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?

Medical and Health Care in Japan – What to do at the Doctors Part II

If have not seen Part I of this series, I highly recommend you to go and check it out here!

Last week, I left you with a bit of a cliffhanger on part I. Sure you are now face-to-face with a doctor, but what happens next?! That is a good questions and it depends a lot on your personal situation, but after finishing last weeks article I still felt like I had more to say on the topic so here goes.

A few more things before you enter the 診察室

But first, we have to go one step back to the point where you submit your カルテ (the clipboard with a document that has all your relevant information on it). Depending on what kind of problems you are having, you might be asked to measure your pulse first. Yes, you often have to do this yourself but it is quite simple. They will show you to a machine that looks somewhat like an old printer from the 90s with a big hole on the side. You then stick your arm through that whole, tell the machine to start (there’s usually only one button, so press that one) and it will then measure your pulse. The result will be printed on a small paper slip which you hand to the reception staff. If you are nervous and have a high pulse as a result, they will ask you to try and calm down a bit and then measure again. If your pulse is still high after your second measurement, they might measure again manually or simply just roll with it.

Next, Japanese doctors love taking your blood (further confirming my theory that all doctors are secretly vampires) so expect to get pricked at least once. Again, depending on the type of treatment this might happen before or after you talked to the doctor but it is very likely to happen. The process of taking blood is pretty universal I think, the only stumbling block is when they ask you whether they can disinfect the area with an alcohol wipe first. Just say はい when you hear the word アルコール (a good idea in general if you are into that sort of stuff), or refuse if you are allergic.

Entering the lair

Now onto the really difficult stuff, the actual talking to the doctor. When you are called, you can proceed directly into the 診察室. Some people knock before they enter, but you do not have to. Unless you specifically go to a doctor that can speak English (or whatever language) and is advertised as such, it is best to expect that they can only speak Japanese. It is very important that you are able to express yourself properly, so the doctor can get a good idea of what is bothering you. If you cannot speak Japanese, best bring somebody who can.

During the interview, the doctor will try to diagnose as much as they can. Sometimes they might be able to tell what is wrong by simply looking at you. If more tests are necessary, you might have to go out and wait in the waiting room again until the tests can be performed. You will then be called to perform further tests until they can determine what they can do to help you, at which point they will call you into the 診察室 again and tell you as much. Generally, you will be given a thorough explanation of their findings and what they think is the best way to treat you. This often includes a boatload of pills and other medicines. Finally, you will be asked to go and wait in the waiting room while they process your payment.

Escaping the castle

Some people are want to leave, once the final consultation with the doctor is over but do not leave just yet. You still have to pay your 30% share of the costs. Simply go to the waiting room and wait until the receptionist calls for you. When paying, cash is often your best bet. Some clinics and hospitals may accept cashless payment, but from my experience most do not. If you do not have enough cash, it is generally acceptable to go to the next ATM and withdraw some (they have your info after all, should you decide to simply leg it). Make sure you double-check the receipt, I have been charged 60.000 Yen in the past when I should have been charged only 6.000. After you have paid, you will receive your prescription for your medication. Now you have almost made it.

The last step on your journey is to pick up your medication. Prescription medication is sold at the 薬局 (yakkyoku) and there are often several 薬局 in the vicinity of a clinic or hospital. You want to be on the lookout for the following sign: 処方せん受付 (shobousenuketsuke). This roughly translates to “We accept prescriptions” and is often displayed very prominently in front of the store. Go in, and present your prescription and insurance card first. Now comes another one of Japan’s peculiarities, the 薬手帳 (kusuritechou). This is a small booklet where all the prescription medication that you receive is logged. If you do not have one, they will make you one for free. If you forgot it, simply tell them, it’s no big deal. Also, you often have to fill out a カルテ again if it is your first time here. After that is done, it’s to waiting again. Once they have assembled all the medication you will be called and get the same explanation about the medications that you already got from the doctor. Then you pay and are finally free to go about your way.

