Life in Japan

Living and working in Japan offers many great experiences and opportunities. Japan is a unique place for foreigners. You can find many traditional and historical features like sushi, Kabuki Theater, and Shinto or Buddhist rituals. However, you also find many hints of Western influence like MacDonald’s, fashion, and even English that seem to pervade everything from music to advertising. Yet, the more you observe the Western aspects in Japanese society, the more you begin to see that it’s not quite the same. Japanese society has a history of embracing other cultures, ideas, and traditions, but not before adding a Japanese spin to it; and what we are left with is something unique, not quite Western but not quite Japanese. Living in Japan gives you a great opportunity to really see and explore all of these interesting facets of Japanese society. Below are some reasons that some teachers have come to Japan, though this list is not exhaustive.

Kyoto skyline

1. There are a lot of great places to visit and things to do while in Japan. Although the relatively small size of Japan makes things a little more crowded, it also means that traveling around Japan is much easier, especially with its wonderful transportation system. The trains are almost always on-time, comfortable, and easy to use after a little practice. It’s quite easy and enjoyable to jump on the train and go on a day trip or weekend trip. Heart School is based in the eastern part of the main island (Honshu) known as Kanto. There are plenty of great places in this area including Tokyo, Yokohama, Nikko, and Mount Fuji to name a few. Please visit to take a closer look at all the amazing places in Japan.

Japanese Temple2. As a modern country, living in Japan is not so difficult. Apart from the language difference, transitioning to life in Japan is fairly easy. It has all the modern conveniences that other countries do including an excellent public transportation system that rivals any in the world, fast Internet, smart phones, convenience stores, modern shopping malls, cutting-edge technologies, air-conditioning and heating in most public places, etc. You can also get many, though not all, of the same foods you usually enjoy at home. Fast food restaurants are also prolific. You can catch a lot of Western shows and movies on TV in English, or you can go to the movie theater to watch the newest movie releases in English. Although life in Japan is not exactly the same as in your home country, there are still a lot of modern conveniences to help reduce any adjustment shock.


3. There are a lot of fun things you can do in Japan that you can’t do in other countries. One great experience is during spring, called hanami. When the cherry blossoms begin to bloom, people all over Japan go with their friends and family to parks or temples and sit under the beautiful blossoms, drinking, eating, and enjoying the scenery.

Karaoke is also another fun experience. Of course there is karaoke in other countries, but it’s usually only in bars or restaurants and you have to sing in front of a lot of strangers. In Japan, however, there are karaoke bars where you rent your own room and only sing in front of your friends or family. And to reduce anxiety even more, there is a phone in the room that connects you directly to the kitchen, and the staff will bring food and drinks directly to your room!

There are also establishments that are a mix between a bar and restaurant called izakaya. It’s not exactly like a bar and not exactly like a restaurant. Often it is a more intimate environment where you and your group are separated completely or partially from others, and you order many little dishes and alcohol. It’s a great way to enjoy the company of your friends, family, or coworkers and unwind from a stressful day or week. There are of course many other unique activities one can do in Japan; there is a lot to look forward to.

Japanese Temple4. Japan is a relatively safe place to live. Although any place you live has some inherent dangers, Japan is relatively safe. There is little crime compared to other countries, and because of the strict gun and drug laws, there is virtually no gun or drug related violence. There are even cases where people who leave their purse or bag on a train and are able to recover it after contacting the train station. Unfortunately there are a lot of earthquakes, which may scare many people who are not used to them, but earthquakes are accepted as an inherent part of life in Japan. As a result, Japan is fairly well prepared for earthquakes. Buildings are built to withstand even very strong earthquakes. While it’s impossible to be completely safe, Japan is nonetheless well equipped to deal with earthquakes. (*This is not to say that crime and devastating disasters are not a problem. They happen and you must still be cautious, but compared to other countries, Japan remains a relatively safe place to live.)

5. While living in Japan, traveling to other places in Asia is easier and cheaper. If you live and work in Japan, it will become easier to make short trips to many other countries in Asia like Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, India, or China.

