Tokyo, Japan Report of what it's like to live there - 02/14/14
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?
3rd overseas posting, first one in Asia.
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?
Direct flights to West Coast, Chicago, Washington, NYC and other major U.S. cities.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Most embassy staff are housed at a gated compound with security. There are three high-rise apartment towers and two town-home complexes. This is large by Japanese standards. About 10-12 minute walk from the Embassy.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Pretty expensive on the local market but you can find just about anything. Many people travel to the nearby military bases for better prices.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Shoes and clothes as Japanese sizes don't quite work.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Anything you want at all price ranges.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Mosquitos in summer are brutal; there are some cockroaches.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Through DPO at the Embassy.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Many helpers available and living on the compound. Minimum wage is just under US$9/ hour. There are some additional benefits required if you sponsor a domestic helper.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
There is a decent gym on the compound. Other facilities are expensive, as supply is limited compared to demand. There are lovely places to bike and run in the city.
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?
There are some specific ATMs that will accept international cards, but certainly not the majority. Credit cares are widely used, but you can't count on using them at smaller shops and restaurants.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
It's very useful to know the basics to get around, shop, order in restaurants. Being able to communicate numbers and addresses is a must.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
It may be difficult to use public transportation.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, very safe. Trains and buses are affordable. Taxis, not so much.
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?
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes; through the Embassy - it's is reasonably priced.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
You will need to acquire a phone locally, which is a process and will take a few days at least. Most people go through Softbank, and you can set it up at the military base.
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?
There are strict rules; if you have pets (which I do not), you should definitely research.
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?
Not unless you speak Japanese or telecommute although some people have succeeded.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
I'm sure there are many, especially if you want to get involved with the school or local churches.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business dress at the work; Japanese are quite formal. During hot months, there is a 'cool biz' dress code (no jacket, tie for men).
In public, anything goes although Japanese tend to dress up for all occasions.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
No, Tokyo and Japan in general are extremely safe. Some petty theft and problems with drugging at bars in certain areas.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No concerns; care is good.
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?
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Summers are extremely humid from about July through August. Winters are mild with little snow (although this year we have had two snowstorms -- this is rare). Unfortunately, Tokyo is not prepared to handle the snow which causes major travel disruptions. Spring and autumn are lovely.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are a lot of options. Many people use the American School in Japan (ASIJ), which is approx. 45 minutes by bus from the compound. Closer options that are also very good are Tokyo International School (TIS), the British School, Nichimachi (with English and Japanese curriculum), the International School of the Sacred Heart (ISSH) (all girls), St. Marys (all boys), and others. There is a good preschool on the compound for 18 months - 4 years.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
ASIJ, at least, has some accommodations. Not sure about other schools.
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?
Apart from the preschool, daycare is limited. There are domestic helpers for hire who live on the compound.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, through the schools, as well as on the compound -- e.g., soccer, judo, aikido, karate, tennis.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge expat community. Most people are very happy in Japan.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Cultural activities, festivals, day/weekend trips, many outdoor activities (ice skating in winter, rock climbing), fireworks displays, cherry blossom viewing (picnic), endless sporting activities, hiking, climbing Mt. Fuji, and so on and so on.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a good city for anyone. Families will find the compound living to be safe and convenient. The commute is excellent. Singles and couples seem to enjoy the restaurants, nightlife, festivals and the endless travel options. Skiiers and snowboarders will be delighted by the convenience and options.
4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Enjoying the culinary offerings in Tokyo, at all price ranges. Traveling to the historic and cultural sites in the country including Kyoto and Hiroshima. Snowboarding in amazing conditions.
5. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Endless possibilities; it really depends on your interests.
6. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
So many...pottery, wooden dolls, artwork, kimonos.
7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Tokyo is safe and relatively easy to navigate. Although not speaking Japanese can at times be a pain, it is manageable, as there are plenty of signs in English, especially in the center of the city.
8. Can you save money?
If you have two incomes, then yes. If not, it is more of a challenge. But it depends on your spending!
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Car -- if you like. Many people make do without a car (although to be fair, I have a car here).
4. But don't forget your:
Mosquito spray. Ski gear.