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Moving to Tokyo

Expats moving to Tokyo will find themselves in a crowded metropolis overflowing with opportunities and activities. The greater Tokyo area is the largest metropolitan area in the world and contains close to 38 million inhabitants. Expats will find it hard to escape the crowds, with traffic and long queues everywhere.

Since Tokyo was razed during the fire bombings of World War II, the small, traditional Japanese façades have almost entirely been replaced by a modern concrete jungle – there are hardly any buildings consisting of less than three storeys. Still, despite the frenetic pace of this cosmopolitan hub, there are still backstreets even in the heart of the city that can be eerily quiet and tranquil. These areas provide charming accommodation.

There are very few road names as Tokyo is divided into numerical areas, so clear directions and maps are very important for new expats trying to find their way. The city has a well-run integrated public transport system consisting of underground trains (subways), over-ground trains, buses, trams and, of course, taxis. Compared to many European destinations, public transport is relatively inexpensive, safe, extremely reliable and efficient, making the city extraordinarily accessible, even to newly arrived expats.

Shopping is a primary Japanese pastime and there's no better place to indulge in this than Tokyo. Shopping malls are relatively foreign to the city – expats will most likely find themselves in a high-rise department store, with shop assistants shouting their welcomes. The city also boasts many art galleries and museums, and has a very rich live music scene. There are various summer concert festivals held around Tokyo and live concerts throughout the year.

Since the FIFA World Cup was co-hosted by Japan in 2002, the city has become more foreigner-friendly, with signs in Japanese, English and Korean. Expats will find that most locals are very welcoming and proud of their city, and are invested in helping newcomers have a positive experience in their city. Expats moving to Tokyo will find themselves in a bustling city, alive with activities and events, ensuring that there is something for everyone. 

Weather in Tokyo

The climate in Tokyo is temperate. Winters are fairly mild and sunny. However, cold and windy days and snowfall is also possible. On the other hand, summers can be hot and humid. Days are most often hot and muggy, with highs around 95 F (35 C). Tokyo is affected by the monsoon circulation which means that it frequently suffers from bad weather with wind and rain.

Between June and October, the city can be affected by typhoons. Intense typhoons bring strong winds, torrential rains and can lead to heavy damage.

Cherry blossom season (Sakura) in Tokyo happens annually around the 30th of March. The city has dedicated events to celebrate the season.

 

Accommodation in Tokyo

Expats moving to Tokyo will find that accommodation comes at a premium, as does most housing in large, overpopulated cities. It's also likely that expats will find that while the standard of accommodation is excellent, the properties are far smaller than what they are accustomed to back home.

Naturally, due to the short-term nature of expat assignments, most people tend to rent rather than buy property. However, rentals do move quickly in Tokyo and expats should do some research on the processes involved in securing accommodation in the city before they make the move.


Types of accommodation in Tokyo

Due to lack of space, most people live in apartments in Tokyo. Larger family homes with gardens are available but will be located further from the city centre.

Apartments in Tokyo located in older buildings are known as apato. More modern, larger apartments with high-rise complexes are called mansions.

Many single expats living in Tokyo for a year or two opt to live in shared housing, commonly referred to as gaijin (foreigner) houses, where living areas, kitchens and bathrooms are shared by all the residents. This type of accommodation is cheaper than renting an apartment, and also has the added benefits of shorter notice periods and no initial costs.


Finding property in Tokyo

While it's possible to find a property in Tokyo using online resources and newspaper property listings, most expats don’t make much progress through these channels because of the language barrier.

For this reason, most new arrivals prefer to enlist the services of a real estate agent. These professionals not only communicate in Japanese but have an intimate knowledge of suitable properties in the area and are in a position to find accommodation that meets the needs and budget of their clients.

Furthermore, many landlords are reluctant to rent to foreigners without the security of using a reputable agent.


Renting property in Tokyo

Once expats have found a property that meets their requirements, the next step would be to sign a lease and secure the accommodation.

Leases

A typical lease in Japan is signed for one or two years.

