Whether moving to Tokyo for a short-term job opportunity or fascinated by Japanese culture, language and cuisine, expats living in this massive metropolis are bound to encounter ups and 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 the standard of facilities in Tokyo apartments and houses are high. Most expat areas are well connected to amenities, supermarkets, restaurants, public transport links and schools. That said, living spaces are typically smaller than what most expats are 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, as well as a maintenance fee charged in some apartment blocks. 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 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 and restaurants. 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. However, 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.
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 must make sure it will be able to support all their expenses, especially rent and, for families with school-aged children, international school fees. We advise expats to budget accordingly and keep an eye out for discounts when shopping.
+ PRO: Healthcare-related savings
Expats employed in Tokyo may benefit from employment packages and contracts that cover a portion of medical costs, which is helpful with both public and private healthcare. Medical insurance 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 school education saves 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. International schools, though, usually allow a seamless 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 learn and focus on their academics and grades. This can be a stressful experience and not one that all expat children are used to or can adjust to. In these cases, parents tend to send their children to an international school, which may be more suitable yet could put pressure on an expat’s wallet.
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, over-stimulation can easily stress out an expat residing in Tokyo. Fortunately, outside of tourist and commercial areas and transport hubs, the city can seem surprisingly quiet. Places such as Ueno Onshi 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 the Joypolis centres with amusement rides and arcade games as well as 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.
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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