Tokyo, Japan Report of what it's like to live there - 06/14/18
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?
USA. Many direct flights to the U.S. but they cost alot. There are no R&Rs so we never traveled home due to the cost for a family with kids
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?
The housing compound is a ten minute walk from the Embassy. It's gated with large towers and two rows of of town houses. There is a pool, gym, preschool, store, field, gazebo, and playground. The apartments vary in size and layout. Not all are created equal and people get housing envy. Most have nice elements and some not nice (like dark, tiny kitchens, bedrooms separated etc). Some get an extra bedroom while many do not. The compound is full so some people live off compound in swanky corporate apartments. Foreign affairs agencies generally go on compound first though.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available. We have access to the military bases so you can get anything there. Locally the stores are usually small but have what you need. There are Costcos as well. There are several grocery stores within walking distance from the compound of varying price and quality. There is a popular grocery delivery service with an English app called Honest Bee. Fruit and veg are ridiculously expensive but high quality. Like $8 or more for a small containers of berries , $2 per apple, $5 for like four sticks of asparagus....at the cheap stores. My kids get in trouble if they waste fruits or veg! :)
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Nothing in particular
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Everything is available. American, burgers, pizza, Indian, other ethnic cuisine. All within walking distance. We use Ubereats which has gotten confused everytime by the compound and Honest Bee which never gets lost. Take-out is not popular with Japanese restaurants because they worry the food won't be as good.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Some particular units get roaches because they face trees.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO is super quick. Local mail seems fine and easy enough if you have some Japanese.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
The going rate is now about 1500 yen per hour as the nanny dorm closed in 2016 and helpers pay more to live on the economy. Some full-time employers offer other benefits like living stipends and airfare home. Most helpers are Filipina but it's super easy to sponsor their visa. I hear even high school kids charge around 1500 yen per hour. Japanese labor law strictly requires paying overtime after 40 hours per week.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Most use the compound gum
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?
We don't use cards often as cash seems more commonly accepted. We get money at the Embassy cashier.
5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Many people can understand you. You can easily shop, use the metro or take a taxi with no language.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Yes, it's all safe and clean. Taxis all have GPS do if you have an address you are good to go. Metro is cheap and easy to use. It's all well marked in English. Trains are a bit harder to figure out and the large stations can be very tricky to navigate. We don't use buses as we prefer the metro.
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?
Nothing too big. We have a car that we use for the Base, Disney and a few other places. Parking on the Compound is an average sized spot.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Internet is not great. It's slow and we constantly have to reset our router. Many people have three-story units and the internet will barely work on certain floors.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Softbank is easy to get a personal phone. It's about $100 per month.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Probably the safest place on earth. Japanese people leave phones or bags to save their tables and nothing gets touched. You can walk freely with phones, jewelry etc. Guns are practically nonexistent here.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
We have a med unit with mostly good personnel. They tend to send you out for a lot of minor things. They also do not help on nights/weekends and pretty much leave you to deal with the recommended English-speaking emergency room in which they don't actually speak English (based on experience and stories) and don't tend to follow up even if they know you sought other medical care. The nurses have been good for kid appointments.
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?
Spring allergies are bad! I've heard it's the cedar trees. It's super dry in the winter and we run humidifiers in every room. It's super humid in the summer and we run dehumidifiers.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Spring allergies are bad!
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
All four seasons. Winter is mild with little snow and very dry. Summer is super muggy and humid with a rainy season. Spring and fall are lovely but short lived.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Lots of choices. None guarantee admission so apply early (like the fall before you come) and to more than one as you may be waitlisted. Most kids go to the American School in Japan which goes through high school but is a commute. There are several grade schools with no high schools that have a handful of families, including all girls Catholic, and IB school, Montessori, British school. Most of these are closer to the compound.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I don't have experience but have heard bad things.
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?
Compound preschool is great. Very affordable and obviously convenient. Half day programs for littlest kids and until 3pm for older. But care is available until 6pm if you need it.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
The schools all have tons available. On the compound there is karate, ballet, tennis, soccer, taiko drumming, piano, and other classes.
1. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
2. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Sometimes you can really get the feeling that people don't like "Gaijin" (foreigners). I think people dislike my loud, American kids who are not perfectly behaved.
3. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Clean, safe, compound living, abundance of activities
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
How frustrating the crowds can be. Everything that sounds fun to you sounds fun to like a million other people. We will go places 30 or 45 minutes early to queue up just because if you arrive later it will be a longer wait (like over an hour to get into an indoor playground for example if you arrive at the actual opening time).
How hot and unbearable the summers can be. So look buggy. The mosquitos are horrible.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Maybe. It's a great city but can get on your nerves. it's hard to knock the safety and conveniences, but if you like a bit more nitty gritty then it may not be for you. We know many who love it and come back over and over, while others have been underwhelmed and not happy with the lack of camaraderie on the Compound (there is very little, people will walk by and ignore you and you are literally neighbors).
3. But don't forget your:
Patience for crowds