Before coming to Japan
What do I need to bring?
If you are coming to Japan for the first time, it is often recommended to buy things in your home country which can't be found in Japan. Small necessities which may seem insignificant can become the one thing you always think about. No matter the season, both brand clothes and cheaper second hand can be found. Also, throughout Japan, there are small shops called "100-yen shops" where you can find almost anything for just a coin. Tax is 5% and most prices you see have the tax included. If you plan to work here a business suit will be necessary, and although those can be bought in Japan please consider that the average Japanese size is much smaller than the American or Western sizes. The Japanese Medium size is a small in Europe.
If you are bringing electronic gadgets like computers or cellphones, remember to bring converters for the outlets.
Do I need to take a vaccination?
Only if you are going to spend a lot of time in the countryside will you need vaccination against something called Japanese encephalitis, which can be contracted if you are around farms and farm animals. Even if you end up living in a small to medium sized town there should be no problems. Drinking the tap water, though taste may vary from what you're used to, is safe here.
As with any trip abroad it is important to take precautions and many people take vaccination against Hepatitis A+B no matter the destination. Always use best judgement and stay away from products you are uncertain about.
How much money do I need for the first months?
Living in Japan can be costly for the first few months due mostly to the initial exposure to a different culture and not being used to spending money in a different country.difference. If you are used to being able to save money back in your own country, don't think it will be the same in Japan. If you plan to travel around Japan on your first visit, it will likely cost you upwards of 100,000 yen per month. If you then plan to find work and later find an apartment, the cost will rise towards 150,000 yen per month including conservative meals and transportation costs. For an apartment, the initial cost will usually be the first and second month's worth of rent (around 50,000 yen per month), add to that meals and transportation which would mean you need at least 200,000~250,000 yen for the first two months.
Is it difficult to receive a working VISA?
This depends on what type of work you are applying for. Some VISAs are more difficult to obtain, where the most common ones are the 'Instructor' and the 'Specialities in Humanities' VISA. The first VISA you receive will likely be valid for one year. If you arrive here through an organisation, college or university, you may get a 'Working Holiday' VISA. This VISA only valid for one year, whereas after one year you will have to change the status of the VISA, though if you exit the country it will be very difficult to receive a new one.
It may also depend on the company sponsoring you, if they want to give you a one year VISA, they will stand as your guarantor, but should you leave the same company, you will have to find a new guarantor/company to sponsor your VISA. Difficulty depends on the company, your educational background and work history.
Who can help me find an apartment?
The easiest way is to go through the company you are working for. If you wish to rent an apartment by yourself, you will still need a guarantor (a company or person) who can support the costs should there be an incident or accidents which lead to damage to the apartment. Going through an agent is easy but often costly since they will charge a hefty fee for the services. There are many realty agents in Japan with varying costs, so it is recommended to research a lot before trying to apply for one. Remember that foreigners often receive different treatment unless you speak better than average Japanese and you may encounter difficulty just trying to communicate and agree upon a contract. The most accepted ones for foreigners are called Leopalace 21 for student -esque furnitured apartments and in Tokyo -Sakura House and Interwhao for gueshouses and studio apartments.
How do I get around Tokyo and Japan?
Getting around Tokyo can be an experience in itself with 24+ different train lines, over 150 train stations in the metropolitan area and we're not even counting the subway system or the bus system. Driving can be an even bigger adventure with enough road and highways to confuse even the most experienced drivers. That is not to say that you can't get to where you need to go. With multiple ways how to go to from point A to B it is mostly a question of either convenience, cost and time..
Your very first trip will likely be onboard the train leading from the airport, which brings you right to the center of Tokyo. From there it is fairly easy to go different parts of Tokyo. You should make sure that you have addresses written on a paper, a map which covers the area where you want to go. You can always ask for directions, but Tokyo is a city where most people knows only a specific area not the whole city, so asking for directions can be a hit and miss however persistence is awarded.
