Japan at a Glance
Japan’s Main Regions
Where to Go
Most expats hardly ever end up in rural Japan. Instead of your living under blossoming cherry trees, relocating to Japan will rather lead you into a heavily urbanized and densely populated environment.
Japan’s coastal cities have undergone a rapid process of urbanization, commercialization, and industrialization. This is mostly due to the lack of habitable space in the mountainous areas and the demand for arable land.
When you move to Japan, your own career or your partner’s job probably means settling in the Tokyo / Yokohama conglomeration, the Kansai region (Ōsaka – Kobe – Kyōto – Nara), or the Nagoya area. Among Japan’s 47 prefectures, these places on the main island are major destinations for expatriates.
The Greater Tokyo Area
As the country’s official capital city since 1868, Tokyo is, of course, the location for diplomats and journalists. The center of the Greater Tokyo Area (with over 13 million inhabitants in Tokyo proper!), this mega-city is not only Japan’s largest urban area.
Tokyo is also the world’s largest metropolitan economy and one of the globe’s three leading financial centers. It is home to the Tokyo Stock Exchange and to 13% of all Fortune 500 companies, as well as countless investment banks and insurance providers.
While Tokyo offers job opportunities for expats e.g. in finance, commerce, and high tech, it is one of the most expensive cities in the world. According to the Mercer Cost of Living reports in 2010 and 2011, Tokyo was the second-most expensive global city worldwide. In 2012, it even became the costliest expat destination.
However, Tokyo is also considered a livable megalopolis by many foreign residents. If you have the salary to afford your creature comforts, life in Tokyo can be quite enjoyable.
Yokohama, located south of Tokyo on the Tokyo Bay, has more or less merged with its slightly bigger neighbor into one giant metropolitan area. Just like its big sister, Yokohama belies its humble origins as a small fishing village.
Yokohama is the major commercial hub of the Greater Tokyo Area and a prominent port city. While shipping is still an important business, the city has also become a center for the bio-tech, pharmaceutical, IT, electronics, and semiconductor industries. Although it is rather expensive on a global scale, it’s significantly cheaper than nearby Tokyo. No wonder that it houses a foreign population of around 75,000 residents.
The Kansai Region
Tokyo has been the financial and political brain of Japan ever since it became the seat of power under the Tokugawa shogunate. The Kansai region (also called Keihanshin), on the other hand, considers itself both Japan’s commercial “stomach” and its cultural “heart”.
The Kansai area is of great interest to expatriates for economic, academic, and cultural reasons. It includes the former merchant town of Ôsaka, which is now Japan’s third-largest city and home to leading enterprises, the cosmopolitan port of Kōbe, and the heritage of Kyōto. According to the 2010 census, about 17% of Japan’s population live in this region. In 2011, it generated 19% of the nation’s GDP as well.
As an expatriate in the Kansai region, you might be working in the medical, chemical, or pharmaceutical industries, the electronics industry, robotics, IT, or the energy sector. Kyōto figures prominently with its tourism industry, as well as its media productions. Kyōto and Ōsaka are home to research institutes and universities too.
Nagoya and Chūkyō
Compared with Greater Tokyo or Keihanshin (Kansai region), the Nagoya region might seem small and almost cozy. However, Nagoya itself is still Japan’s fourth largest city and the center of the Chūkyō Metropolitan Area.
Originally a planned town constructed around the first Tokugawa shogun’s beautiful 17th-century castle, it is now a bustling port city and a hub for Japan’s manufacturing sector. Aerospace engineering and automotive business are represented among Nagoya’s various manufacturing industries.