Deposits

Tenants are expected to pay a damages deposit which is equal to a month’s rent. This is refundable providing that there's no damage to the property at the end of the tenancy. A nuance that expats have to contend with when renting property in Tokyo is that of paying ‘key money’ to their landlord. ‘Key money’ is essentially money that's given as a gift to the landlord. It's usually the equivalent of two months’ rent. In addition, tenants are required to pay one or two months’ rent in advance.

Utilities

Utilities aren't normally included in the monthly rental, so expats will need to budget extra for this. In some apartment buildings, a maintenance fee may also be required monthly.

Areas and suburbs in Tokyo

At first glance, it may seem impossible for an expat moving to Tokyo to consider where to live in a city that's one of the largest on Earth and also one of the most expensive.

Tokyo is a massive metropolis made up of small distinct neighbourhoods, several of which form a ward or ku. Though there are 23 wards in total within Tokyo, expats tend to live in only three: Minato, Shibuya and Meguro.

These areas and suburbs in Tokyo are ideal for expats who prefer a locale that can offer plenty of international interaction as well as supermarkets and shopping options that shelve familiar items from home.


Factors to consider when choosing an area or suburb of Tokyo

Most foreigners search for housing in Tokyo with the guidance of a real estate agent, which can be a great advantage for expats needing to understand all there is to know before making a final decision about accommodation.

There's a long list of factors to consider when choosing which house to make one's home in Tokyo. In many cases, the most important variables may differ dramatically from what took priority in an expat's home country.

Most people living in Tokyo choose not to own a car, so access to public transport will be a priority. It's also important to consider commute to and from work or school for those with children. Most people in Tokyo live within the Yamanote Circle as commutes outside this area become considerably longer.

Those moving to Tokyo with children will also need to consider the proximity of an area to good schools. Most international schools in Tokyo are located in the heart of the city. The locations of pre-schools are more varied.

Expats should ensure that when choosing an area that the type of housing they're looking for is available in that area. For instance, Akasaka is made up of mostly high-rise buildings, but it's possible to find some very nice homes in Shirokanedai, Hiroo and Moto Azabu.


Popular expat neighbourhoods in Tokyo

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Akasaka

Akasaka means "Red Hill" and is home to the US Embassy. Its location is in central Tokyo. It has the reputation of being a business centre during working hours and a nightlife destination after dark. There are even a few geisha houses remaining in this neighbourhood. Since it's a business area, the weekends are blissfully quiet and many families enjoy living here and having the place to themselves when the businesspeople leave. Expats will find state-of-the-art high rises with fantastic views of the city.

Azabu

The quiet, ancient streets of the Azabu area twist and turn up hills and down alleys, winding around parks with all roads leading to National Azabu – the Mecca of Western food. Expats will find many embassies tucked away within streets adjacent to large homes and small apartment buildings. This area is devoid of the massive high rises so common in other expat areas. If looking for a real prototypical neighbourhood, Azabu has it all. It is, however, one of the most expensive areas to live in Tokyo. Many expat bankers live here with their families. This neighbourhood is jam-packed with green spaces, international supermarkets and pre-schools, shops, cafés, bars, restaurants and foreigners. 

Hiroo

The area of Hiroo is often called the gaijin ghetto due to the inordinate amount of foreigners who live in this neighbourhood. There's a varied combination of homes and apartment buildings for expats to choose from, and English-speaking people are more likely to be found in shops and restaurants. Unlike other areas in Tokyo, it's possible to do all one's shopping and errands without leaving. Another nice feature is that the Red Cross Hospital is in Hiroo – the hospital of choice amongst many foreigners.

Shirokane/Shirokanedai

Shirokane and Shirokanedai (two areas divided by Meguro Dori) are neighbourhoods to consider if wanting to live in a house rather than an apartment. This area is known to be largely residential and not as commercial as the other expat neighbourhoods surrounding it. That said, it's home to Platinum Dori, the main shopping street in the neighbourhood, which features high-end shops and cafés. 

