Your guide to expat life in Japan

Moving to Japan

While Japan has a thriving expat community, much of Japanese life may seem foreign at first – and the culture shock can be severe.

Many expats struggle with the language barrier and the country’s conservative culture. You’ll also have to get used to regular earth tremors and extreme seasonal weather. But the juxtaposition of modernity and ancient traditions is fascinating – and the opportunity to live in such a unique and beautiful country makes overcoming the initial challenges worthwhile.

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Basic info

  • Population: About 127 million
  • Capital city: Tokyo (also the largest city)
  • Main language: Japanese
  • Main religions: Shintoism and Buddhism. Other religions include Christianity.
  • Political system: Parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy
  • Time: GMT+9
  • Electricity: 100 volts, 60Hz in the west (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima), and 100 volts, 50Hz in the east (Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohoma). Standard plugs have two flat blades. Plugs with two flat blades and a round pin are also used.
  • Currency: Japanese yen (JPY)
  • International dialling code: +81
  • Internet domain: .jp
  • Emergency numbers: 110 (police), 119 (ambulance/fire), 118 (coast guard)
  • Road Traffic: Drives on the left

Next holiday

Sep

18

Respect for the Aged Day

If a holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, it’s moved to the first available weekday.

Public Holidays

2016
1 January New Year's day
11 January Coming of Age Day
11 February National Foundation Day
21 March Spring Equinox
29 April Shôwa Day
3 May Constitution Day
4 May Greenery Day
5 May Children's Day
18 July Marine Day
19 September Respect for the Aged Day
22 September Autumnal Equinox Day
10 October Sports Day
3 November Culture Day
23 November Labour Thanksgiving Day
23 December Emperor's Birthday
2017
1 January New Year's day
9 January Coming of Age Day
11 February National Foundation Day
20 March Spring Equinox
29 April Shôwa Day
3 May Constitution Day
4 May Greenery Day
5 May Children's Day
17 July Marine Day
18 September Respect for the Aged Day
22 September Autumnal Equinox Day
9 October Sports Day
3 November Culture Day
23 November Labour Thanksgiving Day
23 December Emperor's Birthday
2018
1 January New Year's Day
8 January Coming of Age Day
11 January National Foundation Day
21 March Spring Equinox
20 April Shôwa Day
3 May Constitution Day
4 May Greenery Day
5 May Children's Day
16 July Marine Day
17 September Respect for the Aged Day
24 September Autumnal Equinox Day
8 October Sports Day
3 November Culture Day
23 November Labour Thanksgiving Day
23 December Emperor's Birthday

Your relocation checklist

Moving to a new country takes a lot of planning. To help you get started, here are some of the things you need to do before you leave home – or just after you arrive.

Key phrases in Japanese

  • Hello Konnichiwa
  • Good evening Konbanwa
  • Goodbye Sayōnara
  • How are you? Ogenki desu ka?
  • Thank you Arigatō
  • Yes Hai
  • No Iie
  • Do you speak English Eigo o hanasemasu ka?
  • Can you help me Tetsudatte itadakemasu ka?
  • Sorry Gomen’nasai

Top tips

View a selection of tips sourced from expats about Japan:

“Find ways to go to places that Japanese people go to, not just the tourist places. Although they do sometimes overlap!” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Try to learn the syllabic writing systems (hiragana and katakana) before you arrive. The Chinese characters (kanji) are very tough and will take years to master but you can read a considerable amount with the syllabic writing systems, especially katakana which often has English words.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Get in touch with a house agent before you move. Everything takes longer to do in Japan so you need patience.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Make sure you see the seasons twice. Spring, summer, autumn, winter will hit you in the face the 1st year. You will enjoy the 2nd year more as you know what is coming. So don't do 1 year assignments” Added by Ken

“There is so much to see and do and so much tradition and unique cultural experiences that it's best to plan well and ensure you invest time in seeing the different aspects of the country and its culture.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

View more hints and tips for Japan

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Get in touch with a house agent before you move. Everything takes longer to do in Japan so you need patience.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

View more hints and tips for Japan

Shipping

Shipping goods to Japan is usually a smooth process, especially if you use an international removals company. Air freight is quicker – and more cost effective for small shipments. If you’re planning to take a lot of items, it may be cheaper to ship them by sea.

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Furniture

Apart from serviced apartments, most accommodation in Japan is unfurnished – so many employers include a shipping allowance in expat contracts. Importing used household goods is usually duty free.

Medicines

The regulations for taking prescription and over-the-counter medicines into Japan change frequently – so check with your local Japanese embassy before you leave home. In general, anything that contains a stimulant isn’t allowed.

Pets

If you want to take a pet to Japan, they must be microchipped, vaccinated against rabies and have a health certificate. If you don’t have all the immigration documents, your pet could be quarantined for up to six months.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2016. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.