If you’re looking to travel around Asia as a digital nomad, Japan is completely different to a lot of its neighbouring countries, and should definitely be at the top of your list.
Although a lot of people think of Japan as very expensive, if you’re not looking to move here permanently, that’s simply not the case. We’ll go into more detail soon, but eating out and getting accommodation even in central Tokyo can get pretty cheap!
Whether you choose to live the city life among the neon lights of Tokyo, or have a more peaceful experience in the rural areas, let’s take a look at what every digital nomad needs to know about Japan.
- Japan for Digital Nomads
- Top Destinations for Digital Nomads in Japan
- Coworking Spaces in Japan
- Digital Nomad YouTube Videos in Japan
- Facebook Groups for Digital Nomads in Japan
- Wrap up
Japan for Digital Nomads
So why should you visit Japan as a digital nomad? Well, from a deep culture and history to fun and crazy cafes, Japan has so much to offer!
We couldn’t possibly explain it in just a sentence, so here are some of the reasons you should consider Japan for your next trip.
Many people think of Japan as too expensive to visit, but if you’re savvy about spending your money, even backpackers in central Tokyo can enjoy Japan on a budget. So how do you stay savvy? One of the best ways is to always go for local food. Ordering anything in European-style restaurants often doubles the price, whereas local chains like Yoshinoya sell gyudon (a beef and rice dish) for just $3.50. You’ll also likely find a number of Kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi), where a lot of the items are just 100 yen per plate.
It’s also good to keep in mind that finding accommodation slightly outside of your main target tourist destination will often be cheaper. In Tokyo for example, many people want to visit Shinjuku, but accommodation in Asakusa is much cheaper, and it takes less than 30 minutes on the train to go between the two, and Asakusa in itself is a major tourist destination anyway! As for activities, there are plenty of outdoor activities that you can do for free, and Japan is actually a great destination for avid hikers.
Clean and Modern
In comparison to many other countries you may have visited, Japan as a whole is very well-kept and things run very smoothly. Public toilets are kept clean, you’ll often see train staff cleaning the handles of escalators, and there’s virtually no litter to be seen. One thing to note is that trash cans are a slightly rare sight, so most people will carry trash with them until they get home or find a rare trash can – whichever comes first.
As for modernity, in the big cities you’ll find state-of-the-art skyscrapers, and buildings with the latest earthquake-proofing technology. But you’ll need to take the modern aesthetics with a pinch of salt, as some processes are a little stuck in the past, such as the surprising lack of contactless payment.
Unique Traditions and Culture
Japan is a gorgeous country that prides itself on its rich history and culture. Wherever you go you’ll find a shrine or temple is just around the corner, whether it’s sitting in between two monstrous skyscrapers or hidden away in the depths of a forest. These are often accompanied by a torii, a (usually red) gate that signifies the entrance to a Shinto shrine.
On top of that, you’re likely to find a lot of festivals and events throughout the year that you can easily join in on. And although it’s rare to see anyone just casually going for a walk in traditional kimono, many do wear them to these special events, and you can often rent them in the more touristy areas.
People are Very Polite
In Japan, although the locals aren’t likely to give you a hug or shake your hand, people are generally very polite and will try their best to help if you look lost. People will often walk you all the way to your destination, rather than giving you confusing directions! This is a part of Japan’s omotenashi culture, which essentially refers to Japanese hospitality. Of course, this varies where you go, so don’t expect a busy business executive to stop and walk you to the local train station, but don’t be surprised if someone sparks up a conversation in a local bar, either!
Public Transport is Amazing
As a Brit myself, I’m used to trains being delayed or cancelled on a daily basis, so it was a refreshing change when I came to Japan and was able to reliably plan my day around public transport! Trains do get delayed on occasion, but it’s very rare for them to be cancelled entirely.
On top of that, you can get to nearly every corner of Japan using some kind of public transport. Recently, Hokkaido was even added to the Shinkansen (bullet train) route, meaning you can travel from the north of Japan all the way down to the south with ease. Just be aware that public transport can get a little expensive, so if you’re planning to be in one place for a while, you might want to invest in a bike to get around.
Things to Note
With all these amazing things about Japan, there are a few things to keep in mind. One main issue is that English is not widely understood. Although you’re likely to come across staff with basic English skills in big cities, anywhere in between is generally lacking in English speakers. If you want to visit more rural areas, make sure to carefully plan your trip in advance, and note down some essential vocabulary, or go with a guide.