Can I get a discount on train tickets?
If you are traveling around Japan on a tourist VISA you are eligible for a JR Pass. However it can only be purchased outside of Japan and then picked up at the train stations once you arrive. It is a recommended purchase if you expect to travel a lot during your first months (the longest one is the 3 months pass.) A great deal especially if you plan to travel by the Shinkansen (bullet trains.)
For shorter distances, for example within the city, it is recommended to buy either a Suica card which can be used on both buses and trains. It is easy to charge with a specific amount of money and use it as you go. If you only plan to stay in one area for a shorter time, there are day passes for both busses, trains and subways.
When is the rush hour?
Rush hour is usually between 6:30 AM and 9:30 AM. It depends wholly in what area you are in and while Tokyo is infamous for the train attendants seen pushing passengers into fully loaded trains, it can be empty trains in other areas. This counts for both buses and trains.
How much does it cost to send my luggage to the hotel or apartment from the airport?
The airport baggage services are quite effective and deliver your luggage to you for a relative low fee. The cost will be around 1500 yen ~ 3500 yen depending on how much you are sending.
How high are living costs, compared city to countryside?
Comparing Tokyo and the country side is like comparing night and day. There are many differences between city and countryside. But most of the differences are found in the smaller costs. Food and transportation can take a large portion of your budget no matter where you live, but you tend to use more money in the city because things are more accessible. Restaurants, karaoke bars, pubs, amusement arcades etc. can be found around every corner and for amusement, people tend to use a lot of money.
Out in the country side, people use the resources they have and things are sold fresh, often unprocessed, which leads to cheaper food at the local markets and stores. Since there are fewer people living in the smaller towns there are also less things to do in terms of night-life and entertainment, however at least a few times a year, there are local festivals and events which keep things interesting and culturaly diverse.
What kind of things do I need to consider buying after having moved to an apartment?
Many apartments usually come with the most important utilities included. Air-conditioning system, stove (electric or gas), fridge and washing machine are among the most common utilities if you rent an apartment. There are exceptions where you will have to buy all these things yourself, but then the rent will be different as well. However renting an apartment which is empty does not mean it is cheaper.
After you have moved in you usually need the most common kitchen utensils. One thing which may be overlooked is the microwave oven. In Japan the other most common kitchen utility is the rice cooker. Rice is usually very cheap and a rice cooker often equals a good investment. There are many variations, brands and hence the price will range from a couple of thousand yen (40-50$US) to a hundred thousand yen (over 1000$US).
What are the average living costs for food, utilities and rent per month?
For the typical city dweller, one average per day you can spend as little as 10$-15$ per day. If you keep costs low by buying and storing dry food you will definitely be able to save a lot of money. Electricity, gas and water is generally cheap and you save money buy cooking your own food instead of going outside to a restaurant which can be quite expensive in the long run. Normal electrical appliance use should give you an electricity bill around 50$-80$.
Rent can be tricky and there are multiple choices. Depending on the size, how new the building is, how close it is to the train station or biggest mall are all big factors in apartment price. If you are lucky you can find good apartments for 500$-600$ per month, but the more common prize for a single room (22sq m or 236sq ft) lies around 800$-1200$US and upwards if it is in a bigger city like Tokyo.
It should be noted that most apartments in Tokyo are much more expensive, in relation to it's closeness to each train station and which train lines lies close.
If I only speak basic to no Japanese can I still manage living by myself?
The short answer to this question is; "Yes, but..."
You will find living in a big city like Tokyo or Osaka relatively easy and English is enough to get you settled, get your internet installed or paying your bills (electricity bills are paid over the counter at convenience stores.)
If things get complicated, like if you lock yourself out, there's a plumbing problem or you require installation of new appliances, English may not be enough. It is also important to remember to be polite, and while being straightforward helps in other countries, it can have a negative effect on people in Japan. Please remember that learning the language is a step closer to friendlier atmosphere and less stress due to communication problems.