From my thoughts,  Japan Culture,  Life in Japan.,  Tokyo

Is Japan a depressed nation?「Life in Japan as a foreigner Series.」

I’m an avid Quora reader. My feed is mainly Japan related questions and they always have me thinking about my particular experience of life in Japan. I wanted to do a post tackling the most popular issues I have found in Quora, with my opinion as a foreigner living here.

I will answer these questions on a series of posts. Hope you find my insight interesting! Let’s jump right in.

Question Number One:


Many people seem to have this idea of the Japanese Society being a depressed lot that have no other aim in life rather than work and commute long hours. Japanese people are depicted as having no life outside of their jobs, be involved in a sometimes loveless marriage with extremely defined roles (man works and brings the money, woman raises kids and controls the money). It seems like such an unfulfilling existence, it makes you think twice if Japan is a good place to live in. Also, outside Tokyo things are a lot slower and there aren’t as many options for entertainment, so life can get boring pretty fast.

Are these statements true? Well it depends on each particular case but so far at least part of it seems so. Let me elaborate.

I freelance so I don’t have to commute long hours and I’m in a very meaningful loving relationship in which both treasure spending time together. The Husbun having more than 45 min of commute is a big no-no for us, as it is unpaid routinal overtime. He now works for an american company that functions like the companies we’re used to in Europe.

That being said, we know first hand that working for Japanese companies does sometimes fit the general idea of a depressing workplace. Long hours? Check. Modest payroll? Check. Outdated hierarchy? Check. Valuing staying long hours over productive work? Check.

My feeling is that some Japanese men live to work, and their most important relationships are forged in the workplace, when workmates turn into friendships and long hours often end in drinks with the people you work with everyday. (Which I did in college but maybe it’s not the best idea in the workplace.)

Also, some say that the Japanese have a very particular way of “training” new people at work, which can rely on borderline bullying techniques that can turn everyday into a quite stressing reality. In a short period, The Hoosband saw more tears, shouting and gossip working for a Japanese company than in High School. I’m not saying this is the norm for absolutely everyone, but his particular experience did fit the stereotype.

We knew we didn’t want to live in any other part of Japan rather than Tokyo. We love Japan but the country life is not for us; we lived in a small German town for a while and we were fifty shades of miserable. Tokyo has anything we can hope to find, from airports to culture, all kinds of entertainment and everyday commodities. But we’ve done a bit of traveling around and you can believe me, Tokyo is not Japan as Berlin is not Germany. Outside Tokyo, it’s not unusual to see towns emptied and shut down at 19:00, homelessness (although A LOT less than in Europe to be honest), almost no English-speaking people, and so on. This happens in every other country that I’ve been to and Japan is no exception.

Japan has high suicide rates and a mental illness stigma that are strongly related. In this day and age, they warn us foreigners to find foreigner psychologists for anxiety, stress and depression among other mental illnesses. These conditions are not really recognized and treated as in Europe.

So if you come to live in Iwate for example, to work for a Japanese company that expects you to work long hours, you’re stressed in an environment that can get harsh, and your entertainment and social options are limited even on the weekends… you can understand why the Japanese society may seem a depressed one.

That being said, if you’re born and raised in Japan and this is the life you know, you may find it normal and bearable.  For us, life in Tokyo works because we’re not Japanese. I’m aware and beyond thankful for our particular situation. Tokyo is a wonderful city to live in, unique, vibrant, with endless culture and creativity, and I get to experience with the most important person in my life because he works for an English speaking American company that has a 9 to 5 timetable and gives their workers fair salary and holidays. Would we live in Japan if he had to work from 9:00 to 19:00, with 10 days a year of holidays,  daily unpaid overtime and 90 min of commute?

No we wouldn’t.

I can’t say that Japan is a depressed nation because it’s a kind of question that needs a lot more context to be answered and it will always depend on where are you looking for the answer. My perspective of Japan is a very positive one and after living here for more than a year, I don’t think I would be happier in any other city than Tokyo. I’ve met wonderful Japanese people that are happy and content with their lives. Statistics are there but as we found our happiness, I’m sure many others found theirs. I hope our insight shedded some light on the Japanese stereotypes.

Have you visited or live in Japan? What do you think?

Thank you so much for reading and talk to you very soon!


  • Rick Wegener

    Nullnvoids here…I noted this question on Instagram and would like to comment on such an interesting topic. I have known some Japanese people over several Years remotely whilst learning Japanese (I need to start again 😉 I finally visited Japan (Kyoto, Osaka, Nagoya, and the outer edge of Tokyo) in September 2016 for 2 weeks with my wife and daughter. I loved everything about it! The people, the locations, the many social nuances…everything. I respect their deep sense of purpose and commitment in everything they do. Depressed? I did not sense that feeling whilst there or from afar. Perhaps the up coming Olympics will change peoples perceptions. I would go back in a heartbeat …:) PS: As a vegetarian bordering on Vegan it can be a “real” challenge…I am thankful for the back street markets in Kyoto. So much wonderful fruit and Veg :))

  • Silva

    I don’t really want to live anywhere other than Tokyo too, at least permanently. When I go over to teach I can’t really choose where to go; it will probably be a small town somewhere but I’m hoping close enough to the city. Eventually I’ll probably join my Japanese bf in Tokyo. It really is such a wonderful city!

  • Tania

    I’ve been dating with some Japanese, and I found this article is sad yet true. The fact is that, at their young ages around 20s, they tend to date, having good relationships until they came up age as a salary man. Thus I have such a thought that most of them are likely to advoid long-lasting relationships, and loneliness bring them depression, obviously. Even though I suppose that I’m a positive-thinking person, since I’ve started my life in here I changed remarkably, becoming more stressful and depressed. The life looks fun, but I still feel deep down inside there are explainable sorrows.

  • Jennifer Snuffleupagus

    I hope you answer more Quora questions on here soon.
    The Japanese misogynistic, too many hours, and barely enough pay to get by work culture precluded me from following through on a job offer to teach English in Tokyo when I applied to the Geos program when I was 22.
    However, 11 years later, with a financial nest egg of real estate investments around NYC, and a great deal more confidence, I’m ready to reapply for an English teaching program in Japan. And alongside that to battle the structure that makes women feel second rate, and employees overwhelmed with work hours. If I get in, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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