One other point to note is that Japan is still a very cash-based society. While this is slowly changing, and mobile apps such as PayPay are becoming more widespread, international credit cards are still not accepted everywhere. Make sure to notify your bank before you visit Japan, and look for ATMs that accept international credit cards (such as 7-Eleven ATMs) to take out money before going to local restaurants and the like.
Oh, and the further you go into rural Japan, the less fancy the toilets get! (Don’t be surprised if you come across a traditional floor toilet!)
Top Destinations for Digital Nomads in Japan
Japan isn’t just Tokyo! For digital nomads, although Tokyo is a good starting point with its internet cafes and great transportation, you’ll get a different vibe in every region you visit. So here are some of the best spots to explore. In these spots you’ll find a lot of English speakers, too!
Of course, if you love the city lifestyle then Tokyo is where to start on a digital nomad trip to Japan. One of the things travelling freelancers love about Tokyo is that it’s a city that never sleeps. During the day you can find tons of parks, internet cafes, and coworking spaces to work in, then in the evening you can go drinking in Golden Gai, clubbing in Shibuya, or even go for a late-night arcade session.
With thousands upon thousands of unique restaurants and themed cafes, plenty of museums and galleries, and even onsen (public baths) all over the place, you’ll never get bored in Tokyo.
Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city after Tokyo, and often gets high rankings as one of the world’s most liveable places. The atmosphere is totally different to Tokyo. Whereas Tokyoites are often glued to their phones and busy on their way to work or the shops, Osaka locals are much more friendly and open. That even comes across in their clothing! Osaka people are known for wearing more brightly coloured clothes and not caring as much about what others think. This makes it a great place for digital nomads, because people are welcoming and fun.
A lot of people from Osaka are fiercely proud of their hometown, and love to talk about their superior street food, entertainment and general way of life. We’ll let you be the judge of that!
Kyoto is Osaka’s quieter neighbour. In Kyoto you’ll find that the overall atmosphere is much more demure and peaceful – other than the major tourists spots, of course. There are plenty of ways to experience tradition here too; from kimono rental and the old castle, to traditional restaurants and picturesque streets.
Kyoto is perfect for digital nomads looking for a quieter area that’s still well connected and has a few English speakers around. While coworking spaces outside of modern cities can be a little hard to come by, in Kyoto there are plenty of cafes with wifi, and comfy and spacious Airbnbs to stay in.
If you’re unfamiliar with Japan you may not have heard of Fukuoka, but this sunny southern area is perfect for the travelling digital nomad. The warm climate is one of the most inviting parts, and even in winter it’s incredibly rare for the temperature to drop lower than 0℃. Though there are beaches in the area, it’s not exactly a beach town, so you’ll be better off visiting the castle, shrines, and the big Buddha.
The American Consulate and Japan-America societies are in Fukuoka and the surrounding Kyushu areas, and there are plenty of expats too, so you won’t feel out of place as a travelling freelancer.
Yokohama is right next to Tokyo, but is a popular area for foreign visitors because of its cheaper living spaces and slightly more laid-back lifestyle without compromising on the convenience of the city. It originally gained a name for itself as a popular port town, but is now mostly known for having the biggest Chinatown in Japan. There you can find authentic Chinese restaurants, souvenirs, and other Chinese goods and supermarkets. This is a haven for those who love to shop, too!
For digital nomads, there are a few useful coworking spaces in Yokohama, but you’ll have to do a bit of digging online to find the cheaper ones.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, Japan has ample opportunities for digital nomads to explore outside of the larger cities. The experience is completely different, and the further you stray from the cities, the less you’ll see western influences, and the more you’ll see the old traditions of Japan.
But, you’ll also have fewer of the comforts of the cities, too! Although road signs will always have English on them, it’s very rare to find anyone who can speak English in rural areas, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find cafes or areas with free wifi. The lack of English can be tougher than it seems, as you may find menus with no pictures, or comes across difficulties with accommodation.
If you’re confident in your abilities to plan ahead, and get accommodation and other necessities such as portable wifi ready, you can reap the benefits of the peaceful and traditional lifestyle, and maybe even experience the warm welcome of a local ryokan (traditional inn).
Visa to Japan as a Digital Nomad
At the time of writing, due to the coronavirus, Japan is not currently open to foreigners without a work visa. However, once things return to normal there are a few different options.
There is no specific visa for digital nomads or freelancers, but there are different visas for those with different skillsets and intentions.
