Living in Sapporo, Japan

Life as an expat in Hokkaido's largest city

By Ben Cheng   Mar 4, 2012 - 5 min read

I know people who have come here intending to stay for one year and then ended up remaining here for much longer (such as myself), so there is quite a large ex-pat community here.  

For me, the year round  weather is perfect. That’s not really a surprise though, as I am from England where it rains about 80% of the year. In Sapporo there are four distinct seasons so that there is something for everyone to do all year round.

If you enjoy winter sports then Sapporo is perfect for skiing as Hokkaido has arguably the best snow in the world; light, fluffy and powdery unlike the wet heavy snow that is found in Europe and North America.

Spring is my least favourite season of the year. In Sapporo, even in late May, small heaps of dirty brown snow can still be seen and the wind still has its chill. It also rains a lot in spring so it feels like the weather doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going (like England).

The summer is perfect here getting as hot as 30 degrees Celsius and dry, so it’s very comfortable, unlike other parts south of Japan where it can be very humid and unbearable. The summer gets into full swing around the end of July until the end of August when it is time to check out the local beaches and drive around the nearby mountains and lakes.

Transportation

It is very convenient to live in this city and most people do not need a car because the public transport is so good. The subway system and JR (Japan Rail) are always on time and regular. The bus system is a little more complicated as a lot of buses only have Japanese so it is better to familiarize yourself with the area before you start using the public buses.  Owning a car in Japan can be very expensive as you have to pay a lot of fees. If I want to drive it’s much cheaper to rent a car for a couple of days. Non-Japanese can drive in Japan with an International License, obtained from their home country for a period of up to one year.

If are from the UK, Australia, New Zealand and otherscountries, it is very easy to get a Japanese driving license. If not, then you would have to take a written and driving test, all in Japanese.

Obviously being able to speak Japanese is a great bonus and I highly encourage those to study if you want to enjoy your life in Japan. Unlike the big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, where Japanese is not needed, most Japanese people in Sapporo do not speak English. Therefore I think basic Japanese conversation is essential for you to have a good experience here.

Working in Sapporo

Unfortunately, unless you can read and write Japanese very well (minimum JLPT 2) it will be very difficult for you to get a job other than teaching English. As a result, most native English speakers that come to Sapporo teach English.

There are many Eikaiwas (English conversation schools) all over Japan ranging from small private companies to large corporate firms, so these are probably the easiest to get into as they are always hiring and the turnover tends to be high.

Teaching at elementary, junior high and high schools is also another option. The schedule is usually 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday and you get all the usual holidays and public holidays during the year, paid. To work at these schools some basic level of Japanese is usually required, depending on the school.

Teaching at Universities is probably the most lucrative and the most difficult job to get in Sapporo. However, to work at a University a Masters Degree in a teaching discipline is usually needed and a competent level of Japanese. There are other jobs that you can do besides teaching English, such as recruitment or overseas customer reservations but there are few in Sapporo, so your best bet is to go to a larger city like Tokyo or Osaka.

Alternatively if you can speak, read and write Japanese to a high level you can work for a Japanese company and become a salary man or an office worker.

Housing

Getting a flat or an apartment can be a real pain in Sapporo, especially if you don’t understand Japanese. Pretty much all of the rental agencies do not have anything in English, so you will have to take a Japanese person with you to translate.

It is also very expensive when moving into a place. You will usually have to pay about two months rent up front, a deposit, an agency fee, insurance fees, management fees, key money fee and some other extra costs. All in all you will need about 200,000 yen to move into an apartment with a monthly rent of about 45,000 yen.

The apartments are very small compared to western standards and a basic apartment for a single person consists of a studio room that doubles up as a bedroom and living room, a tiny kitchen, tiny bathroom and toilet.

If you are applying for a job in your own country then the company should have organized the accommodation for you, which means you won’t need to worry about anything. Your company will take care of everything, from furniture to contracts to payments. Easy!

Sapporo is great city to live and once you get into the life style here, it's pretty hard to leave.

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Ben Cheng

Ben Cheng @Ben Cheng

I live in Sapporo and love the life here. Amazing snow, amazing food, amazing people.My website:www.best-of-sapporo-japan.com

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