an unconventional route compared to the typical life of finding a job within your own country. And this is where your first hardship can appear, as some people will not support your choice to move to Japan.
Opening a bank account and getting a phone
Although it seems insignificant to worry about what other people think, it truly is the reason behind the fear that so many people have when they are considering moving to a foreign country. Sometimes knowing that you could have an easier life if you stayed back makes it harder to cope with living somewhere else.
An example of this is, during the process of moving to Japan, I tried to open a bank account so I could receive my salary from work. The local bank told me I needed a Japanese phone number to open an account. But when I went to phone stores, they told me I needed a Japanese bank account to buy a phone.
Eventually, I found a store that would sell me a phone and Japanese phone number. Then, I went back to the bank and filled out all the paperwork. I thought this would be the end of it. But, no, right at the very end, the bank asked for me inkan (Japanese seal used as a signature) to verify my forms. I had to leave the bank and make an inkan (which took the store about half a day). I went back to the bank the next day and finally opened my account.
Why did I have to struggle for three days to open a bank account in Japan when I could have done it within a few minutes back at home? These kinds of thoughts are what make the moving process difficult in Japan, as you’ll find yourself having a tough time doing even the simplest of things.
Adapting into Japanese system
More than the moving process itself, the adaptation into Japanese culture is what most people find difficult. Making friends, understanding social norms, and integrating yourself into the culture are things that will take time.
Something I couldn’t understand about Japan was how many official buildings close so early in the day. City halls and banks usually shut their doors around 4 or 5pm here, and that’s very inconvenient for the average corporate employee whose workday ends at 6 or 7pm (a fair number are expected to work overtime till even 9 or 10pm). Even if you’re willing to sacrifice a weekend to go, tough luck, some of them open only on weekdays.
I had switched apartments and was required to unregister my previous address, and register my new one, at city hall. I couldn’t find any time to go due to my job, and it frustrated me how troublesome this small task became.
With time, I eventually learned that the system in Japan is influenced by the typical Japanese family where the father will go to work in the day, and the mother completes all the mundane tasks like paperwork. While unfamiliar within my own culture, you begin to have perspective on other ones.
After living in Japan, you’ll see why things are how they are, and gain a better understanding of the lifestyle. Then you’ll realise all the trouble and hardships were worth it, because you’re learning and exploring things about the world, as well as yourself.
If you keep an open mind and are willing to step out of your comfort zone every once in a while, you’ll be able to make it in Japan. Read more about it in my blog post, 7 Traits of Someone Who Will Be Happy In Japan.
The cost of flying to Japan
When making the physical move to Japan during the process, you’ll have to worry about your airplane ticket and housing.
For airfare, flights with at least one transfer will be significantly cheaper than direct ones. Certain airlines are also much cheaper than others, but, unfortunately, the better ones don’t fall into this category. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little leg room, you’ll save hundreds of dollars.
Personally, I flew with Air Canada to Haneda Airport. I’d booked my flight one month in advance and it had a layover in Toronto. The one-way ticket cost me around USD$650.
The cost of housing in Japan
As for choosing housing during the process of moving to Japan, I decided to go with a furnished apartment using an apartment searching website called ICHII Corporation. There are many other options such such as unfurnished one-room apartments, pet-friendly apartments, and even rooms with tatami flooring.
You have the choice of living by yourself or with other people as communal living is also popular within Japan. Along with that you can find single family homes in the more residential parts of Japan such as Chiba. (Examples of options? Is “pet-friendly” an option? Is “unfurnished” an option?). Check out our guide on where to find the best place to live, as well as my experience in a share house.
As for housing, first, decide if you’d like to live alone or with others. Living alone will definitely cost more but you’ll have the entire space to yourself. Living with others, in share houses, for example, will be significantly cheaper, and you’ll get to interact with others. I lived in a share house for a time and you can read about my experiences here.
Getting your own apartment
But, when I first moved to Japan, I decided to live alone. I used ICHII Corporation, an apartment-search website, and found a furnished apartment to move into. They have filters on their website that allow you to adjust your preferences and requirements, such as “unfurnished”, “pet-friendly”, and even “tatami flooring”.
A furnished apartment is always more expensive than an unfurnished one, but they’re also a lot more convenient for people who decide to come to Japan on short notice. I paid 145,000 yen per month (USD$1,350) for a 20 square meter studio apartment, which is a lot. However, it was located in Nihonbashi, where you have easy access to any part of Tokyo. Considering that and how I didn’t have to worry about shopping for furniture or amenities when I first arrived in Japan, it was the best option for me.
