Living in Japan is quite different from the rest of the world. So what can a foreigner expect their life to be like when living in Japan you ask. Difficult to say. Some people love it and some hate it. I think it depends on your point of view and how open-minded you are. Embracing the Japanese way of life is the first step for a happy stay in Japan.
I’ve met people that couldn’t wait to leave a month after arriving. I hate it here is the most used phrase I hear from them. I live alone and have no friends or I hate my job are some other things they say. They usually leave within a few weeks.
People that love it here tell me there’s so much to do in Japan. The Japanese are so nice and friendly. They also say I’m making a difference at my job. These people get out and do things and made sure to get a job that would allow them to do so. They usually stay in Japan for several years and always regret leaving.
Let’s look at the foreigner’s lifestyle in Japan.
Daily Life in Japan
Most foreigners living in Japan wake up 3 – 5 AM or 5 – 6 PM if on the night shift and have a quick bite to eat before getting dressed for work. They made their lunch the night before so they pack their backpack with water, lunch, change of clothes (usually in summer), and anything relevant to their workday.
They walk to the station closest to them and ride the train, subway, and bus to work. One hour is a common journey to work in Japan. I’ve been offered jobs that include a 4 hour travel time with a different swing shift each week. I know people who travel up to 5 hours to work.
Yes, 5 hours to work because they can’t afford to live near their workplace or they switched jobs and can’t buy out their rental contract. They work a full day which usually includes some paid or unpaid overtime then travel home again. If they work for an international company they usually leave on time.
After arriving home they eat their dinner and a quick snack, call their loved ones, and sleep before waking up with little sleep to do it all over again.
Daily life is different depending upon how much time a person works and how far they travel to and from work. A person working 8 hours a day with a 15-minute train ride can spend time watching a movie, doing laundry, or going outside. Plan accordingly to make the most of your time.
Working hard in Japan
Why would people move to Japan and spend 10 hours on a train and 8 hours working a day? Because they make enough money to support their family in their homeland where people make a fraction of what they make in Japan.
Everyone wants the best for their family so sometimes sacrifices have to be made in order to provide for them. I would do the same if I was in their position.
Other foreigners just want to experience living in a foreign land, teach English for a year, and return home. Not only does this give you Life experience but it also looks great on a resume.
Holiday (time off)
Time off of work is referred to as holiday, not the same holiday as western culture. Foreigners work 5 to 6 days a week and receive 1 or 2 holiday days. Usually different days each week. Even when you have time off you’re expected to answer phone calls from your company and attend phone meetings, all unpaid of course.
Work is the most important thing in Japan. Work comes first always. Working 60+ hours a week is not uncommon. When the west is becoming open to unlimited vacation most workers in Japan find it difficult to take one vacation day. A few things are changing but there is still a long way to go.
So you can understand why some people want to return to their home country within a few weeks of arriving in Japan. All work and no play discourages even the happiest people. If you work in Japan but never have fun you’ll be burnt out and that’s not good. If you send money to your family I recommend holding onto a little so you can have fun. You can’t do your best for your family if you’re burnt out and don’t care about your work or life in Japan.
I know a lot of this sounds depressing for some but having time off in Japan is the most exciting thing about living here. When you have worked long hard hours you appreciate your time off more and are inclined to make the most of it.
Many people sleep in on the first day to recover from long hours and to stay up late that night. They do their laundry and clean. After that, they either stay in and spend time with loved ones, enjoy time outside doing something constructive (Karaoke, hiking, travel, onsen, bicycling) or they go out and party till late. Japan’s larger cities are full of clubs, bars, dance lounges, and restaurants. Don’t forget that the trains stop at midnight and start again at 5 AM.
With two days off a person can get on the bullet train in Tokyo and arrive in Kyoto in about two hours. See the sights, stay at a hotel or Airbnb, and shop with plenty of time to spare. Japan’s mass transit is a wonderful way to travel and is an embedded part of the Japanese lifestyle.
Mass transit or a car
Most foreigners living in Japan don’t own a vehicle. Getting your driver’s license can cost as much as ¥300,000 or around 3,000 USD. A person can ride a lot of mass transit for that much money and in several cases get to your destination faster. The traffic in Japan tends to be bad, real bad in major cities. A person can sit in traffic for as much time as it takes the train to get to the destination. I have been in this situation several times.
You might be asking about the packed trains and subways. I can tell you that it’s sometimes hard to breathe when you’re packed in with so many people. The good news is that it only happens in the morning and evening rush hour times so if you avoid big-city transit at these times you’ll never experience a packed train or subway car.
Foreigners are often seen sleeping while using mass transit right along with the Japanese. It’s easy to do when you’re not worried about someone doing something to you or taking your things. A fabulous part of the Japanese lifestyle is a low crime rate and everyone feels safe here.
Recycling is also a part of the Japanese lifestyle foreigners embrace in a short amount of time. It’s expected of you. If you don’t understand how to do this correctly then visit the city hall for your area and pick up a booklet describing how to recycle.
When I lived in Yamagata and Saitama the ladies of the neighborhood would inspect everyone’s garbage to ensure all recycling was correct. If something was incorrect or the recycling was not in the correct bags (¥1000 for 10 bags and I needed four different kinds) then they would put your trash outside your door with a note.
I was the only foreigner in the area so unfortunately I would be blamed for every recycling mistake. I was constantly leaving the garbage in front of the apartment with a note that it wasn’t mine. Still, sometimes it would be back at my door with another note so I put it back again. I guess they thought I wasn’t smart enough to learn how to recycle. Funny…
The lifestyle in Japan is different but has a bunch of fantastic features within it. If you make the most of your time living in Japan you’ll find all the diamonds Japan has to offer. Focus on the positive and avoid the negative.
Please share your experiences below or leave a message if I left something out about the Japanese lifestyle and you want to know about it.