Tokyo, Japan Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan 03/26/19

Background:

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

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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.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1 year

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

Embassy work

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Roaches in townhouses and some apartments.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO is great

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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.

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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.

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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

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

Lots

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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?

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.

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

Yes. Yes

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Transportation:

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

Yes

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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.

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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. The IT office has done a great job upgrading the system on the compound

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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?

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 .

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Pets:

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.

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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?

EFM jobs at this post seem to be created or held for those incoming with the right connections.
Many spouses teach English.

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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. .

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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 .

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Health & Safety:

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

No

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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

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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.

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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?

Hot and humid, wet then cool fall and temperate winter and humid and wet spring.

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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.

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2. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes- after school activity or on compound thru EWA.

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Expat Life:

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.

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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.

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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.

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

Yes! It’s a huge metropolis

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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.

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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.

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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.

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8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It is safe and clean- maybe too clean

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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.

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

No, probably not.

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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 .

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Tokyo, Japan 06/14/18

Background:

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

No.

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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

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years

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

US Embassy

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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.

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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! :)

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

Nothing in particular

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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.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Some particular units get roaches because they face trees.

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Daily Life:

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.

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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.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Most use the compound gum

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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.

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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.

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Transportation:

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.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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?

Softbank is easy to get a personal phone. It's about $100 per month.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Spring allergies are bad!

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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.

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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.

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

I don't have experience but have heard bad things.

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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?

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.

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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.

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Expat Life:

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

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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.

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3. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Clean, safe, compound living, abundance of activities

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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.

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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).

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3. But don't forget your:

Patience for crowds

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Tokyo, Japan 03/11/18

Background:

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

Previously lived in Cartagena, Colombia, and Seoul, Korea.

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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?

West coast of the US. 9-10 hour non-stop flight.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2 years.

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

US Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

We live in a 4th floor apartment in a smallish building (about 20 units) within a mile of the US Embassy. It is 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath, with a generous kitchen and lots of closets. This is not typical, from what I can tell; storage tends to be at a premium in most homes. We are less than a 10 minutes' walk (in 4 different directions) from 4 different subway lines.

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

You can find any kind of ingredient or product here, either by going to a store or via delivery, either from the store itself or through a service like Honestbee. Amazon.jp is also very useful, although you have to be careful not to get charged insanely for imported items. Grocery prices are on par with to 25% higher than the more expensive areas of the US. This is not an inexpensive city!

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

The only thing that can be tough is quality cold medicine/pain relief. A number of things that are OTC in the US are prescription or completely unavailable in Japan. However, you have to be careful in what you bring into the country, as some things are illegal, e.g., Nyquil.

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

So, so many choices! Tokyo has a terrific food scene. Lots of tiny restaurants tucked in every possible corner. Good delivery services, too. Honestbee and Maishoku to name two. We've been particularly happy with ramen (of course) and burgers. Excellent Indian/Pakistani/Nepalese food options too.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

You may have roaches, centipedes, mosquitos, geckos, or other critters, mostly depending on how old your housing is. Nothing unmanageable, though. Mold happens easily in the rainy season if you don't use your air conditioners enough.

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Daily Life:

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

The Embassy has a DPO, though local mail also works well.

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

Household help runs 1500 yen/hour minimum (currently about US$14). There are services or you can sponsor a 3rd country national, often from the Philippines.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are gyms. I get the impression that costs are similar to the US. You may need to cover tattoos in order to work out.

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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?

Credit cards are safe, yes. Widely accepted, not so much. For an advanced culture, it can feel a bit "developing world" here in that regard. Lots of places accept only cash. ATMs are locked up/unavailable outside of normal banking hours in many places around Tokyo and Japan. Most Japanese businesses still regularly use fax machines, if that tells you anything!

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

You need very little if you just want to get by. Tokyo is an international city and locals are used to working around language barriers. In fact, walking the streets in the business district you're as likely to hear French or Russian as Japanese. There are a lot of choices for language schools, including free classes offered by the city wards. Also, Tokyo is working hard to improve foreign language accommodation prior to the Olympics in 2020.

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

To some extent, yes. It is crowded and the infrastructure is old in parts.