6. Japan is quite clean and sanitary. Japan is, for the most part, a very clean country. Even in big cities, you don’t find as much trash or pollution as you might expect. Perhaps it’s out of necessity since Japan is a small country, or perhaps it’s because of some sense of social or personal responsibility, but most places are kept very clean, from the streets and parks to the trains and stores.

7. Although the list goes on, here are some other quick features of Japan that have attracted foreigners: fashion, music, manga, anime, food, hot springs, friendliness, respectfulness, and history.

***Although, like with any country, Japan has its negative side, it needs to be kept in perspective. Due to Japan's small size, nearly everything is smaller--the portions of food, cars, apartments, etc. Though most Japanese people are friendly and respectful (even if they don't like you), there are incidents of discrimination or unfriendliness.

It is important to research whether there are any negative aspects of Japan that you are unable to handle before making the commitment to move. With this said, the experiences of most people living and working in Japan have been overwhelmingly positive, and there are many more benefits to challenging yourself than there is in never trying anything new.


Frequently asked questions about life in Japan


Get an Resident Card(Zairyu)
Get a Social Insurance Card
Pay bills
Fill up your car with gasoline (or petrol, depending on where you're from!)
Take out your trash
Make / Get a hanko
Open a bank account
Get a cell phone
Get a landline telephone
Set up an Internet account
Renew your Visa
Convert your driver's license to a Japanese one


Why you should visit your local International Centre
Useful Phrases

Get a Resident Card (Zairyu)

At Narita, Haneda, Chubu, and Kansai Airports, besides having a seal of landing verification stamped in their passports, mid- to long-term residents will be issued a resident card.

At other ports of entry/departure, a seal of landing verification will be stamped in the passport and the following description will be made near the stamp. In this case, a resident card will be issued after a mid- to long-term resident follows the residency procedure at the municipal office of the city/town/village. (Basically, a resident card will be mailed by the Regional Immigration Office to the reported place of residence.)

For more detailed information, visit the Immigration Bureau of Japan


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Get a Social Insurance Card
It is important that you apply for a Japanese National Health Insurance while working in Japan.

To obtain a Japanese Social Insurance card, you will need to go to your local city office with your Resident Card (Zairyu) with the following phrase


Kokumin kenkou hoken

I want (to apply for) Social Health Insurance

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Pay bills

Bill paying in Japan is very simple. Most companies these days (gas, water, power, cell phone, etc.) send you a bill with bar codes on them.

Take these bills to any convenience store and they will scan the bills and charge you accordingly.

Note: if you are living in a company-sponsored apartment all of your bills are paid for by the company and deducted from your monthly salary, with a copy of your bills attached to your paycheck.
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Fill up your car with gasoline (or petrol, depending on where you're from!)

Gasoline stands are everywhere in Japan, and the process is pretty much the same wherever you go.

The major supplier of gasoline in Japan these days seems to be Eneos, but they also seem to be the most expensive, but only by a few cents per litre.

The major difference between most is whether the gas stand is Full-service or Self-service. Self-service stations are slightly more difficult to master, and the method for using them varies from company to company, but there is usually an attendant on hand to help if you need it.

At a full service station, pull up to the pump (usually guided by an attendant), roll down your window, and say either ‘Gasorin mantan de onegaishimasu' (please fill up my gas tank) or Gasorin sen en bun onegaishimasu (please give me ¥ 1000's worth of gas)

Note: If you want more than ¥1000's worth of gas, for example ¥2000's worth of gas, add the necessary Japanese word in front of the ‘sen'. E.g. Gasorin ni-sen en bun onegaishimasu.
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Take out your trash

The disposable garbage from homes is collected by your local City Office. The dates and collection places differ from area-to-area and apartment-to-apartment, so the best suggestion is to talk to your local International Office or check the city's website for specific information.

