Living in the UK and Japan both have their unique advantages and disadvantages. As someone who has lived next to Tokyo for a long while, as well as spending extended periods of time in London and its surrounding countryside earlier in my life, I can confidently say that each experience has taught me more about each country and whether you should live there.
For the benefit of this article, I will be comparing my experiences living between these two cities to help you decide which one is the best fit for your lifestyle.
I’ll be discussing topics such as cost of living, safety, convenience, culture, entertainment, and more – all with a focus on the Tokyo vs London (and Japan vs UK in general) comparison. So if you’re looking to move abroad or just want some insight into life between these two amazing cities then keep reading!
Why should you trust me?
I’ve lived in the UK for basically my entire life, and now I live in Japan. Add to that, I write about Japan for a living and spend practically every hour of every day researching the country. If someone knows the difference between these two countries, I like to think I’m fairly high on that list!
Oh, and in case you want to know the difference between living in the US vs Japan, I’ve done that as well.
England is often thought of as a land of opportunity when it comes to work, and I can vouch for that having lived near London for 25 years. In England, most people get around 28 days of paid vacation a year, though it can be less or more depending on the job you’re in and how long you’ve been in it for.
Working from home is also a popular option in many parts of the UK, especially recently. It’s often written as one of the benefits for potential employees on job sites – though I don’t know how far I agree with that logic. If not, I’ve also seen a lot of hybrid work situations pop up recently too.
Many companies promote flexible working hours to give employees the opportunity to balance their work and personal life. This sort of flexibility is great because it allows people to take care of their family (if they have those kinds of responsibilities) without having to compromise on their careers.
In England, the average work week is around 40 hours. This can vary depending on the industry you’re in and what kind of job you have. However, many employers are now more flexible with their working hours to give employees a better work-life balance.
As a result, many people in England are able to enjoy social activities outside of work such as catching up with friends and exploring new hobbies without feeling too much pressure from long working days.
That last part is something Japan hasn’t exactly figured out yet.
When it comes to work-life balance, Japan is not quite as generous as England. Japanese people typically get around 10 days of paid vacation per year plus public holidays. This number can vary depending on the job and how long you have been in it, but usually, it doesn’t exceed 20 days of total holiday leave.
But even though they have the time off, many people in Japan feel pressured by their company (or society) not to take them. That is the problem with work-life balance in Japan and the reason a lot of people spend more time at work, and less time at home.
Obviously, this depends on who you work for, but sadly it’s a fact across the majority of the board.
Your amount of vacation days increases as you gain more experience in your job. Here is the breakdown according to Japan-Dev:
– After working for 6 months, you receive 10 vacation days.
– After working for 1.5 years, you receive 11 vacation days.
– After working for 2.5 years, you receive 12 vacation days.
– After working for 3.5 years, you receive 14 vacation days.
– After working for 4.5 years, you receive 16 vacation days.
– After working for 5.5 years, you receive 18 vacation days.
– After working for 6.5 years and beyond, you receive 20 vacation days per year.
If you’re reading this and considering working as an ALT, you’ll absolutely be expected to come in after school hours, on weekends, and in the holidays. While technically that’s your own time, it wouldn’t surprise me if you felt some amount of pressure to join in with everyone.
Working from home has become a lot more common in the last few years, but it still isn’t as widespread as it is in England.
The concept of ‘karoshi’ or death from overwork is unfortunately still a thing here too. It’s a huge problem in Japan, and it’s something that needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
However, there are a few companies and organizations that have started to embrace flexible working hours and other measures to promote work-life balance in the workplace. Hopefully, this will eventually become more widespread throughout the country and help improve the overall quality of life for Japanese people.
Overall, while there is still room for improvement, England definitely has a better work-life balance in my opinion.
For those living and working in England, salaries can vary depending on the industry you work in and what kind of job you have. Generally speaking, wages are higher than in other parts of Europe and competitive with most developed countries. Salaries tend to be lower for entry-level positions but increase as experience in a particular field grows.
It also depends on where in England you work. For instance, if we compare Tokyo vs London, the results will be completely different from picking out another part of the country.
The UK has one of the highest minimum wage rates in Europe at £10.42 per hour for people aged 25 or over (as of April 2023). This rate is significantly higher than most European countries including Germany, France, and Spain which all have minimum wage rates below €10 per hour.
In addition to this, many employers offer additional benefits such as health insurance, pension contributions, or childcare vouchers which can help make life more affordable for workers. If you’re going for a tech job or something in London, you’ll likely receive these as part of your compensation package.
