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Moving to Tokyo

The very definition of glitz and glamour, Tokyo is an ultramodern, densely populated megacity set against a picturesque backdrop of the magnificent Mount Fuji. Expats moving to Tokyo will have to keep up with the city's frenetic energy as a seemingly endless array of opportunities and activities abound.

Living in Tokyo as an expat

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Tokyo was razed during the fire bombings of World War II, the small, traditional Japanese façades have almost entirely been replaced by a modern concrete jungle. Still, despite the pace of this cosmopolitan hub, there are backstreets even in the heart of the city that can be quiet and tranquil. These areas provide charming accommodation.

Tokyo's public transport system is ultra-efficient and is considered one of the world's best. The well-integrated system includes underground trains (subways), over-ground trains, buses and trams, with plenty of taxis available to supplement the system. As a result, the city is extraordinarily accessible, even to newly arrived expats.

Cost of living in Tokyo

Shopping is a primary Japanese pastime and there's no better place to indulge in this than Tokyo. While the constantly evolving consumer culture that pervades the city makes it an exciting place to live, the cost of this lifestyle is high. In fact, Tokyo regularly tops lists of the world's most expensive cities. Those with limited funds may find it difficult to stick to their budget, though avoiding the pricier entertainment options and opting for free activities instead can save a significant amount of money.

Still, even standard living costs like accommodation, food and (for expats with kids) schooling can be eye-wateringly high. For this reason, expats moving to Tokyo will need to ensure that they will be earning enough to sustain themselves comfortably in the city.

Expat families and children

Despite Tokyo's fast-moving lifestyle, the city is a fantastic place to bring up children. With some of the world's most exciting family attractions (such as Legoland and Tokyo Disneyland), it's never hard to find something to keep the kids entertained.

Expat parents moving to Tokyo with children of school-going age are often nervous of Japanese education's negative reputation. While these concerns have some validity in the public system, there are plenty of private international schools that employ the curricula, teaching style and language of countries such as the UK and the US. Though these schools are often pricey, expat parents often find they smooth the difficult transition of starting at a new school and are a great way to meet fellow expat families.

Climate in Tokyo

While the weather in Tokyo isn't much to write home about, it's not especially unpleasant either. Winters are mostly sunny and mild while summers are hot and humid. The main weather event expats will need to look out for is typhoons, which are most likely to occur between June and October. In the event of a typhoon, it's best to head home, sit tight and await instructions from the authorities.

It's said that it's the people that make a city, and Tokyo is no exception. Most Japanese locals are welcoming and proud of their city, and are invested in helping newcomers have a positive experience. Expats who reciprocate the kindness of locals and make an attempt to converse in Japanese are certain to find themselves making local friends in no time.

Weather in Tokyo

The climate in Tokyo is temperate, with fairly mild and sunny winters, though there may be some cold, snowy and windy days that are less pleasant. The average maximum during this period is around 50°F (10°C). On the other hand, summers tend to be hot and humid with highs reaching up to 95°F (35°C).

Between June and October, the city can be affected by typhoons. Peak typhoon season is in August and September, and this time of year can bring strong winds and torrential rains that lead to heavy damage. During a typhoon, it's best to stay inside and keep an ear out for updates on the situation.

 

Pros and Cons of Moving to Tokyo

Whether moving to Tokyo for a short-term job opportunity or drawn by Japanese culture, language and cuisine, expats living in this massive metropolis are bound to encounter ups as well as downs. 

An expat’s perception of life in Tokyo may differ depending on their personality, interests, backgrounds or occupation. For instance, the life of an international student on a tight budget studying at a Tokyo university will be completely different to that of a businessperson working in a top executive position in the Japanese capital. Nevertheless, those with an open mind and determination to overcome potential barriers will be able to appreciate their time in this city.

Below is a list of pros and cons of relocating to Tokyo.


Accommodation in Tokyo

+ PRO: High standard of housing in expat areas

Most expats find that the standard of facilities in Tokyo apartments and houses are high. Most areas popular among expats are well connected to amenities, supermarkets, restaurants, public transport links and schools. That said, living spaces are typically smaller than what most expats may be used to, and new arrivals may need to compromise either on their rent or property size.

