Aren’t you afraid to be going somewhere where you don’t know anyone?

How can you eat raw fish? Aren’t you afraid you’ll get sick?

Aren’t you worried about going so far away? How can you leave your family? What if something happens to you?

How can you afford it? I heard that Japan is really expensive.

All of these were real questions that I received from family members when I left my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio in 2004 to go to Tokyo for the first time. I want to ask you – what’s the one thing that all of these questions above have in common?

That’s right – fear. And not even my fear. Other people’s fear. 
Like voices in your head trying to drown out and push down this feeling that you just might have the guts to do this.

Maybe it’s been your dream to do this since you picked up your first Japanese comic book (known as manga) and flipped through scenes of typical Japanese life.  Or maybe it’s since you saw that picture or video of fresh sushi being prepared by a top chef Japan and could feel your mouth starting to water as you repeated ‘One Day. One Day. I’m going to get there and taste what the freshest, most delicate sushi really tastes like.’ Perhaps you want to find out if those trains really are that crowded (and if you’ll really get pushed on by a man wearing white gloves). You’ve had posters of your favorite Japanese anime characters on your wall since posters were still a thing. You want to find out where Japanese fashion really gets started or where you can find your own Samurai sword.   You want to walk through a Japanese garden and see a real Japanese temple on the streets of Kyoto.

I’m here to tell you that Japan is not as far as you think, and your dream of either visiting or living in Japan is definitely achievable. It’s not nearly as hard to get here as you think, nor is it nearly as expensive, especially if only coming for 1-2 years. Most tourists don’t even a visa at all.

Sunrise on top of Mt Fuji

So if you’ve always wanted to come and visit or live in Japan, even for one month, three months, one year, or even several years, keep reading and you’ll may just find the right visa for you.

because it’s time to not let other people’s fear or even your own get in the way.  It’s time to make your dream a reality.

So how do you get in?


First things first: The Tourist

Taketomijima Okinawa

There are currently 67 countries that do not require visas at all if only staying for up to 90 days. Please take utmost care to not exceed this 90 day stay, as Japan, like many countries, may take severe action and prevent you from entering Japan several months to several years if you break this rule.  Thailand and Brunei are notable exceptions, as they are only granted 15 days without a visa.

For more information on this complicated list of countries and exceptions, please carefully go through this Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan link:

Several countries do require visas to enter Japan including China, Russia, the Philippines, Peru, etc.  Please carefully check your own country’s requirements for entering Japan as you don’t want to get stranded at the airport waiting for the next flight out.  Japan does not offer visas of arrival of any kind.

Going in and out too often into Japan may trigger suspicion by the Japanese immigration authorities and result in you being denied entry into Japan if you do this too many times in too short a period. This is because it seems that you may be living in Japan or illegally working there without being on the proper visa. I have personally known people that this has happened to and it DOES happen. Obtain multiple tourist visas to Japan at your own risk.

One further note: it is possible to change your tourist visa to a working visa if you are able to find a company in Japan to sponsor you after getting a job offer and the proper documentation from the company to take the immigration office. This may also require you to leave Japan and wait for a foreign Japanese consulate to process the paperwork.


For those of you that want to live in Japan: The Residents

I am not going to go over each kind of visa, but I would like to share a brief run-down of the top 7 most popular ways that I’ve seen people use to allow them to move to Japan. If it worked for them, it can also work for you….

  1. Currently enrolled students – Homestay, Japanese University, Studying at a Japanese Language School


The Homestay

The best way to get to know a culture is truly to live with people from that country in their country for as long as possible. There are several programs worldwide that provide programs to make it possible to stay with a Japanese family in Japan for a wide variety of times. Many of my friends living in Japan who first came to Japan on homestays still visit their “families” whenever they get the chance.

Organizing a homestay with a family is not easy and I would recommend it first through a company or an established university program in order to ensure a secure process. If you have a friend who has had a homestay before and can set you up directly, this could be the cheapest option but will understandably require a lot of trust on both sides.

Check out the link below to get familiar with different regions, options, and prices for checking out the homestay option.  I would also recommend reaching out to Japanese contacts in your local community such as Japanese associations, Japanese language clubs, or teachers of Japanese classes in local high schools who may have resources that will provide more options.  Your homestay in Japan may just end up being through a friend of a friend who knows a family in Japan willing to host you for an agreed upon length of time.

