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Moving to Japan

Are you curious about the Land of the Rising Sun and its population? Moving to Japan will let you experience a country which combines traditional Asian culture with Western influences. InterNations features an overview of Japan’s main regions and the visa requirements for expats.

Moving to Japan may be a dream for some expats who have always been interested in Japanese culture. Otherwise, it might be a dramatic upheaval for those who are sent there on a sudden intra-company transfer. Particularly for foreigners from non-Asian countries, moving to Japan can be a cause of anxiety.

Japan is the eleventh most populous countries worldwide. With a population of around 127 million people it produces over 4% of the world’s GDP. 

Continued Impact of the 2011 Fukushima Disaster

In 2011 a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan's east coast. Several nuclear power plants in the region were damaged, especially Fukushima Dai-ichi. For the first time since Chernobyl, the International Atomic Energy Agency classified a nuclear accident as “stage 7”. The disaster killed nearly 16,000 residents and another 2,500 were officially declared missing. After a massive de-contamination process the area has mostly returned to normal, although points close to the reactor are still prohibited to the public. Products are safe to consume, and it was declared that edibles in Japan did not contain dangerous levels of radiation.

 Although many of the ecological effects of the disaster are no longer a threat to the region, the tragedy has led to economical shifts which are still affecting Japan today. Following the disaster, the nuclear industry was particularly affected as public distrust and opposition to the energy source spiked. Prior to the disaster, Japan had 50 functioning nuclear plants, but in the years immediately following the Fukushima Disaster all 50 were shut down. 2015 saw two plants reopen, potentially marking a return to nuclear power, but the industry remains a shadow of its former self and oil has become Japan's main energy source.

What You Need to Move to Japan

Of course, moving to Japan involves more than a newly-discovered interest in zen gardens. The right qualifications and hard skills are most important for expatriates in Japan.

Regardless of whether you are relocating for a foreign assignment or to go job hunting, a grasp of the Japanese language makes moving a lot easier. However, fluent language skills will not help you if you lack experience, specialized skills, or at least a background in business administration. You should also be aware that even young Japanese graduates are nowadays struggling to find employment. It’s not that easy to break into the local labor market.

On the other hand, various kinds of engineers, industrial chemists,  and qualified staff from other fields, such as green tech or med tech, have a better chance on the Japanese job market. With Tokyo hosting the Olympic Games in 2020, the construction industry is also enjoying a resurgence, and would be a promising area when looking for work. Unless you are a traveling spouse or a younger expat moving to Japan as an exchange student, language teacher, or casual worker, a successful move depends on your skills and work experience.

Being an Expat in Japan

Japan continues to be a popular destination for expats worldwide. However, the country’s reputation as a homogenous society is not entirely unfounded. Over 98% of the population are ethnically Japanese, with just over two million foreign residents making up the expat population. The majority of foreign nationals living in Japan are from China, with the second biggest group coming from South Korea.

 Foreigners in Japan are sometimes called Gaijin, a term which has some negative connotations. Gaikoku is the more formal and politically correct term. It refers to all foreigners, whereas Gaijin tends to be used only in regards to westerners or white people.

A Land of Increasing Opportunity

Japan’s immigration policy has had to change considerably in recent years. Nearly 30% of the Japanese population are now over 65, and it’s becoming apparent that more young people are needed to fuel the economy and look after the increasing number of elderly people. Japan has begun to encourage low-skilled guest workers to come to the country for a limited amount of time and fill these gaps. They have also promoted the intake of so-called “Highly Skilled Professionals” by introducing a points-based immigration system. Despite these measures, Japan’s immigration figures are still considerably lower than other G7 member countries, and it’s predicted that the Japanese population will shrink by 19 million over the next 20 years.

As a rule, greater immigration is an unpopular policy in Japan. Conservatives object to it threatening the homogeneity of Japan and protectionists fear losing jobs to new arrivals. Still, it seems that Japan is slowly accepting that immigration may be a viable solution for their ageing population, and so we may see an increase in opportunities in the country for foreign nationals in the upcoming years.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Edmund Taylor

"Tokyo has so much to offer and InterNations made it much easier to become acclimated to life in this bustling city."

Marina Salgado

"In such a huge city, InterNations has created great events for expats to meet in Tokyo."

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