- CON: Costly to secure a property for rent

When looking for modern, spacious accommodation, expats will soon feel the weight of living in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Rent is a major expense, and utilities are normally an additional cost. Some apartment blocks also charge a maintenance fee. Expats must also budget for at least one month’s deposit and agent and guarantor fees when securing their lease.


Getting around in Tokyo

+ PRO: Extensive and efficient public transport networks

Transport in Tokyo is efficient, wide reaching and well integrated. Regular passengers should get an IC card, a rechargeable smart card to use on all Tokyo's modes of public transport, including buses, trains and the subway, as well as some shops. Expats can easily get around without driving a car, which saves on fuel expenses too.

- CON: Confusing for new arrivals to navigate

Tokyo is considered the world’s largest metropolis by some measures and this can be overwhelming to visitors and newly arrived expats. Crowds are unavoidable during rush hour and battling through the hustle and bustle can seem nightmarish. But by taking a train or the subway during off-peak times, an expat can easily begin to orientate themselves. Thanks to maps and signs in multiple languages, including English, and apps such as Google Maps, getting lost need not be a major concern in the long run.


Cost of living in Tokyo

- CON: Expensive city

The cost of living in Tokyo consistently ranks among the highest in the world. While an expat’s salary may appear lucrative, they will have to ensure it will be able to support all their expenses, especially rent and, for families with school-aged children, international school fees.

+ PRO: Healthcare-related savings

Expats employed in Tokyo may benefit from employment packages and contracts that cover a portion of medical costs. Additional medical insurance to cover remaining healthcare costs is highly recommended in Tokyo, and it's worth negotiating an allowance for this as it could save money in the long run. 


Education and schools in Tokyo

+ PRO: Excellent school system

Whether expats opt for a public, private or international school, they are likely to find a high standard of facilities and qualified and capable teachers. Public education can save expats a lot of money on fees and will help young kids who plan to stay in Tokyo long term to integrate into their new lives. On the other hand, international schools usually allow for a smoother transition as they cater to foreign students.

- CON: Difficult balance between learning environments and school fees

State schools across Japan are known for putting pressure on students to obtain top marks. This can be a stressful experience and not one that all expat children are used to or can adjust to. While it can be circumvented by opting for an international school instead, fees and extra costs are extremely high.


Lifestyle in Tokyo

+ PRO: Impossible to get bored

There is so much to see and do in Tokyo. From Sensō-ji, the city’s oldest Buddhist temple, to the Eiffel-Tower-inspired Tokyo Tower, there are numerous tourist attractions and landmarks that are considered must-sees. Shopaholics will find themselves in paradise, especially along Takeshita Street, a popular pedestrian shop-lined street, while an exciting array of annual events keeps everyone busy.

+ PRO: Opportunities for quiet escapes

A bustling megacity with diverse amenities and a population of over 37 million across the greater Tokyo area, over-stimulation can easily stress out an expat residing in Tokyo. Fortunately, outside of tourist and commercial areas and transport hubs, the city can be surprisingly quiet.

Places such as Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden offer an escape into nature, and are particularly beautiful when the pink-and-white cherry blossoms, or sakura, spring to life.

+ PRO: Endless fun for families with kids

Expat families with children moving to Tokyo will find countless activities to keep them occupied. Expats can take their pick of family-friendly distractions, from the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation to Tokyo Disneyland.

- CON: Difficult work-life balance

It often seems that life in Tokyo is all ‘work hard’ without any ‘play hard’. With long business hours and few statutory paid leave allowances, it’s not uncommon to feel burnt out when working here. To avoid this, some expats try to get out of the city for a weekend break and find themselves relaxing in the hot spring resorts in Hakone and the Izu Peninsula or hiking, skiing and snowboarding in Hakuba during winter.