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Transportation:

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

There is a robust public transportation system. Fortunately, Google Maps works well. Otherwise, the subway and buses would be overly complex and very hard to use. I understand that even those who speak Japanese well have trouble in areas of town they are not familiar with. Affordable, no. However, since road tolls and parking fees for private cars are also very high, I would say public transportation is *relatively* inexpensive.

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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?

A small one, for sure. Roads are narrow and parking is often in a mechanical rack system. We do not have a car and have not needed one at all, with public transportation plus great delivery services.

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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?

Internet is good, similar to the US. Our apartment has cable internet included, so I don't know regular costs.

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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?

Lots of cell phone options. Best to bring an unlocked phone, or buy a second hand one here, and either get a contract or month-to-month service. It can be tricky to get approved before you have your ID, diplomatic or otherwise. Non-Japanese credit cards are sometimes not accepted. My husband actually got a refillable data-only sim at the airport. He has used it for 2 years and it works perfectly. We use Messenger for voice calls between us, and it costs him less than US$30 per month.

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Pets:

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 is a lengthy and intimidating quarantine process for bringing pets into the country. Start early! Also, consider the city/apartment living situation before you bring your big dog.

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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?

My husband telecommutes with no difficulty. Much of the work for foreigners is either in IT or teaching. Salaries are comparable to a bit lower than similar entry level work in the US.

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

The Japanese dress well in general. However, in Tokyo you see pretty much anything. If you err on the conservative side, probably better. There are 4 definite seasons, so you will need a variety of clothing.

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Health & Safety:

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

Generally it is very, very safe here. Situational awareness is still important, particularly if you like to stay out late or if you are in very touristy locations.

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

Health care is excellent. One caveat is that Japanese doctors who are not used to Western patients can get offended by our tendency to question processes. The norm here is for people to accept what the doctor says completely and without comment. There are a lot of options for medical professionals available. We don't have to worry about being part of the national insurance program, but if you are here on a non-diplomatic assignment there is a lot involved so do your research.

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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?

Air quality is good, mostly because it's a very windy city -- pollution blows out to sea.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Spring has a lot of pollen. People without seasonal allergies elsewhere may find themselves affected here. Learn how to name your food allergies in Japanese (or use Google Translate) and you'll easily be able to avoid problematic things. Shellfish allergies are the toughest to navigate, I suspect.

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

Four disparate seasons. Winter can be chilly, with occasional snow and 2-3 hard freezes lasting 1-3 days. Spring is phenomenally lovely. Summer is hot and humid (the rainy season). Fall is once again lovely.

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Expat Life:

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

Enormous and varied. Generally people are happy here. If they are not as happy as they hoped, it may have been due to arriving with romantic notions of Tokyo and Japan that didn't hold up.

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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?

This giant city has something for everyone. There are a number of English-language Facebook groups that cater to expats. With minimal research you can find most any kind of activity you like.

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

Any. Schools are varied and excellent. The social scene is diverse and multicultural.

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4. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Snow monkeys, hot springs near Hakone, the Osaka aquarium, the approximately 3458.43 gardens in Tokyo that erupt in glorious bloom in the spring, the list goes on...

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

To be honest, we haven't finished exploring the things that are readily described in guide books. One lesser known place we've been is Onjuku, which is on the west coast of Japan. It is a tiny coastal village with a Hawaiian and Spanish flavor, with lots of activities in the summer.

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

There are lovely paper products, knives, fabrics, and ceramics. Nothing is cheap, but all of it is beautiful!

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7. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The food scene is worth mentioning again... :-)
The public transportation, the ease of living in general, all the activities.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

That credit cards are not widely used, how concerned the Japanese are about recycling/trash separation, that you have to carry your trash back home when you're out and about (no public trash cans), how sticky/hot the summer gets, how concerned the Japanese are about not speaking English if their English is not perfect.

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

Yep!

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

Car, dislike of seafood.

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4. But don't forget your:

Umbrella, training on using chopsticks, smart phone, and wallet.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Japan is a country rooted firmly in two worlds, the modern and the traditional. You're just as likely to walk down the street and see a robot serving coffee as you are a woman in traditional dress. The joy of the place is the constant surprise of what you might encounter next.