Daikanyama

Walking in Daikanyama feels different to other areas in Tokyo. The architecture is eclectic, the people are eccentric and the shops and restaurants are quirky. It's said to be one of Tokyo’s best-kept secrets. While it may not be one of the most convenient areas to live in, it is one of the most unique.

Omotesando

Omotesando Dori is akin to the Champs-Élysées in Paris or Fifth Avenue in New York City. It's a beautiful, tree-lined street – quite unique to Tokyo – filled with high-end designer shops and department stores. Many smaller boutiques can be found in the back streets of Omotesando and the neighbouring area of Harajuku. Although Omotesando is primarily a commercial area, there are residential pockets tucked away amongst the boutiques and cafés. If an expat is passionate about the area and willing to settle on something older, smaller and more expensive, this may be a happy compromise. 

Yoyogi Uehara

Foreign residents are mainly drawn to this neighbourhood of residential homes and apartment buildings because of the close proximity to Yoyogi Koen and because it's the last stop on the American School in Japan (ASIJ) bus route to the Chofu campus. Expats will also find bigger homes and the prices are more reasonable than elsewhere. If looking for a more suburban feel, Yoyogi Uehara may be a good option.

No matter where one decides to live, Tokyo is an unbelievably liveable city and a very safe and enjoyable place to raise a family.

Healthcare in Tokyo

Expat healthcare in Tokyo, and healthcare in Japan as a whole, is largely dependent on one's employer.

It's mandatory for companies that employ more than five individuals to provide healthcare for their employees. Thus, many employers prefer employees who use the national healthcare scheme; though expats can decide if they would prefer international private health insurance.

Monthly premiums are based on annual income, so in one's first year in Tokyo these may be small amounts.

Even if expats opt for a nationalised healthcare plan, they'll be liable for up to 30 percent of their medical expenses, however, certain procedures might not be covered. Furthermore, if covered by an international health insurance company, expats will have to pay upfront and request reimbursement directly from their health insurance scheme.


Hospitals in Tokyo

Below is a list of the most prominent hospitals in Tokyo where English-speaking staff are available:
 

Sanno Hospital

Address: 8-10-16 Akasaka, Minato-ku
Website: www.sannoclc.or.jp

St Luke's International Hospital

Address: 9-1 Akashi-cho, Chuo-ku
Website: hospital.luke.ac.jp

Tokyo Adventist Clinic

Address: 3-17-3 Amanuma, Suginami-ku
Website: www.tokyoeisei.com

Tokyo Medical University Hospital

Address: 6-7-1 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku
Website: hospinfo.tokyo-med.ac.jp

Toranomon Hospital

Address: 2-2-2 Toranomon, Minato-ku
Website: www.toranomon.gr.jp

Education and Schools in Tokyo

Most expats send their children to international schools in Tokyo, which is a more expensive option than Japanese schools. This is mostly because international schools are better equipped to deal with the needs of foreign students and allow them to continue studying the same curriculum as they did back home. This subsequently eases the transition into life in a new country.


Public schools in Japan

Parents of very young expat children might consider sending their children to local Japanese schools, which are free even for foreign children. The advantages of these schools are that children will learn Japanese and will integrate into local society more easily. Still, this is usually only an option for expats planning on moving to Japan for an extended period.  

The Japanese school system has a well-deserved reputation for being strenuous. Expat parents might find the performance pressure placed on young children a bit daunting. If factoring in after-school activities and near-obligatory lessons at jukus (cram schools) children could face a 12-hour day, with homework still waiting to be done later.

The school year in Japan runs from April to March – although for Japanese children, regular school during term breaks is often simply replaced with all-day juku


International schools in Tokyo

International schools in Tokyo offer a wide range of programmes, as well as tuition fees, from those aligned to numerous foreign curricula to integrative approaches which combine Japanese and international educational models. While most institutions teach general courses in English and follow an American or British curriculum, some schools cater specifically to French, German, Portuguese, Chinese and Korean expats, as well as some other nationalities.

