Areas and Suburbs in Tokyo


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areas and suburbs in tokyoAt 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, but with a little inside information it boils down to a considerably smaller assignment.

Tokyo is a massive metropolis made up of small distinct neighbourhoods, several of which together form a ward or 
ku. Though there are 26 total wards within Tokyo, most expats tend to live in only three: Minato, Shibuya and Meguro.

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

Most foreigners house hunt with the help of a real estate agent, individuals who can be a big help to expats needing to understand all there is to know before making a final decision about accommodation.

Choosing your area or suburb in Tokyo


Decisions, decisions, decisions. There's a long list of factors to consider when choosing which house to make your home in Tokyo, and in many cases, the variables that are most important may differ dramatically from what took priority in your home country.
  • How long is your walk to the train?
This bit of information is paramount to the selection process. A 15-minute walk may not seem like a big deal at first, but when you're doing it multiple times a day carrying shopping bags and dry cleaning it can make or break a good mood. Most people try to find a place to live within a 10-minute walk to the nearest station.
  • How long will your commute to work be?
One of the biggest benefits of living in Tokyo is the reasonable commute to work. As there are no real suburbs of Tokyo for expats to live in, almost everyone lives in the city and most expats live within the Yamanote Circle. The Yamanote circle is a train line that circles the inner part of Tokyo, and living within this circle almost guarantees a fast and easy commute. Leaving the office and arriving home within 30 minutes for dinner is a VERY nice perk. If you do decide on accommodation outside the Yamanote Line, your commute will become much longer and more tedious.
  • How long is the walk to your child’s school bus stop?
For expats with children, this is another important factor. Most children attend schools outside of their particular neighbourhood (not withstanding pre-school age children). Tokyo is so safe that children almost always walk to and from their bus stops alone, or with other children starting from the first grade. Is the walk long and hilly? Will they be carrying heavy books while walking? Fifteen-minute walks in the torrential sideways rain that Tokyo tends to have can make for some very wet and miserable children - which can make for very irritable parents.
  • What schools are in the area?
Most large international schools are not located deep in the heart of Tokyo, as land is at a premium and space is needed for sports fields, auditoriums and parking. However, there are many international pre-schools located in each expat area so if you have pre-school age children you will most likely want to live within walking distance of your child’s school, as very little transport is provided for kids of this age.
  • Is there an international supermarket nearby?
This is very important if you want to continue to eat at least some of the foods you prepare in your home country. Japanese supermarkets are fantastic but none of the product names are in English and they are unlikely to carry your favourite brands from home. It's nice to be able to shop at both international and Japanese stores, but if you don’t live near one it makes it more difficult. That being said, all international supermarkets deliver.
  • Will you want to live in a house or an apartment?
It is possible to live in a house in Tokyo, but not all expat areas offer houses. Make sure when you choose an area in which you want to live that they have the type of housing you are looking for. For instance, Akasaka is made up of mostly high-rise buildings, but you can find some very nice homes in Shirokanedai, Hiroo and Moto Azabu.
  • Would you rather live in a small new apartment or an older large apartment?
The word homat will be mentioned often while home hunting in Tokyo. A homat is a type of apartment building that was built in Tokyo in the 70s and 80s to cater to foreigners’ needs. They are usually quite large with nice outdoor space and foreign appliances. Many have been upgraded over the years, however; some still show their age. You will get a much better deal and more space if you rent one of these older homats versus renting a brand new, state-of-the-art, smaller apartment in the same neighbourhood.
  • Do you want a view?
Tokyo views can be stunning. Imagine drinking your morning cup of coffee while staring out your window at an incredible city skyline surrounded by the snow capped mountain range of Mt. Fuji. If you want this, you’ll have to move vertically to get it.
  • Will your apartment have a 24-hour bi-lingual concierge?
Assuming you don’t speak Japanese, a bi-lingual concierge is a big bonus. The Japanese are known for service, and that is exactly what you will get if you have one of these. They can arrange everything from restaurant reservations to luggage shipment, and they can interpret your Japanese mail and cancel your newspapers when you are on vacation.
  • And of course, budget.
Tokyo remains one of the world’s most expensive city for expat employees. The housing prices in the expat areas are the highest in all of Tokyo. Make sure you are not searching in a neighbourhood that is completely out of your price range.

The three expat wards in Tokyo


Choosing accommodation in any one of these wards, you'll be sure to find other expats like yourself; and in a city of 30-35 million, it's nice to see some foreign faces once in a while!



Minato-ku


Minato-ku is the ward home to several high-end neighbourhoods where foreigners love to live, educate their children and visit bars, restaurants and nightclubs. The following are the smaller neighbourhoods that attract foreigners within Minato-ku:
  • Akasaka
areas and suburbs in tokyoAkasaka means Red Hill and is the home to the US Embassy. Its location is in central Tokyo and it has the reputation of being a business centre during working hours and a nightlife destination after dark. There are even still a few geisha houses in this neighbourhood, but as a foreigner, you could walk by one every day on your way to work and never know what lurks inside. Since it is a business area, the weekends are blissfully quiet and many families enjoy living here and having the place to themselves when the salary men disappear. You 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 all foods Western. You 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 commonplace in other expat areas.

If looking for a real prototypical neighbourhood, Azabu has it all, although Moto Azabu is also the most expensive area to live in Tokyo, besides the Imperial Palace.

Many expat bankers live here with their families. This neighbourhood is jam-packed with green space, international supermarkets, international pre-schools, shopping, cafés, bars, restaurants and foreigners.

One of the more popular international schools, Nishimachi, is in this high-end neighbourhood, and the American School in Japan bus stops located here are loaded with kids waiting to get on in the mornings.

