Tokyo, Japan Report of what it's like to live there - 04/03/13
Personal Experiences from Tokyo, Japan
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Washington DC, 14 hours direct from IAD.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
The contributor is affiliated with the US Government, has been in Tokyo for almost a year, a second expat experience.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
U.S. Embassy employees and their families live on the compound located blocks from the embassy. The spaces consist of apartments and town homes that are fairly spacious relative to other homes in Tokyo, although may be smaller than what you've had in other posts. We've got an apartment and we're very comfortable. We love our bright sunny apartment.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Japanese supplies are expensive, but we have access to the military base commissary and a store on the compound which offers products at a decent price.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing. You can get anything you want here!
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
You can get American fast food all around town, but you're better off getting Japanese "fast food" like ramen, takoyaki, and yakitori.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitoes are unbelievably awful in the summer, but aside form that, this is a fairly problem-free area.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through the DPO.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
There's a cadre of Filipina maids who will work for about $10 an hour.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Yes, there's one on the compound and many around town, although I suspect you might pay a small fortune to join.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
You can use them anywhere, but may have to pay a fee.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes. The Catholic church up the block from our housing has English-language service, and I think there's a Mormon temple with English services.
6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
We have cable through Allied Telesis via the military base and pay about $122 a month for 50 channels.
7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A ton if you want to get out and about and see the country. I don't have much Japanese and am getting by, but it's an impediment.
8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Not many. There are elevators and ramps.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes to all.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
You need a right-hand-drive vehicle of any size, although some have brought their left-hand-drive cars.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, we have internet and it costs about US$135 for three months of service.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Not really. Go get one and pay for one.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
YES. There's a very complicated process for getting pets into Japan, and if you do not follow it to the letter, your pets will be held. You need at least six months' notice to start your pet's process of vaccinations and forms. Don't slack on this.
2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Good vet care and kennels are available, although I have no experience boarding our pets.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
No, not really, which is a source of frustration with spouses.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business dress, as in DC.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
None There is great medical care in Japan.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
The air quality is great.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
The weather is similar to that in any northeastern U.S. city with cold gloomy winters and hot humid summers.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are lots of international schools to choose from, and one will have to do their research before choosing the right one for their child/ren. Our kids attend two different schools. Our older attends ASIJ. We've found the school to offer a strong academic program, great teacher support, and a wide variety of extra-curricular and elective classes. Our kid is being pushed to excel and (we think) will be well prepared to go to any school after we depart. The school offers late buses and weekend buses for the multitude of programs and classes, and will offer the parents buses for events. The one downside is that the school is 45 minutes to an hour outside of the center of town. Our second child is younger, and we did not want her on the bus for an hour, so we chose TIS (Tokyo International School) which is a warm and friendly environment that serves kids pre-k-8. Our daughter is happy and reading (at 5) and thoroughly enjoys the IB-style curriculum and learning Japanese language and culture in a fun way. The school is moving to a new location, which will replace an old building and should prove to be a great improvement. They're also expanding the Japanese language instruction. We love the staff and administration, who are on a first name basis with the kids, and we think our daughter will develop a real love for school based on this early experience. The school is sometimes regarded as the touchy-feely school in the pool of Tokyo schools, and this is probably accurate---although this hasn't taken away from the academic strengths of the school. I couldn't comment on the academics for older children, but for elementary-aged kids, it's a great option. Other schools include Nishimachi (more traditional, with a Japanese focus), ISSH for girls (Catholic and highly regarded), British School, ISS, KAIS, and the list goes on.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
The schools can address mild disabilities, but beyond that you'd have to find a specialized school. I know ASIJ takes IEPs and has staff that can address some issues but not severe ones.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
There's a preschool on the compound that I've heard good things about, and I'm sure many other options around Tokyo.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, at school. The U.S. Embassy compound offers soccer, tae kwon do, tennis and perhaps some others for kids.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
It's fine. This is not a cozy and intimate community, and one has to make their own fun. If you're looking for an active community and a built-in group of friends, you won't find those things here. This can be disappointing for some.
3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Great, the world is your oyster in Tokyo.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a good post for all. There's something for everyone.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not that I'm aware of.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
The highlights have been some of the wonderful street fairs in Tokyo, eating delicious food, traveling to Kyoto, and experiencing a Ryokan and onsen.
8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
You name it, Tokyo's got it: baseball games, theme parks, Disney, beaches, mountains, zoos, festivals, food, spas, and the list goes on...
9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Woodblock prints, beautiful pottery, art, jewelry, kimonos.
10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Japan is a safe, easily traversed country that is steeped in history. There are many sites to see, and the Japanese are kind people who are willing to help.
11. Can you save money?
You might be able to with the COLA, but you will want to travel around the country, which is expensive.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Beliefs that Tokyoites speak English. Very few do.
3. But don't forget your:
Japanese language skills and walking shoes.
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
6. Do you have any other comments?
Japan is a great place, but it's not a given that you'll love it. The language barrier can be huge, and the Japanese are quite socially distant. I've enjoyed our time here and will continue to enjoy the safety, great food, and sites, but I think I'll be happy to move on when our tour is up.