Certain aspects of living in Japan will probably be familiar to many expatriates before they even get there. Youth culture in other East Asian nations, Europe, and the US has been picking up trends from this country for years.
Adult expats, on the other hand, might rather read up on the traditions, arts, and festivals associated with Japan. Their view of the country is characterized by their interest in ritual and culture, in things like no, kabuki and bunraku theater, or the matsuri, local shrine and temple holidays.
First of all, it may be reassuring to know that Japan is a very safe place. According to the Global Peace Index 2014, living there means living in one of the ten safest countries in the world. Actually, it is has one of the lowest murder rates among all nations, and violent crime is indeed rare.
However, you should not assume that Japan does not involve any risks at all. Although violent crimes and hate crimes happen very rarely, they do happen nonetheless. Crime victims, especially survivors of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence, tend to complain about less than sensitive treatment by police officers.
Most foreigners who report a crime in Japan file charges of petty theft or vandalism. In the nightlife of Greater Tokyo, especially Roppongi, Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro, drink spiking, bar brawls, and fraudulent credit card charges are not uncommon, so be careful when celebrating in Japan's major cities.
During your time in Japan, you should also know what to do in case of an earthquake-related emergency. The key points are hiding under a table if the earth starts shaking. Having an emergency kit at hand, and leaving the building as soon as possible after turning off the gas is also important.
The national emergency numbers are 119 (fire / ambulance) and 110 (crime / accident).
Earthquakes are very common here, and most expats may have witnessed one of these seismic shocks. Most of Japan’s earthquakes are comparatively harmless. However, in March 2011, one of them shook the ground and resulted in a tsunami, which hit the east coast very hard.
The tsunami led to the devastation of many homes and the loss of up to 19,000 lives. Moreover, a nuclear plant in the prefecture of Fukushima was heavily damaged. After numerous reactor failures, the government declared the region around the power plant a prohibited zone. Due to high radiation levels, neither locals nor expats and tourists may enter this area.
The first obstacle to a smooth move usually involves the municipal bureaucracy. Every foreign national who wants to settle in Japan for more than 3 months has to register as a resident alien. The procedure might seem a bit intimidating, especially if you don't speak Japanese. But don’t worry! Obtaining a so-called Resident Card (zairyu kaad) is actually not that difficult.
Starting in July 2012, the new Resident Card replaced the old Alien Registration Card (gaikokujin touroku shoumeisho). Foreign residents who stay in Japan for more than three months are now registered in the same system as Japanese citizens. If you come to Japan on a visa for a mid-term or long-term stay, you will be handed your Resident Card at the airport. If you don’t enter the country through one of the big international airports, you will get a stamp in your passport and later receive the card via mail. In both cases, you must go to the local government office within 14 days of arrival and complete your residence record there.
The local government office may be called town hall, city administration, ward office, or something similar. Most residence offices in major cities like Tokyo-Yokohama or the Kansai Region have weekly English-language consultation hours to help foreigners with the paperwork.
Be sure to carry your passport and your card with you all the time. This is legally required for every foreign national living in Japan.
With regards to the different types of visas and work permits existing in Japan, please have a look at our article Working in Japan.
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