That was quite the adventure, but I hope that it was useful to one or two of you out there. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to leave me a comment or contact me via the contact form or social media. Have a good one and see you next week!

Medical and Health Care in Japan – What to do at the Doctors’

If you want to live in Japan – or even if you are just visiting – it is very important to get familiar with the medical system. Depending on where you are from, the medical system might be very different or not that different at all. Still, going to the doctor was always a challenge for me, even in my home country, so going to the doctor in Japan sometimes seemed like an insurmountable hurdle. Now that I have gotten a bit older, I feel like I have gotten somewhat used to the idea of having somebody else analyze and judge my body, although I still feel uncomfortable. So, for people that may still be struggling with the idea of visiting a hospital or a doctor in Japan, I hope that I can make it a bit easier for you.

But first, what about money?

If your stay in Japan is 6 months or longer, you are required by law to have health insurance. Generally speaking, there are two types of health insurance in Japan: one for unemployed people and one for employed people (I simplify a lot here, if you want to read more about insurance I have written an article about it). Once you are at a medical facility, the two types of insurance generally do work the same though. People who have insurance, generally only have to cover 30% of the fee of most general medical procedures with the insurance covering the remaining 70%. There are some procedures that are not covered by insurance (cosmetic surgery, childbirth, STD testing among others), so it is a good idea to check in advance. Also, since I see it mentioned sometimes: no calling an ambulance does not cost you anything unless you are judged to have made a prank call.

The language barrier

While there are some English-speaking clinics in Tokyo, and younger doctors may sometimes know rudimentary English, hospital or clinic staff will generally only be able to speak Japanese. If you feel like you might not be able to explain yourself, try searching online for places that might be able to help you in English (or any other Language) or bring someone who can translate on your behalf. There are also translation services available that will dispatch a translator to accompany you or translate for you over the phone – for a cost.

I have seen other blogs do vocabulary lists, so I guess I should try making one too. So here is a list of the different medical practices and what they are called in Japanese (not an exhaustive list since I will probably forget some). The translations are not literal and are meant for people to understand what they can expect when they visit this type of clinic.

内科 – naika – internist, generalist medicine
歯科 – shika – dentist
眼科 – ganka – eye medicine
耳鼻科 – jibika – ear, nose, and throat medicine
皮膚科 – hifuka – skin medicine
尿器科 – nyoukika – urology
胃腸科 – ichouka – stomach and bowel medicine
小児科 – shounika – pediatrician
(産)婦人科 – (san)fujinka – (obstetrician), gynecologist

Obviously, there are many more but I think the above list should cover most basic needs. Clinics will often specialize in one of the above. When it comes to hospitals, there are specialized, as well as generalist places that cover a wider range of disciplines.

I have a medical problem, what to do?

If it is an emergency, stop reading this and call an ambulance. Otherwise, choose what kind of treatment you need from the list above and take it to Google, together with the name of your area (for example “耳鼻科 小平市”). If you do not know what kind of treatment you need, go to an internist and they will generally tell you where you have to go. Google reviews are a decent indicator of what you can expect. If you want to take it further and make sure you go to the best doctor (often simply meaning the one with the friendliest staff), there are also dedicated review sites but they are all in Japanese. If it is not urgent, consider calling in advance to make an appointment. Especially in bigger cities, waiting times can be quite long if you simply walk in.

Speaking of which, once you walked into a clinic/hospital, the first thing you need to do is make your way to the reception (受付, uketsuke). Explain why you are here – just something like “My eye hurts and I would like it looked at” is enough – and if you have an appointment, let them know. Then you will be asked to hand over your insurance card and, if it is your first time at this particular clinic/hospital, you will also be asked to fill out a カルテ (karute from German Karte, many german loan words in Japanese medicine), which forms the basis of your medical file. The カルテ is in Japanese and most places will expect you to fill it out in Japanese, so if you can not write Japanese very well, ask somebody who can. That being said, some of the information asked is very basic, such as your name, age, and address, but sometimes it might ask for important information such as allergies or illnesses you have/had, so make sure you read and understand everything.

