How to navigate Japan as an expat

With a small but growing UK expat population, Japan’s low crime rate, great hospitality, incredible technology, and wealth of career opportunities in language teaching, technology and international business, makes the East Asian island an increasingly attractive destination for Western expatriates.

Facing a unique culture, how can foreigners effectively navigate expat life on this incredible island country?

Budget carefully

Japan is renowned for being an expensive place to live, especially Tokyo and Osaka. Maintaining your standard of living in Japan requires a large budget.

Housing and utilities are unavoidably expensive, but you could significantly lower your expenses by living outside the main cities. Shopping at local supermarkets, rather than paying a premium for western delicacies, can also keep costs down.

Learn the language

Much of Japan, especially the larger cities, is fluent in English, but learning basic written and verbal Japanese will help you navigate daily life, especially at work, and attempts to speak it will be appreciated by the locals.

Learn the customs

As a unique culture, adopting Japanese customs can be tricky for expats. Here’s a few of the basics:

  • Learn to bow properly, keeping your back straight and arms at your sides
  • When entering someone’s home, remove your shoes
  • Don’t tip! This is seen as an insult
  • Try learning to use chopsticks; some restaurants don’t offer an alternative

Listen to the robots!

Instructional technology abounds in Japan, and it can be easy to get caught out. Android-esque robots direct traffic in major cities, many sushi restaurants are entirely automated, and your own apartment might advise you if you’re using too much electricity!

Be punctual

Punctuality is incredibly important to the Japanese. Make sure you’re on time for any appointments, and move quickly to get on trains and lifts, as the doors shut rather quickly!

Get ready to for close encounters

Something you’ll notice very quickly in Japan: People. Are. Everywhere! You’ll often find yourself with little personal space on public transport, in shops, restaurants, and even walking down the street.

Leave plenty of time to travel and pay attention to your surroundings. Another aspect of the punctuality culture is that all these swathes of people are typically in a great rush, so you need your whits about you to stay upright when travelling on foot.

Be prepared for a warm welcome

Forget British reserve; most locals are incredibly friendly. Shop clerks will normally welcome you to the store, and you may soon find yourself invited to colleagues’ homes. Both are a great chance to practice your bowing technique and Japanese lingo.


With partner offices in Tokyo and Kobe, Pickfords has relocated hundreds of expats to the bustling island of Japan. Click here find out more, or request a quote online.

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