A Question of Locale – How to Choose Where to Live in Japan

When it comes to moving to Japan, people tend to fall into one of two categories. On one side of the coin are those, that think about potential jobs first while being flexible about the location. On the other side are those, that have a specific area in mind where they want to live, while considerations about work are secondary. “I want to live in Tokyo not matter what, so I’ll do whatever work I can find” is a pretty common attitude among people that newly arrived to Japan or are still abroad, waiting for their chance to get in. As you can imagine, an all-or-nothing approach like that quickly leads down the path to disgruntlement and sooner or later you will find yourself at the HUB, sipping stale beer while you and your (foreign) colleagues rant about everything that is wrong in the world and specifically Japan. But I digress.

As can be understood from the above (very much tongue-in-cheek, but still accurate) paragraph, deciding on where you want to live is a very important decision to make when moving to Japan. As ever, this is not really a guide, rather I hope to give a more nuanced opinion on the whole issue and encourage you to do your own research to find somewhere that is actually livable for you.

The Problem with asking for advice

This is a bit more general, but bear with me because you will encounter this a lot when looking for advice on where to live in Japan. Whenever you ask someone for advice, be that online or offline, it will inevitably contain the opinion and bias of the person that is said advice it. When it comes to to our living environment, requirements vary from person to person so it is a very good idea to keep this in mind. One person might describe a somewhat run-down part of town as “seedy”, while another might praise it for the “urban vibes”. Another problem (mainly in online discussions) is the fact that people giving their opinion usually really love or really hate the thing they are giving their opinion about, so it is hard to find a balanced take.

Okay, but I still want your advice!

In that case, I am going to assume you have read and understood the above. I am trying my hardest to give the ever-elusive “balanced take” here, but it is still advice/my opinion so keep the above in mind.

I would recommend being more flexible with WHERE you work, rather than WHAT you work. Sure, you have seen all those glamorous or outright crazy instagram pictures from Shibuya, you spent two weeks in Tokyo on a holiday, absolutely loved it because you could still get Gyudon from Matsuya at 2 a.m. and now you absolutely HAVE to live here. But consider this, if you are willing to apply for absolutely any form of work, just to be able to live in Tokyo you will a) not make enough money to actually enjoy living here and b) will probably not have a lot of free-time to even use you meagre savings. I find that being content with and motivated for your work is a big contributor to personal happiness, so I would definitely prioritize it above where you want to live. Another more pragmatic reason is the fact that you need work to be eligible for most visa, so if you absolutely need to be in Japan as soon as possible, it is definitely better to figure out where you can work first.

Once you have a job offer, it is now time to think about where you want to live. If you are going to work in a bigger city, it is likely that you will have to commute by train. From personal experience, a commute that takes longer than 45 minutes is just awful, so I would think about that when choosing a place to live. If you like partying and going out a lot, then you might consider living in the city proper, but be prepared for the fact that partying in Japan might be different from what you are used to and rents can get pretty expensive in places like Tokyo. If you only go out on the weekends, then living in more affordable housing in the suburbs might be better for you, but be aware that you might need to take the train to go to a restaurant that you like.

Where should I live though?

You will have to figure that one out for yourself I am afraid. Apart from the above, the only other advice that I can give you is to not be overly dismissive of a place. Japan has 47 prefectures, which all have their own little quirks and characteristics that make them worth exploring or living in. People love ripping on Saitama or Ibaraki online, but I have found both of these places to be a lot nicer than their reputation suggests. When it comes to figuring out where you want to live, nobody but yourself is going to be able to give you a definitive answer. And if you get it wrong, do not be afraid to move somewhere else to try something new. You have already made a massive step in moving from abroad to Japan, is moving from Tokyo to Osaka really going to be such a big challenge?

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