Once you have filled out your カルテ, hand it back to the receptionist and they will return your insurance card to you. Now you have to wait for the doctor to see you. Some places have a number system, where you receive a number at the reception and are called by that. Other places will simply call you by your name. In any case, once you are called, you may proceed to the 診察室 (shinsatsushitsu, examination room) where the doctor will have a first chat with you, figure out what is wrong and how they can help you.

And with that, we have reached the end of this article, since everything that comes after this point will vary greatly on a person-by-person basis. I hope I was able to give you a general idea of what you can expect. If all goes well, I will write a bit more about this topic next friday. See you then!

Living and Working in Japan – Then and Now

I am now getting close to completing my fourth year of living in Japan, and recently I have been thinking about how this might have changed me and my perspective. Living in a foreign country is obviously a huge challenge and if you go in with the expectation that everything will go according to plan you are bound to be disappointed. So your perspective, your plans, your very idea of yourself and your life might change and it is up to you to figure out whether this is a good thing or a bad thing for you. However, in order to not get too philosophical and write a more relatable article, I will try to stick to a single topic – my expectations before coming to Japan and how they are holding up.

Expectations are there to be subverted – that does not have to be a bad thing

My expectations before going to Japan

Not to toot my own horn here, but I feel like I had pretty realistic expectations before coming to Japan for the first time. I did not expect futuristic skylines or real-life anime characters walking around in the streets (they do in Shibuya though). I expected people to be friendly and customer service to be top-notch. Also, I expected people to be pretty tech-savvy – high-tech and Japan supposedly go hand-in-hand after all – and generally very interested in the goings-on outside Japan. My expectation was that people were cooking Italian food while listening to rock music from abroad. I had read many of the books by Murakami Haruki and his characters definitely influenced my perception.

My impressions upon arriving in Japan

The one thing that I completely underestimated before coming to Japan is the sheer amount of people (especially true for Tokyo). I grew up in a town with a population of around 600.000, which is not exactly small by European standards. But coming to Japan and seeing the masses that flow through airports and train stations here was definitely a big shock. Another impression that I had immediately upong landing was that there are a lot of restaurants and other food-related shops. Advertisements seemed to be either women in short skirts, some exotic travel destinations or, more often than not, somehow food-related.

My Expectations – Four years later

But the point of the whole article was to reflect a bit about what has changed. I often hear that people are bothered by being treated differently due to being a foreigner, even after they have been here for a long time. For me, this is not such a big concern. I recognize that I am different from all the Japanese people around me and being treated accordingly does not bother me (for now, at least). I try my best to fit in, of course, I speak fluent Japanese and try my best to observe rules and customs, but at the same time, I recognize that I am different from those around me just by virtue of having lived somewhere else for 25 years. As long as people do not treat me like an idiot, I am generally fine. But if I am to be treated differently, then I expect to be given some slack when I behave differently in some situations. Sure, when in Rome, do as the Romans do are wise words to live by, but for me at least there are limitations – you can only bend so much without breaking.

As for my expectations, I think it is fair to say that I was pretty off-base, even though I did not picture an anime-fairytale wonderland. While customer service is polite, there can also be a robot-like quality to it, which makes it hard to deal with unforeseen situations. People are generally friendly, but distant and it is just as hard to make meaningful connections as it is anywhere else. Also, the high-tech image is a complete hoax, many people are so stuck in the past that they are still using Windows XP on their work computers. And while there are a lot of people interested in the goings-on outside of Japan, I am reminded of a zoo, where the visitors represent the Japanese, the animals represent everything and everyone non-Japanese, and there is a big sheet of glass that separates them which represents their Japaneseness. There are a great many people here that think that they are different – although not necessarily better – from the rest of the world and I guess if you imagine something for long enough than it will eventually become true.

