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Life in Japan

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・ How much should I expect to spend on living costs?

Japan is an expensive country and accommodation near the center of major cities can be particularly expensive, but you might be surprised how cheaply you can get by if you are careful.
Below is a list detailing the guestimated monthly living costs for a working holiday maker in Tokyo. Such costs will obviously vary a great deal depending on your spending habits, and the area you live in. You should expect that you have to spend substantially more during the first month of your stay.

Accommodation (guest house)70,000 yen per month
Food55,000 yen per month
Other expenses40,000 yen per month
Total165,000 yen per month

The next table shows the the living cost of a month and the exchange rate for 100 Yen in September 2016

Currency Cost of living for a month 100 Yen are ...
Japanese Yen (JPY) 165.000 100
Australian Dollar (AUD) 2.120 1.3
Canadian Dollar (CAD) 2.093 1.2
New Zealand Dollar (NZD) 2.205 1.3
Euro (EUR) 1.432 0.8
Danish krone (DKK) 2.120 6.4
Norwegian krone (NOK) 13.306 8.1
Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) 12.406 7.5
Taiwan Dollar (TWD) 50.000 31.3
South Korean Won (KRW) 1.830.000 1111
Polish złoty (PLN) 6.250 3.8
Pound sterling (GBP) 1145 0.76

A soft drink can from a vending machine usually costs between 100 yen to 150 yen and Big Mac’s cost 370 yen.
Food in supermarkets can also be quite expensive, and eating out can sometimes work out cheaper than cooking your own food at home. Items such as meat, fruit, and vegetables might be more expensive than what you are used to, but make sure you cut back on other things before you cut back spending on food. You may need more nutrition than usual to help you to cope with the stress of adapting to your new environment.

・ What types of accommodation do working holiday makers usually end up in?

Many working holiday makers stay in guesthouses or ‘gaijin houses’ which have private bedrooms with shared toilets, showers, kitchens, laundries, and lounges. They are usually cheap and easy to move into and the rooms usually have a bed, a refrigerator, and a TV, and sometimes free internet access. They can be noisy and don’t offer much privacy, but they are usually the most realistic option for working holiday makers.
The number of shared houses and apartments in Japan has gradually been increasing in recent years, though they are still relatively rare, you can find them advertised in English information magazines and websites.
Some people manage to wangle themselves a home stay but these are also quite rare in Japan (see below).
Renting a private apartment or house is surprisingly difficult for working holiday makers (see below).

・ Is it easy to find a home stay family in Japan?

No. If you are lucky we might be able to introduce you to a home stay family, but unfortunately home stays are actually quite rare in Japan. It is especially hard to find home stay families in Tokyo as houses tend to be small.

・ How can I rent a private apartment or house?

Unfortunately renting a private apartment is close to impossible for people on a working holiday, as most apartments have 24-month contracts.
The fees, deposit, etc. that you are required to pay upfront usually amount to around 4 to 6 months rent, and only part of this is refunded. There is the deposit called shikikin (usually equal to 2 months’ rent and is not necessarily refunded), then there is reikin (usually equal to 1 to 2 months’ rent and is a nonrefundable ‘gift’ paid to the landlord), then there is the fee paid to the real estate (equal to one month’s rent), and then finally the first month’s rent.
They are also usually completely unfurnished so you will need to buy everything from light bulbs and curtains to a refrigerator and washing machine. And on top of all that, you usually need to have a guarantor who is a Japanese citizen with a stable full-time job and a good credit record.
Also unfortunately many landlords are extremely reluctant to rent to non-Japanese people.
There are furnished apartments that cater to people staying temporarily in Japan but they tend to be about 50% to 100% more expensive.

・ Where can I stay until I find a place to live?

Youth hostels in Japan usually cost between 3000 to 4000 yen per night and are often a good to place to stay until you find somewhere more slightly more permanent.
Some guesthouses also rent rooms by the week.
There are simple hotels called ‘business hotels’ that can be found in most towns in Japan that are usually relatively cheap (starting from about 5000 yen per night).
So-called ‘Love Hotels’ are also relatively cheap but some people might find them an uncomfortable place to stay.

・ How much is rent in Japan?

Basically the larger the city, the higher the rent.
There is also a very large difference between rent in the city centres and suburban areas. Accommodation that is close to train stations tends to be more expensive.
Rent is usually charged monthly in Japan.
Usually the cheapest and simplest option for working holiday makers is guest house accommodation (in Tokyo usually around 50,000 yen to 90,000 per month).

・ How much money should I take to Japan?

It will probably cost somewhere in the range of 150,000 to 250,000 yen to get yourself set up. You should bring at least twice as much as this to make sure you can survive until you receive your first pay check.
Remember that your first month in Japan will be particularly expensive as you will likely have to pay a deposit for the room you rent and your first month’s rent in advance, and you will have buy yourself a range of basic necessities such as bedding etc. It might also take you a month or more to find work, and you will probably receive your first pay at the end of the month after the month you start working in, so you will need to have enough money to tide you over until then.
Each country has a set minimum amount of money that is required when applying for a Working Holiday Visa, but with the recent strengthening of the yen, you might find that you actually need substantially more.