Cost of Living in Tokyo

Tokyo is infamous for its high cost of living, which is often the top concern for expats moving to the city. In 2020, Tokyo ranked third out of 209 expat cities evaluated for Mercer’s Cost of Living Survey. It's much pricier than cities such as Osaka when it comes to major expenses like accommodation. But with the level of salaries being offered in Tokyo, it is still possible for expats to build a comfortable life for themselves here.


Cost of food in Tokyo

When it comes to food, standards are high. Delicious food can be found around every corner of the city. Competition between businesses is fierce, which makes it easy to find good deals on most meals. 

Buying food at a restaurant can sometimes be cheaper than buying groceries. One of the most affordable options are the bento boxes that are available from convenience stores. Basement floors of most department stores also have food courts selling meals at reasonable prices.

The price of fresh produce in Tokyo is higher than some expats may be used to, but the quality and is top notch. Seafood is relatively cheap. Many supermarkets offer evening discounts to get rid of the day’s stock.


Cost of accommodation in Tokyo

The largest expense an expat will have in Tokyo is accommodation. Apartments are the most popular form of accommodation for expats. Monthly rental fees can be sky high for housing that is often much smaller than expats are used to. Expats should also keep in mind that there are other fees involved when moving into a place initially. Extra costs that need to be budgeted for are deposits, key money, first month’s rent in advance and agency fees. 


Cost of transport in Tokyo

Due to the high cost of parking in Tokyo, most expats choose to use public transport instead of owning a car. In comparison to other Asian capitals such as Seoul, public transport is expensive in Tokyo, but it's also extremely efficient.


Cost of schooling in Tokyo

Many families moving to Tokyo choose to send their children to international schools. There are many international schools with high standards in Tokyo. Tuition fees vary greatly between schools but it tends to be expensive. Parents should also keep in mind that they will have to budget extra for registration fees, uniforms, books and excursions. 


Cost of living in Tokyo chart

Note that prices may vary depending on product and service provider. The list below shows average prices for Tokyo in June 2021.

Accommodation (monthly)

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

JPY 170,000

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

JPY 330,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

JPY 80,000

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

JPY 150,000

Groceries

Dozen eggs

JPY 260

Milk (1 litre)

JPY 210

Loaf of white bread

JPY 220

Rice (1kg)

JPY 500

Chicken breasts (1kg)

JPY 970

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

JPY 520

Utilities (monthly)

Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

JYP 35

Internet (average per month)

JYP 4,000

Utilities (average per month for standard household)

JYP 22,000

Eating out and entertainment

Three-course meal at a mid-range restaurant for two

JYP 6,000

Big Mac Meal

JYP 700

Cappuccino

JYP 400

Coca-Cola (330ml)

JYP 150

Local beer (500ml)

JYP 500

Transport

Taxi rate per km

JYP 420

City-centre public transport

JYP 210

Petrol (per litre)

JYP 140

Accommodation in Tokyo

Accommodation in Tokyo comes at a premium, as does most housing in large, overpopulated cities. While the standard of accommodation is excellent, many an expat has found that 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, in which 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 fewer initial costs.


Finding accommodation 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 a comprehensive 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 or at least a Japanese guarantor.


Renting accommodation 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 two years but can usually be broken early as long as a certain amount of notice is given to the landlord.

Deposits

Tenants are expected to put a damages deposit, usually equal to one to three months' rent. This is refundable providing that there's no damage to the property at the end of the tenancy.

Key money

Though it's slowly becoming less common, key money or reikin (literally 'gratitude money') is another upfront cost traditionally associated with renting a home in Japan. Key money is usually the same amount as the deposit, but unlike a deposit, key money is kept in full by the landlord as a gift. In some cases, key money may be up to six months' worth of rent.

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

The best places to live 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 world's largest 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. There are 23 wards in total within Tokyo. Minato, Shibuya and Meguro are particularly popular with expats.

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.

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.

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.


City living in Tokyo

Tokyo

Akasaka

Located in central Tokyo, Akasaka means "Red Hill" and is home to the US Embassy. This thriving business area is frenetic during the daytime, with excellent nightlife once the sun goes down. Weekends here are blissfully quiet in contrast to the constant bustle of workers during the week. Expats will find state-of-the-art high rises here with fantastic views of the city.

