Living & Working effectively in Japan

Japan – Introduction

Japan is one of the most densely-populated countries and has an extremely homogeneous population. A global economic powerhouse, Japan is challenged by its reliance on imported food and raw materials as well as its ageing and shrinking population. It is one of the world’s largest banking centers, contains one of the largest international communities, and is a key destination for expats and international travelers.

Japan retains a traditional culture with strong social and business hierarchies. Until recently, businessmen enjoyed career employment; however, these and other traditions are under pressure as the younger generation enters the workforce and global competition increases.

Home to more than 20% of the world’s earthquakes, an off-shore 2011 earthquake caused a tsunami that damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant and caused a radiation leak leaving extensive areas uninhabitable. The area most affected was a major agricultural and manufacturing center.

Japan is often referred to as a shimaguni (island nation) in East Asia, located in the North Pacific Ocean off the coast of the Asian continent. Japan comprises the four main islands of Honshū, Hokkaidō, Kyūshū and Shikoku, in addition to around 3,000 smaller islands. In Japanese, also known as Nihon or Nippon, Japan is also referred to by Westerners as the “Land of the Rising Sun”. Tokyo is the country’s capital and largest city.

Tokyo, the capital, has a population of 13.4 million (est. 2015) and is the world’s largest urban area (Greater Tokyo) at 37.8 million people. The greater Tokyo area is home to 25% of Japan’s population. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family. Tokyo is also one of Japan’s 47 prefectures, consisting of 23 central city wards and many cities, towns and villages west of the city center. The Izu and Ogasawara Islands are also part of Tokyo. In 2014, Tokyo was named the most expensive Asian city for expatriates, according to the Mercer cost-of-living surveys. Tokyo is a major international finance center, houses the headquarters of several of the world’s largest investment banks and insurance companies, and serves as a hub for Japan’s transportation, publishing and broadcasting industries.

Osaka Prefecture is located at the approximate center of Japan, and is the country’s second smallest prefecture. However, it has a population of 8.9 million (est. 2014) making it the third most populous prefecture after Tokyo and Kanagawa. Osaka extends from north to south, alongside Osaka Bay to the west and is surrounded by mountains on the other three sides. The city is located at the mouth of the Yodo River on Osaka Bay, and has a population of 2.9 million (est. 2014) making it Japan’s second largest and second most important city. It has been the economic center of the Kansai region for many centuries as well as being a major port.

Nagoya lies north of Ise Bay on the Nobi Plain. The city was built on one of the most fertile lands of Japan, which allowed for the development of agriculture. With nearly 2.3 million (est. 2014) inhabitants, Nagoya is Japan’s third most populated city. It is the capital of Aichi Prefecture and the principal city of the Nobi plain. The city is located on the Pacific coast on central Honshu and is the capital of Aichi Prefecture. It is home to one of Japan’s major ports.


Japan is a cluster of 6,852 islands. Japan’s four main islands are separated by narrow straits: Tsugaru Strait lies between Hokkaidō and Honshū, and the narrow Kanmon Strait lies between Honshū and Kyūshū. The Inland Sea (Seto Naikai), an arm of the Pacific Ocean, lies between Honshū, Shikoku and Kyūshū. The sea has more than 1,000 islands and has two principal access channels, Kii Channel on the east and Bungo Strait on the west.

Japan also includes more distant island groups. The Ryukyu Islands (Nansei Shotō) made up of the Amami, Okinawa and Sakishima island chains, extend southwest from Kyūshū for 1,200 km (700 miles). The Izu Islands, the Bonin Islands, (Ogasawara Shotō) and the Volcano Islands (Kazan Rettō) extend south from Tokyo for 1,100 km. The Japanese islands are covered with mountains, most of them heavily forested and crisscrossed by short, swift rivers. Only a few of the rivers are navigable. Only about 15% of Japan’s land mass is suitable for agriculture.

Japan also claims ownership of several islands north of Hokkaidō. These include the two southernmost Kuril Islands, Iturup Island (Etorofu-jima) and Kunashir Island (Kunashiri-jima), as well as Shikotan Island and the Habomai island group. The USSR took control of these islands from Japan just after World War II ended in 1945. Since the USSR dissolved in 1991, Russia has continued to administer the disputed islands.

