Japan is a very interesting country that has gained attention from the rest of the world. This would end up attracting a large number of foreigners to visit and live there. When visiting there a few things to consider before enjoying the many sights of the country. This could help those who want to live there as well. There is so much to see and do, one might not know where to start. It is always best to do some extra research on the areas that you’ll want to visit too.
1. Tax Increase
In October in 2018, the base tax increased from 8% to 10% on all non-essential purchases. All the items that don’t fall under a necessity are hit with the increase. This applies to snacks, soft drinks, restaurant food, and other things of that nature. The same is made for eating in or getting takeout from restaurants. If you decide to get take away it reverts back to 8% but stays at the new 10% if you decide to eat at the restaurant. This will apply to visitors and residents alike.
2. Smoking in Public
Smoking in Japan has been allowed in many places for a long time. You could generally smoke while on the street, and around buildings. Recently there have been new laws being passed that have prohibited the places you can smoke. There will be areas in cities that are cordoned off and have large signs to let people know it’s the smoking area. This is especially true during festivals and events of that kind. When it comes to the sidewalks there are lots of places that don’t allow in heavy foot traffic areas. There have been some city ordinances that don’t allow smoking near doors up to a certain distance. There are still plenty of restaurants that allow smoking in parts of their places. They usually have the places separated from the non-smoking areas, but many places just have an open area with some of the smoking and non-smoking ones close to each other. In bars and izakaya smoking is always allowed. If you want no smoking at all, there are some restaurants that do a complete smoke-free house. Check for the signs and even look at the tables to see if there are ashtrays on them. Pretty much all areas across the nation are cracking down on smoking in any type of public area or dining establishment.
3. Tattoos in Onsen
This has been an important topic among the nation as a whole. There is still a large number of people that want to hold on to the old ways of dealing with tattoos in public baths. The typical rules are very simple, no tattoos are to be visible in the bathing area. This has lead to many foreigners not being able to enter onsens, when in their own cultures it is fine or fashionable to have them. The reason why tattoos are so taboo in Japan, even now, is that they have been associated with gangs in Japan. Typically, only gangsters had any form of tattoos on their bodies, and anyone who had them meant they too were part of a gang.
Nowadays with the younger generations of Japanese people, it has become less of a scary thing to have, and it is becoming more and more acceptable for foreigners. There have even been a slow-building of tattoo parlors in Japan’s major cities. With all of that said, the onsens that have traditionally been against having any kind of skin art are starting to lighten up on the strict adherence to the rule. This comes from the tourist industry growing every year, and they are slowly finding out just how much business they are losing to this way of thinking. Some new rules entail covering the tattoo while in the bathing area or having some kind of thing to hide it. There is still some argument by owners that they should keep things the way that they are, but they are slowly realizing the benefits of letting go of some of the old ways.
4. Becoming More Foreigner Friendly
With the population crisis slowly gaining on Japan, they have tried to find new ways to bolster their rapidly aging workforce. Currently, the number of elderly aged men and women outnumber the young. To help ease the problems caused by this there have been a number of rules that have been loosened to allow more foreigners into the country to work low-level jobs. The jobs are mostly low skill wage jobs that every country needs to be filled. Jobs such as convenience store clerks, cleaning, elderly care, and other professions in the same vein. The bar for highly skilled workers has also been lowered slightly to allow more ease of residence for these kinds of workers. Highly skilled workers will see their visas approved with more ease, help when looking for housing, and adding a more attractive workplace for prospective workers. Nothing is perfect, and you will still need to follow many of the normal routes to begin living and working in the country, but they are finally seeing the benefit of a foreign workforce.
5. Starting a Family
With the population decrease becoming more and more apparent within the country, the government has tried out a plethora of ideas to try and bolster the family environment there. There have been quite a few motions passed that would assist the family that have children, by giving them a monetary bonus every month to help with general living expenses. There have been a number of tax breaks given to parents during tax season. Even with a large amount of assistance that is being given to new families, it seems that it isn’t motivating enough people to settle down. Monetary problems are a major factor with young people, and the workplace being the most open to women that it has ever been has seen a rise in full-time female workers. With all that being said, it is still a developing idea that the government seems to want to continue pursuing, so expect to see even more allowances for families in Japan.
6. Tax Free Shops
If you are visiting Japan you find lots of stores that will have tax free signs posted in front of their shops. They are usually red with white lettering on them. These shops can sell you all of your items completely tax-free. The stipulation you need to have before you can use it is that you must show your passport. It has to be current and have the proper stamps, which if you traveled there legally you should have everything you need. You can then purchase everything at its base price and bypass the new tax laws. If you are living in Japan, then you can’t use the tax-free option. It is only available to those who are visiting the country for the short amount of time that the travel visa allows.
7. Plastic Problem
There has been a common theme when the environment has been mentioned in Japan, and that’s plastic use. Japan is one of the largest users of plastic in the world. They tend to use more plastics than most of the other nations on the planet. The government has been looking to find new ways to help curve some of the more frequent uses of plastics. At grocery stores, you have to pay a little extra per plastic bag when checking out. They have been contemplating doing this at convenience stores as well, and even looking to change the plastic cutlery. There has been a push to change to a law that is akin to California about plastic straws. They have been looking into finding other ways of getting rid of a large amount of plastic use in similar ways. Nothing definitive has been pushed forward, but there will be something coming soon to change the current status quo.
8. The New Era
The year has brought about new change, and a new era. This year Japan crowned its new emperor and rang in the new Reiwa era. For anyone who doesn’t know, the traditional Japanese calendar goes by the year of the current Emperor. Each time a new emperor takes their seat the calendar must change to fit the year of the new candidate. The current era began on May 1st, 2019.
The country of Japan has been widely known for its relentless workforce and having an army of dedicated workers willing to give what was needed to their companies. As time has moved on, this work ethic isn’t beginning to show the same level of productivity as it used to. The younger generations are placing more value on time with their family and friends, and the country’s notorious suicide rate is still high, even after a decline due to current work and school-related laws being passed. The companies have begun to see that when their workers take their time to relax and enjoy their personal interests, they are far more productive and happy.
This has lead to changes in some of the typical work structure in the country, even though much of the old-style work ethic is being held onto. There has been an increase in public holidays, the slow dissolving of forced overtime, and other small changes around the country. There have been companies that have given extra holiday days to its employees and even some that have mandatory days that must be taken. The workforce is still one that wants to cling to the old ways, but it is slowly moving into a more balanced life approach.
10. Increase in English
With Japan becoming more and more important to the world as an economic power, they have had to open their mode of thinking when doing business. Mainly in the language department. The language of business with the rest of the world is typically in English, and Japan seems to be trailing in overall English proficiency. In recent polls, Japan was seen as near the bottom of English literacy in all of Asia. Seeing this, the government has begun to beef up its English offerings in school by changing the starting of English classes from 5th grade to 3rd grade. They have also made sure that on most major signs there is English as well as Japanese.
With the Olympics coming in the summer of 2019, there has been an even greater push for the people of Japan to be able to speak at least some basic levels of English. Having a greater focus on natural conversation instead of following a strict textbook regiment has been put into place as well. Though this hasn’t had an extreme effect on the population’s English ability, it shows that they are trying to become more integrated into international affairs.
There are bound to be many other things that have changed in Japan recently, and even things that may happen after this is written. Try your best to look at what Japan has been turning into, and see where it has come from as well. You may find some interesting things that can help if you visit, or try to live there.