In terms of overall salary levels across different sectors, there is quite a bit of variation. For example, jobs that require specialized skills such as engineering or IT often pay much better than jobs that don’t require any qualifications such as retail or hospitality roles.
Similarly, certain jobs in finance and banking offer considerably higher salaries compared to others like manufacturing or construction, where wages tend to be lower due to the nature of the work.
In terms of salary growth, wages have been steadily increasing over the years as employers compete to attract and retain talent.
Japan has far lower salaries than England. Despite the recent hike in Japan’s minimum wage, salaries are still comparatively low when compared to those in the UK.
In certain areas of Japan, I have seen adult salaries as low as ¥961 an hour (Japan’s minimum wage in 2022 works out at $7.18) which is much lower than the UK minimum wage of £10.42 ($12.94) an hour (or around ¥1,729.53).
In terms of wage growth, Japan has not seen as much improvement in recent years. Over the last 30 years, wages have grown just 5%, far below the global average of 35%. However, this seems to be changing as of 2023.
Cost of Living
Discussing the cost of living in Japan vs UK is a tough one because the reality depends on what your life entails. For instance, train travel in the Uk is disgustingly expensive, but cereal is dirt cheap in comparison.
I’d say it does tend to depend on where you live in the UK, but in general, it’s more expensive.
Train travel in Japan is dirt cheap (I don’t care what anyone tells you) for what it is. Eating out is cheap, buying food is a little more expensive depending on what you get, and everything else is fairly relevant to your lifestyle.
For instance, if you’re spending most of your time buying food from the local konbini, you’re sacrificing cheaper deals for convenience.
In any case, make sure you’ve got your absolutely epic wise card if you’re going to do any spending!
The UK is a nation of diverse cultures, languages, and religions. Its diversity is one of the main things I loved about living there.
British culture values politeness and courtesy above all else. Saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ are essential parts of the language, even when speaking to strangers. Punctuality is also important in England, so it’s considered rude to be late for an appointment or a meeting.
It is also common to shake hands with people when you meet them for the first time or when you part ways after a meeting. This is seen as a sign of respect and politeness.
In some ways, the culture of Japan and the UK are incredibly similar. Both countries are exceptionally polite and hold respect and punctuality above most else. Though, Japan may edge out in terms of their punctuality.
It is almost a point of pride for many Japanese to make sure that they never arrive late for anything. The trains are a prime example of this!
However, Japan does have its own unique culture which may take some getting used to. For instance, bowing instead of shaking hands when you meet someone is very common in Japan and a sign of respect. In addition to this, the Japanese language has its own set of customs and etiquette which are important to observe. Though, the UK and Japan both have certain appropriate times for using formal or informal language.
One of the bigger differences, and perhaps one of the challenges I faced when moving out here was how everyone keeps themselves to themselves.
In some circumstances that’s great, but other times I certainly do miss chatting with random strangers about things as mundane as the weather. That said, it will likely differ depending on where you’re moving to in Japan or the UK, and what your social circle is like.
In Japan, order and hierarchy are also very important in many aspects of life. This can be seen in the way people speak, dress and interact with each other. It is important to be aware of these rules so as not to offend or embarrass anyone while in Japan. Though, as a foreigner, you’ll often be excused from not being 100% right, despite the length of time you’ve lived out here for.
Overall, while the UK and Japan may have many similarities, they also have their own unique cultures which are worth exploring! Understanding these differences is key to ensuring you get the most out of your trip or life in either country.
Public transportation in the UK is more expensive than it is in Japan. For example, a single bus fare can cost as much as £10 ($12.63) and a train ticket from London to Manchester can cost as much as £173 ($219) or more…
In addition to this, public transport in the UK can be unreliable and inefficient at times. This is especially true in rural areas where trains and buses are less frequent and sometimes don’t turn up at all. Take it from someone who missed several buses on the way to school years ago…
It’s incredibly frustrating and inconvenient, with people waiting up to an hour for a bus that may never show or just drive right past you if it’s full!
The UK is also behind other countries in terms of the cleanliness of its public transportation system. The country is more car-centric than many of its European counterparts and definitely, Japan too, and this has led to a reliance on road travel which causes everyone to pretty much forget about public transport
I love Japanese public transport, and I think you’d struggle to find someone who doesn’t agree with me. It’s clean, fast, and efficient.