Admission requirements for international schools differ widely and, of course, depend on the school. Tuition and costs also vary and, aside from basic tuition costs, there may be additional costs for things such as uniforms, field trips, bus services and even technology fees.

Most international schools follow the northern hemisphere academic year with a seven- to eight-hour day, generally from 8am to about 3pm.

International Schools in Tokyo

As a global business hub, international schools in Tokyo are plentiful. Parents will find schools offering the UK curriculum (including the Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels), the US curriculum (including SATs and AP subjects) and the globally respected International Baccalaureate.

Expat families often find international schools in Tokyo to be beneficial for several reasons.

Firstly, these schools have diverse student bodies, allowing children to interact with other expat students. Secondly, many families find that there are international schools teaching the curriculum of their home country in their native language. Even if one's home country isn't represented, international schools in Tokyo are still an excellent choice as they provide world-class education leading up to globally recognised qualifications.

Below is a list of international schools that are popular with the expat community in Tokyo.


International schools in Tokyo

Aoba-Japan International School

Aoba Japan International School is a fully accredited IB World School, offering students a globally recognised education. Students are given plenty of individual attention thanks to the school's high student-teacher ratio of 15:1. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 1.5 to 18

The American School in Japan

With more than 110 years of history, the American School in Japan is experienced in providing top-quality education to both expat and local families in Tokyo. In standardised tests, students at the school consistently score well above the US and global average. The school's main campus is situated on a sprawling 14-acre property replete with custom-designed facilities. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: American
Ages: 3 to 18

The British School in Tokyo

The British School in Tokyo (BST) is a diverse school of more than 1,000 students representing 70 different nationalities. Accredited by the Council of British International Schools, BST is certified to offer the well-respected UK curriculum to students aged 3 to 18. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum, Cambridge IGCSE and A-levels
Ages: 3 to 18 

Canadian International School Tokyo

Situated in the bustling bayside ward of Shinagawa, Canadian International School Tokyo is a small school offering the Canadian curriculum of Prince Edward Island. From Kindergarten to Grade 6, the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme is also incorporated. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Canadian and International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 18 

Deutsche Schule Tokyo Yokohama

Deutsche Schule Tokyo Yokohama provides a comprehensive German education. This small school has around 30 nationalities represented in its student body. Though teaching is entirely in German, additional languages including Japanese, French and English can be taken as subjects. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: German
Ages: 3 to 18

Global Indian International School Tokyo

With a range of curricula available, Global Indian International School Tokyo is an ideal choice for globally mobile families. The school runs a three-language programme, where teaching is in English and two foreign languages are taken as additional subjects. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Montessori, Indian and Cambridge IGCSE
Ages: 3 to 18

Kspace International School

Kspace International School is a secular co-educational school with a young and dynamic staff, conveniently located in central Tokyo. Students can be taught in English or they can enrol in the school's bilingual programme, where some days are taught in Japanese. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: English National Curriculum
Ages: 14 months to 6 years

Lycée Français International de Tokyo

Lycée Français International de Tokyo aims to provide a truly global education. The French curriculum serves as the framework for teaching, with the addition of linguistic and cultural components influenced by the school's Japanese surrounds. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: French
Ages: 3 to 18

Tokyo International School

Situated on a purpose-built campus in Minami Azabu, Tokyo International School offers the International Baccalaureate Primary Years and Middle Years Programmes. Facilities are spacious and well-maintained and include a gym, a performing arts studio, and a well-stocked library. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 4 to 14

Lifestyle in Tokyo

Tokyo is a sprawling, densely populated city packed full of nightlife spots, restaurants, museums, entertainment venues, shopping malls and everything besides. The city offers its expats a vibrant, unique and sociable lifestyle, with plenty of annual events, in addition to more permanent sightseeing and entertainment attractions.


Shopping in Tokyo

Shopping in Tokyo is an important part of the crazed consumer culture – in fact, it can constitute an essential cultural experience for expats. For one, Tokyo has a bizarrely futuristic shopping environment with everything from underwear to watermelons available from vending machines.

