There are almost two million non-Japanese people living in Tokyo.
That’s a big number. Although the foreign population is mostly made up of Chinese and Koreans, many western people from the US, Canada, and Europe flock to Japan to live. I lived in Nagano Prefecture for a year and a half and now, in my third year of living in Tokyo, I’ve decided to stay here.
Here are 13 things, good and bad, about living in the capital of Japan.
1. To live in Tokyo, you need a visa
To get a visa, you need to go to the Tokyo Immigration Bureau in Shinagawa with your Certificate of Eligibility from your employer. There’s lots of information about this online.
2. The trains are really complicated
But once you get the hang of them, they’re brilliant. They’re clean, safe, central lines arrive every few minutes and they’re almost always on time.
3. The city is really clean
It’s also really safe. Downtown nighttime areas are obviously a bit scruffy, such as Roppongi and Shibuya, but even they have people cleaning up the beer cans and cigarette butts. Visitors always seem to be pleasantly surprised at how much the Japanese take care of their surroundings.
4. However, Tokyo isn’t perfect
Crime does still happen and it’s important to take basic safety procedures. Know, though, that you’re safer walking around at night alone than you would be in many other cities.
5. There are convenience stores everywhere
Whether you want a rice ball at 5am or need some last-minute drinks for your party, a Lawson, Family Mart, 7-11 or Sunkus has your back. “Konbinis” are everywhere and are super convenient – though a little expensive for everyday goods.
6. Get a Suica or Pasmo travel card
Just get one. Do it as soon as possible. You can buy a Suica or Pasmo (they’re basically the same thing) at any ticket machine at a train station for 500 yen. You top them up with as much as you want, and you can use them on trains, the subway, the bus, and even in convenience stores and for most vending machines. You’ll be glad you’ve got one when you’re not buying train tickets every time you travel or scrabbling for cash at the shops.
7. Even though Tokyo is super futuristic, there are still traditional “washiki” toilets
Whether you refuse to try them or you’ve had to use one out of sheer desperation, washiki toilets, or traditional hole-in-the-ground loos, are still around in the same city as robots and virtual reality systems. We aren’t sure if it’s simply for the sake of tradition or if people actually prefer them, but in certain restaurants and public bathrooms you may sometimes still come across a washiki. Would you dare use one?
8. Tokyo is home to dozens of festivals
The Japanese know how to celebrate, whether it’s with fireworks, carrying small shrines, setting things on fire or getting drunk under cherry blossom trees. If you live in Tokyo, you’re bound to come across a festival or two on your travels. Do some research, prepare, and jump in!
9. The parks get heavily crowded during cherry blossom season
The cherry blossoms, or “sakura”, bloom from around mid-March to mid-April, and it’s a very special time here in Japan. They say it’s when the gods come down for just a few weeks, and to celebrate, people participate in “hanami” – that is, have a picnic under the blossoming pink trees and, if they’re adults, get good and drunk.
Unfortunately, that means that all the most beautiful parks are pretty crowded, especially during the weekends. If you’d like to try hanami, you should go early in the morning and during a weekday, if possible.
10. There are areas run by the mafia
Nowhere is officially off-limits, but it’s important to remember that some districts in Tokyo, such as Shinjuku, are highly controlled by the Japanese mafia, the Yakuza. This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get into any sort of trouble with them, but mafia-controlled places tend to be insanely expensive.
Watch yourself if you visit Kabukicho, the red light district of Tokyo. Check out this article for some sound advice on the area.
11. Japan is very four-seasons
Remember those Japanese video games where if it was winter, it was snowy, if it was summer, it was hot? They aren’t exaggerating – Japan is pretty four-seasons, and Tokyo isn’t any different. As someone from England, the abruptly changing weather surprised me the first time.
Although it doesn’t snow very often in Tokyo, it is cold and dry, though usually very clear and beautiful for views of Mt. Fuji. Summer is hot, humid and June brings the sticky rain. Spring brings us blooming flowers, and autumn the red leaves of coming winter.
12. Not a lot of people speak English
If you visit the touristy places such as Asakusa, Harajuku, Shinjuku and Odaiba, you’re likely to run into workers who can speak English quite well. However, those outside the tourism field tend not to speak English, either because they forgot all their high school classes and have no interest, or because they’re simply too shy. However, this is just my personal experience. I found that a lot more people tried to speak English when my family members have come to Japan to visit.
That being said, it can’t be hurt to learn a bit of Japanese if you decide to live in Tokyo.
13. There are many things considered rude
There are a lot of things that are fine at home but are big no-nos in Tokyo and beyond. Check out this article on 6 things you should never do in Japan.
So there are 13 things you should know about living in Tokyo – I’m sure there are many more, and I’ll add to them as they come. Got more to add? Let me know!
Thank you for reading this article. If you’d like to check out my fantasy books, see my Amazon page. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (I follow back!) and give me a like on Facebook! Love you bros. Have a good one!