The most popular mode of transport in Japan is the train, which runs almost 24/7 on some routes. The Shinkansen bullet trains are one of the fastest ways to get from city to city, reaching high speeds of up to 320 km/h (200 mph). They’ve also got a famous Japanese sleeper train which isn’t fast, but it’s so flipping cool!
There are a variety of other forms of transportation available including buses, taxis, and ferries. Buses are perhaps my second most used form of public transport since moving to Japan from the UK, and just as reliable as trains.
People always suggest that transport in Japan is expensive, but compared to the UK and near where I lived just outside London, I don’t think that’s the case at all. Japan is much cheaper than the UK and it actually gives people the incentive and the means to go on day trips and be an active part of the tourism economy.
Schooling begins at age 3-4 when children attend preschool, or nursery, and continues throughout primary school which ends at age 11. After this comes to secondary school, which starts at age 11 and ends at 18.
University tuition fees are a big issue in the UK, with universities charging around £9000 ($11,400) per year for undergraduate courses. It’s a lot of money, but I’m still glad I did mine for three years. Though my future self may think differently with the rate of interest the government adds on!
The curriculum is also quite rigid and tends to focus on traditional academic subjects such as math, science, and English. This means that students in the UK may not be given much opportunity to explore a range of subjects or develop any practical skills.
Education in Japan is highly valued, and there are very high expectations placed on children from an early age. We know one main benefit of those high expectations is incredibly clean streets and, in general, more respect.
Education begins at age 5 with compulsory attendance of elementary school through to grade 6 when they complete junior high school. After this comes high school, which lasts until age 18 when students graduate.
University tuition fees in Japan are also much more affordable than in the UK, with some universities charging around $5000 a year for undergraduate courses. This is still expensive compared to other countries but much cheaper than most British universities.
The curriculum is quite broad and includes a range of traditional academic subjects but also focuses on practical skills. This means that students in Japan can develop both their academic knowledge as well as their practical skills which can be beneficial for future employment opportunities.
This is a really subjective one, and honestly, I’ve found that I love both Japanese and English food.
English food, and eating in general is nowhere near as convenient as it is in Japan. Bigger supermarkets may stay open until 10:00 pm, but rarely are they 24 hours.
It’s also quite a bit more oily than Japanese food and that’s something I didn’t realize until I lived in here. That said, I could still do with a chip butty from time to time…
Japan on the other hand has thousands of Konbini selling Japanese snacks and food 24 hours a day. There are slightly fewer ‘sweet’ style foods and far fewer chocolate options than there are in the UK.
However, after living in Japan for 6months, I realized there actually was quite a lot of ‘sweet’ food, it’s just not done in the same way that it was in the UK. For instance, I really miss those fizzy gummy sweets, and Japan doesn’t have any kind of pick n mix which is a bit of a shame.
On the flip side, they have strawberry cream sandwiches and more cakes than I could ever dream of – so once again it comes down to preference!
Just remember to give yourself some time to adapt, and you’ll be fine 🙂
Safety in England is generally very good, though a lot of that has to do with where you live and how you act. People tend to feel relatively safe walking around at night, and most people don’t encounter any issues when traveling on public transport.
Once again, it comes down to your location. When I lived in London there were a number of times when I didn’t feel safe, and the thought of getting the night bus home didn’t even cross my mind.
Afterward, when I lived more in the countryside, it was completely different. Make sure to do your research beforehand, but the countrysides are generally more likely to be safer than cities.
In terms of safety, Japan is statistically very safe. It’s one of the safest countries in the world and it’s rare to hear about any kind of violent crime happening (though of course, it still does).
One of the biggest differences I’ve noticed since living in Japan is the lack of theft. People fall asleep with laptops and phones in their hands, and no one bats an eyelid.
It’s common for people to leave computers at cafe tables while they go to the toilet, and feel more than confident that they won’t get taken. I’m not quite at that level, but I feel completely happy walking around with a camera, phone, and computer at the same time.
In 2022, the citizens of Tokyo handed in a ridiculously large ¥3bn in cash, that’s around $30m. How crazy is that?
The NHS is spectacular, and after living in Japan I still believe it’s the best system in the world. It’s free for all citizens and gives you easy to access doctors, prescriptions, and hospital visits without having to worry about the cost.
At just £9.65 ($12.03) per prescription, it’s pretty damn good value as far as I’m concerned. The only slight problem I found while I lived in the UK was getting into a dentist. All the NHS slots seemed to have been taken which meant I needed to go private.