As for me, I still enjoy living and working in Japan. Sure, it is different from what I expected but I adapted and made it work for me. I enjoy the challenge of communicating and finding my way in a different culture and while it can sometimes be very frustrating, I feel like I am growing and learning so much that it is all worth it. Never stop dancing is the message of one of Murakami’s best books, and living in Japan is definitely a quickstep.

What You Need To Know When Opening a Bank Account in Japan

To set up a bank account, you need to have a visa that is valid for longer than 90 days, meaning you cannot open a bank account if you are on a tourist visa. Some bank branches might even reject you if you are on a visa that is six months or less, but this seems to depend on the bank and branch in question. If you get rejected, maybe try another branch or bank and you might get lucky. Another requirement for setting up a bank account, that seems to have come about recently is, that you now need to have stayed in Japan for longer than six months at the time of application, or you need to have already found work and submit a copy of your contract when applying. This is a recent change in accordance to a new anti-money laundering law and detailed information is still somewhat scarce at the moment, but it could mean that getting a bank account when you first come to Japan has become a lot more troublesome.

ATM machines will often offer English support

What you need to bring when you want to set up an account will be slightly different, depending on the bank, but in general, you will be required to bring your resident card (sometimes passport might get asked for too), a certificate of residence (juuminhyo, 住民票) and your personal seal/inkan/hanko (though some banks might allow you to simply sign). In many cases, you will also be required to provide a valid phone number when opening the account, which can be a problem. If you do not have a personal phone number yet, use a friend’s phone number, or simply give your companies or schools phone number for the time being. You can always change the number later.

Once you filled out the necessary forms at the bank and submitted them to the person at the counter, you will receive your bank book (tsuucho, 通帳) and a cash card (kyasshu kaado, キャッシュカード) sometimes on the spot or in rarer cases via post, roughly one week after opening the account. Some banks might not issue a cash card automatically and you will need to specify that you want one when making the application. Also note, that just because you have an account at a bank does not mean it will be easy to a credit card. Getting a credit card as a foreigner in Japan can be pretty difficult but at the same time this is seemingly entirely up to chance though, some people appear to be able to get a credit card soon after coming to Japan, other people that have lived in Japan for many years will still complete most of their transactions in cash because they do not have access to a credit card. 

Another Look at Job-Searching Websites in Japan

Today I thought we would take another look at job searching websites. I had an article about looking for jobs in Japan on here before, where I introduced a few websites. Today I thought we would take a closer look at a few select websites. The effectiveness of such websites will vary from person to person, so please don’t take these as my definite recommendations. If you are looking to get hired in a specific field (IT for example), then you might want to look for a website that specifically caters to the IT industry. But if you are looking for general job offers or simply have not decided which industry you would like to work in, then the following websites are definitely a good place to start. 

1.           Indeed (インディード) → https://jp.indeed.com/?r=us

First and foremost, yes, Indeed is a Japanese website (or rather, you need to use the Japanese version). If you are looking for jobs in Japan, Japanese Language skills will almost certainly be required, so expect available job offers to be in Japanese too. Indeed is a useful website, more of a search engine, really, that allows you to search with keywords, by salary and much more. It will then search other websites for available positions matching what you put in and will display them in a fashion akin to search engines that we know and love. While you can register and upload your CV and other documents to Indeed, it is almost not worth it because the job that you are interested in is most likely not offered by Indeed, but by a different website. Instead, think of Indeed more like a website akin to Google’s search engine, just limited to job offers.