The city is also at the cutting edge of fashion, design and electronics – most famously in Akihabara. Bargains are rare, so be prepared to pay for the privilege of shopping here.

Shopping malls are a major part of the urban landscape. Shinjuku Station is surrounded by multi-level malls retailing every item imaginable. Major chains like Keio and Isetan can be reached directly from the station. Both have tax-free shopping and European language assistance. Check out Mitsukoshi department stores for a more upmarket shopping experience.

Those looking for gifts for loved ones back home should look out for traditional items like Daruma dolls and crafts such as ceramics and chop-sticks. Kimonos are always good, although quality garments are expensive. Ideal locations to find souvenirs are the Oriental Bazaar and along Omotesando.


Eating out in Tokyo

The biggest city in the world by population, Tokyo might well be the globe’s cuisine capital as well. Restaurants in Tokyo are plentiful – the city has more Michelin stars to its name than any other, and boasts eateries offering all manner of ethnic cuisines, fine dining experiences, local delicacies and foreign foods. Of course, Japanese sushi is a must-have and whether one is in Tokyo to stay or just passing through, there are plenty of options to choose from.


Nightlife in Tokyo

The nightlife in Tokyo is excellent, offering everything from geisha bars to jazz clubs, escort clubs and crazily themed dance clubs. It certainly helps that it’s legal to drink in public and that vending machines stock cans of beer. The best party area is Roppongi, which has quite friendly locals very familiar with Westerners. Other key nightlife areas are Kabukicho, in Shinjuku, and Ginza.

Kids in Tokyo

Expats with children will find plenty of distractions for their kids in Tokyo, many of which are geared around technology and science. The Panasonic Center, National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, Museum of Maritime Science or the National Science Museum all have plenty of child-specific attractions, and plenty to intrigue adults as well.

In good weather, check out the Baji Equestrian Centre where kids can watch horse shows and even ride ponies. The Tokyo Dome City offers children rides and games at the supervised amusement park, while parents can relax in the accompanying spa.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Children's Hall is another great option for kids featuring indoor gyms, computers, crafts areas, mini-theatre and rooftop playground – in fact, this is Tokyo's largest public facility for children. Another sunny day option is Shinjuku Park or Hama-Rikyu Sunken Garden, which are at their best during spring when the cherry blossoms bud.

Other recommended options include Ueno Zoo, with its giant pandas, wolverines and polar bears, the fascinating and eclectic Edo-Tokyo Museum; or even Tokyo Disney Resort which has enough rides and attractions for a week of entertainment.

At Monkey Park visitors will find plenty of friendly primates running and gambolling about in an open-air enclosure. There's also the Kite Museum which is the world’s most fervent celebration of kites and their history.

For kids that enjoy video games, Joyopolis Sega will thrill and entertain children of all ages with rides, games and much more.

The National Children’s Castle (Kodomo-no-Shiro) is aimed at children of all ages with a variety of activity rooms, gymnasiums, playgrounds, climbing walls, artistic activities and much more to stimulate and educate their minds.

See and Do in Tokyo

As there's so much to see and do in Tokyo, new expats should prepare for a sensory overload. The visual landscape is animated by flashing billboards, the hum and buzz of a densely packed population, and gleaming buildings that compete for attention. The good news is that no matter how much leisure time they have, expats will never get bored.

Using public transport is an easy way to see the sights. The transport system is excellent, cheap and relatively easy to master, even for the newly arrived expat. That being said, if expats don’t mind the walk, feeling out Tokyo on foot is highly recommended. 


Recommended sightseeing in Tokyo

Tokyo Tower

There is nowhere better for expats to get a sense of perspective than from atop the soaring Tokyo Tower, rising 1,091 feet (333m) into the sky. This architectural masterpiece was modelled on the Eiffel Tower in Paris, although Tokyo’s version also has a four-storey-high Foot Town at the base.

Imperial Palace

The heart and soul of traditional Tokyo, this magnificent royal palace is home to the current emperor, and has wonderful gardens that are open to the public.