Even so, it still wasn’t too pricey.
Japan has a great healthcare system as well, though the main difference is that it’s not free for everyone. You have to register with the local government and then pay into their insurance scheme, which usually costs around ¥20,000 ($190) a year.
That said, the amount you actually pay is completely based on your income level. If you’re self-employed and not earning that much, take a trip down to the local government ward office and explain your situation. I’ve always found everyone down there extremely helpful!
In terms of doctors’ appointments, these are usually quite cheap and reasonably accessible (depending on where you live).
In Japan, if you’ve correctly signed up for the national health insurance scheme, you’ll be responsible for paying 30% of the fees, and the government will pay the remaining 70%.
Thankfully I haven’t had to claim this or figure it out firsthand, but I’ve heard from others that it makes things more than affordable. If you’re coming over from the US, I imagine it would seem fantastically cheap!
England is full of wildlife, and it’s one of the main reasons I loved living in the UK. Everywhere you go there are birds singing, and squirrels scurrying around looking for food.
It’s not uncommon to see rabbits, deer, and foxes depending on where you live as well. Everywhere feels alive, and luckily none of those animals are deadly.
Japan, on the other hand, doesn’t seem as alive in the wildlife department. I mean this more in terms of the residential wildlife, where I’ve seen maybe 1 tanuki, a few birds, and a couple of neighborhood cats. That’s it!
In terms of actually dangerous animals, Japan is home to a few species that be deadly. The biggest one is the Japanese Giant Hornet which has a nasty sting and can cause anaphylactic shock if you’re allergic.
There’s also a massive centipede that I can’t even face doing research into (a smaller centipede landed on my head earlier this week…), and mountain bears. It definitely has a far larger array of wildlife and way more to be careful around when it comes to the UK vs Japan.
When it comes to entertainment, England certainly has a few options. There’s a cinema in most towns, as well as fun activities like escape rooms and, most recently, axe-throwing (never tried it, but sounds fun!).
Pub culture here is quite prevalent. Almost every town has a pub or two, some have a more ‘local’ feeling, and others are more of a general hang-out place.
Have you ever even been on a pub crawl if you haven’t been to Wetherspoons?…
In Japan, entertainment is turned up to 11. Karaoke bars are a must-do, and there are plenty of arcades where you can try your luck at the claw machine. If not, try a puri kura, take a trip to a gacha gacha spot, or perhaps grab a spot of lunch in a cat cafe.
If that’s not your thing, wander down to your local izakaya for a chilled-out drink with the locals and some karaage!
Perhaps due to the culture or maybe the huge amount of entertainment options available, it’s a far more social scene than it is in the UK. It’s not unusual to see groups of friends heading to the arcades, or couples going on dates to the gacha gacha machines.
It’s hard to explain unless you’ve come over to Japan on holiday and experienced it firsthand. Once you have, you’ll know exactly what all the hype is about.
Drinking Culture and Alcohol
When talking about living in the UK vs Japan, the UK is definitely a place where drinking culture is… big. It’s not unusual to hear people talk about ‘going out for drinks’ after work or on the weekends, and it’s considered perfectly normal to stop at your local pub for a pint or two.
Alcohol consumption here isn’t necessarily seen as binge drinking, but more as a socially accepted past-time with friends.
I was never to huge into the scene, but would certainly go to the pub with a few friends on the odd occasion. Going out clubbing was fairly popular with the younger crowd, though going to a pub is far more pleasant because I can actually hear people. Though, I might just be getting old…
In Japan, it looks a little different on the outside, but given a closer look things are a lot more similar. Drinking is certainly still accepted and popular (just take one look at the selection of beers in any convenience store), but it’s a lot less open than it is in the UK. Some have suggested that behind closed doors, Japan has a drinking problem that it can’t admit.
I can’t shed too much light on how true that article is, but after Japan’s government pretty much told its youth to ‘Drink up‘, it wouldn’t be surprising.
It’s also worth referencing the prevalence of shops that specifically sell alcohol. So instead of popping to Tesco to grab a few beers, you’ll go to a shop that stocks loads of different types of alcohol as well as snacks specifically made for pairing with your drinks.
I don’t know much about driving, but I know that it’s expensive. You have to take lessons, pass a test and buy insurance. Plus gas isn’t exactly cheap either. All those things add up, and that’s the main reason I never owned a car.
