A small island chain in the Pacific, Japan has a big reputation for technology innovation and is a bucket-list destination for many thanks to its fascinating history and culture. Expats moving to Japan often come for work initially but end up staying longer than intended as they delve into the adventures and experiences that the island nation has to offer.

Living in Japan as an expat

Japan prides itself on its innovation, strong economy and rich heritage. Expats frequently comment on the friction between the country's strong traditionalist roots and its worship of modern technology and forward-thinking ideals.

Like most major global cities, life in Tokyo is fast-paced and full of exciting and unusual experiences. In the countryside and smaller cities, expats will be more likely to taste the traditional Japan of old, commonly associated with tea ceremonies, tatami mats and rice paddies. While Kyoto feels more tranquil and laid-back, Osaka boasts a bustling nightlife and is a popular destination for live international performers.

Great pride is taken in Japanese regional variations and specialities, making for a strangely differentiated experience at times. That said, the entire country has a highly developed infrastructure, with efficient public transport systems, postal services, communications technology and road networks.

Cost of living in Japan

Tokyo is infamous for being one of the world's most expensive cities to live in, and other major Japanese cities also command a pretty penny. The vast majority of Japan's expats live in Tokyo, Osaka or Nagoya. Tokyo is by far the most expensive Japanese city, ranking 49th in Mercer's Cost of Living City Ranking for 2024. Osaka ranked 146th, while Nagoya and Yokohama ranked 154th and 161st out of 226 expat destinations surveyed. Rural areas are much cheaper, but salaries are lower too, and most expats will find themselves in business centres rather than in the countryside.

Working in Japan can be especially lucrative for expats. Despite the country's reputation as one of the most expensive destinations in the world, competitive markets have made for good salary offerings for expats. We advise carefully calculating costs ahead of time, though, to ensure that the salary covers the high cost of living in Japan, especially Tokyo.

Families and children in Japan

Japan has a lot to offer families and is a wonderful place to raise children. The country is extremely safe, with little crime. Healthcare and schooling are of high quality, though some expat parents prefer to send their child to an international school rather than a local one. On weekends, there's lots to explore, including Tokyo's very own Disneyland.

Climate in Japan

Japan's climate is quite diverse, with each region having its own distinct weather patterns. In the northern regions such as Hokkaido, winters are long and harsh with heavy snowfall, while summers are cool and mild. The central region, including Tokyo, experiences hot and humid summers and cold winters with occasional snowfall.

The Kansai region, where cities like Osaka and Kyoto are located, experiences relatively mild winters and hot, humid summers. Further south, regions like Okinawa have a subtropical climate with warm winters and hot, rainy summers. Understanding these regional climate variations is crucial for expats when deciding where in Japan they want to settle.

Expats moving to Japan with an open mind will find themselves immersed in the wonderful idiosyncrasies of Japanese culture, coupled with abundant opportunities for adventure and degrees of acculturation.

Fast facts

Population: About 124 million

Capital city: Tokyo (also the largest city)

Neighbouring countries: Japan is an island nation in East Asia, with its closest neighbours being North Korea, South Korea, Russia and China. 

Geography: Japan's terrain is mostly rugged, with over 70 percent of the country being mountainous. The country's highest mountain is Mount Fuji, which reaches an elevation of 12,388 feet (3,776m). Japan is also located in a volcanic zone. Low-level earthquakes and tremors are common. More severe earthquakes do occur occasionally.

Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy

Major religions: Shinto and Buddhism, although many Japanese people are not religious

Main languages: Japanese. English is only spoken by a small percentage of the population, though younger locals in large cities will likely speak more fluent English.

Money: The Japanese Yen (JPY) is the official currency used in Japan. The banking system is sophisticated, and ATMs are readily available throughout the country. That said, Japan remains a predominantly cash-based economy, and many smaller businesses don't accept credit cards.

Time: GMT+9

Electricity: 100V, 60Hz in the west (Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya, Hiroshima), and 100V, 50Hz in the east (Tokyo, Sapporo, Yokohama). Flat two- and three-pin plugs are used.

Internet domain: .jp (most businesses use .co.jp)

International dialling code: +81

Emergency numbers: 110 (police), 119 (ambulance/fire)

Driving: Cars drive on the left-hand side. Japan has an extensive and sophisticated public transport system. It's unlikely that expats living in major cities will need a car.

Expat Health Insurance

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Moving your family abroad can be intimidating, but learning about medical options such as family health insurance early on can help you settle successfully.

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  • Paediatric coverage for well-child visits & immunizations
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