Yasukuni Shrine

Built to honour the 2.5 million Japanese who perished in conflict, mostly in World War II, the Worship Hall itself is a simple Shinto-style building. To the north of the shrine is the Yushukan Museum, which features interesting artefacts like the human torpedo and a kamikaze suicide attack plane.

Edo-Tokyo Museum

This museum is devoted to celebrating Tokyo’s history, art, culture and architecture using inventive displays, including a replica of an ancient Kabuki theatre, as well as various maps and old photographs.

Akihabara

Looking for electronics and gadgets? Well, look no further than Akihabara, renowned electronic wonderland with all the bargains, cutting-edge innovation and expert advice an expat could ever want. An essential attraction even if expats are just window shopping.

Senso-ji Temple

An ancient Buddhist temple, Senso-ji was built in 628 AD and still attracts many devotees, especially when one of the numerous associated festivals is running. The summer fireworks display held here is widely known. The nearby Demboin Garden is a tranquil retreat from the city.

Tokyo Disney Resort

This is a mega theme park that directly mimics the original version in California. Apart from the usual fun rides and characters, there is Disney Sea Park as well as several hotels.

Tokyo National Museum

Home to the world’s largest collection of Japanese art, this outstanding museum has exhibits including antique kimonos, paper-thin pottery and classical woodblock prints.

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu is a pleasant and calming shrine close to Harajuku Station. Originally built as a tribute to the Emperor Meiji and his wife, the shrine is located in a breathtaking evergreen forest environment.

Kabuki-za

Expats in Tokyo can also explore the traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre. This is an attraction that may be more suited for the more culturally adventurous expats. The Kabuki-za is the main venue for such performances and is set in a beautiful building.

What's On in Tokyo

Annual events in Tokyo include everything from sports competitions to spring festivals, cutting-edge theatre productions to international trade fairs.

Here are just a few of the best events in Tokyo.


Annual events in Tokyo

Sumo Basho (Sumo Tournaments) (January)

The Sumo tournaments take place six times over the course of the year. At the first event, which takes place from mid-January, a champion is crowned after two weeks of matches.

Toray Pan Pacific Open (February)

An international ladies-only tennis tournament which sees the best names in international tennis compete for over a million US dollars in prize money.

National Foundation Day Parade (February)

A public holiday in Japan, this event commemorates the crowning of Japan’s first emperor. A parade travels through Meiji Park, the Meiji Shrine and Omote-Sando Street.

Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival (March)

At the start of spring, cherry trees erupt into pink and white blossoms, giving the city a magical aura. The event is celebrated with hanami parties that take the form of picnics, drinking, singing and dancing. Street stalls appear and musicians in costume serenade the picnickers. Ueno Park is one of the best places in Tokyo to experience this.

Design Festa (May)

The largest art event in Asia, this showcase of Oriental art sees thousands of participating artists, film screenings, food stalls and displays.

Great Japan Beer Festival (June/July)

An annual event held in mid-June, this festival is one of the most popular in Tokyo. Visitors can sample local and international beers.

Tokyo Summer Festival (June to August)

A month-long music festival and the biggest of its kind in Japan, this festival features contemporary, traditional and classical music from around the world at venues throughout the city.

Japan F1 Grand Prix (October)

Usually held during the first week of October, this is one of the most popular events of the Formula 1 season.

Tokyo International Film Festival (October/November)

One of the largest film events in Asia, this two-week event sees a huge variety of Japanese and international films screened, as well as an awards ceremony.

Setagaya Boro Ichi (December)

A popular antique market held in mid-December in Setagaya where hundreds of stallholders sell everything from priceless antiques to bric-a-brac.

Frequently Asked Questions about Tokyo

Tokyo is an exciting expat destination, and those planning a move there are bound to have many questions about life in this bustling city. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Tokyo.

How safe is Tokyo?

Tokyo is extremely safe. Nevertheless, it is a sprawling city and expats should always take adequate precautions, especially around crowded areas and when travelling on public transport as pickpockets are known to target unsuspecting foreigners.