Garbage is separated into 3 main categories in Japan, burnable, non-burnable, and recyclable. They all have to be taken out on different days of the week, usually before 8am. Make sure that you buy the designated-coloured plastic bags for all of your garbage, and be sure to properly
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Make / Get a hanko

Hanko are the Japanese version of a signature and subsequently are important tools for getting around in Japan. They help when getting a cell phone or a landline, when setting up a bank account, joining a gym or anything else that requires you to prove your identity at a later date.

The simplest, and cheapest, way to get a hanko is to go to your local 100-yen store and pick out one that looks pretty, or, if you can read kanji, pick out one that reflects your last name.

The other, more difficult, more expensive way is to have a hanko made. If you're planning on staying in Japan for more than a year, I would recommend this option.

The cost of having a hanko made starts at about \500, but expect to pay at least \2,000 for a full-sized one.

Recently, we have noticed that some banks only accept a hanko that has your name in Katakana or alphabet on it, so be aware that even if you buy a ¥100 hanko, it may not be accepted.

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Open a bank account

Opening a bank account usually requires a hanko, your Resident Card and your passport (just in case).

Since our major bank is the Kenshin Bank ( 県信 ), this is the bank we recommend you set up an account with. You are free to use any bank, but the Kenshin bank will charge ¥ 210 per month in fees to transfer your salary from the Kenshin to any other bank. As the Kenshin Bank is only available inside Ibaraki Prefecture, the company absorbs the cost for ALTs working outside of Ibaraki.

Minimum deposit at the Kenshin Bank can be ¥ 1 (although we suggest at least ¥ 100) with no monthly maintenance fee.

To open your account you will need to say ‘Atarashiku ginkou kouza wo futsuyokin de hiraki tai no desuga' (I would like to open a new bank account)

When you have opened your bank account, please fax the front page and page 2 of your passbook to us.

If you would like to use online banking, Shinsei bank is recommended. More details are available at :

Kenshin Bank (Japanese only)

Shinsei Bank (English /Japanese)




Maintenance fee

Transfer Fee

Withdrawal Deposit

Opening account

Required documents

Kenshin Bank


¥ 0

¥ 0


¥ 0(Kenshin)

¥ 0/105/210

(Seven Eleven)



1. Resident Card

2. Passport

3. Hanko


Shinsei Bank


¥ 0

¥ 210/month


¥ 0

(Post office)

(Seven Eleven)


By mail


1. Copy of Resident Card

2. Copy of bill

(Cell phone/phone/utilities)


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Get a cell phone

Cell phones, or keitai in Japanese, require your Resident Card. There are 3 main phone companies in Japan, Docomo, Softbank, and AU. All offer some phones with some degree of English ability.

Charges vary depending on the package and packages vary from about ¥ 3000 to ¥ 10000 per month.

Some companies offer pre-paid cell phones that require no monthly fee, but charge a higher rate per minute for phone calls.
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Get a landline telephone

You're most likely going to need some Japanese help with this one, the best suggestion I have is go to an Electrical Store (such as K's Denki, Yamada Denki and Kojima Denki) as they usually have special packages that allow you to buy a phone, and the right to use a phone line for around ¥ 30, 000.

Some useful phrases when setting up a landline are


Denwa no kanyuken arimasuka?

Do you have/ sell phone lines?

To which they should reply



Yes we have/ do.

To which you should say


Shinki de onegaishimasu

Please make me a phone line.

You will need your Alien Registration Card and hanko before you can set up an account, though.

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Set up an Internet account

There are a lot of Internet companies in Japan; the most popular at the moment seems to be Yahoo BB, which offers speedy service and a low price. Other companies include Flets (owned by NTT) and KDDI. Again, my suggestion is to go to an Electrical Store and talk to one of the representatives of the Internet companies that frequent the front of the stores.

In addition, rather than waiting to set up DSL or cable internet, you can opt for wireless internet, which has the added bonus of working anywhere. You don't need a Resident Card to get this service, but it does cost slightly more than standard wired internet. (Emobile wireless internet is about $50 a month, while YahooBB DSL is about $35 a month).