Because Japan is located in a region where several continental plates meet, the country experiences frequent earthquakes. For the same reason, there are many volcanoes in Japan. Many are still active and some of them frequently erupt. Japan’s most famous volcano and highest mountain is Mount Fuji. This is now dormant and last erupted in 1707. More than 70% percent of Japan is mountainous, and all its major cities, except the ancient capital of Kyoto, are on narrow coastal plains. Less than 20% of Japan’s territory is suitable for settlement, so Japan’s cities are large and densely populated.

The 11 March 2011 earthquake, measuring 9.0 magnitude struck off the northeast coast of Japan. It was the most powerful known earthquake to have hit Japan. The earthquake triggered destructive tsunami waves traveling up to 10 km inland. Over 15,000 people lost their lives and much of the local infrastructure was damaged. The tsunami caused a number of nuclear accidents, primarily the meltdown at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant complex. Residents within a 20 km radius of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant and an 8km radius of the Fukushima II Nuclear Power Plant were evacuated. The aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami included both a humanitarian crisis and a major economic impact. The tsunami resulted in over 300,000 refugees in the Tohoku region, and shortages of food, water, shelter, medicine and fuel for survivors. The overall cost could exceed USD 300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record.


Japan’s climate is rainy and humid, and marked in most places by 4 distinct seasons. The country’s wide range of latitude causes pronounced differences in climate between the north and the south. Japan’s rainy season lasts about 40 days, starting during May in the Okinawa region, through to June and July. August to October is the typhoon season in Japan. During the winter, it snows heavily on the Sea of Japan side, and it is dry on the Pacific Ocean side. Hokkaido and other parts of northern Japan have long, harsh winters and relatively cool summers. Average temperatures in the northern city of Sapporo fall to -5°C (24°F) in January, but reach only 20°C (68°F) in July. Central Japan has cold, but short winters and hot, humid summers. In Tokyo, in central Honshu, temperatures average 3°C (38°F) in January and 25°C (77°F) in July. Kyushu is subtropical, with short, mild winters and hot, humid summers. Average temperatures in the southern city of Kagoshima are 7°C (45°F) in January and 26°C (79°F) in July. Further south, the Ryukyu Islands are warmer still, with frost-free winters. The highest ever temperature in Japan, 40.9 °C (105.6 °F) was recorded on 16 August 2007.

Tokyo has a humid subtropical climate that features two typical major seasons, a hot and humid summer and a mild winter with cool spells. There is significant rainfall throughout the year. The summer months are from June to August, which are hot and humid with the average high of 26.5°C (79.7°F). This season experiences a high level of rainfall and is sometimes called the rainy season, often experiencing typhoons. In winter, the temperature falls dramatically. In January, the average temperature is 6.3°C (43.3°F). Also during the winter, there are regular snowfalls. January and February have more than 5cm of snow.

In Osaka, the climate is warm and temperate. The weather and temperate climate in Osaka are influenced by its coastal setting, next to the Seto Inland Sea. In the summer, temperatures reach highs of 35°C (95°F) and fairly humid and muggy weather. The warmest month of the year is August, with an average temperature of 30°C (86°F). During the winter months in Osaka, temperatures are around 6.5°C (43.7°F) by day, but only slightly above freezing at night. The region sees more rain from the start of rainy season in June, through to the peak of the typhoon season in September, but overall the average amount of rainfall is quite low.

Nagoya has a moderate maritime climate, influenced by its coastal setting, next to the Pacific Ocean. The summer daytime temperatures often reach 30°C (86°F) and even 35°C (95°F), especially during July and August. At nighttime during the summer months, temperatures remain around 25°C (77°F). In January, the coldest month, the average temperature is 4.6°C (40.28°F). However, whilst winters in the city can be cold, nighttime temperatures rarely fall below freezing. Humidity figures are high and rain falls all year round.


Japanese is a complex language – there are at least four levels of politeness. Japanese-Tokyo dialect is the standard. Japanese is similar to Korean only in grammar. Japan imported many Chinese characters, but their meaning, pronunciation, and use can be very different from Chinese usage. There are several linguistic tiers of Japanese that are employed under consideration of the circumstances. One’s speech is catered to fit appropriate behaviours in relation to social status, age, gender, and family relation. Varied regional dialects also exist and can be difficult to comprehend.

The written language (Kanji) is related to Chinese ideographs (characters), which were adopted in ancient times. The Japanese also use two phonetic alphabets (Hiragana and Katakana) simplified from these characters. Nowadays, people are losing their ability to write the complex kanji as they rely more on computers.