【Column】Niseko Living and Working Holiday Visas

March 22
Written by Michael Burns; Michael is from Kansas, USA. He currently works as a Coordinator for International Relations in the Niseko Town Hall.

I have lived in different cities around Japan before, including Kyoto and Nagoya. However, as a foreigner, I find Niseko to be the easiest place to live in Japan. The reason is actually quite simple: Niseko’s large foreign population. And I don’t mean tourists; I am referring to Niseko’s long-term foreign residents, who work or live in Niseko for multiple months or longer. This year is a bit unique, but usually roughly 10% of the total population of Niseko Town is made up of these foreign residents. In Niseko Town alone, there are residents from around 30 different countries, resulting in most people in Niseko being used to foreigners. Because of this, Niseko is very accepting of foreign residents as regular members of the community, which makes it a very nice place to live in. But how do all of these different people get to Niseko?

Many of the long-time foreign residents that I have met in Niseko first came to Hokkaido thanks to Japan’s working holiday visa program. Working holiday visas are a special type of visa that allows young adults (usually 30 years old or younger) to travel in a foreign country for up to one to two years while legally working to earn money for their travels. Japan first partnered with Australia for a working holiday program in 1980, and as of 2020, 26 different countries have partnerships with Japan. In January 2020, Niseko Town had over 250 residents with “special activities” (mostly working holiday) visas, about 40% of the total number of foreign residents.

Although they may first come to Japan to work for a winter season, many foreign residents fall in love with Hokkaido’s nature and the Niseko community and decide to stay in the area long term. Japan’s working holiday program has helped grow Niseko’s pool of international talent and made the area an ideal destination for many young foreign people.