Tokyo is an amazing city. It’s become a foreigner magnet and many people seem very keen to live in the city that never sleeps. Living in Tokyo as a foreigner, however, comes with pros and cons and it’s important to know what you are getting into before you make the big move. Here is my personal list of what’s wonderful and what’s not so wonderful about living in Tokyo as a non-Japanese residence.
Good: You don’t speak Japanese? Not a problem. Well, it helps if you could, but even if you can’t, you’ll have little problem navigating Tokyo. Most signages at station and department stores are multilingual in English, Chinese and Korean, while road signs are bilingual in English and Japanese.
Not so good: If you want to learn Japanese while living here, it’ll be quite hard. Many Japanese actually speak enough English and they will want to practice English with you. The other day I called a road service through my insurance company and he was totally fluent in English.
Good: You’ll never run out of ideas to have fun in Tokyo. You’ll have access to thousands of great restaurants, shops, theme parks and sports facilities here, while fascinating events are constantly happening all year round, including Comiket, Design Festa, Tokyo Motor Show, Tokyo Fashion Show, etc etc, on top of local festivals and events. In spring, sakura is amazing along Meguro River and in many national parks in Tokyo, while in summer, Sumida-ku offers one of the best fireworks festival along Sumida River. In winter, the nearest ski resort from Tokyo, Fujiten Ski Resort, is only 90 minutes away and you’ll be literally skiing or snowboarding with Mount Fuji.
Not so good: Tokyo could be a bit overwhelming if you are not used to a city life. Space is an issue in Tokyo - there are approximately 13,482,040 registered Tokyo residents. This number of course excludes people who live just outside Tokyo and work in Tokyo, as well as domestic and foreign visitors. What I hate most in Tokyo is catching a train during peak hours in the morning and evening. It is a soul crushing experience.
Good: Nowadays tourists come with the aim of eating as much Japanese food as possible. Washoku or Japanese cuisine was recently added to the list of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, and Tokyo has amazing washoku restaurants. Tsukiji Market is a fun place to enjoy Edomae Sushi, while Asakusa offers great tempura and Tsukishima is famous for monja yaki. But if you live in Tokyo, you don’t really go to these touristy places because, wherever you live, you’ll have access to great food in your neighbourhood.
Not so good: Surrounded by great food, you are bound to put on weight if you are not careful. Also, exquisite Japanese cuisine can be rather pricy. Watch your finance and waist line as you begin your life in Tokyo.
Tokyo’s Public Transport
Good: As far as public transport is concerned, Tokyo is the most well connected city in the world. The trains are so punctual, and if any delay, the railway companies always keep you posted. They also have the world’s most efficient tran pass - Pasmo and Suica. Not only you can ride trains and busses with them, you can also purchase at many stores with the card. Some credit companies offer a credit card with the function of Pasmo or Suica, and thus you will never have to top up your card.
Not so good: Well, try catching a train in the morning with thousands of commuters. It’s one of the worst experiences you’ll ever have. Catching the last train of the day is also as bad. Many drunk salaried men, who live in suburbs, cannot miss the last train and thus do anything to make it on the last train, even if they are sick… The last train is often full of the unpleasant smell of alcohol and should be avoided at all costs.
All in all, I love living in Tokyo even after two years of being here. And I embrace every minute of living here and have no intention of moving out. All ‘not so good’ stuff can be easily managed and being a foreigner can be an advantage in Tokyo, too!