Moving to Japan with your family

Updated 2022-12-21 15:12

So, you have decided to move abroad with your family. But how do you prepare yourself for this new adventure in Japan? How to prepare your children? How to involve them in the project? Here are the essential step-by-step instructions to help you live your new life in Japan.

Before moving to Japan 

Moving abroad alone is already an adventure that involves family and friends. But with a family, everything goes up three or fourfold. There's the language to learn, the children's education, and higher education. And there is also the spouse. What do they think about all this? Before booking your plane tickets to Japan, take the time to lay the foundations of your project.

Questions to ask yourself before going to Japan

Japan is a dream for many. Some are satisfied with one or several short trips. Others are more inclined towards long-term immigration to Japan. But where did the idea spawn from?

Assess your moving to Japan plan

  • Are you the instigator of the "Japan project", or is it a common one that you nurtured with your partner and/or your children, be they college students or teenagers?
  • Is your project part of an international contract or not? If so, will you benefit from intercultural coaching?
  • How old are your children?
  • Have you ever been to Japan as a family?
  • Do you and your partner speak Japanese? Are you learning it now, or do you plan to learn it once in Japan? And what about your children?
  • What do you like about Japan?
  • Have you ever taken a long trip with your family? 
  • Is Japan your first expat country?
  • Are you considering seeking help from an expat coach?

Your family back home

In any moving abroad plan, there are those who leave and those who stay. Other family members and friends are just as involved as you are. What do they think of your choice? Involving them in the project could trigger a positive momentum.

Visas for your dependents in Japan

To be able to bring your children and your spouse along with you, you will need to have a work visa for Japan and then apply for "dependent visas" for them. Most work visas holders are eligible for the dependent visa, especially if they hold a teacher's visa, journalist's visa, investor's visa, medical profession visa, researcher's visa, engineer's visa, qualified employee's visa, or if they are persons exercising a religious or cultural activity. Holders of the student visa for Japan are also eligible for the dependent visa, but the latter is reserved for a category of students, including doctoral students, master's degree students, research students, senmon gakko students, amongst others.

It is generally very complicated to get a work visa in Japan, but it is not impossible! Put all the chances on your side by learning Japanese and having proven professional experience in your field. Ask yourself what would trigger a Japanese employer's desire to sponsor you.

International transfer to Japan

An expatriation contract is definitely an option that could well make things easier for you. It implies that the company you work for in your home country sends you to one of its Japanese subsidiaries. This contract might allow you to move with your family. Take the time to gather all the information you need to better negotiate your contract. 

You can add clauses, such as the "cost of living", which is very useful in current inflationary times. Think about your spouse. Will they have to quit their job and be a trailing spouse? Do they speak Japanese? They can benefit from language classes and even help in finding a new job in Japan. The same goes for the children! It will, at some point in time, boil down to childcare, schooling, sports and cultural activities. In your contract, mention everything that you think is essential to your life as an expat in Japan. In terms of health, your company can also take care of your expat health insurance

On the administrative side, your company can take care of all or part of the visa procedure, your moving and settling in your new Japanese city, and dealing with the city hall. The company can also take care of intercultural coaching for you and your family.

Of course, each company has its limits. Few companies will offer you a golden expatriation package. The multiple financial crises have crippled everything, and Covid-19 has definitely buried the old concept of international contracts.

Living with your family in Japan

Finally! You are in Japan. After a few days of well-deserved rest, it's time for your children to go back to school. But to which school? Will you choose the Japanese education system or an international school?

The Japanese school system

In Japan, formal education begins at the age of six when children join an elementary school for six years. Then comes junior high school, which lasts three years. Teenagers continue their education in high school for 3 years and then can go to university for a short or long course of study if they wish. They can also opt for senmon gakko, technical schools, from high school to higher education.

The Japanese school year starts in April and ends in March of the following year. The child's age on April 1 determines the grade of schooling. Before elementary school, no education is required by law, but there are many childcare options in Japan, especially if you live in an urban area. Of course, the options vary depending on budget, location and family situation.

  • Pros and Cons of the Japanese School System

In local schools, children are better and faster integrated into their new life. They follow the rhythm of all Japanese children, participate in the same activities, and master the language more easily. By living the Japanese way, they better assimilate the local cultural codes. On the other hand, parents fear that their children will have difficulty re-adjusting when they return to their country of origin and that their education will not be in line with international standards. They also fear discrimination and harassment (ijime) that the children might suffer. Ijime is the scourge of national education in Japan. Japanese youth are the first to suffer from it. Adults also suffer from it, mainly in the professional world. 

International schools in Japan

This is a huge debate that keeps stirring up expatriate parents in Japan. Should parents enroll their children in a local school or an international school? Of course, it is understood that Japanese schools are not reserved for Japanese, just like international schools are not reserved for foreigners.

  • Pros and Cons of International schools

Expat children enrolled an international school will not be disoriented when they have to go back to the school system in their home country. But when living in Japan, these children run the risk of being disconnected from local realities. For example, the school year starts in September at the French high school, just like in France. Vacations are also inspired by the French model. In this case, it is difficult to adapt to the Japanese rhythm.

Childcare in Japan

Private and public childcare centers in Japan

This issue is a headache for all parents. In Japan, childcare facilities for children are few. And, when they are available, they are expensive. 

There are two types of daycare centers in Japan: private and public. The age range is from 0 to 5 years old, and there are no separate age groups.

Private daycares do not have a waiting list. Some municipalities offer partial financial support. To apply for public daycare, check with your local city hall. 

Public daycares are free and are for people with low income or those in need of financial support. However, it is very difficult to get a place for your child.

Kindergartens and preschools in Japan

International, multilingual, traditional institutions? There are many types of kindergartens in Japan to choose from.

There are two types of schools: the yochien and the hoikuen. The yochien falls under the control of the Ministry of Education: it is a school. The hoikuen is under the aegis of the Ministry of Health, and it is a daycare center. In practice, there are few differences between the two institutions. The yochien uses the same educational programs as the hoikuen, and vice versa.

The only difference is the cost. The yochien is a school, so it will cost less than the hoikuen, around ¥140,000 per year (about 1,200 euros) including canteen facilities. Daycare centers (hoikuen), on the other hand, will cost between ¥240,000 and ¥360,000 per year, that is between 2,000 and 3,000 euros.

Private nannies

Private nannies in Japan can be hired on a long- or short-term basis. In most cases, nannies are hired for children under kindergarten age, but in some cases, nannies can take care of older children.

Additional tips for moving to Japan with your family

Ideally, you and your spouse should learn Japanese. Take a few classes before leaving and continue learning once you arrive in Japan. Do not rely on English only.

Be mindful of your children's welfare. Racism exists everywhere, and Japan is no exception. Some parents avoid sending their children to a Japanese school due to fear of harassment (ijime). Before sending your child to school in Japan, take the time to talk to the teaching staff (regardless of the school you choose). If you choose a Japanese school, the dialogue will go much better if you speak enough Japanese to hold a basic conversation.

Be mindful of your spouse's well-being. They may have had to quit their job to follow you, and living in Japan is a significant change. Frustration may arise if they leave a rich professional life and cannot find a fulfilling job. Keep the dialogue going and support them in their integration process. If your spouse takes care of the household, don't minimize their activity because the spouse guarantees the family's stability.

Take family breaks whenever possible. Visit your city, discover your prefecture, and enjoy your new life in Japan.

Useful links:

Lycée français international de Tokyo

American school in Japan

Babysitting in Japan

Care finder

Kidsline (in Japanese)

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