Tourist visa: Most countries do not require a visa for their citizens to enter Japan for up to 90 days. However, this is for sightseeing purposes only and requires that the traveller does not earn compensation during that time.
Working holiday visa: Some countries like the UK and Australia allow their citizens to visit Japan and work part-time for up to a year. There are restrictions on what kind of work you are allowed to do, but this is the easiest to acquire and allows the most travelling freedom.
Work visa: There are many different types of work visa, such as the new start-up visa, the humanities visa, and the skilled labor visa.
For more detailed information about each different type of visa in Japan, visit your embassy’s website or take a look at our Japan Visa for Digital Nomad article.
Coworking Spaces in Japan
Recently, there has been a growing need for remote offices around Japan, so in bigger cities like Tokyo and Osaka you’ll have no problem finding a decent coworking space with reliable wifi and all the perks of a regular office.
However, for digital nomads looking to travel outside of the more international cities, you might have to hunt a bit more to find a good coworking space. Some hotels and guest houses are starting to offer their shared areas for coworking, and most chain cafes will offer free wifi. For the retro option, you could also look for manga cafes and internet cafes, where you can pay an hourly fee to have a booth or spot to yourself.
Digital Nomad YouTube Videos in Japan
If you want to get a good idea of what life is like in Japan before you visit, there’s certainly no shortage of J-Vloggers to choose from on YouTube!
Abroad in Japan
An absolute essential to the J-Vlogger list is Chris from Abroad in Japan. Full of sarcasm and dry humour, Chris has changed his style somewhat over the years, pivoting from weird things in everyday life to a more travel based style. Here you’ll find a lot of interesting information on where to go and what to do while you’re in Japan.
Life Where I’m From
Greg has two styles of video on his YouTube channel: One where he goes on fun adventures with his family, and one that’s a more documentary-style giving an insight into life in Japan. Both styles can be informative for travellers or those looking to spend a longer time in the country.
Bappa Shota is a Japanese-born nomad living the van life and travelling around Japan with Scotland-born Ruth. Their vlog-style content not only shows their travels but the fun they have decking out their van with everything they need for a comfortable travelling home. This is good, fun content and great travel inspiration!
Japan Guide’s website was established in 1996 and has been constantly adding new and useful information for travellers even since. They started their YouTube channel in 2016, and have some great guides and information on where to go in Japan and what to do, such as this great video about how to stay at a ryokan (traditional inn):
Traveling with Kristin
Kristin has been traveling all over the world for the past 15 years, working online as a digital nomad. She has some great general information on how to live the digital nomad life, but she also spent some time in Japan! This 18-minute video serves as a great overview and beginners guide to your first time in Japan, from which airport to use to visa information.
Facebook Groups for Digital Nomads in Japan
Facebook groups are a great source of information for digital nomads, no matter where you’re going. Plenty of people have been in the same situation as you, so you can often search within the group for related words or questions, and find that a lot of people have already answered. If your question is unique or new, there will always be someone eager to help!
Digital Nomad Japan
Of course, we have our very own Facebook Group as a dedicated platform for your thoughts and questions. Here you can freely ask any questions you have about being a digital nomad in Japan, before or during your stay.
Tokyo Expat Network (TEN)
A strictly-run but incredibly informative group, TEN is designed for foreigners living in Japan looking for the answers to questions you can’t simply find on Google. Make sure to check the rules and previous posts before posting, as many questions have already been answered.
Working Holiday Japan
This group is mostly interesting tourism-related part-time job postings and apartment listings, with the occasional question and group discussion. This is a relatively small group that is intended for those coming to Japan on a Working Holiday visa, so does not have freelancing information, but is good if you would like to earn a bit of money while travelling.
Japan Travel, Friendly Discussion Group
This group is specifically made for travelling to and around Japan, rather than for digital nomads or workers. This is a well-run group with strict admins making sure people stay polite and on topic, but it’s also a fun group with lots of interesting information on what to do around Japan.
The Digital Nomad Asia
Yes, we know, this is another one of our own groups! But given that we have communities specifically for digital nomads, it would be silly not to mention them. This group is for digital nomads wanting to explore around Asia. You’ll find information about Japan here, but also about your next potential Asia destinations. Perhaps you can even meet other nomads along the way!
Japan is full of rich culture, quirky activities, and great food. There’s so much to experience and explore in Japan as a digital nomad, and so much you can learn about a different way of life.
So pack your phrase book and get ready to explore Japan!