The UK is more geared towards driving, and most people would likely pick it as their method of transport. Learning to drive will see people straight onto the road, and can be done as part of a longer-term intensive course, or single lessons.
Again, the price of those lessons is constantly rising, and laws are changing, so if you’re considering driving in the UK then make sure to do your own research beforehand.
While a lot of people drive in Japan, the country as a whole is more set up for public transport.
It’s likely going to be hard to buy a car in Japan unless you’re fluent in Japanese or have a friend who is. And if you do end up buying one, it’s probably going to be a kei car!
In terms of learning to drive in Japan, it’s not uncommon for it to cost $3-4K, though if you’re just looking to switch licenses from your home country to Japan it’ll likely be less. The failure rate is higher for those looking to switch due to the bad habits they’ve picked up, so be prepared that you may not pass on your first go.
England is known for its unpredictable weather. You never know what kind of day you might have when you wake up in the morning. Will it be a brilliantly sunny day, or will it be grey and miserable? It’s impossible to predict.
The seasons here vary greatly as well. In the winter months, temperatures can drop to freezing and snow is not hugely uncommon. The summers, meanwhile, are typically mild but can be quite warm at times. And we do love to introduce a good old hose pipe ban!
The thing is, none of this ever lasts that long. In winter I’m left thinking ‘Is that it?’ with regards to the half a day of sleet we might get. Summers seem to go on longer, but even still, they aren’t massively hot like in other parts of the world.
Japan seems to have more absolute seasons. Winter in Japan is usually filled with an abundance of snow (because Japan is the snowiest place in the world), and summer is normally horrifically humid, especially if you’re nearer to Tokyo.
In fact, Japan has 74 micro seasons, so it’s no surprise that I think they’re more prominent here than in England. I’m currently anxiously waiting for Summer to properly start, and from what I’ve been told, I’m not going to like it…
The housing market in England varies greatly depending on where you are looking to live. In London, housing is much more expensive than it is in other parts of the country, while rental costs in many rural areas are quite low. The cost of buying a house in the UK also differs depending on location, but generally, prices have been increasing steadily over the past few years.
Buying property for investment purposes is likely going to be a better idea in the UK if you can afford it. The housing market has provided historically decent returns (not advice), and it’s a way that a lot of people chose to invest in real estate. Japan, on the other hand, doesn’t do too well in that regard.
According to My Life Elsewhere, living in Tokyo is 67% cheaper than living in London. I don’t rent in either London or Tokyo so I can’t confirm or deny it, but what I do know is that space is a big issue in Tokyo. While finding an affordable house in London vs Tokyo is likely to be a big challenge, Tokyo suffers from even less space than its English counterpart.
From my brief look into rental prices in Japan’s capital, the prices did seem a little more affordable, at least for what you’re getting. However, renting in Japan comes with a whole host of potential issues and complications, though that’s a story for another day.
Looking for a cheap house in Japan for under $50k? Cheap Houses Japan is worth checking out. The guy who runs the incredibly popular Instagram page sends through a newsletter with the best of what Japan has to offer in terms of cheap accommodation. Some of them are under $10k, and while they do need a little TLC, they’re perfect for living out your Studio Ghibli-inspired dreams!
In England, the job market is competitive and finding a job can be. That said, there are plenty of opportunities out there and you’ll usually find something suitable if you keep an open mind and look around. The pay is higher than in Japan, but also taxes are higher as well, so make sure to research them before choosing a place to live.
London is a great place to work if you’re in tech, or finance for that matter. It’s home to a lot of different startups (something not so common in Japan) and bigger international companies.
As we discussed earlier on, Japan seems to be stuck on a low minimum wage and that’s not good for anyone. That said, if you’re coming over to Japan, the chances are high that you’ll end up being an English teacher which pays fairly decently (though requires an intense commitment).
If you’re looking to become a translator or work in IT, or finance, you’ll probably be compensated well. If you end up working in a shop or doing work that perhaps doesn’t require further qualification, you won’t be making too much extra cash. But if you’re running out of cash, here are 20 ways to make extra money in Japan.
UK vs Japan: Which is better?
For me, there is no winner. I love both countries equally, but in this part of my life at least for the moment, Japan wins. That’s not to say that I’ll feel this way in even a year’s time, but it’s important to decide what you value the most and go with your gut.
I have no idea where my forever country will be, but I’m thoroughly enjoying my time in Japan, and highly encourage anyone else considering making the move to do so!