Japanese schools are run by 6-3-3-4 year system and the school year starts in April and ends in March. Students spend 6 years at elementary school and 3 years at junior high school and education at elementary and junior high school is obligatory.  Then students got to high school for 3 years and spend 4 years at university.

Most foreign exchange students from overseas starts studying in Japan from university or some go to Japanese language school with pre-college student visa before officially starting university education. Most children spend 3 years at kindergarten prior to joining an elementary school.  Those whose parents are working spend time at nursery school from their baby years before they join an elementary school.

Japanese education is quite competitive so most students need to go to juku (preparatory school) to pass an entrance exam to join high school. Some children go to juku in order to take entrance exams for private kindergarten.  As a result, education fees are quite expensive in Japan especially if students go to private schools.

It is said that the total education fees are about 8 million yen per a child if he or she goes to public schools from kindergarten to university and approximately 16 million yen if he or she goes to private schools throughout his or her education.  In addition, juku costs will incur so education fees are very expensive next to the cost of buying a house in most households in Japan.

For foreign nationals, there are several international schools in major cities in Japan. The official language at most international schools is English and some Japanese students go to international school to become fully bilingual.  The costs for the international schools are quite high and in general more expensive than famous Japanese private school.

My expatriate boss had three children and they all went to the major international school in Tokyo and all the costs were borne by the company.  Although he doesn’t have much to spend as housing and school costs are borne by the company, he liked to do Dutch when we go out for a drink. Strange, but simplicity wins. Always!


Housing is another headache for many foreigners coming to Japan. Japanese housing customers are quite unique compared to other countries, the firsts newcomers to Japan often find it difficult to settle in their home in Japan. One of the tough requirement is that most landlord requires a guarantor to lease the property.

Although tenants pay securities deposits which is usually two months rent, the landlord requires a guarantor in case of issues with tenants.  Finding a guarantor is sometimes difficult for foreigners unless their employers are willing to sponsor home for employees.

Another unique custom and yet annoying for many foreigners to rent a house in Japan is key money.  Key money is basically nonreturnable gift money given to the landlord and it is in general worth of two months rent.  Tenants also need to pay a real estate agent commission fee which is usually one month rent so renting a house in Japan is quite expensive.

These issues are not relevant for expatriate employees coming from an overseas head office. A relocation team in Japan prepare everything based on the expatriate employees’ request for the desired location, size, layout, ecological footprint, and any special requirement such as pets.

The company usually make a corporate contract with the landlord and pay everything on behalf of expatriate employees.  Although my expatriate boss didn’t have to go through finding a guarantor or complicated paperwork, he was not sometimes satisfied with a big house in Tokyo as he still thinks it is not sizable enough to accommodate a swimming pool and a garage to park 5 cars.