2.           Daijob (ダイジョブ)→ https://www.daijob.com/en/

If you are looking for English-speaking jobs, or at least want the searching and application process to be in English, you are most likely going to come across Daijob. As mentioned in my earlier article, Jobs that do not require any Japanese language skills are most likely going to involve English teaching, so if that is not up your alley than you are going to struggle to find work if you cannot speak Japanese at all. If you can speak Japanese but are just not confident enough yet to search and apply for work in Japanese, then Daijob might be the right place for you. Having said that, even though the website is in English, many jobs still require you to have Japanese Language Proficiency (JLPT) of at least N2, often N1. Some jobs are even targeted at English-speaking Japanese, rather than Japanese-speaking foreigners for some reason. But in general, you will be able to find many companies looking for foreign talent on Daijob.

3.           Everything else

There are numerous websites offerings jobs, companies post jobs on their own websites, advertise them at job fairs and so on and so forth. Do not think that nothing is available for you, just because nothing comes up on Indeed or Daijob. Networking is important, if you know the right people at the right time, getting a job might be a breeze for some people. Be flexible, keep an open mind and most importantly: do not give up. If you can’t find a job in Tokyo or Osaka, maybe try searching for a job in the countryside. If you can’t land an IT job, maybe think about starting with normal office work. Wanting to work in Japan and then expecting conditions to be the same as in one’s home country is a dangerous path that leads to drinking strong zeroes and posting snarky comments about Japan on social media.

Getting a Mobile Phone Contract in Japan

If you are going overseas, especially a foreign country like Japan, having access to your mobile phone is often vital. Many people will be relying on Google Maps or similar services to navigate around the country, and being able to share pictures and messages with your loved ones is equally important. Here’s what you need to know.

Some providers might have roaming agreements with a Japanese provider, but usually, that means you will have to pay a very expensive roaming charge. In general, it is no problem to get a Japanese SIM card into your phone, but you should check whether or not your phone supports the frequencies that are used in Japan (there are many websites available that allow checking available frequencies, simply cross-reference those with the frequencies provided by the manufacturer for your phone). In almost all cases, you should be able to use your phone in Japan, however. 

Another thing that might be different from other countries, is that prepaid sim cards generally do not exist in Japan. You will almost always have to enter into some form of contract with a company and pay them a monthly charge. The option of simply buying a prepaid card and charging it as you need is unfortunately not widely available. If you only need data, then there are many different options, mostly aimed at tourists, where you simply pay a set price upfront and then use the data that is available on the sim card. Another option, if you also want to surf with your PC, is to buy or rent a portable WIFI device.

Phone number often a requirement

But for many things in Japan, you will be asked to provide a phone number. When you want to open a bank account or rent an apartment you will be asked to provide one when you are job-hunting companies will want to call you to set updates for an interview and so on. And if you want to get a phone number, you will have to enter into a contract of some sort. You can go to one of the major carriers (docomo, Softbank and au), which are also the main internet providers, so there are often discounts on getting a mobile and home internet plan at the same time, but it will be difficult to set up your account if you do not have a good grasp of the Japanese language. There are smaller companies available as well, that focus entirely on the mobile phone market such as UQ Mobile or Rakuten Mobile. And finally, some providers specifically target foreigners (Mobal is one example). These usually have an agreement with one of the bigger carriers for access to their network, but they offer customer support in English so it might be easier to set up.

If you are one of the rare people who do not need mobile data, there are a growing number of public places that provide free Wifi. Starbucks may have started the trend but in recent years other coffee chains have started to follow suit (though often requiring some kind of registration), as well as malls, train stations and convenience stores in the larger city providing Wifi.

Getting Health Insurance in Japan

Last week I posted an article about finding a room in Japan, as well as an article about registering your address at city hall. In that same vein, providing some assistance for people coming to Japan for the same time, I thought it would be useful to also post articles about getting health insurance, paying pension and taxes among others. Today, let me introduce to health insurance in Japan.

If you are a resident of Japan (i.e. living in Japan on a visa that is valid for longer than three months), you are legally obligated to get health insurance. You can get travel insurance or private health insurance from your home country, but there may be many medical facilities in Japan who do not accept that kind of insurance. But not to worry, there are two types of insurance available for residents of Japan.