The biggest safety problem is chikans, or perverts, who feel up women on crowded rush-hour trains. In an effort to curb this, some lines of the Tokyo subway have introduced 'women only' carriages in their trains for rush-hour.

Is Tokyo expensive?

The cost of living in Tokyo can be quite high, but this can be combatted by living frugally and modestly. The biggest and most non-negotiable expense for any expat is accommodation. It's quite possible to travel, have a reasonably active social life, save and shop on a basic Japanese salary.

Should I learn Japanese before moving to Tokyo?

No, it isn't necessary to learn Japanese if the language isn't required at work. Many Tokyoites are very keen to practise speaking English with foreigners and will do their best to help in English. Traffic signs, train signs and other important notices are written in English, as well as Japanese and Korean.

Are the locals friendly to expats?

Expats are regarded as very honoured and welcome guests in Japan, and the average citizen will go out of their way to help a person. National pride is on the rise which means that it's considered important that Japan presents itself in a positive light to all visitors.

Are weekend getaways from Tokyo possible?

Definitely – depending on budget and inclination. Travel between cities in Japan can be expensive, particularly via train. Buses are often cheaper, although they do take longer. The most popular destinations are Hakone, a mountain onsen (hot spring) site, the Izu peninsula or skiing in Hakuba in the winter. Nikko is also quite close by and is a wonderful location to visit during autumn when the leaves on the trees are breathtaking.

Getting Around in Tokyo

An excellent public transport system offers the best means of getting around in Tokyo. There's a dense network of interconnected rail and subway lines as well as extensive bus routes, so getting anywhere in the city is easy, although navigating the system can be confusing for new arrivals.

Public transport can be extremely crowded during rush hour. But luckily for female commuters, the Japan Railways (JR), train and subway lines all have women-only carts, making travel safer and more comfortable for women and children.


Public transport in Tokyo

Trains

Tokyo’s railway system is the most popular means of getting around the city. There's an extensive rail network, which is mostly operated by JR East, alongside several other privately operated lines. The circular Yamanote Line is the main rail line in the city and serves most major stations within the city limits. 

Station names are usually marked in both Japanese and English, which makes it easier for expats still learning their way around the city. Trains are usually very punctual and offer an efficient service.

Subway

Tokyo’s subway system is extensive and very efficient, with some lines operated by Tokyo Metro and others by Toei Subway. Stations are coded with a letter (representing the line) and a number (representing the station), with the actual lines being colour-coded. Route maps and fare charts are available in English at each station, while tickets are available at ticket vending machines, most of which also have English modes.

The subway system operates within the Yamanote Line. It also extends beyond the city limits with direct connections to other private train lines, making it a very convenient mode of transport in Tokyo.

Buses

Bus services aren't as frequent as trains but are convenient if needing to reach parts of Tokyo not accessible by rail. Buses are also convenient for long-distance services outside of Tokyo. There are many different bus operators in Tokyo, with Toei buses being the most prominent.


Taxis in Tokyo

Taxis in Tokyo are plentiful but are an expensive option. They are quite useful if travelling late at night when most other public transport options cease operating. Taxi drivers rarely speak English so it’s a good idea to have one’s destination written in Japanese for the driver. It isn't necessary to tip the driver. Taxi doors open and close automatically so don’t attempt to operate the door manually – something that may take a while to get used to.


Driving in Tokyo

Owing to the city’s excellent public transport system, it's unlikely that expats will require a car for getting around in Tokyo. If anything, it can be more of a hassle to drive in Tokyo; navigating the city in a car can be especially difficult due to heavy traffic congestion and the confusing mass of narrow streets, which aren't always clearly marked.


Cycling in Tokyo

Although cycling is popular in Tokyo, amenities for cyclists aren't extensive and traffic congestion can add to the danger. Many cyclists simply ride along the sidewalk as cycle lanes aren't common in the city – so pedestrians should watch where they are going as accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists are common in Tokyo.