Tokyo, Japan Report of what it's like to live there - 03/26/19
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?
6th overseas experience with US Embassy, previously posted in EAP and EUR
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 , about 15 hour trip - more if you have stopovers. Lots of flight options but it’s not a R&R post so trips home are very expensive at $1500 each.
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?
Weirdly dark and small apartments , old and run down with weird layouts , lots of unconnected rooms and not an open family friendly living environment . Some apartments are being renovated .
There are also townhouses with their own quirks. Best appointed units are off compound. But those are usually for other agencies or lucky people.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available and at a price. Fruit is crazy expensive we buy a lot of frozen fruit on the military base and get affordable fruit fix with smoothies.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Trader Joe’s stuff, our skis, more decor for the walls as apartments are bleak and beige and we have a lot of wall space to filll.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
All is available from McDonald’s to Michelin 5 star.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Roaches in townhouses and some apartments.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
DPO is great
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Filipina maid mafia exists . Lots of HS kids also babysit, dog walk, etc.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Compound gym is in a basement and has poor airflow and smells bad but it’s free! Some people treat the equipment with disrespect: for example they work out barefoot (eww!) or don’t clean their machines after use.
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?
Yes, but it's still very much a cash society
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?
Not much if you live in the Embassy/ international school/military base bubble. A few key phrases are handy. Having Japanese skills lets you really get out and explore - a lot of people aren’t able to do this and many basic things can be very frustrating like setting up the cell phone or dealing with deliveries or online shopping in Japanese. Lots of officers here have Japanese spouses so this is not an issue for them.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
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?
Get one here for much less than you’d get at home. Used cars are cheap, especially for diplomats.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. The IT office has done a great job upgrading the system on the compound
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Bring an unlocked phone from home and buy a Sim card here; it’s a cheaper & better option than getting locked into a contract with a big provider like SoftBank .
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 , yes, yes.
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?
EFM jobs at this post seem to be created or held for those incoming with the right connections.
Many spouses teach English.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Some churches, school PTA’s and the lack of community activities planned by the embassy creates volunteer opportunity for energetic EFMs. .
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Business formal with “cool biz” aka- ties optional during hot summer .
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
2. 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 very bad here
3. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Overwork and exhaustion- sleep disorders and stress and anxiety.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid, wet then cool fall and temperate winter and humid and wet spring.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Many, but hard to get acceptance at most.
Local rich kids make up the majority.
2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes- after school activity or on compound thru EWA.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Embassy morale is low - I've never seen so many people so happy to leave a post at the end of a tour.
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?
Too tired after work to do anything. Getting out of the embassy bubble is great if you can.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Probably better for singles / those without kids because the family/kids work-life balance wouldn’t be as depressing. Not having kids would give you freedom to vacation on any days, not just during school breaks when all of Japan is on holiday and prices are through the roof and traffic is horrendous.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes! It’s a huge metropolis
5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
Not easy at all. It takes years to build a real relationship with a Japanese person.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Women are second class citizens in many ways but outdated attitudes are slowly changing . Other Asians and people of color are prone to face discrimination in some circles. Actually “foreigners “ also face real yet subtle discrimination in aspects of daily life.
7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Cherry blossoms and hiking and when we can get away - ski trips.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
It is safe and clean- maybe too clean
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
Apparently. It is quite hard to get promoted after serving in Tokyo. There seems to be a misconception that this is a cushy and easy post. it is a first world country and maybe that’s why it is a very weird community that lacks cohesiveness - but on top of that officers in each section seem isolated, tired overworked and unhappy.
There are so many high-level visits that most holidays and long weekends are filled with work.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
No, probably not.
3. Do you have any other comments?
Maybe this could be a great post at a different time. As they say, it’s who you are working for and with not where you are that makes or breaks post. This one has been less than ideal at the moment .