It's Now Easier for Expats to Live in Japan

© Azlan DuPree/ Flickr
© Azlan DuPree/ Flickr
Photo of Lucy Dayman
26 November 2017

Known as a rather homogenised nation, Japan has always seemed like an unlikely place to make your adoptive home. Intricate and confusing social rules, a challenging language and a serious work culture have scared many from making the jump. Now, however, as the 2020 Olympics roll closer, the population begins to age and the employment sector are scrambling to find workers, the country has become a lot more open to the idea of welcoming foreign residents. If you’ve ever considered living in Japan whether for a short stint or the long haul, there’s no better time than now.

The population problem

Japan’s population is facing a very critical situation. Thanks to lifestyle, healthcare and a low birthrate, the nation is aging rapidly. In fact, the proportion of those over 64 years old is now about a quarter of the country’s entire population. It’s a worry for a country whose population is expected to shrink by a whopping one-third in the next five decades, so the country is looking to alternative solutions, one being adopting more foreigners.

Panoramic View of the City of Tokyo | © oshikazu TAKADA/ Flickr

Work culture

As the nation hits critical retirement peaks, the unemployment level is incredibly low. In 2016, the nation tied with Iceland for the lowest rates of unemployment in the world, at just 3.1%. Though it may sound great, it’s in fact covering a rather serious problem, which is the fact that companies are struggling to find employees. Because of the lack of available workers, many Japanese industries are looking at bringing in more foreign workers, really for the first time in the country’s history.

Topless | © Jim Fischer/ Flickr

The numbers

Japan has faced an unprecedented influx of foreign residents over the past few years. In fact, in 2016 there were 2.3 million foreign residents in Japan, a number that grew by around 150,000 in 2015. In terms of population density, Tokyo is home to the largest amount of foreign residents, with almost 500,000 non-Japanese locals calling the city home, combining to be around 4% of the city’s population. The largest number of foreign residents come from neighbouring countries, China and South Korea.

The Olympics

As the anticipated 2020 Olympic Games roll closer, the country is really working towards being a more foreigner-friendly country. These different approaches include employing a much more serious approach to English study (which provides vast employment opportunities for native English speakers) and a more open mind toward outside cultures all in the name of omotenashi (hospitality).

Tokyo Tower Special Lightup... | © t-mizo/ Flickr


Though there are a number of wonderful reasons to make Japan home, the country still faces scrutiny when it comes to their attitude toward racism. A recent survey by Japan’s Justice Ministry discovered that nearly a third of foreigners living in Japan say they have experienced derogatory remarks, and a whopping 40% have suffered housing discrimination because of their background. This survey was sent out late last year to survey to around 18,500 foreign residents across the nation, and the findings came from the 4,252 responses they received. Another rather surprising revelation was that over 1,150 hate speech rallies happened in Japan between April 2012 and September 2015, according to the Justice Ministry’s data. This is a darker side of Japanese social life that the nation is working hard to overcome, especially considering the country’s expectation of an influx of foreigners in the country come the 2020 Olympics.

japan high school girl | © Dozo Domo/ Flickr

Becoming a Japanese national

To become a Japanese national, many have to go through a process called naturalization. There are a number of different aspects important to going through this process. To begin with, you have to be living in Japan and be over 20 years of age. It’s also required that you meet the country’s expectation of being of good character and having a steady and reliable job with which you can continue to support yourself. Also, language is a key element to being considered a national. It’s required that applicants have a Japanese reading and writing ability of an at least seven- or eight-year-old child and that they can speak Japanese fluently. If you meet all the criteria, then you can apply for naturalization; from there, it’s up to the Bureau of Legal Affairs.

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