Tokyo, Japan Report of what it's like to live there - 01/21/08
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?
This is the author's first expat experience.
2. How long have you lived here?
About 1.5 years.
3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
The author is affiliated with the U.S. Embassy.
4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:
14 hours from the U.S. East Coast with direct flights from D.C to Narita. Depending on the time of year, flights can vary by several hours (as short as 11 hours to as long as 15).
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
There is a housing compound for embassy families about a 10 minute walk from the Embassy that is very well-equipped with a playground, pool, gym, and large field. Housing is very spacious by Tokyo standards, most are two-story apartments in one of 3 towers, or 3 -story townhouses. I am not sure about non-embassy housing although most corporate housing appears to be quite nice (local housing tends to be very small).
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is widely available but expensive on the local economy. If you have access to the military commissaries, prices are pretty good and you can get most things. Locally, there are several markets that are geared towards foreigners and stock many foreign good but they are quite expensive. Local markets are the best choice for produce which is very expensive but delicious!
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
There is a lot of American fast food like MacDonald, Outback, TGI Fridays but many American restaurants many have a Japanese twist. There is any type of ethnic food you can want and of course, lots of sushi, ramen, and other Japanese fare. Tokyo has more restaurants than you could ever eat your way through - they can be pricey, but lunch sets are reasonable by Tokyo standards
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Generally expensive except on the embassy compound where there is housing available for domestic workers so they are able to work for less. On compound, the average is US$10/hour.
3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Tokyo is a cash-based society. Bigger stores and restaurants may take credit cards but cash is used most widely. Because it is so safe here (and because things are expensive), most people routine carry several hundred dollars worth of yen with them.
4. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Yes, Catholic, Episcopalian, Mormon, etc...
5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?
Yes, at the embassy compound English TV is available. Newspapers are also widely available.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Not much to get by but it significantly helps if you know some especially for taxis, restaurants, etc. I know people who have been here for 3 years without knowing any but I certainly think that, like most places, you'll get more out of being here if you can speak at least some.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Much of the city is NOT wheelchair-friendly but many of the newer train stations are much better. Handicapped elevators are prevalent in many buildings. We had a friend visit who was in a wheelchair and needed strong people to lift him in his wheelchair down/up stairs on the subways from time to time... definitely not easy, but possible with assistance.
1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?
Left, like in the U.K.
2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Very safe. Taxis are a bit expensive and taxi drivers routinely speak little English but buses and trains are very convenient and easy to use once you get the hang of the system. Trains are relatively inexpensive within the city.
3. 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 can bring a car but because it is left-hand drive, most people don't. Many people get cars here (many are passed on within the embassy community). I wouldn't recommend bringing a big car as the roads are often very narrow.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, at the compound, $45/month for internet and TV.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Most people get them locally.
3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?
Embassy rates are very reasonable, Skype and the like are great.
1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?
Good vet care is available both locally and for the embassy and military community. The U.S. bases have veterinary care.
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?
It is quite easy to get jobs teaching English, either in schools or privately, and the pay is quite good. It is much more difficult to get any other kind of job unless you are fluent in Japanese.
2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Generally conservative, a bit dressier than average in the U.S.
Health & Safety:
1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?
Moderate; good for big city.
2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Practically none although I have heard of occasional petty thievery. We often leave doors unlocked and strollers outside without worrying.
3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
None. English speaking medical care is widely available, many providers are American-trained.
4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
It is very hot and humid in July and August. Spring and fall are very nice and winters are relatively mild.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many schools with varying options. The American School is a long bus ride (about 1 hour without traffic) and they are quite competitive. Most people seem pretty happy with the schools but the entrance process is a hassle.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
Not much from what I hear.
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?
Yes, there is a preschool on the embassy compound available. It is very convenient and has an overall good reputation although there are occasional issues with the administrator. Other international preschools are prohibitively expensive to pay out of pocket but may be good options for corporate expats.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
2. Morale among expats:
Generally quite good. Most people seem sad to leave.
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?
There is always something to do in Tokyo. Within the embassy community, there are frequent outings, activities, and parties.
4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes! Tons to do for everyone. It is very safe.
5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
I know there are areas that have quite a large gay social scene so I would say it's relatively open.
6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
Not outwardly, but certainly the Japanese are known to have their prejudices.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
There are tons of beautiful shrines and temples with beautiful gardens, interesting cultural activities (sumo, festivals, markets), and visits to Mount Fuji, Nikko, and Kyoto.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Japanese kimonos, obis, furniture, and other art.
9. Can you save money?
Not easily - Tokyo is expensive and there are so many places to travel both within Japan and Asia!
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes - we've had a great experience here.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:
Lost in Translation.