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Tokyo, Japan 03/05/17

Background:

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

7th posting, lived throughout Asia, some Europe, and D.C.

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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?

Approximately 24 hour trip, various options to US hubs. Expensive to visit family. There is no R&R and tickets cost about $1,000.

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3. How long have you lived here?

One year.

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

US embassy.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Compound - easy 10 min walk to US embassy. Small by US standards but large for Japan. The units are shabby, old and run down. If you are lucky to live off the compound, the house quality is much better.



BBQ grills of any kind are banned -this makes compound life really frustrating. There are a few "first come first serve" grills on the grounds - much like living at Oakwood Falls Church - you have to schlep your stuff downstairs and outside.


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

Very expensive.

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

More clothes and shoes in US sizes. Spices, ethnic ingredients. But, you can get almost everything here for a price.

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

So many- but pricey.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Roaches and mosquitoes.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO, and a good local services too.

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

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Decent gym on compound.

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

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

The more the better.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are crazy expensive, actually trains can be too, but they are very safe - but super crowded at rush hour.

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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?

Do not bring one, unless it's Japanese spec. Or, buy a secondhand car locally.

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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 and no. Service is very slow and seems to be that way all around the compound .

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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?

Most use SoftBank here.

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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?

Jobs are hard to find unless you are fluent in Japanese. EFM embassy jobs pay very little.

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

Formal and business attire.

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Health & Safety:

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

Earthquakes and possible radiation in food and water supply.

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

I do not trust the local government to be honest about post-Fukushima meltdown radiation.

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3. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Hay fever.

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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?

Four seasons, mild winter but terribly humid summer.

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Schools & Children:

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

Available but awkward commutes. There is some cliquishness and I would say bullying at the international schools. Academics are good but socially it can be hard for the kids. US embassy kids are not "uber rich" like most of their classmates.

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Expat Life:

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

Very large. Morale at post is hard to judge. It's a very segmented embassy. People don't really talk to each other-- it's very strange. Perhaps the high number of officers with Japanese partners has something to do with this- they have their own "life" in Japan and do not mix with others so much. The compound seems quiet and empty.

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2. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Climbing Mt Fuji! Amazing sushi!

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

There are only so many kimonos and wooden dolls one can buy...the pottery is nice.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Just how weird compound life is--and that BBQs are not allowed on my balcony or patio.

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

Not sure.

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

BBQ! Smoker! US car. Expectations of a close-knit embassy community.

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4. But don't forget your:

Ski gear- wish we had brought our own.

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5. Do you have any other comments?

Dream posting for some - meh for others. Maybe I am more of a SE Asia person.

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Tokyo, Japan 02/14/14

Background:

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.

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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.

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3. How long have you lived here?

1.5 years.

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

U.S. Embassy.

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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.

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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.

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

Shoes and clothes as Japanese sizes don't quite work.

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

Anything you want at all price ranges.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitos in summer are brutal; there are some cockroaches.

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Daily Life:

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

Through DPO 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?

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.

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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.

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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.

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

All.

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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?

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.

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

It may be difficult to use public transportation.

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Transportation:

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

Yes, very safe. Trains and buses are affordable. Taxis, not so much.

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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?

Any.

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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; through the Embassy - it's is reasonably priced.

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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?

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.

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Pets:

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.

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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?

Not unless you speak Japanese or telecommute although some people have succeeded.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

Good.

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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?

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.

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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.

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

ASIJ, at least, has some accommodations. Not sure about other schools.

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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?

Apart from the preschool, daycare is limited. There are domestic helpers for hire who live on the compound.

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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.

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Expat Life:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Japanese!

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

Absolutely.

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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).

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4. But don't forget your:

Mosquito spray. Ski gear.

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Tokyo, Japan 04/03/13

Background:

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

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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, 14 hours direct from IAD.

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3. How long have you lived here?

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

The contributor is affiliated with the US Government, has been in Tokyo for almost a year, a second expat experience.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

U.S. Embassy employees and their families live on the compound located blocks from the embassy. The spaces consist of apartments and town homes that are fairly spacious relative to other homes in Tokyo, although may be smaller than what you've had in other posts. We've got an apartment and we're very comfortable. We love our bright sunny apartment.

