As one of Asia’s most well-known destinations, Japan has attracted attention from retirees in the West for many years. Known for its rich cultural history and its high-tech economy, Japan’s high standard of living and huge variety of cities and towns have made it a favorite of Western retirees seeking a change of setting.
Situated on the Pacific Ocean and stretching across several different climate zones, the multiple islands that make up Japan are home almost 130 million people. With two of the world’s largest cities within its borders, Japan is one of the world’s most urbanized countries, boasting dense living spaces and huge urban developments.
This type of living situation is characterized by the ultra-dense buildings in Tokyo – small, tightly packed houses that are far from inviting for retirees seeking personal space and comfortable living. Despite this image, however, Japan can be a very nice place to live for those that are willing to compromise on their expectations.
Japan is a very expensive country, with one of the highest costs of living in the entire world. Large cities such as Tokyo and Osaka are incredibly expensive to live in, with small rooms often costing upwards of $1,500 USD per month to rent. In the central areas of Tokyo, in particular, accommodation can be extremely expensive to rent.
Likewise, many products and services in Japan are highly expensive. With one of the highest labor costs in the world, Japan is a frighteningly expensive country for those that depend on others for living help. Medical care is of a high standard, albeit highly expensive for those without comprehensive medical insurance.
Despite this, however, many of Japan’s living expenses are somewhat minimal. It’s incredibly inexpensive to dine out in Japan thanks to the country’s huge demand for restaurants and local food options. Tokyo, in particular, is home to one of the most vibrant dining and entertainment scenes in East Asia.
Other costs of living in Japan are fairly minimal. Transportation, particularly using the well-known train networks, is inexpensive and incredibly convenient. Likewise, electrical bills and general utilities are very affordable in Japan. Japan is something of a paradox – expensive in some ways, and very affordable in others.
Likewise, as you move out of major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka and towards the smaller cities and provincial towns that make up most of Japan, the cost of living in Japan continues to decrease. Far from the $1,000 closets of Tokyo – rooms in many small Japanese cities, along with entire houses, can be rented for under $1,000 USD.
Japan’s banking system is one of the most modern in the world, boasting numerous international connections and some of the most recent technology most customers, investors, and account holders will ever use. Despite this, it’s also very insular – one of the world’s most insular banking systems, in fact.
Many Japanese ATM machines, for example, will not take foreign cards, making it difficult for expatriates without a Japanese bank account to manage their finances while in Japan. Opening a Japanese bank account as a non-working retiree is a hard process that can take months to complete, making it a tough reality for retirees.
Likewise, taking care of other ‘everyday’ needs as a foreign retiree in Japan can be difficult. Cellphone service is often linked to employment or long-term residence in Japan, making it difficult to acquire a local phone. Many other essential services are linked to Japanese residency or employment – something many retirees don’t have.
Alongside the difficulties in everyday life for many foreign retirees in Japan, some of the country’s restrictive immigration laws make it difficult for retirees to gain long-term residency. Japan’s visa laws are highly restrictive of non-workers residing in Japan for the long term, making it difficult to reside in the country as a retiree.
The vast majority of foreign retirees in Japan, then, are people that have integrated into the country’s culture and worked in Japan for several years. In fact, many of the foreign retirees that live in Japan have been living and working in the country for a decade or longer, allowing them to pursue residency by working in the country.
Japan also grants permanent residency and long-term visas based on marriage – an option that an increasing number of expatriates are using to reside in Japan. Many foreign expatriates, particularly from Western countries, live in Japan due to a wife or husband with citizenship, through whom they can pursue permanent residency.
Finally, retirees planning to move to Japan face a variety of issues related to Japan’s declining fertility rate and replacement population issues. Japan is home to one of the world’s oldest populations, with more senior citizens than any other country in the world. At the same time, it has one of the world’s lowest rates of new births.
This has strained the Japanese medical system, particularly with relation to services for the elderly. Retirement facilities in Japan are full, often with a lengthy waiting list for new entrants. Services aimed at the elderly are likewise often full to capacity – a potential issue for retirees considering Japan as a lifestyle retirement destination.
It’s worth noting that these problems are limited to some areas of the country, and that many of Japan’s smaller cities are significantly less ‘strained’ by the Japanese demographic issues. It’s important to consider the age demographics in Japan as a retiree, however, as they have the potential to affect access to medical care.
From its vibrant culture to its amazing history, its huge cities to its gorgeous scenic countryside areas, Japan is one of Asia’s most exciting and beautiful countries. As a hotspot for international life, a leading economic powerhouse, and one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world, a retirement in Japan is a fantastic option.