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. Known as 'Little Brooklyn' in reference to the New York City borough, 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 backstreets of Omotesando and the neighbouring area of Harajuku. 

Although Omotesando is primarily a commercial area, there are residential pockets tucked away among 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.


Family life in Tokyo

Tokyo

Azabu

The quiet, ancient streets of the Azabu area twist and turn up hills and down alleys, winding around parks. 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, and restaurants.

Shirokane and 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. It's also home to Platinum Dori, the main shopping street in the neighbourhood, which features high-end shops and cafés.

Healthcare in Tokyo

Expat healthcare in Tokyo, and healthcare in Japan as a whole, is of a good quality. Health insurance is mandatory and is partially funded by compulsory contributions determined according to annual income.

There are two main nationalised healthcare schemes in Japan – Employees' Health Insurance, for those working in the country, and National Health Insurance, which covers those ineligible to use Employees' Health Insurance.

The government covers between 70 and 90 percent of costs, with the patient being responsible for the balance. Certain procedures might not be covered. Some purchase private health insurance for extra coverage. Private health insurers require that patients pay upfront for treatment and then submit receipts for reimbursement. The insurer then refunds the approved amount to the policyholder.

Below is a list of prominent hospitals in Tokyo.


Hospitals in Tokyo

Japanese Red Cross Medical Center

Address: 4 Chome-1-22 Hiroo, Shibuya City, Tokyo 150-8935
Website: www.med.jrc.or.jp

St Luke's International Hospital

Address: 9-1 Akashi-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-8560
Website: hospital.luke.ac.jp

Tokai University Tokyo Hospital

Address: 1-2-5 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0053
Website: www.tokyo-hosp.tokai.ac.jp

University of Tokyo Hospital

Address: 7 Chome-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo City, Tokyo 113-8655, Japan
Website: www.h.u-tokyo.ac.jp

Education and Schools in Tokyo

Most expats send their children to international schools in Tokyo. Though this is a more expensive option than Japanese schools, international schools are generally better equipped to deal with the needs of foreign students. In many cases, expat children can continue studying the same curriculum as they did back home. This 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 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 full day in class, with homework still waiting to be done later.


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 combining Japanese and international educational models. While most institutions teach in English and follow an American or British curriculum, some schools cater specifically to French, German, Indian and Chinese 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.


Special-needs education in Japan

The Japanese government is dedicated to creating an inclusive society in which educational needs are met for each individual student. In line with this, the vast majority of children with special needs are taught in regular public schools. The method of assistance in Japanese public schools will depend on the child’s disabilities and the severity thereof. Some will be taught in regular classes with certain adjustments while others may attend special resource rooms a few times a week. In some cases, these students will attend special-needs education classes within a regular public school. 

Children with acute disabilities may benefit from attending dedicated special-needs schools. These schools  have classes from kindergarten to senior high school.

A number of international schools also offer support for certain conditions or disabilities, though usually at an additional fee. There are also schools following the Waldorf-Steiner and Montessori methods which have a more flexible approach to education and are known to cater to individual students’ needs.


Tutors in Japan

Schooling in Japan is competitive and tutors are commonly used. Students will often have multiple tutors for different school subjects. Having a tutor in Japan can be especially useful for expat children. A tutor can assist with mother-tongue maintenance or help them improve their Japanese. If a child is attending a school with a new curriculum, a tutor is an excellent way of catching up and adjusting.

Tutoring is popular in Japan, which has led to plenty of tutoring companies popping up across the country. Though expats may be spoilt for choice, they should do thorough research on all options before choosing a tutor. Schools will often be able to recommend trustworthy tutors.

