Very few westerners make it long term in Japan. Once the honeymoon phase is over most choose to head back. If I had two narrow it down I would there are 2 big issues that foreigners struggle with.
Stuck in a teaching job, no career opportunities.
It’s true that unless you actually speak japanese at somewhat high level(minimum JLPT N2 preferred) you’re just not going to break away from english teaching.
It’s OK when you’re 25 and exploring the world but living on english teaching salary when you’re in your late 30s, 40s is another story. You’re basically just a tad above minimum wage with limited career advancement opportunities. A few do make it and start their own schools and become financially well off but keep in mind that english teaching is far more competitive than it was 20 years ago.
The work culture is hard to deal with
There are lot of cultural differences we can discuss but the big one that I see foreigners pull out their hair over is the damn work culture. Even if you do break away from english teaching and get a regular japanese job you will face other obstacles. I’m not just talking about working long hours but culture of not questioning authority, inefficient business practices. And that’s not my subjective opinion, please refer to the economist, japanese companies are highly inefficient in terms of output per hour worked compared to western countries. It’s becoming common knowledge but it’s worth repeating incase someone reading this is still looking at Japan as a perfect anime land: The suicide rate is actually very high and yes people do die of over work, there is even a japanese term for it: karoshi.
If you’re coming from a western background(which I assume about 90% of the readers of this article are) then you adapting to japanese work enviroment might drive you crazy. I personally ran into quite a few western gaijins that simply gave up and left their japanese company & japan and others who got lucky and got a position in a western company based in Japan.
That brings me to an important point: If you got things sorted before you come to Japan it’s going be alot easier to make it here. A big one is being transfered from your current country to Japan. Still working for the same firm as you used but in Japan is a massive plus and anecdotally I would this group of foreigners are usually the most satisified living in Japan.
Hard to make friends
Somewhat similiar to scandinavian countries in that making friends is not that easy in Japan. Sure, you will get lots of superficial friends and japanese people looking to learn english from you but finding real japanese friends is difficult. This is actually a problem even native japanese people complain about. Especially japanese people who move to Tokyo as an adult knowing nobody in the city. If you struggled to socialize in your home country, you’re in for a lot harder enviroment especially if you move to a big city in Japan(Tokyo being the worst).
Forever an outsider
The concept of assimilating into japanese culture and being regarded as “japanese” even though you might have obtained japanese citizenship and can legally claim to be japanese simply doesn’t happen in Japan. This is not the UK or America. Most japanese won’t view you as japanese since japanese blood doesn’t ruin through your veins(couldn’t find a better way to phrase it). I personally don’t care about this, I have no issues being viewed as “the others” but some foreigners make into a big deal and want be called japanese and viewed japanese. I have more sympathy towards “foreigners” born in Japan and thus they aren’t really foreigners and only have their japanese identity. For them I can honestly see the big struggle of being viewed as an outsider even though you have no outside cultural identity to speak of. But for practically 100% of you reading this article this doesn’t apply to you and if this is a big issue to you then just give up now since this is probably one of the easier things to deal with in my humble opinion.
You might be one of those that love japanese food then lucky you. Food in itself is rarely a big enough decision to dislike a country but it’s one of those small things that add up. If you’re not into japanese food, it might be tipping point that makes you go, fuck this I’m going home. I personally love japanese food so I don’t have much to say about this subject but it seems to me that japanese food is a very polarizing. Either people hate it or love it.
But even considering all of the above, there are plenty of foreigners who make it in Japan and live happy & successful lives. If I had to generalize, it’s rarely the old english teacher who is happy but rather the people who got transfered and working a high paying job or run their own business. I’m going by personal experiences so understand that this article is biased.