Japan, the new expat haven?

Published on 2019-05-29 at 08:43 by Mikki Beru
According to a ranking of ECA International, Japan offers the best salaries for expats in Asia. But is this the only thing the country can offer? The country, its capital, Tokyo and slowly the city of Osaka alike, is undeniably one of the most expensive cities to live in. How does that pan out in real life, though?

Attractive salaries

Not only is Japan the best country in Asia in terms of compensation for expatriates but it is also the second best country in the world behind the United Kingdom. Indeed, the report of the ECA International study revealed that an expatriate working as a middle manager can expect an average salary of $386,451 a year.

But is this really the case?

If you are an expat middle-manager, then this is likely to be the case. But when the average wages are taken into account for all categories of employees Japan falls behind. Indeed, in 2017, the OECD compared the annual salaries of the biggest economies and Japan came behind France, with $40,863 (against $43,755 in France) and the United States were considerably ahead with $60,558 average wage.

And still, these figures do not speak the whole truth either. Unlike France, unemployment in Japan is, as in the United States, very low (around 3%). This very low unemployment rate hides a difficult reality. The Japanese labor market is not the happiest place. Sectors like catering, service and construction, for example, offer more precarious work: non-regular work, part-time work, high pressure, weak protection, frequent turnover.

Next to this precarious market is the more corporate market: IT, web development, mobile applications, artificial intelligence, e-commerce, finance, digital marketing and so on. It is these so-called "high-tech" sectors that drive wages upwards, offer career development prospects, and better wage protection.

What about housing?

When we mention "cost of living in Japan", we are usually talking about its capital, Tokyo. In the capital city, the overall cost of living is relatively higher than in other parts of Japan. For one reason: housing. It is not uncommon to find a rental of just 10㎡ for over $ 500 / month. These rates are mainly found in the city center: Shinjuku, Shibuya, Chiyoda, Chuo and Minato are among the most expensive neighborhoods of Tokyo.

Moving away from the Tokyo center often makes for more affordable housing as well as better quality of life: more spacious housing, quieter living areas, far from the urban hustle and bustle.

Tokyo is finally far more attractive than other major cities, with an average monthly rent of $ 1951, against $ 2853 for Paris, and more than $ 3800 for New York.

Transports are a real treat!

The Japanese transport system is the pride of the country. Always on time, clean, with heated seats in winter and air conditioning in summer.

All this technology has a cost, however. In Japan, and especially in Tokyo, transport is expensive. A pass that would cost $89 in Europe, would cost $112 in Tokyo. Schoolchildren and students benefit from discounts, however. As for the employees, their transport is reimbursed by the company, even for a baito (non-regular work).

Is it absolutely necessary to speak Japanese?

Speak Japanese would definitely open doors to a wider labor market. Having a Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is strongly recommended. Many companies require Level 2, which is a good understanding and practice of the language.

Even if you are targeting international companies, it is important to begin learning the language before you move abroad.

Chat with the Expat'


Why Japan?

I have a master's degree in photonics and micro nanotechnology and I wanted to leave for a year on university exchange. I chose Japan because it really is a trailblazer in my field.

So you're a student here?

I am a student at the Tokyo University of Science for a year. I am also learning Japanese- I started to learn it in France.

According to a recent study, Japan offers expats better wages than other Asian countries. What do you think ? Does the cost of living in Japan seem high?

I am not sure whether I am the right person to answer seeing I am only acquainted to the student life in Japan. I have a scholarship that allows me to focus on my studies. I think the restaurants are very affordable. I was very surprised to discover their rates. Nothing like Paris! Other than the really expensive fruits, buying food in supermarkets is generally very affordable, even in Tokyo.

What is the best and the worst thing about living in Tokyo?

The best thing is how clean the streets are (laughs). In Japan, dog owners walk around with bags and a bottle of water to pick up and clean after their dog.

Disadvantages: It's hard to make real Japanese friends. Their courtesy and decency are undeniable, but it is more difficult to reach them on a more intimate level. But I managed to make a friend. Very proud of myself (laughs).


Why Japan?

I was unemployed in France. I always dreamed of going to Japan. Six years ago, I thought, "Why not?" I have nothing left to lose.

And then?

I fell in love ! One of the best things in my life. I met my now, wife. She is Japanese. I stayed for love (laughs).

I currently work in a restaurant. I have worked several baitos (non-regular work). You should know that even for a stranger, you find a job easily, especially in a big city like Tokyo. In fast foods, konbini (mini markets open 24/24), restaurants ... Even if we do not speak Japanese, we are able to find jobs. There are more and more foreigners in these jobs.

But the pay is not great and you're not very well respected. I do not speak Japanese very well, so it is hard for me to climb the ladder. I've been struggling to get out of this precarious job thing. And it can be quite disheartening.

According to a recent study, Japan would offer expatriates better wages than other Asian countries. What do you think ? Does the cost of living in Japan seem high?

Yes. We live in Saitama to save on housing. Prices are really more affordable in Saitama! And it's not so far from Tokyo: Just 30min via the Yurakucho (subway line). The restaurant pays for all my transportation, so it saves me money.

I would not know for salaries, however. I am at 1000 yen per hour ($ 9.15). That's not a lot. We get by but we do not go crazy. My wife works but I wonder how we will do with the baby. There are no nursery systems, day care like in France...

On a day-to-day basis, we get by . It's not considerably more expensive than in France, for example. There are discount shops. Food is quite affordable. Except fruits, which you would have to sell a kidney for (laughs)!

What do you like the most and the least about living in Japan?

Peace of mind. Life is expensive but the quality of life is great. The Japanese really have a sense of service and hospitality. I know I will always be "the stranger", but it does not matter. I do my best to progress in Japanese and integrate.

There are also a lot of leisure spaces: parks, games center, attractions ... It's great to raise your children in peace.

The downside is how you get looked down upon unless you have a good job. Many consider that this is not real work, while I trime as much as regular employees! It's like in France, in fact: we favor high graduates, those who come from a good social background.