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 tend to favour international schools in Tokyo 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 International Baccalaureate World School, offering students a globally recognised education. Students are given plenty of individual attention thanks to the school's high student-teacher ratio. Read more

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

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. 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

British School in Tokyo

The British School in Tokyo (BST) is a diverse school of more than 1,100 students. 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, and American Advanced Placement subjects are offered in senior high. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: Canadian, American 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 (CBSE) 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

Shinagawa International School

An authorised International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme school and candidate IB Middle Years Programme school, Shinagawa International School offers a holistic education that upholds high academic standards while also encouraging personal growth. The school boasts an impressive student-to-teacher ratio of 6:1, allowing teachers to give each child individualised attention and guidance. Read more

Gender: Co-educational
Curriculum: International Baccalaureate
Ages: 3 to 13

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 fish broth and fresh eggs to ties and socks available from vending machines.

The city is also at the cutting edge of fashion, design and electronics – with Akihabara being a haven for the latter as well as the city's anime and manga hotspot.

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.

Those looking for gifts for loved ones back home should look out for traditional items like Daruma dolls and crafts such as ceramics and chopsticks. Kimonos are always good, although quality garments are expensive.


Eating out in Tokyo

The biggest city in the world by population, Tokyo may 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 themed bars to dance clubs and karaoke bars. It certainly helps that it’s legal to drink in public and that vending machines stock cans of beer. One of the best party areas is Roppongi, which has friendly locals very familiar with Westerners. Other key nightlife areas are Kabukicho and Ginza.

Kids and family in Tokyo

Expats with children will find plenty of distractions for their kids in Tokyo, many of which are geared around technology and science. Many of the city's museums have plenty of child-specific attractions as well as plenty to intrigue adults as well.


Kid-friendly attractions in Tokyo

In good weather, check out the Baji Koen Equestrian Park where kids can watch horse shows and even ride ponies. Other great sunny-day options include Shinjuku Park and Hama-rikyu Gardens, which are at their best during spring when the cherry blossoms bloom.

Tokyo Dome City offers children rides and games at the supervised amusement park, while parents can relax in the accompanying spa. For kids that enjoy video games, Tokyo Joyopolis will thrill and entertain children of all ages with rides, games and much more. There's also the Kite Museum which is a fervent and vibrant celebration of kites and their history.

See and Do in Tokyo

With 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.

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 has the distinction of being Tokyo's oldest temple. It still attracts many devotees, especially when one of the numerous associated festivals is running. The summer fireworks display held here is widely known.

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, visitors can enjoy Tokyo DisneySea Park as well as the park's several hotels.

Tokyo National Museum

One of the world's largest art museums, this outstanding attraction 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

Here, expats in Tokyo can also explore the traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre. 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 events in Tokyo that expats can look forward to.


Annual events in Tokyo

National Foundation Day Parade (February)

A public holiday in Japan, this event commemorates the crowning of Japan’s first emperor in 660 BC. A parade travels through Meiji Park and Omote-Sando Street (where portable shrines join the parade), culminating at Meiji Shrine.

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.

Great Japan Beer Festival (June)

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

Japan F1 Grand Prix (October)

Typically 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 market originating in the 16th century, this timeless event is 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.

Is Tokyo expensive?

The cost of living in Tokyo can be quite high, but this can be combatted by living frugally. The biggest and most non-negotiable expense for any expat is accommodation.

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 new arrival. 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 reaching 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 and long commutes to work are common. But most expats agree that having to deal with crowds is well worth the efficiency and convenience of Japan's public transport system.


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, mostly operated by JR East, alongside several other privately operated lines. The circular Yamanote Line, sometimes referred to as the 'Loop 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 finding their way around the city. Trains are usually punctual and efficient.

Subway

Tokyo’s subway system is extensive, efficient and well connected to the train system. Route maps and fare charts are available in English at each station.

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 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 can also be used 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, though they can be useful if travelling late at night when most other public transport options cease operating. Taxi drivers might not 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.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber are operational in the city, but can be more expensive and scarcer than regular taxis.


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.

Those who do wish to drive will generally need an international drivers' permit, at least initially, though nationals of certain countries may use their licence from home as long as they have it officially translated into Japanese. To obtain a permanent Japanese licence, practical and written tests may be necessary.


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.