Tokyo, Japan Report of what it's like to live there - 10/15/08

Personal Experiences from Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan 10/15/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, third experience.

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2. How long have you lived here?

Two years (2004-06).

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3. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S.. Embassy.

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4. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

Direct flights to LAX, SFO, ORD, ERW (Newark) . . . you get the picture.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Embassy folks live on the compound, about a ten-minute walk from the Embassy. There are several high rises with apartments as well as townhouses. Depending on your rank and family size, your place will be chosen for you by the housing board.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Groceries are slightly more expensive than in the U.S.if you shop at the commissary/on the base, then you can get things at a more reasonable price.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

You can get pretty much everything you want on the local market, but it will not necessarily be cheap.you might have problems buying clothes and shoes depending on your size, so a lot of folks would buy those things in the U.S. and then ship them.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Again, EVERYTHING, although good quality mexican is a little more difficult to find.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

We had APO at the embassy.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

As soon as you arrive you will be harassed by the Filipina maid mafia! They have all been working for the embassy community for years and they're very reliable and relatively inexpensive (we paid U.S. minimum wage/hour). However, as soon as they hear a new family is moving in, they will descend upon you like vultures on a carcass.

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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?

Both are widely used and available. Most people would cash personal checks at the Embassy to get cash, though.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Yes. There are several inter-denominational protestant churches, as well as Catholic mass, Jewish synagogues, etc.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

You will have AFN (armed forces network) on the compound, so you don"t really have a choice re: cable options.there are a few English language daily newspapers as well.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

At least a little Japanese is highly recommended.you will be out in the city a lot (most likely) and the Japanese don"t speak much English, so enough to get a taxi, to order at a restaurant, etc., will make all the difference in your tour.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Many; handicapped access is a new concept in Japan, so unfortunately many Japanese in wheelchairs are simply confined to their homes. It"s a shame but true.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Left.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

All are safe. Trains and buses are relatively inexpensive, but taxis can be very expensive. For short distances they're fine, but don"t even fool yourself about getting a taxi from narita airport to your apartment downtown (litearlly a fare of several hundred dollars).

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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?

I didn"t have a car in tokyo and had absolutely no regrets.public transportation is prolific, reliable, and relatively inexpensive. If i were to bring a car, though, I'd stick with a small car (sedan) and not an SUV. Gas is expensive and Tokyo streets/parking spaces are not sized for SUVs.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes. Again, living on the compound your only option is go to through the commissary"s internet service. It was reliable and fast, though, so I wasn"t concerned about not having a choice.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

The embassy will provide you one.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

VOIP. You will have an embassy phone line in your apartment on the compound, which means you can call the DC area and most 1-800 numbers for free. Rates to other U.S. phone numbers are very inexpensive, so VOIP is a good option but not the only option.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

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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?

Mostly teaching English. If you have a specific skill (computers, etc.), then you might be able to find something on the local economy, but many of those jobs require some Japanese language as well. There are quite a few EFM/MOH jobs, though, at the Embassy.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business attire at the Embassy (no casual fridays).

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Good, considering how large the city is.you can see the haze in tokyo but you won"t notice any health impact.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Practically none. Japan is a very safe country. There have been some car break-ins and reports of purse snatching, but these tend to be when people are walking alone late at night in dark alleys. Use common sense and you should be fine.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Great medical care, no real health concerns that i know of.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Like DC - hot humid summers, mild winters.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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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?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large. The embassy community is big, and then there are all of the foreigners working in the private sector, international students, etc. You will need to seek them out, though. Tokyo's a big city, so you have to make the effort to go out and meet people.

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2. Morale among expats:

High to abysmally low. It completely depends on the individual. If you don"t have Japanese language, think that Japanese food is horrible, etc., then you"re setting yourself up for a bad tour. Also, if you do not like big cities, then no matter what you do Tokyo will not be fun for you. However, if you like cities and make the effort to learn some of the language, Tokyo can be an absolutely fantastic tour!

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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?

Whatever you want is available. Some people entertain at home (dinner parties, happy hours, etc.), others prefer to go out to restaurants, movies, bars, and clubs in town.pretty much whatever you want is available -- you just need to decide what it is you want to do and then go do it!

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, for all.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Yes.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

No real noticeable prejudice, but you will always be a GAIJIN in japan.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

if you like big cities, then EVERYTHING. This city is 24/7 and pretty much anything you want to do can be found here.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Japanese art and antiques. Sake and sweets.

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9. Can you save money?

If you want to. It's easy to spend every penny you have in Tokyo, but you don"t have to if you don"t want to. If you eat out several times a week at nice restaurants and take constant weekend trips to go skiing/go to the beach, then you won't save anything. However, if you want to save money, there are definitely ways to live more frugally (e.g. buy a 12-oz. bag of potato chips at the commissary for US$3 and not at the local supermarket for US$12).

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

IN A HEARTBEAT.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Fear of new culinary experiences (the Japanese eat things that I had only encountered in my high school biology textbook).

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3. But don't forget your:

Good walking shoes (you will walk a lot in Tokyo)

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

Many people are put off from bidding Tokyo simply because they believe that Japanese will be too difficult to learn and/or that it will be outrageously expensive to live there.both of these can be true if you really want them to be true. However, there are 125 million Japanese people that have learned the language, so it is obviously not impossible to do (maybe it"s not easy for us as foreigners, but it"s not IMPOSSIBLE). And yes, if you want to spend every nickel then you can definitely do that. But if you don"t want to come home broke, you don"t have to either. If you make the effort to learn at least a little Japanese and also keep an eye on your spending, you will set yourself up for a successful (and downright enjoyable!) tour.

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