A handy phrase to have when you go up to them is:


Internetto moushikomimasu

I want to signup to an ISP

You will need your Resident Card, as well as your hanko to sign up for any of the services, except for wireless internet. Most of them also require that you have a phone line before you can apply for an ISP. The exception to this rule seems to be KDDI.
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Renew your Visa
Renewing your Visa is a fairly simple process requiring you to visit your local Immigration Office with the following items:
  • Certificate of Employment

Stating when you worked from and until. Available from Heart School (Ask someone in the General Affairs section and she will print one out for you)

  • Income Tax Statement
  • Given to you at the beginning of every year. You only need to take the one from the previous year.
  • Passport
  • Resident Card (Or Alien Registration Card if you arrived in Japan before July 2012)
  • Letter of Employment (which you can get from Heart School).

Take these to your local Immigration Office (in Mito it is alongside Sakura River, we have a map to guide you) and fill out an Application for Extension of Period of Stay. This is a three-page document that, although it is translated into English, will take you time to fill out.

As a rule, the renewal process takes a few weeks to process, but to be on the safe side we recommend that you apply for your extension at least a month in advance.

The cost is ¥4000. You need to pay for this by purchasing a stamp from a different location. In Mito, it is from the Mini Stop around the corner from the Immigration Office.

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Convert your driver's license to a Japanese one

This is a daunting task, but if you are staying in Japan, an essential one. Recently driving laws in Japan changed meaning that if you stay here for more than a year your international drivers license will be invalid, even if you applied for your license after you arrived, it still expires one year from your first day in Japan.

Japanese law requires that citizens of some countries take a driving test before they are eligible to apply for a Japanese driving license. Many countries are exempt from this test, however.

These countries are:

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Canada, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, France, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the U.K. NOTE: Americans are NOT on this list.

First you need to get your present license translated into Japanese. This is a ¥ 3000 process that can be done at any JAF office. Then you need to take this, as well as your passport, to the Prefectural License Office. The office in Mito is located on Route 6, just before Ibaraki-Machi.

This is an all day process that requires you to register before 10am and stay there until your application has been processed. The office is only open business hours, Monday ? Friday, and is closed on all public holidays.

Note: If your driver's license doesn't include an issuing date, you will need to contact your issuing authority to send an original copy or driving record to you. (This will also need to be translated, but we should be able to do that for you.)

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Why you should visit your local International Centre

The International Centre has a lot of useful information, all conveniently offered in English. They have maps of the local area as well as the prefecture, information on doctors that speak English in your area; they also offer legal advice in English (on specific days, you may need to make a reservation), as well as a list of other services.

As well as these services, they occasionally have intercultural days that give you the opportunity to meet and speak to people from various nations around the world.

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Useful Phrases

Some of these are simple, good for every day use and some of them are good for business situations. Practice them whenever you can!


konnichi wa



ohayhou Gozaimasu

Good morning


yoroshiku onegaishimasu

Its nice to meet you


kochira koso

Its nice to meet you, too


otsukaresama desu

Thank you for working (said at the end of the day)



How do you do?


gomen nasai

I'm sorry



Thank you


dou itashimashite

You're welcome



Good bye


eigo wo hanasemasuka?

Can you speak English









I'm going to eat!


gochisousama deshita

Thank you for a delicious meal






It's/ I'm OK.

There are also some useful answers to questions that you may be asked


doko kara kimashita?

Where are you from?


o-kuni wa nan desuka?

(lit) What is your country?

(country)  からきました

(country) kara kimashita

I am from (country)


namae wa nan desuka?

What is your name?

私は (name) です

watashi wa (name) desu

My name is (name)


Nani ga suki desuka?

What do you like?

(Item) が好きです

(Item) ga suki desu

I like (item)


Nan sai desu ka?

How old are you?

(age) 歳です

(age) sai desu

I am (age)


Tanjoubi wa itsu desuka?

When is your birthday?

(month) 月 (day) 日です

Month(gatsu)day(nichi) desu

Its on (month)(day)


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