Kobe is one of the largest cities in Japan and it is the capital of the Hyôgo Prefecture. Several companies are based there and its port is one of the busiest in the country, surpassing even Osaka’s. It also has an internationally renowned university, which is a leading research centre in Japan. A cosmopolitan city with a diverse cultural life, Kobe is one of the best places in Japan to become an expat.
But, upon moving there, what to expect?
Well, first of all, you will need a long-term visa, which is usually possible only after having a work offer from a prospective employer. Since Kobe is one of the economic centres in Japan with international companies, it shouldn’t be too difficult finding a job in your area. However, you can also try to work first as an English teacher and after spending some time there and familiarizing yourself with the culture and language look for different jobs. In fact, major corporations such as Nestlé or English teaching companies are your best bets. Still, most workplaces will probably maintain a lot of Japanese work culture – this means long hours and a series of rituals you will have to abide by (like bringing your co-workers gifts from trips after a vacation and going out drinking with your boss whenever you are required).
In case you plan to live in Japan less than a year, you will have to pay taxes only on your Japanese income as a normal Japanese worker. If you live less than five years, you will be taxed on everything except income from abroad that is not sent to Japan. And if you decide to become a permanent resident, you will be taxed on all your income and property as a normal Japanese citizen. (Remember that after paying normal income tax, you will also be required to pay residential tax to your local municipality)
As an employed foreigner, you will also be entitled to health insurance and you can benefit from the Japanese national health service (which covers up to 70% of costs). If you live under a year, you will have to resort to the private sector.
In case you find all of this too complicated, there’s also another way to move to Kobe – as a student of Kobe University, usually called Shindai. The admission process is rather standard, but since university in Japan is not cheap, you might want to look up international scholarships, specially private ones or the renowned MEXT scholarship. For any of them, you will have to demonstrate your enthusiasm for Japan and that you are willing to learn the language – for some, free mandatory courses are provided.
With the MEXT scholarship, all your tuition costs will be covered, plus airfare to Japan and about US$1,200 a month as a graduate student. You can also apply as an undergraduate and receive around US$1,050.
You should be aware, however, that if you are used to American teaching methods at the university level, you might find Japan’s classes to be much less student-driven and focused. Most of the courses are lectures that are quite professor-centric. Keep that in mind and don’t let it discourage you from pursuing your studies!
Also, if you have been studying Japanese before moving to Kobe, you might find it useful to listen to local radio in order to familiarize yourself with the famous Kansai accent beforehand.
Kobe is an amazing city to discover and if you are passionate about Japan, working or studying there is the best way to get to know the culture.