Expatriation in Japan: what are the pros and cons?: Living as an expatriate

Whatever the last of the expatriation period, an expatriate obviously displays a kind of bravery faced with the choice or obligation to leave his/her home country to move abroad. Indeed, one can just as well decide to expatriate at the other side of the world until his/her death or move abroad for a shorter time. The range of possibilities is large, and consequences are numerous and different. Then, the Land of the Rising Sun offers a lot of societal features at the opposite extreme of the West, which make the expatriation process in Japan significantly different and more difficult than in many other countries.

Discover our article, “Expatriation aka happiness at the other side of the world?”.

Expatriation in Japan: what are the pros and cons?: Why Japan?

According to figures published by the French Embassy in 2015, there were 12,000 French people in Japan. They represent only 0.5% of foreigners in Japan (the big majority is from China and South Korea) and less than 0.1% of the total Japanese population. Then, in 2019, there were 2,829,416 foreign residents in Japan, which represent 2.2% of the total population. But then, beyond a likely obligation, why did these foreigners decide to move to Japan?

The main reason is that Japan is a significant economic, financial powerhouse. Then, moving to Japan is a great professional occasion. What’s more, its growth rate is constantly increasing (not taking into account the Covid-19 crisis) and it is then an attractive place for expatriates, but also for companies that seek exporting internationally.   

Advantages of expatriation in Japan

One of the best incomes for expatriates

Japan is the country with one of the best incomes for expatriates of Asia, according to the 2019 MyExpatriate Market Pay survey. It is also ranked second worldwide, just after the United Kingdom. Then, expatriates in Japan may earn an average of $386,451 per year. This is partly due to the fact that the yen had had a very good year.

The well-deserved reputation of transport

Japanese transport is the pride of Japan. They are always on time, clean, with heated seats in winter and air conditioning to withstand the heatwave. Then, moving for work, for clients or just for shopping has never been easier (and cheaper).

Ease of learning a complex language

The best way to learn a language is to be immersed in that country. Then, if you want to start learning (although having some basics in Japanese before leaving is recommended), or go into Japanese in depth, the expatriation experience will only be profitable for you. Moreover, your eyes and brain will get used faster to the Japanese alphabet, which is composed of 漢字 kanji but also 仮名 kana as there are very few buildings, advertisements, signs, etc. that display the Latin alphabet.

Difficulties of expatriation in Japan

A 外国人 gaikokujin (often in its contracted form 外人 gaijin) literally means “outsider”. According to the Japanese, this term, which include all the non-Japanese people and especially Westerners, is often used pejoratively. This person will always be a foreigner in Japan despite his/her efforts, the last of his/her stay and his/her ability to integrate.

Some people then look, in the final change of nationality, for an alternative to “become” and to be seen as a real Japanese (at least administratively). This process lasts almost one year on average from the date of the request and obviously requires to fill strict, solid conditions, including renouncing to his/her original citizenship.

Cultural differences

As for each and every country, Japan has its own culture, traditions and beliefs. However, these basic rules of society are light years from the Western system. Here are a few examples of society codes:

  1. It is impolite to say “no” directly, or to express any kind of refusal in Japanese.
  2. When you give or you receive something, documents, business cards or gifts, you have to use both of your hands. It is a sign of respect and politeness.
  3. In public transport or in the street, it is not allowed to drink, eat, smoke (there are areas known as “Smoking Area”). You cannot either show any kind of affection (hugging, kissing, etc.).
  4. At the table, you cannot point at a person or an object with your chopsticks.
  5. In some restaurants, if you want to go to the toilets, you have to wear slippers provided for this purpose, which are in front of the door.

Then, these cultural differences are a real challenge for expatriates in Japan. Moreover, some people who have been living there for years are still not able to integrate and assimilate this new culture. Whatever the place, it is significant to understand the society codes so that no one is disrespected.


As a unique occasion for professional stimulation, expatriation in Japan allows you to discover a new lifestyle, culture and even language. However, you should not forget that each and every expatriation is synonym of numerous challenges. Then, being financially, psychologically and administratively well-prepared is a significant step for a successful integration.

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