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

Japanese supplies are expensive, but we have access to the military base commissary and a store on the compound which offers products at a decent price.

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

Nothing. You can get anything you want here!

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

You can get American fast food all around town, but you're better off getting Japanese "fast food" like ramen, takoyaki, and yakitori.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes are unbelievably awful in the summer, but aside form that, this is a fairly problem-free area.

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Daily Life:

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

Through the DPO.

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

There's a cadre of Filipina maids who will work for about $10 an hour.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Yes, there's one on the compound and many around town, although I suspect you might pay a small fortune to join.

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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?

You can use them anywhere, but may have to pay a fee.

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

Yes. The Catholic church up the block from our housing has English-language service, and I think there's a Mormon temple with English services.

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

We have cable through Allied Telesis via the military base and pay about $122 a month for 50 channels.

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

A ton if you want to get out and about and see the country. I don't have much Japanese and am getting by, but it's an impediment.

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

Not many. There are elevators and ramps.

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Transportation:

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

Yes to all.

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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?

You need a right-hand-drive vehicle of any size, although some have brought their left-hand-drive cars.

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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, we have internet and it costs about US$135 for three months of service.

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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?

Not really. Go get one and pay for one.

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Pets:

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. There's a very complicated process for getting pets into Japan, and if you do not follow it to the letter, your pets will be held. You need at least six months' notice to start your pet's process of vaccinations and forms. Don't slack on this.

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

Good vet care and kennels are available, although I have no experience boarding our pets.

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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?

No, not really, which is a source of frustration with spouses.

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

Business dress, as in DC.

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Health & Safety:

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

None.

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

None There is great medical care in Japan.

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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?

The air quality is great.

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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?

The weather is similar to that in any northeastern U.S. city with cold gloomy winters and hot humid summers.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are lots of international schools to choose from, and one will have to do their research before choosing the right one for their child/ren. Our kids attend two different schools. Our older attends ASIJ. We've found the school to offer a strong academic program, great teacher support, and a wide variety of extra-curricular and elective classes. Our kid is being pushed to excel and (we think) will be well prepared to go to any school after we depart. The school offers late buses and weekend buses for the multitude of programs and classes, and will offer the parents buses for events. The one downside is that the school is 45 minutes to an hour outside of the center of town. Our second child is younger, and we did not want her on the bus for an hour, so we chose TIS (Tokyo International School) which is a warm and friendly environment that serves kids pre-k-8. Our daughter is happy and reading (at 5) and thoroughly enjoys the IB-style curriculum and learning Japanese language and culture in a fun way. The school is moving to a new location, which will replace an old building and should prove to be a great improvement. They're also expanding the Japanese language instruction. We love the staff and administration, who are on a first name basis with the kids, and we think our daughter will develop a real love for school based on this early experience. The school is sometimes regarded as the touchy-feely school in the pool of Tokyo schools, and this is probably accurate---although this hasn't taken away from the academic strengths of the school. I couldn't comment on the academics for older children, but for elementary-aged kids, it's a great option. Other schools include Nishimachi (more traditional, with a Japanese focus), ISSH for girls (Catholic and highly regarded), British School, ISS, KAIS, and the list goes on.

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

The schools can address mild disabilities, but beyond that you'd have to find a specialized school. I know ASIJ takes IEPs and has staff that can address some issues but not severe ones.

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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?

There's a preschool on the compound that I've heard good things about, and I'm sure many other options around Tokyo.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Yes, at school. The U.S. Embassy compound offers soccer, tae kwon do, tennis and perhaps some others for kids.

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Expat Life:

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

Huge.

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2. Morale among expats:

It's fine. This is not a cozy and intimate community, and one has to make their own fun. If you're looking for an active community and a built-in group of friends, you won't find those things here. This can be disappointing for some.

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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?

Great, the world is your oyster in Tokyo.

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

This is a good post for all. There's something for everyone.

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

Yes, definitely.

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

Not that I'm aware of.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

The highlights have been some of the wonderful street fairs in Tokyo, eating delicious food, traveling to Kyoto, and experiencing a Ryokan and onsen.

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

You name it, Tokyo's got it: baseball games, theme parks, Disney, beaches, mountains, zoos, festivals, food, spas, and the list goes on...