There is a very exclusive tennis club here (Tokyo Lawn and Tennis) as well as Arisugawa Koen, a multi-level park complete with a pond and playground for small children. Residents of Moto Azabu love to shop in the quaint area of Azabu Juban, a 5- or 10-minute walk downhill to small cobblestoned streets with "mom and pop" shops and great cafés.

On the other side of Gaien Nishi Dori, you will find Nishi Azabu. Some expats call the road behind Gaein Nishi Dori, "Restaurant Row". The depth and breadth of restaurant choices is astounding. The small streets and cosy nooks make living in this area fun and exciting. Whichever Azabu you choose, you won’t be disappointed. Just remember to check that budget one more time before going out on your look-see.
  • Hiroo
The area of Hiroo is often called the gaijin ghetto due to the inordinate amount of foreigners who live and play in this neighbourhood. There's a nice combination of homes, apartment buildings and homats for the expat to choose from, and English-speaking people are more likely to be found in shops and restaurants.

Unlike other areas in Tokyo, it is possible to do all your shopping and errands without leaving. Another nice feature is that the Red Cross Hospital is in Hiroo – the hospital of choice amongst foreigners. Hiroo is one of the areas that surround Arisugawa Koen and National Azabu; the international supermarket is ground zero in Hiroo.
  • Roppongi
Roppongi means "six trees" and you will see the six tree icon all over the silver monolith of Roppongi Hills, the high-end office complex, high-rise apartment, shops, restaurants, movie theatre and outdoor entertainment centre.

The view from the top of the Mori building, the office complex portion of Roppongi Hills, will give the visitor a fantastic insight into how large and complex Tokyo actually is. If you happen to be lucky enough to work in the Mori tower, you can rent an apartment in the high rise building next door, shop at the 24-hour Food Magazine supermarket, dine in Roppongi Hills restaurants and live happily ever after.

Roppongi has a reputation among Japanese and foreigners alike for being a place to party all night long. And while it's true there are parts of Roppongi where you will see people stumbling home just before working hours, with the recent addition of Roppongi Hills, Izumi Garden Tower and Tokyo Midtown, many foreign families love living in this neighbourhood.
  • Shirokane/Shirokanedai
Shirokane and Shirokanedai (two areas divided by Meguro Dori) are areas to consider if you want to live in a home, rather than an apartment. This neighbourhood is known to be largely residential, not as commercial as the other expat neighbourhoods surrounding it. That being said, it's home to “Platinum Dori”, the main shopping street in the neighbourhood, which features high-end shops and cafés. To give you a sense of where this neighbourhood is, you can walk to Hiroo in about 20 minutes, or take the subway one stop to Azabu Juban.



Meguro-ku


You can find more affordable living in the cities of Ebisu, Meguro and Gotanda. These areas are more on the edge of the Yamanote line, the inner circle of central Tokyo, yet close enough to still find foreigners living there. You can literally jump on a train and be in Hiroo in just a few stops. These areas have more of a residential feel and you will find you get more living space for your yen. Here are some expat areas in Meguro-ku:
  • Nakameguro
Nakameguro has transformed in the last five years from a sleepy area just outside the Yamanote circle to a funky, artistic neighbourhood. Many shops and restaurants have opened alongside the cherry-blossomed Meguro River making it a lovely area to live in. The back streets of Nakameguro are also known for antique shops and vintage wear.
  • Daikanyama
Walking in Daikanyama feels different than many other areas in Tokyo. The architecture is eclectic; the people who own the shops are eccentric, the shops and restaurants are funky. This area is bordered by Ebisu, Nakameguro and Shibuya and its one of Tokyo’s best-kept secrets. It’s not the most convenient area to live in, but it is one of the most unique.



Shibuya-ku


areas and suburbs in tokyoShibuya station is the focal point of Shibuya-ku. This is one of the busiest train stations in the world and home to Shibuya crossing – the crazy intersection that appears in almost all modern films about Tokyo. The tiny streets and alleyways lit up with neon can make you feel like you are living in a video game, but outside of this frenetic lively centre, there exist many lovely leafy areas in which expats live. Here are some of the neighbourhoods in Shibuya-ku:
  • Omotesando
Omotesando dori is akin to the Champs-Élysées in Paris or Fifth Avenue in New York. It's a beautiful, tree-lined street – quite unique to Tokyo – filled with high-end designer shops and department stores. There are also many smaller boutiques that 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.

At one end of Omotesando Dori located in a forest of 175 acres sit Meiji Shrine, one of the most famous shrines in Japan, and Yoyogi Koen, one of the largest parks in Tokyo.

If you are looking for the perfect place to live, this might not be your best bet, however; if you are in love with the area and willing to settle on something older, smaller or more expensive you may find a happy compromise. This is not the best area for families with small children, yet the British school is located nearby and many families that have children that attend the school find it a nice place to live.
  • 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 stop out to the Chofu campus. Kids that attend ASIJ and live in this area get picked up last in the morning and dropped off first in the afternoon.

This can make a big difference, as the bus ride to school can be quite long – especially in Tokyo traffic. You will also find homes that are bigger than those in the Azabus and the prices are more reasonable. If you are looking for a more suburban feel, Yoyogi Uehara may be your best bet.

No matter where you decide to live, you will find Tokyo an unbelievably liveable city and a very safe and enjoyable place to raise a family. Happy house hunting!

Our Tokyo Expert

LisaJardine's picture
the United States
Tokyo, Japan
Lisa Jardine is a student in the Master of Arts in Writing program at Manhattanville College. She writes for various Expat...
LisaJardine

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