Life in Japan

Dreaming of a Life in Japan? Reality Check!

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 them. ;)


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’ll 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.


Working Holiday Visa

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!


The JET Programme

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 almost 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!
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


  • Hi Jasmine love your blogs always insightful and to everyone can relate to when living in Japan a long time. I have been living back in Australia and it was hard to settle in I felt like you at times like a foreigner in my own country, my elderly friend said he would like to adopt me like a foreign adult adoption as my parents are both deceased & he has no children and his wife also passed away many years ago I tried to find information on the website in English but it is so vague and not clear about foreign adult adoption and proceedure. He said the more practical solution would be marriage just for paper so I can continue to live and work in Japan but I told him I never want to get married but as I used my working holiday visa many years ago and I’m 34 I’m wondering what other option is there? Do you know much about foreign adult adoption and wether what ever is the best option is to take would I would have to change from Australian resident to a permanent resident in Japan?

    • Hi Rebekah,
      I suppose there’s not much information (in any language) because an adult adoption is VERY rare. Not only in Japan, but anywhere.
      A Japanese adult adopting a foreign adult must be super rare.

      Unfortunately I have absolutely no idea when it comes to (adult) adoption in Japan. I find this rather extreme if you’re doing it just to get the visa.
      I also don’t know anybody who did it. I only know one person who married a Japanese woman just to get the visa, but they both agreed to it, so I guess it was okay. It’s not something I support, though.

      Are you sure you have no other options?
      How about trying to find a job that will sponsor your visa? If you’re from an English-speaking country, finding a job teaching English (even if it’s just in the beginning) shouldn’t be that difficult.
      Once you’ve been in the country for several years, you can get a permanent residency, but I don’t know how difficult that is if you’re not married. It’s not impossible, though. :D

  • Recently I found that Japanese are good liar. It hard to believe but sadly some foreigner that aware of this issue just turn a blind eye. I feel sick when they keep calling “gaijin” instead of “gaikokujin” feels like am an intruder or something. Some of them are really really nice and appreciate your work but if you happen to meet bad Japanese they are “mechakucha” and “mendokusai”. Actually these are some of my negative observation toward Japanese, just for educational purpose. Anything you expect wasn’t as colorful as rainbow bridge, “senbonzakura” or what so ever. My advice mentally prepared, clean your heart and soul from “pink-minded”, get to know their culture, respect their culture tho it against your belief or custom, mind your ethics, be punctual and the last WORK HARD! Mind that Japanese are hard working type of people, even for a silly thing.

    • Hi Ann,

      The majority of Japanese people don’t mean any harm when they use “gaijin” instead of “gaikokujin”. They’re not even aware that it could hurt us.

      I do agree with your advice, though.
      A lot of people have completely wrong expectations about Japan and are utterly disappointed once they start living here.
      It’s important to embrace the Japanese culture and learn how to adapt.

  • I have no personal experience with the matter, but I’m curious about exactly what everyone means by “being treated like an outsider.” I’m sure that any time encounter strangers, you’ll be treated like an outsider, and any time you meet new people you might be treated like an outsider. But are you treated like an outsider even within your own social circle? Once people have known you for a substantial amount of time, and know that you’ve been living in Japan for long enough that you are familiar with the culture, would they still treat you like an outsider?

  • Hello great article. I was wondering how is it possible to do foreign adult adoption in Japan? My parents have passed away when I was 25 and I left Australia to teach English in Japan. I have been coming back and forth to Japan for 10 years and consider it my home. Now I’m 35 my friend has no family too and is in his 70’s and he wants to adopt me to take care of his place as he sees me like family As I have known him this long. I thought it was too difficult to addopt? Let alone a grown adult adoption. Can it be done? And how can it be done? Is there any definite way of going about it where I can be adopted and live in Japan?

    • Hi Becks,
      I’m not sure why you’re asking this here. There’s no way I would know about this.
      If your friend is Japanese, it shouldn’t be too difficult for him to look into this.
      Good luck! :)

  • I highly recommend this website for those who wish to live in Japan: This site is a real eye opener for those who hear believe getting a teaching gig in Japan is easy and are heavily influenced by wackier anime/books dating before Japan’s economic bust in the 90’s. Japan is a nice country, but like any other country, takes time for adjusting to culture shock.

  • Not sure if folks are still reading the comments, but here’s my story.

    I took my “short trip” last year – and by “short trip”, I mean I stretched the tourist visa / visa exemption to the full 90-day limit, rented a room in a Sapporo share house, and arrived in the country with a vague idea of “picking up Japanese while I was there.” For a week, I lived off a bag of trail mix that Customs hadn’t confiscated because I was too intimidated to go to the store by myself. If this sounds like a terrible plan – well, it was, but I knew what I was doing. I had saved up enough money to take six months off work and write my book, and it just made sense to do my trip to Japan at the same time.

    The experience was, for me, phenomenal. I’m sure it were atypical (I was certainly the only foreigner in the share house who was there as a tourist), but it has convinced me to return for an extended period. Hence, here I am, researching means to get a visa and feverishly studying Japanese so that I can integrate to some extent.

    My biggest barrier seems to be my personal goals. I can barely hold a full-time day job and continue writing as it is, and I have been advised by other writers that the demands of self-promotion alone will force me to drop the day job within the next years. Teaching English full-time would not work in the long-term.

    My best bet appears to be finding a way to finesse a specialist in the humanities visa and then getting a part-time eikaiwa job to maintain it. I realize this may be a pipe dream, but I am not picky about location or pay. (As established, this would not be my primary source of income, nor do I have expectations of getting rich.)

    Life in Japan isn’t perfect, and I’m sure I’d find more problems the longer I stayed. Still, I want to make it work if I can. There’s something about that place that I can’t get out of my head.

    • Hi,
      Thanks so much for sharing your experience. ^^
      I’m happy to hear that you really liked it so much that you’re now thinking about coming back.

      For starting out, I think you’ll only get a visa if you work full-time.
      After a year or so you can apply for a self-sponsored visa and then go through with your plan of doing freelance stuff and maybe only work part-time as a teacher. Although obviously it won’t be easy.

      Good luck to you! :)

  • Hi,
    My name is Max and my biggest dream is to live in Japan. Next year I’m starting to study but I don’t know wich course is good for Job in Japan. Maybe you can help me

    • You should study something that you’re really passionate about, not something that will get you to Japan.
      There’s always a way. If you can imagine working as a teacher in Japan and you’re from a country where English is the official language, you’d basically just need a BA degree in whatever for the visa.

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