Attending a Japanese University

Once being accepted into a Japanese University, the school will help you obtain your student visa. It is generally easier for a foreign student to gain admission to a Japanese university compared to their Japanese counterparts, but the basic requirements for having a chance to get accepted include:

  • 12 years of school in your home country or an International Baccalaureate diploma (the German Abitur is also accepted by many universities)
  • A valid passport
  • Proof that you can pay all of your university expenses
  • Japanese language skills (not absolutely required but will certainly assist you with getting through classes more smoothly)
  • References from professors/teachers
  • High school transcripts/diplomas
  • Taking the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (which may also require taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if you are not a native English speaker and applying for a program that requires English speaking skills)

Applying for a Japanese university is a post unto itself, but for a list of Japanese universities to which you can apply, check out the following link:

Studying at a Japanese Language School

Just like the Japanese university arranging the proper documents required for you to submit with your student visa application, Japanese language schools can also play the part of employer and help you achieve your dream of getting to Japan (if planning to study in Japan for longer than 90 days).

Please find a link below to a database of several Japanese language schools throughout Japan. Some of the websites will only be in Japanese, but use a Google Chrome browser that offers Google Translate to navigate your way through these all Japanese sites.  If your Japanese is very limited, you may want to contact schools that offer more English support.

Please note that anyone receiving a student visa, whether from a university or language school, need to apply for the visa from a Japanese consulate or embassy before entering Japan. In order to be able to work as a student in Japan, you must apply for permission from the Minister of Justice in advance (please ask your employer in Japan or language school for information about this).

  • People residing in Japan on student visas are only able to work in Japan for up to 28 hours per week and up to eight hours a day when school is not in session.
  • Please also contact your university or language school at least two months in advance of your student visa expiration date so that they can assist you with renewing your student visa if necessary


  1. For those with four-year (Bachelor’s) degrees

This is how I got in and how many people that I first met in Japan were able to get one-year visas to enter the country as English teachers on what is known as “Specialist in Humanities/International Services” visas. All in all, there are 14 different work visas to get into Japan, but the most common visa for English teachers being hired by eikaiwa (conversation schools) or other language schools is the “Specialist in Humanities/International Services.”

Essentially, you will first interview at an office of the Japanese-based company in your home country or go through a Skype or phone session that may will allow you to get the documents from a company already in Japan

I’ll be honest. For those with four-year degrees and have native English speaking ability, it is by far the easiest to get this visa in order to become an English teacher in Japan. You do not need to have a degree in anything English-related to become an English teacher – just a four-year degree.

Getting the degree will require a trip to your local Japanese consulate or embassy after the company that has hired you sends you their end of the paperwork, which hopefully should include a Certificate of Eligibility from the company or organization that is sponsoring your move to Japan. It is possible to obtain a work visa with alternative documentation (documents supporting your stated reason for living in Japan, proof of financial means of support), but getting a Certificate of Eligibility will make the process so much easier for you.

  • This visa usually lasts for one year and will require good standing with the company to get it renewed (a.k.a. they will have to give you more paperwork so that you can go to a Japanese immigration office and get it renewed). If you’re lucky, your renewed Specialist In Humanities/International Services visa may last 3 or 5 years.  Five years of extension is becoming more common after Japanese Immigration policies underwent a major overhaul in July, 2012.

Here is a link to some of the most popular English language schools in Japan.  I strongly advise you to research each of these schools separately to find out more about their reputations.  A separate post will be forthcoming from me on the differences between these schools.

Eikaiwa (Conversation Schools)




Coco Juku:


The “Instructor Visa”

Some companies in Japan that hire people from abroad to work as Assistant Language Teachers in Japanese public schools will put new hires on what is known as an “Instructor’s Visa”. This visa is restricted to Japanese public schools. By its definition, the “Instructor’s Visa” does not allow someone working with it in Japan to work in as many capacities/types of companies as someone would be on a “Specialist in Humanities/International Services.” This makes it harder to transfer to non-teaching companies on the “Instructor Visa.” It is possible to get this visa changed by a new employer, but it may take longer starting out on the “Instructor’s Visa.”

Something important to note about working visas in Japan is that your visa belongs to you in Japan once you receive it. Those who teach in certain other countries, such as South Korea, for example, are no in control of their own visas.  If you cut your contract early with the public school or conversation schools in these countries, you will have to leave the country and cannot switch companies on the same visa.  In Japan, as long as you still have time left on your visa, you can switch to working with a different company on the same visa while continuing to stay in Japan.

Dispatch Companies That Will Help Place You in Japanese Public Schools as an Assistant Language Teacher

Sagan Speak

  1. The JET Programme (the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme)

According to the JET website, the JET Programme “started in 1987 with the purpose of increasing mutual understanding between the people of Japan and the people of other nations. It aims to promote internationalisation in Japan’s local communities by helping to improve foreign language education and developing international exchange at the community level. 2015 marks the 29th year of the JET Programme. Over the past 29 years, it has seen significant growth, from its original 848 participants from 4 countries in 1987, to 4,786 participants from 43 countries at present.”

