The pros and cons of living in Japan depend a lot on where you come from, what you are looking for, and what your expectations are.
Traditional Japanese work culture is strict and inflexible. There are a number of forms and habits in the working world that are difficult to adapt to. People have to adapt to this new work culture. If your office opens at 9:30 and you arrive at 9:25, you are considered late. Overtime is the norm, as are lunches or after-hours drinks with colleagues. In a country where homogeneity is important, behaviors that do not follow the rules are not accepted. Anyone who tries to behave unusually or differently is forced by social pressure to conform to general expectations.
In Japan, all of life revolves around work: trains, bars, stores, everything is centred around the office and the workers. The vertical hierarchical system is deeply rooted in Japanese society. In companies and also in other institutions, there is a very rigid system where people with higher age or seniority must be respected. However, the workplace is very protected and it is not often that someone is fired.
As a foreigner, you are generally treated with respect and kindness, but also as a stranger. You will always feel like a foreigner and be treated like a guest. Everyone will be nice to you because they have a confucian culture, but you will always be considered a second class citizen no matter how long you have lived in Japan. The Japanese believe that foreigners cannot fully understand and appreciate their culture.
In ancient Japan, Europeans were called “barbarians,” and this belief is reflected in the lack of acceptance and trust toward people from other countries. To be a foreigner is to be separate from Japanese culture, so one will always be a gaijin. One will never fully belong to one’s culture. People are polite and helpful, but machismo is rampant in Japan. The pay gap between the sexes is very large. It is difficult for a woman with children to work, there is no help or support from the government.
There is a strong language barrier in Japan. Japanese is not an easy language to learn. It requires time and hard work. Many Japanese words have no equivalent in other languages. Not many people can speak English well and most speak only Japanese.
Living in Japan is expensive. The real estate market is especially expensive. Finding accommodation that is not only expensive can also be difficult because some owners do not rent to foreigners and japanese apartments are usually very small. On the other hand, the food is good and not too expensive either. The average diet is very healthy, and this is one of the reasons why the Japanese are among the healthiest people in the world.
Public services work well, public schools are free, but it is difficult for a foreign child to attend them. Japan is perhaps the country with the best public transportation system in the world. Trains and buses are always on time and run very frequently in the city and twice a day in the most remote inland places, so you can reach any point of the country. People do not feel the need to own a car. All major points of the city are located near the train station, so they are easy to reach. Tokyo has an excellent public transportation network, so even residents of the most extreme rural suburbs and commuters can easily reach the heart of the city. It should be remembered that the Tokyo metropolitan area is the largest in the world, with a population of nearly 40 million.
There are no absolutely safe countries in the world, but Japan comes very close. You can be out at night with your jewelry without it being stolen. If you forget your laptop at dinner in a restaurant, it is very likely that the staff will return it to you the next day.
Living and working in Japan – pros and cons
Living in Japan, pros
- Good food
- High security
- Excellent services and infrastructure
Living in Japan, cons
- High cost of living (especially real estate)
- Difficult integration
- Language barrier
- Limited job opportunities for foreigners
- Stressful life
- Significant cultural differences
Living and working in Japan, conclusion
As in any country, but especially here, you have to love the Japanese and their culture to think of moving. Japan is a great place to learn to be more considerate and hospitable to others, to learn the art of kindness, gratitude and respect for others. But you also have to learn to fit in with the crowd and suppress any attitude that goes against the status quo.
For those interested in living in Japan, I recommend reading the article: Moving to Japan
For those interested in working in Japan, I recommend reading the article: Working in Japan