・ What should I take to Japan? What should I leave behind?

The short answer is, as little as possible, especially if you are planning to stay in or near one of the major cities. You will be able to buy pretty much everything you really need in Japan, though you might not be able to find your favorite snacks, etc.
Obviously you need to think carefully about whether the things you take with you will actually be useful to you or an encumbrance, and whether or not you can buy them cheaply and easily in Japan.
It’s best not to take any unnecessary medicine with you (see below).
If you are a larger-than-average person you may find it difficult to find things in your size. If you have any favorite personal hygiene products that you can’t do without, it might be a good idea to take a supply of them with you or have them sent to you as you might not be able to find similar products in Japan.
Most electric and electronic items can be purchased fairly cheap in Japan and buying them in Japan means you won’t have to worry about using transformers and plug adaptors. However you might want to bring your own laptop as non-Japanese operating systems are difficult to find outside of Tokyo and Osaka. Duty-free stores often sell electrical goods that are operable in languages other than Japanese.
Books in foreign languages, especially English books, are readily available in larger cities.
If you are going to Japan in spring or summer it might be a good idea to pack only light clothes and gradually buy warmer clothes in autumn as the weather grows cooler (check the average temperatures of the area you’ll be staying in first to make sure).

・ Should I take medicine to Japan?

The importation of medicine into Japan is very strictly controlled. Bringing into Japan certain seemingly-innocuous common medicines for colds, hay fever, congestion, etc. can actually get you arrested at the airport if it contains substances such as pseudoephedrine, codeine, etc. If you don’t need it immediately you should buy medicine after you have arrived in Japan (you should check to see whether particular types of medicine are available).
If you bring prescription medicines to Japan:
- it has to be part of your medication.
- it has to be for your personal use only.
- it must be oral or externally-applied medicine, not injected medicine
- it must be free of prohibited or controlled substances
- it must not exceed one month’s supply
If your prescription medicine doesn’t meet the above conditions you will have to apply for special certificate called a yakkan shomei to bring your medicine into Japan. Contact your nearest embassy or consulate to ask them how to get the necessary application documents.

・ Where can I find information on travelling in Japan?

The website of the Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) is a very useful website with a lot of information about travel, sightseeing, life in Japan etc.
When you need English-language assistance or travel information, you can call the JNTO’s Travel-Phone:
0088-22-4800 (toll free).
Tokyo: 03-3201-3331
Kyoto: 03-371-5649
Open 365 days a year

・ What is ‘alien registration’?

If you are intending to stay in Japan for more than 90 days, you must register in person at either the ward office in the ku, city hall in the shi, town hall in the cho, or village office in the mura where you are living within 90 days of your arrival in Japan. You need to take your passport and two passport-size photos of yourself.
About two weeks after registering, you will be given an alien registration card (Gaikoku-jin toroku-sho), which can be used as a means of identification in lieu of your passport. If you are landing at Narita airport, Haneda airport, Kansai airport or Chubu airport, you will recieve it by entering the country in the lane for long-term resident. You are supposed to carry your alien registration card on you at all times.
Note that police and immigration officers have the authority to ask to see your alien registration card at any time.
If any of the details on your alien registration card change (e.g. address, extension of your visa etc.) you must notify the issuing office within 14 days.

・ How can I avoid culture shock?

Culture shock will more than likely creep up on you while you are in Japan. On the surface Japanese society somewhat resembles Western society but the longer you are in Japan the more you will begin to notice certain fundamental differences.
The best way to lessen the effects of culture shock is to study the Japanese language and learn as much as you can about Japanese culture and society before you arrive.
When you first arrive in Japan everything might seem wonderfully fresh and interesting.
Gradually, as the novelty begins to wear off, certain aspects of Japanese culture may start to unduly irritate and annoy you, and some people start to feel a bit depressed and homesick. While there’s no need to accept cultural differences that you find irritating or unpleasant, doing your best to tolerate those differences and understand the reasons behind them can help you to feel more comfortable.
As you get used to life in Japan, things will start to feel less strange and foreign. In fact, most people experience reverse-culture shock to some degree when they arrive back home.
Your being in Japan will give you, and also the Japanese people you interact with, a chance to reexamine certain stereotypes. One of the great things about living for an extended period in Japan, or any other foreign country for that matter, is that it will cause you to do a lot of thinking about cultural differences and similarities and this will hopefully give you a much clearer understanding of your own culture and your self.

・ Where can I find more infomation about living in Tokyo?

There are help desks for foreigners that you could ask for help. They will answer your basic questions.

 *Consultation Support Center for Foreign Residents (download PDF)
 *Foreign Residents Advisory Corner (download PDF)
 *Shinjuku Multicultural Plaza (download PDF)