First is the Employees Health Insurance (kenkou hoken, 健康保険). If you are an employee at a company or factory etc., you will be entered into this insurance by your employer automatically when you start working. The premium is deducted from your salary and your employer will handle payment on your behalf. If there are no deductions on your salary statement, make sure to check with your employer whether you have been properly entered into the insurance plan or not. As a paying member of the Employees Health Insurance, if you present your insurance card at the counter of a medical institution, you will only have to pay 30% of any medical fee (some treatments are excluded, however, make sure to check in advance), with the insurance paying for the remaining 70%. 

If you are not an employee, but a student or self-employed (or work part-time for 30 hours/week or less), you will be able to apply for the National Health Insurance (kokumin kenkou hoken, 国民健康保険). In this case, you have to apply for the insurance by yourself, at the relevant counter in your city hall, when you register yourself as a resident of Japan. After applying for the insurance, you will receive your insurance card and a bunch of payment slips in the post. You can then use these payment slips to make the payment for your insurance premium. You can pay at the city hall, a bank or a convenience store with cash, or you can set up a bank transfer. You will receive usually up to six months’ worth of payment slips, but you do not have to pay them off one by one. You can simply take all of them to the Konbini at once and pay up to six months in advance. Your premium is calculated on your income from the year before, so if you are a student or just started working part-time in Japan, the premium might be quite low.

Just like paying into the pension fund or paying your taxes, paying for health insurance is a legal obligation for any resident of Japan. If you are looking for a hospital or clinic that has English (or another Language) speaking staff, you can search via the following link:

https://www.jnto.go.jp/emergency/eng/mi_guide.html

I hope that this article has been useful to some of you. Not paying your health insurance on time may have consequences on potential visa renewal and so forth, so I recommend taking this system seriously. Depending on where you are from, you might already be used to the concept of mandatory health insurance, but even if your home country does not have a similar system, I encourage you to embrace the Japanese way. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and all that.

Registering at the city hall/municipal office

There are a few steps that you need to do if you enter Japan with a brand new long-term visa (this does not apply if you only come to Japan on a short-term/tourist visa). Unfortunately, no one tells you what you need to do. Even if you were to ask, the probability that someone can answer you in English is pretty low. Therefore, I thought introducing you to some of the steps that are necessary after you enter the country would be a good idea.

When you first come to Japan and receive your resident card, you will be required to register at the city hall/municipal office/ward office (there are many names for places like this, I will be referring to it as city hall from here on out) of the place where you will be living. If you are living in a hotel for a few days, you do not have to register that at the city hall, but if you have your permanent residence, you will need to register that you are living there. When you first go to the city hall, you will need to bring your Resident Card, as well as your passport. When you complete your registration, you will receive your MyNumber (マイナンバー、sometimes called individual number、個人番号), as well as some pamphlets about the neighbourhood, a calendar that shows when garbage will be picked up and so forth. Afterwards, you can also enrol in the National Health Insurance (p. 2) and figure out whether you have to pay National Pension (p.3).

A few days after you registered your address in Japan, you will receive your MyNumber card. The card will be sent via registered mail, meaning that you have to be there to take delivery of the card. If you are not at home, you will receive a notice from the post-office, asking you to come pick-up the card at a local post office or to give them a date and time when they can deliver the card again. At first, you will only receive what is called a Notification card, a small green piece of paper that has your name and MyNumber on it. If you want the full-fledged MyNumber card, that will have a picture of your face and such, you have to apply for it following the instructions you receive in the mail. Once you have a plastic MyNumber card, you can use it to verify your identity to print things like a certificate of residence or similar things directly at the Convenience Store, without having to go to city hall.

If you move, you also have to report it to your city hall. If you move within the same area, you have to go to the city hall and register your new address. If you move to a different area, you first have to go to the city hall of your current address and inform them that you will be moving out. You will then receive a paper stating your current address and move-date. You then have to take this paper to the city hall of the area where your new residence will be, fill in a notice of moving in and hand the two papers together with your residence card and MyNumber card to the people at the relevant counter.

