Dreaming of a Life in Japan: The reality

I’m sure a lot of you secretly dream of a life in Japan.
Almost every day I get to read the same questions or statements in Japan related forums:
“I want to live in Japan in the future. I have XY qualifications…”
“I have no degree, no idea what I’m talking about, but I WILL live in Japan in the future”

etc. …

When experienced users give them a reality check they usually react rather childish and don’t want to believe what they read. Yet I think it is important to know the facts.
It’s good to dream, but in order for that dream to become reality you need to know what’s really going on!

While reading please keep in mind that this is not the “Perfect Guide for settling down in Japan“. I just want to point out a few things for anybody who has ever thought about a possible future life in Japan.
After all, I was once one of you! ;P


First Steps

I would recommend to ANYBODY no matter how much you think you know about Japan, that you come here for a short vacation first.
Sometimes this country can be very different from what you expect! Of course, a short vacation won’t be the same as actually living here.
Some things you won’t figure out until you actually have lived here for a while.
I write about various issues you might have to face when being living in Japan as a foreigner in my “A German Alien in Japan” series! smilie
Imagine you leave everything behind, possibly spend a little fortune to get settled in your “dream country” just to realize that it’s a “nightmare country” for you! smilie
First, come here for a short time!


So you survived the first contact, huh?

Great. You’re back home. You loved Japan. It was pretty much as you expected it to be, maybe even better.
You also noticed a few bad things, but you think they are minor enough so that you can easily cope with them.
After this experience you can now decide more easily whether you want to continue visiting Japan from time to time as a tourist or if you want to move and live in that country!


I want to live in Japan, how can I make this happen?

There are so many ways! Too many to list them all here. They also differ from country to country.
For example, there are several study & exchange programs, volunteering and so much more!
What we want is not one of those, though. None of them will let you stay in Japan for a very long time (read: more than a year).

First of all you need a visa other than a tourist visa which – for most countries – will only let you stay for 90 days in Japan (although you can extend it in some cases to 180 days).

Eventually you’ll either have to marry a Japanese citizen or find a job in order to legally stay in Japan long-term.


How to get a visa?

Again there are many options, but I’m only going to share the most common ones here.
There are always exceptions out there, but don’t expect that you’ll be one of the very few lucky ones!

In order to obtain a proper work visa in Japan you need (in most cases):

  • – a university degree (at least BA / BS) (*1)
  • – 10 years of work experience in the field you want to work in Japan
  • – to marry a Japanese citizen or get adopted by one

*1: There are a lot of different work visa types out there. Each has its own requirements, so check carefully which one would be applicable for you.
In most cases your degree has to be in the field of work you want to do in Japan. For the infamous English teaching jobs it’s enough to just have the degree, no matter in what! This only applies if you’re from a country that has English listed as an official language, though!
For anybody else (including me smilie) that won’t work. We NEED a degree that is actually related to teaching English or we have to prove that we were educated in English for (at least) 12 years.
Using this as an example, I guess you can see how complicated things can get.


Maybe you are one of the lucky ones and your country offers the “Working Holiday Visa“! (I was and that’s what I originally used to come to Japan!)
This is a short-term work visa for Japan! Please check the specific regulations for your own country as I can only speak for the German one!
It will allow you to work for about a year in Japan in almost(!) any kind of job!
However, before the visa expires you need to change your visa status to a “real” work visa in order to be able to continue working.
Even if you don’t want to work anymore after the visa expires, you cannot overstay your visa. This goes for ANY type of visa! You can leave the country (e.g. go to nearby Korea) and come back after a few days on a tourist visa. That’s what many people do.
If you’re only doing it once, it’s ok.
Some people tend to do it various times (leaving Japan and coming back on a new, fresh tourist visa only a few days later). Then, please expect that access to Japan might be denied!

Another option is the JET programme which offers either ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) positions (where you’d be an English teacher) or CIR (Coordinator for International Relations) positions (but for that your Japanese needs to be very good). The programme is growing old, but is still very popular (read: too many applicants, not enough positions). If you’re unlucky (like mesmilie) and live in a non-English speaking country, it’s as good as impossible to get in. There are years when there are no positions at all for countries where English is not the official language.
The good thing about it is that JETs are really pampered! You don’t have to worry about anything too much. They’ll take care of most things for you! smilie

However, even with the JET programme there comes a time when you cannot renew your contract anymore and you’ll need to find something else if you want to stay in Japan.


I don’t want to become one of those English teachers! I want to become a mangaka, (voice) actor, journalist, model etc.

First of all, being an English teacher can be a great job. It’s what you make out of it. I also thought I wouldn’t be able to teach little kids. It turned out to be so much fun that I still can’t decide to stop doing it!
Of course, teaching is not for everybody and you might have decided on your dream job already.

Let me tell you, yes it’s possible!
There are foreigners here in Japan who became musicians, models, actors etc.
To name only a few out of MANY:

Jamie Lynn Lano
She’s an artist, actress, writer and aspiring mangaka. You should read her series about “How to become a mangaka in Japan” esp. if you want to become one, too!

Ashley Thompson
She used to be a JET but is now a freelancing writer and the admin of the awesome blog “Surviving in Japan – without much Japanese“!

Micaela Braithwaite
Ciaela is a popular Youtube blogger living in Japan and has appeared on TV programs and magazines in Japan.

Danny Choo
He’s probably one of the most successful foreigners in Japan in the manga, anime and gaming business as of today. He says that discovering Japan changed his life.

But keep in mind that most of those people (including Jamie) started out as English teachers!
See it as a way to get one foot into the door and start working towards your goals from there! For many English native speakers, that’s your best bet!


In a nutshell:

It’s a long entry filled with a lot of information. What I want you to keep in mind is:

This article was written based on my personal experience.
Please feel free to share your own story and experience. smilie


Leave a comment49 Comments Add your comment

  • Avatar for zoomingjapan
    • Avatar for zoomingjapan
  • Avatar for zoomingjapan
    • Avatar for zoomingjapan
  • Avatar for zoomingjapan
    • Avatar for zoomingjapan
  • Avatar for zoomingjapan
    • Avatar for zoomingjapan
  • Avatar for zoomingjapan

commentform input required

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Japan FAQs


Blog Posts

Recent Comments

Upcoming events in 2017: