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Tokyo was razed during the fire bombings of World War II, the small, traditional Japanese façades have almost entirely been replaced by a modern concrete jungle.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.
Are you an expat living in Tokyo?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Tokyo. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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