And there you have it. Going to city hall can be somewhat of a hassle, but it is an unfortunate necessity of life in Japan. Especially if you are moving around a lot in the country, it can be hard to constantly update your address but at least the first registration is strictly necessary and if you fail to do that there might be consequences. If you do not update your address regularly afterwards, you might miss important mail regarding your insurance or pension, but that is about it. Still, if at all possible, I recommend updating your address regularly as you move around the country, if you are seeking employment and are living at a different address than the one you are registered at it might make a bad impression. I hope that this was useful to some for you, until next time!

Immigration Authorities in Japan

If you are coming to Japan as a tourist, you will usually only need to deal with immigration when entering and leaving the country, but if you are here long-term (or want to extend your tourist visa, which is possible for some countries) you will need to go to a place called the 出入国在留管理庁. Yeah, that’s a mouthful, which is why I am going to just call them the Immigration Agency from here on. There are several offices around the country, usually in places with a higher population density such as Nagoya, Osaka, Hiroshima, and at various airports, while the head office is located in Shinagawa, Tokyo.

Dealing with immigration authorities is almost never a pleasant experience in any country, and sadly Japan is no exception. Entry and departure to and from Japan, granting of new visa or changing of existing visa status, handling applications for refugee recognition are all examples of procedures under the Immigration Agency’s jurisdiction. The vast majority of people that will need to use the Agency’s services are – by the very definition of the word immigration – going to be foreigners, whose Japanese level will understandably vary a lot from person to person. Yet, despite this fact, foreign language support at the Immigration Agency is still severely lacking. If you have a question regarding your visa status or an immigration procedure, you can email them but you will probably never get a response, you can call, in which case you will probably get half of a non-answer from some underpaid temp staff (if you even manage to get someone on the line that does speak a different language), or you can go to the Immigration Agency in person which might result in a pretty long trip, depending on where you live.

Additionally, if you choose to go in person, the agency will most likely be heavily crowded. If you are looking to submit an application for a new visa/change of status or receive the result of your examination/new visa, then you can expect to wait multiple hours. In some cases, this can take a whole day, even if you go there as early as possible (some people start queuing in front of the building as early as 6 a.m.). If you apply for a new visa you will get the result of your application after a whole month at the earliest, with some visa types such as Permanent Residency taking up to half a year even.

Better to expect a severely outdated process

In general, the whole institution is just horribly outdated, clearly not ready to deal with the recent rise in foreigners coming to Japan and desperately in need of an update. To illustrate my point, here is a personal anecdote. If you change jobs as a foreigner in Japan, you have to report this to the Immigration Agency. Uncharacteristically, there is actually a website that lets you do this, saving you the trip to a nearby office. How modern! However, as if on a mission to prove their own incompetence, the website is a mess. First, you have to register an account, then log in using said account. If you managed to do this, you have to put in all the information that you just put in during account registration again, completely invalidating the need for the registration in the first place. Then you fill in the name and address of your former company, as well as the name and address of your new company, submit and that’s it. But what makes the process infuriating is that for some reason, you need to input any numbers in the address (such as the district code) in FULL-WIDTH characters. In every-day use, as well as any other web form that I am aware off, you are always required to type in half-width characters (for reference, halfwidth is the normal way of writing characters and numbers that you are used to and looks like this: 1991, while full-width looks like this: 1991). I am not sure why this requirement is in place and if it is a simple oversight or an arbitrary test of your knowledge about the Japanese keyboard. 

As you can probably guess from the above, I am not overly fond of the Japanese Immigration Authorities. Unfortunately going there is sometimes necessary, but in almost all cases you will have to go once or twice a year at most. If you have had trouble with the Immigration Agency in the past, let me know your experiences via mail or in the comments.