Be warned: many standard Japanese apartments come with initial fees like key money (reikin, 礼金), lock replacement fees (kagi kōkan dai, 鍵交換代) and more. These fees, in addition to the first month’s rent, can cost you as much as three months’ worth of rent, just to move in. For a better understanding of these fees, check out our detailed guide about how much it costs to live in Japan.
You’ll also need to consider which area of Japan you want to live in. Factors such as the atmosphere, environment and cost of living will vary depending on the area. We have a helpful guide here to help you figure out the best area to live in.
Cost of transportation in Japan
Perhaps the sneakiest costs that build up are not groceries or even shopping, but transportation. Within Tokyo, there are different rapid transit systems (Japan Railway, Tokyo Metro, etc.) that each have dozens of train lines. Transferring trains from one system to another significantly raises the fee, and you should make sure you know how much you’ll need for a ride.
For example, as you can see from the Google Maps search below, there are two train routes from Asakusa station to Shinjuku station, and both take about 29 minutes, but one will cost you 336 yen (USD$3.10), and the other 272 yen (USD$2.50). This is because the more expensive route requires a transit from the Tokyo Metro-operated Ginza line to the East Japan Railway-operated Chūō line. The cheaper route also includes a transfer between two lines but both lines are operated by Toei Subway.
If you aren’t familiar with train operators in Japan, you may mistakenly and continuously ride the more expensive routes, and while the cost differences don’t seem like much, they add up over long periods of time.
Many companies will compensate their employees for transportation fees every month. However, if you live somewhere a bit further out, such as Chiba, you can often hit the compensation limit if you’re commuting to Tokyo as the cost builds up quickly everyday.
On top of all of this, you’re bound to be going out to eat and sightsee which will raise your daily spending even more. Despite that, Japan isn’t an overly expensive country, and there are many places that offer cheap food and services.
Japan also has many second-hand shops for clothing and furniture. With a little bit of research, it is possible to live frugally. As long as you stay aware of your everyday costs, you’ll be able to live with some money to spare.
How To Improve Your Chances Of Moving To Japan
Ever since coming to Japan, I can’t stop wanting to bring my friends here and show them how amazing this country is. There are cons, as there are with any place, but Japan has a charm to it that draws people in.
The food, culture, and history of Japan is all so rich, and there’s so much perspective you can gather from living in a foreign country. Even with other East Asian countries, Japan is so different that one wouldn’t think it’s only two hours away from South Korea by plane.
I highly recommend that you try to learn Japanese, to be able to fully enjoy what the country has to offer. It will take a while to fully grasp; even with my level that landed me a job at an intentional company, I struggle to have basic conversations every now and then.
Additionally, if you learn the language you instantly become an asset to any Japanese company as many places are trying to recruit bilingual employees. The amount of recruiters that are looking for a component speaker in Japanese and another language are abundant, and job hunting will become a lot easier.
Company international mindset
Many international companies have stable branches here in Japan such as Amazon, Indeed, or Apple. As Japanese work culture can be exhausting, many companies now adopt an international mindset regarding their offices and practices, and they encourage non-Japanese people to join them.
A great example of this is when I learned from my branch manager that they had specifically gone to the U.S to look for new hires as they wanted to bring a new culture to the office. The typical Japanese attitude is to always listen to your senpai (先輩, senior in rank) and to be respectful, even if that means suppressing what you really think.
They needed more people to speak their minds and be straightforward. Presumptuous of them to think that all Americans are like that, but it goes to show that Japanese culture is changing slowly. More foreigners are joining the workforce, and Japan is starting to realise the benefits of having other cultures mix with their own.
Of course, you can also come to Japan without speaking Japanese, and many people begin their studies once they’ve arrived.
Long story short, I don’t think moving to Japan is that difficult as long as you have a strong desire and you take the time to prepare. It’s a country full of opportunities and there are so many programs out there that are eager to onboard people from overseas. If you’d like a detailed explanation of some of these programs, check out my step to step guide on how to move to Japan. (link)
For me, all I knew was that I wanted to come to Japan. I wasn’t quite sure of what I wanted to do here, or what the future would hold for me. Despite all that, I created a goal and set out to make it happen. Even though there may have been some bumps along the way, I was able to finally make the move.
You can too, so what are you waiting for? Start the process of moving to Japan, don’t give up, and I’ll see you here in Japan.
Check out free resources and useful tools for more information about moving to Japan!
What do you think about the process of moving to Japan? If you have moved to Japan, what is your process? Let us know in the comment section below. If you have any questions or want to get in touch, feel free to DM us on Instagram or message us on Facebook Messenger! We would love to talk with you!
Victoria participated in an internship in Chiba when she was eighteen years old. She’s wanted to come back ever since and is now working in Tokyo. She enjoys finding unique shops and hidden places, and you can often find her with her laptop in a café, drinking the weirdest drink on the menu.