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

Woodblock prints, beautiful pottery, art, jewelry, kimonos.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Japan is a safe, easily traversed country that is steeped in history. There are many sites to see, and the Japanese are kind people who are willing to help.

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11. Can you save money?

You might be able to with the COLA, but you will want to travel around the country, which is expensive.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Sure.

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

Beliefs that Tokyoites speak English. Very few do.

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3. But don't forget your:

Japanese language skills and walking shoes.

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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. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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6. Do you have any other comments?

Japan is a great place, but it's not a given that you'll love it. The language barrier can be huge, and the Japanese are quite socially distant. I've enjoyed our time here and will continue to enjoy the safety, great food, and sites, but I think I'll be happy to move on when our tour is up.

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Tokyo, Japan 01/27/11

Background:

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

second. Santo Domingo

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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 New York, LA, Dallas

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3. How long have you lived here?

6 months

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

US Government

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

U.S. Embassy people live in a compound with gym, pool, playground, daycare, and a convenience store.

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

Expensive, but you can buy food at good prices at the military base.

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

nothing, everything is available here

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

Everything. From cheap McDonald's to 3-star Michelin restaurants.

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5. What kinds of organic, vegetarian and allergy-friendly foods are available, such as organic produce, gluten-free products, meat substitutes for vegetarians, etc?

there is a store that carries organic products, but it is very expensive

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6. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

cockroaches in summer time. Huge ones!

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Daily Life:

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

APO

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

around US1600 a month

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

yes

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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?

They are safe.

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

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

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

not much but it is always useful

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

lots.

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Transportation:

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

Expensive, especially taxis and shinkansen (the bullet train).

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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?

Buy locally, very cheap.

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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?

30 a month

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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?

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Pets:

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

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2. 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?

I think so

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

like New York

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Health & Safety:

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

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

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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?

moderate.

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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?

Hot and humid during summer and cold and dry in winter

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Schools & Children:

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

Several. Our son is having a great experience and is speaking Japanese already. He attends ASIJ. It is a very nice school and the faculty seem very good as well.

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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?

Not much and expensive, around US2000 a month.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

tons at the compound

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Expat Life:

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

big

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2. Morale among expats:

it depends, we love it here but some people hate it.

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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?

everything

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

good for everyone

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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?

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Discover new varieties of noodles.

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

visit temples, shopping, eating out, karaoke

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

japanese china, kimonos, japanese dolls, japanese wood prints, etc

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

new food, visit temples, touring in general

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11. Can you save money?

yes

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Words of Wisdom:

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

yes

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

ugly shoes

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3. But don't forget your:

money

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

Memoirs of a Geisha

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5. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

Lost in Translation, Rashomon, Seven Samurais.

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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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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Tokyo, Japan 01/21/08

Background:

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.

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2. How long have you lived here?

About 1.5 years.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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!

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

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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

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Daily Life:

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

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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.

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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?

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.

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

Yes, Catholic, Episcopalian, Mormon, etc...

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

Yes, at the embassy compound English TV is available. Newspapers are also widely available.

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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?

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.

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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.

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Transportation:

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

Left, like in the U.K.

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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.

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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?

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.

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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, at the compound, $45/month for internet and TV.

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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?

Most people get them locally.

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

Embassy rates are very reasonable, Skype and the like are great.

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Pets:

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.

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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?

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.

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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.

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Health & Safety:

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

Moderate; good for big city.

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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.

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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?

None. English speaking medical care is widely available, many providers are American-trained.

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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?

It is very hot and humid in July and August. Spring and fall are very nice and winters are relatively mild.

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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.

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

Not much from what I hear.

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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?

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.

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Expat Life:

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

Very large!

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2. Morale among expats:

Generally quite good. Most people seem sad to leave.

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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?

There is always something to do in Tokyo. Within the embassy community, there are frequent outings, activities, and parties.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 kimonos, obis, furniture, and other art.

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9. Can you save money?

Not easily - Tokyo is expensive and there are so many places to travel both within Japan and Asia!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Yes - we've had a great experience here.

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

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3. But don't forget your:

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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:

Lost in Translation.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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