Does anyone have experience of living in Japan?

These are the questions you should ask yourself before you emigrate to Japan

Emigrating to Japan evokes ideas of picnics under cherry blossoms, nights in karaoke bars and numerous adventures. Before you pack your bags, do some research on what to expect if you immigrate and live in Japan. This includes potential changes in labor law, tax law, and visa requirements that you should be aware of.

1. Are you sure Japan suits you?

Over the past few years, Japan has endeavored to attract high-level and highly qualified personnel. So far, however, only a few people belonging to this group have dared to take the step and choose to work in Japan.

According to the IMD World Competitiveness Center's 2017 World Talent Ranking, Japan ranks 31st out of 64 countries on a list of top talent destinations. If you ignore the fact that all the top places are taken by European countries, Japan is being ousted by neighbors like Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong Taiwan ... and even Kazakhstan.

Why? Well, according to the report, Japan ranks high in terms of “investment & development” and “attractiveness”, but has poor grades for “willingness”. The lack of jobs for those with no knowledge of Japanese, the gender equality gap, comparatively low salaries, and stories of Japan's lack of work-life balance are all factors that drive professionals to look elsewhere.

2. Are you a “highly qualified foreign professional”?

Despite Japan's need for manpower in all areas, the Japanese immigration service is mainly looking for people of the type it designates as "highly qualified foreign professionals".

Their website makes it pretty clear that those who meet certain criteria will receive “preferential treatment” (their words, not ours). Depending on how many “points” you have, you are also suitable for an express visa (and probably also have a higher chance of obtaining a permanent residence permit).

Applicants must be assigned to one of three main types of jobs: academic research, specialized or technical activities, or management. The number and weighting of the points varies depending on the job and is usually based on the academic degree, current salary, Japanese language ability and the length of work experience. You can find out more about the points system here. According to the website, an applicant must have at least 70 points to receive special treatment. However, it is also possible for those with particularly unique or highly sought-after skills to move forward.

3. Can you be transferred from your current company?

Coming to Japan through an existing employment relationship is probably the smoothest and easiest way, let alone the most economical! Instead of the stress of finding a job of having to find your own apartment (this can be difficult with little Japanese) and figuring out how to pay your bills, your company can take care of all of these details.

Expatriates who take this route generally get better salaries. In addition, their transfer package often includes special benefits such as company-paid housing, membership in clubs and language courses.

4. How long do you plan to stay?

As long as you are open-minded, living in Japan can be really amazing. The country is safe, has great public transport, reliable medical care, and tons of cool places to explore. Tōkyō is surrounded by numerous great destinations for day trips and excellent hiking routes.

It can be tempting to settle in Japan for a long period of time ... but you need to be aware that due to a 2017 law change, doing so may come at surprising costs, especially with regard to “inheritance and gift taxes”.

The change in the law does not affect those with a residence permit, which means those who have been in Japan for ten years or less in the past fifteen years AND who have a “Table 1 Visa” - usually a work visa.

Unfortunately, if you have been in Japan for more than ten of the past fifteen years OR have a “Table 2 Visa” such as a Spouse Visa or Permanent Residence, you will have to pay inheritance tax of up to 55% on any goods you receive, including those from outside Japan. You may still have to pay inheritance tax for up to five years even after you leave Japan.

You can find more detailed information about the different taxes, timelines and how they affect people in different tax groups in our guide and at this link.

Japan has one of the highest inheritance taxes in the world. Hence, it is important to plan carefully to make sure that you are prepared for the future.

5. Do you have in-demand skills?

There is currently a shortage of personnel in numerous craft industries. With changes in the law, Prime Minister Abe wants to make it easier for qualified personnel in the following 14 areas to obtain a visa (for up to five years):

  • Elderly care
  • Building cleaning
  • Agriculture
  • fishing
  • Food and beverage production
  • Gastronomy (such as restaurants, cafes and bars)
  • Material manufacturing (like metal casting)
  • Industrial machine production
  • Electronics and electrical appliances related
  • Construction work
  • Shipbuilding and marine equipment
  • Automotive maintenance
  • Aviation Service
  • Accommodation and catering (hotels)

The draft was submitted in early November 2018 and hopefully the law will officially enter into force in April 2019. Still, it looks like the chances of extending these types of visas or obtaining permanent residence are very slim.

6. Are you ready to learn Japanese?

Certainly it is possible to live and get along in Japan with little knowledge of Japanese. However, as long as you have not been transferred from a foreign company, the lack of language skills will greatly reduce the range of jobs you can apply for (e.g. English teaching, recruitment, some IT and hospitality jobs) and you will have a hard time getting your job done to develop further.

Compared to just five years ago, the country has become much more English-friendly and there are more jobs for people who do not speak Japanese, mostly in the tourism industry ... yet the vast majority of high-paying full-time jobs require at least some level of language proficiency.

Japanese is not a language that is easy to learn. However, it is very systematic, with a lot of empty phrases that can make it a little easier to learn the basics relatively quickly. We have tons of tips to help make learning Japanese more enjoyable. You also have the opportunity to take a class or have the time to watch YouTube videos - every little bit helps.

A practical tip: being able to speak and read Japanese makes your everyday life and routine tasks (about) 100 times easier. It will probably even help you get longer visas!

7. Do you know your rights?

Just like everywhere else in the world, there are companies out there trying to take advantage of you. And if your Japanese is bad, it's easy to fall for.

Some basic rules to keep in mind are:

  • Never give your passport or residence card (在 留 カ ー ド) to your employer. He may need a copy of these IDs. In this case you should prepare this yourself and hand it over to the responsible person. Also, avoid making your employer a guarantor for your home (there are other options you can find out about here).
  • Familiarize yourself with the laws on salaries, hours, and payments.
  • Always carry your residence card with you, even if you are just taking a short walk or going to the Kombini.

We recommend avoiding all illegal activities and staying in prison (or a prison camp) at all costs. However, if the worst has happened, first contact a mandatory lawyer who can get in touch with your family. Ask to contact your country's consulate, ask for an interpreter and do not sign anything without the presence of your lawyer. In Japan you can be detained for up to 23 days without proof of guilt, which is why we urge you (again) to avoid illegal activities at all costs.

8. Are you ready for lots of new things?

Japan has its own system and ways of organizing things; be it paying bills, registering for services or something else. Much of it is still analog and entangled. So expect to feel a bit lost and maybe even frustrated for the first few months until you get used to the daily routine.

Fortunately, generations of expatriates before you have produced numerous handy manuals to help them deal with all kinds of situations. Some service providers, such as the Tōkyō waterworks, have also become more proactive in providing information in languages ​​other than Japanese. All About Japan has a whole section dedicated to advice, tips and tricks to help you get your new life under control easily.

Also, check out the Resident Guides available online that will help you find your way around your new city! Below we have put together some links for the most popular cities:

Tōkyō Resident's Guide
Yokohama Resident's Guide
Nagoya Resident Guide
Osaka Resident Guide
Kyoto Resident Guide
Fukuoka Resident Guide
Sapporo guides for residents
Naha guides for residents

However, no matter how well you prepare (or how well you think you know Japan), something new and strange will always happen suddenly. This can of course be part of the fun. After all, discovering many useful things in the Kombini, any events or practical services, for example, is a never-ending adventure!

While this article may seem a little pessimistic, we just want to make sure that you are well prepared before arriving in Japan to work. There is a lot of great things about life in Japan and it can be the perfect choice for many young professionals or families looking for adventure in a safe and beautiful country.

This article was written by All About Japan on November 6th, 2018 and edited for publication on JAPANDIGEST.