I personally think that the JET Programme is one of the best deals for getting to Japan as it is a prestigious programme to put on a CV or resume and is sponsored by the Japanese government itself. Being in the JET programme allows one to be fully immersed in Japanese communities, often in rural locations, and receive a nice reduction in living costs while being paid a respectable salary compared to many working for conversation schools and dispatch companies to public schools  but you must apply before arriving in Japan and it is competitive to get into the programme.  I also didn’t know about it before I made it to Japan.  Those who are Japanese language majors and involved in cultural studies programs in university seem to have a better chance of finding out about the JET Programme before arriving in Japan.

One important thing to note is that a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree is required to be accepted into the JET programme.  Applicants should also not have lived in Japan for six or more years total before 2006.

For lots of information about the JET Programme, check out JET’s homepage at

  1. The Working Holiday Life

If you come from certain countries that have bilateral agreements with Japan for working holiday visas, you will be able to get a working holiday visa for six months and then renew for two more six-month periods for a total of 18 months.

The working holiday program first started with Australia in 1980 and now includes 14 countries as of July, 2015. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan website, 10,000 young people get their working holiday visas to Japan annually from 14 different countries. For more information, click here:

and pay close attention to the age, residency, and nationality limitations.

Please note: The U.S.A. is not included among the 14 countries. For those wanting to live in Japan from the U.S., you will not be able to enter the country on this visa. These countries include:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • Republic of Korea
  • France
  • Germany
  • The United Kingdom
  • Ireland
  • Denmark
  • Taiwan
  • Hong Kong
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • Poland

In order to get a working holiday visa, you will need to prove that you have sufficient funds to support yourself. You also need to submit a CV or resume along with all other required documents. Once you arrive in Japan, you must also need to register with the embassy of your home country. It is also important to note that the working holiday visa only allows entry to Japan once. If you need to leave Japan during the length of your working holiday visa, you may run the risk of being denied re-entry into Japan. Working holiday visas are often granted for six-month periods and can be renewed twice for a total of 18 months.  This may vary from country to country, so please check the Ministry of Foreign Affairs link above.

For even more information on the working holiday programme, please click on the link to the Japanese Association for Working Holiday Makers (JAWHM):

  1. Cultural Activities Visas

For those people not covered by a student visa but who wish to stay longer than the typical period covered by a tourist visa, the “Cultural Activities Visa” is an option.  This is a common route for martial arts students coming to Japan.  Application for this visa includes the list of normal documents required along with proof of your cultural activities.



  1. Volunteer Visa

Attention citizens from the United Kingdom!

Under a bilateral agreement between the United Kingdom and Japan, the “Volunteer Visa Scheme” makes it possible for UK citizens to volunteer in Japan for up to one year.  Individuals on the Volunteer visa may volunteer in Japan for up to one year and must work for a registered charitable organization providing services to the public (such as The Red Cross). In addition, those on a Volunteer Visa may not receive payment for their work or bring children or spouses with them to Japan.

  1. Spouse or Child of Japanese National

Like many countries, this is always an option. However, like many other countries, there are restrictions that require careful reading of requirements before applying for the visa.

On this visa, you can work freely, the same as if you were a Japanese citizen.

For those married to a Japanese spouse, you must be legally married to your spouse, be living together (unless unavoidable reasons for not doing so can be proven), and  also prove that you have a stable income. I have heard of people receiving only a one-year spousal upon first application, but this should be able to be extended after the first one-year visa.

One important note here is that someone who gets a spousal visa can apply for a permanent resident visa after only three years instead of a waiting ten years to apply if they were on a working visa.

It turns out that there are 27 types of visas in Japan with different requirements and activities allowed under each one of them.

These 27 visas can essentially be broken down into 3 different categories:

  • Working Visas
  • Non-working Visas
  • Family-related Visas

To find out more about the 27 different visas including Japan’s points-based system for “highly skilled foreign professionals” (which includes advanced academic research, specialized/technical activities, and business management activities), please click the following link:

With so many ways to come to Japan, achieving your dream of visiting or living in Japan is definitely possible!  Push the fear and the excuses aside and start looking into your options.  I know so many people who have visited Japan, moved to Japan, left after one year, left after five years, or are still here just like me.  All of the people that I’ve known who’ve come to Japan have made Japanese culture a part of their lives, even in a small way, ever since.

Come on over.  Japan is waiting…