When you imagine what it’s like to live in Japan, you may immediately picture being in the heart of the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, with a quaint shoebox apartment to call your own. But what if I told you there’s another way?
Tokyo is easily one of the most convenient places for foreigners living in Japan, offering all the amenities of big city life you may need: plenty of work opportunities, endless entertainment options, and a variety of communities to join. However, during the rise of the coronavirus pandemic beginning in 2020, many people living in Japan – including both Japanese and foreign residents – chose to flee Tokyo and pursue a quieter life outside the capital.
Where to Live in Japan: Why People Are Leaving Tokyo
The population of Tokyo is often found to swell more and more with time, but 2020 saw a shift following the coronavirus: more people were moving out of Tokyo than moving in. Tokyo as a prefecture recorded the most cases of COVID-19, which likely contributed to this shift.
But even without the coronavirus, there are some benefits to abandoning the Tokyo lifestyle in favor of a slower, quieter life elsewhere in Japan. For example, with or without a pandemic, Tokyo is known for its problem with crowds, with overcrowded rush-hour trains practically being a symbol of the city. This also means there is less space, especially when it comes to renting or buying a home. And despite the small homes and lack of personal space, the cost of living is higher than in other cities and prefectures in Japan.
With more jobs going remote as a result of the pandemic, Tokyoites left the city for more space, fewer crowds, lower rent costs, and a calmer life all around. Whether you live in Japan now or dream of moving to Japan in the future, you may wonder, then, where else to settle down if not in Tokyo. Here are five prefectures that have seen an increase in popularity and that may be the perfect place to call home.
Kanagawa offers the best of both worlds: it has easy access to Tokyo and is home to its own big city, Yokohama, while also offering plenty of nature (including relaxed beaches and amazing views of Mt. Fuji!) and space. Because of this, Kanagawa has recently become a popular place to move to and is even ranked the most desirable prefecture to live in.
According to a website run by Recruit Sumai Co., Kanagawa’s suburban cities such as Chigasaki have seen up to a 90% uptick in the number of views of online home listings. Chigasaki, along with nearby Fujisawa, are ideal locations for beach lovers looking to get away from the city. But if you still desire city life, cities like Yokohama and Kawasaki offer urban amenities, such as plenty of shopping centers and restaurants, without the high prices found in Tokyo.
Yokosuka may also be an ideal location for homesick Americans, as the US military base is located here. Because of this, you can find some American-style food spots and English-friendly shops.
Kanagawa is Tokyo’s neighbor to the west, and Chiba, another recommended place to live, hugs the east side of Tokyo. Like Kanagawa, Chiba is a great prefecture for those who are looking to be near the action of Tokyo, without being in it. And just like Kanagawa, Chiba has plenty of nature, including surfer-friendly beaches.
Chiba-shi is Chiba’s biggest city and has recently become an attractive option for some following the pandemic, as well as the city of Narashino, which is conveniently located between Tokyo and Chiba-shi. These areas offer easy commutes to Tokyo, shopping malls, and plenty of food options.
Matsudo is also within quick access to Tokyo, with many of its neighborhoods known as quiet commuter towns. But if you really want the countryside lifestyle, look further east to cities such as Sakura or south to cities such as Mobara.
Nagano is an ideal vacation spot for its monkey onsen, ski resorts, and traditional temples and castles. And for these reasons, Nagano is also a great place to live, offering tranquil nature and plenty of fun activities at the same time.
Some Tokyoites have relocated to Nagano to start farms or open cafes. Cities like Nagano-shi or Matsukawa are livable options for those looking to have easy access to Nagano’s mountains and plenty of peace and quiet.
Hokkaido may be known for its frigid winters in the north, but it’s also considered a desirable place to live in Japan. According to the Japanese Prefectural SDGs Survey 2020, Hokkaido was voted the most desirable place to settle down in Japan.
Especially in big cities like Sapporo, you can find everything you may need for life in Hokkaido, whether you’re a student or working in Japan. Nature is always near, and Hokkaido is a favorite for cold-weather sports come winter. Plus, with Hokkaido being the largest prefecture in Japan in size, there’s always something new to explore.
If living up north isn’t your thing, you may want to try Miyazaki, located in Japan’s southern island of Kyushu. Though Miyazaki is often overlooked by both residents and visitors to Japan, it was ranked the happiest prefecture in 2020.
Though Miyazaki doesn’t boast the same job opportunities as bigger and more urban prefectures, it makes up for it in its friendly relationships and warm temperatures. This prefecture is a paradise for those who thrive in the inaka (“countryside” in Japanese), with plenty of farmland (which means fresh food year-round!), beautiful mountains, and a beachy coastline.
Where Should You Live in Japan?
Though many people in Japan choose to live in big cities such as Tokyo, there are also some drawbacks to living in such crowded and expensive areas. For some, simply choosing the next prefecture over, like Tokyo’s neighbors Kanagawa and Chiba, may offer a better quality of life without straying far from the city. For others, the ideal lifestyle may only be found in areas dominated by nature, mountains, and plenty of peace and quiet.
Which will you choose? If you’re looking to move away from the city, read our advice in this article next:
Do you live in rural Japan? We would love to hear about your experiences living in rural areas, write a comment or send us a message!