With thousands of years of history under its belt, decimated by the 2nd World War, then rebuilt into an economic giant, Japan is more than just a tourist destination. Japan is truly a world apart. Japanese culture, much like its neighbors South Korea and Japan is deeply rooted in tradition and rules. That’s not to say that they don’t let loose and have fun, it’s just that they do it in their own way.
As made famous by Sophia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”, many westerners feel like a fish out of water in the land of the rising sun. So moving there often takes a lot of courage and patience. Japanese is the official language, and outside of major hotels and tourist sites, English is sparse. However, for the more adventurous polyglot, this provides a great opportunity to learn Japanese, which is essential to doing business there.
Japan’s principal city is Tokyo, which will pretty much feel like the densest, most over-crowded, and well-lit city you’ve ever been to. For a newbie, I recommend avoiding Tokyo at first, as not to be immediately overwhelmed. I would recommend cities like Osaka and Nagoya, which are large in their own right, but not nearly as crowded as metro Tokyo.
Japan works on the Yen, which is one of the world’s most valuable currencies. For this reason, being a tourist or an expat in Japan can be incredibly expensive. Obviously, depending on the job, local wages tend to match the cost of living. The problem, however, is finding a job. Without previous knowledge of Japanese, it may be difficult to find a job with a Japanese company, unless they previously recruited you for the position, in which case you will most likely use English. There’s always the option to teach English, a lucrative and demanded position.
Japan has cold winters and warm summers, much like neighboring South Korea and central parts of eastern China. In dense urban areas green space is limited, so it’s better to venture a bit outside of the city during the summer months to enjoy the pleasant weather. Also, sports are a major part of Japanese culture, and really enhance your sense of comradery and communal friendship. Traditional Sumo wrestling and baseball are two of Japan’s most favorite recreational pastimes.
Japan’s educational system, much like neighboring South Korea, is rigorous and intense. There is a heavy emphasis placed on children to excel in their studies from a very early age, and because of this, literacy rates and mathematical test scores are some of the best in the world. Again, however, if you are a foreigner, an international private school will be your best option. The language barrier may be too difficult to overcome.
Japan has seven types of visas available to foreigners. Here’s a great site if you want to learn more about applying for the necessary visa requirements.