Moving to Tokyo
Are you moving to Tokyo? Located on the east coast of Honshu Island, it is the political and economic powerhouse of Japan.
This high-rise megacity is extremely busy and overcrowded and is the largest metropolitan district in the world. However, it is alive with opportunities – albeit with long queues and heavy traffic. There are quiet streets for those looking to live in the city centre, which makes ideal accommodation for expats.
Our free, in-depth Moving to Tokyo report includes info on:
• The best areas to live
• The good schools
• The average monthly rental prices
• The excellent public transport system in the city
Putting Tokyo on the Map
Tokyo is located on the east coast of Honshu Island, the main island of Japan. Covering more than 844 square miles, the city is around 60 miles northeast of Mount Fuji.
Tokyo has an extensive and efficient public transport system consisting of trains, a metro, buses, sky trains and taxis. With the extremely congested traffic, public transport is the quickest and most convenient way to travel. However, the rush hours are very busy in the train stations, and station staff push the passengers onto the trains to fit in as many as possible. Underground and overground trains run from 5 am until 1 am. During daylight hours the trains run every five to ten minutes, but frequency decreases in the very early morning and late at night. Timetables may be downloaded in English. Tickets are purchased at the machines near the station entrance and all machines have an English display menu.
While most commuters choose to travel by rail, the buses are less crowded. There are two types of buses in operation, depending on the routes chosen. Front loading, where boarding is at the front of the bus and disembarking at the rear, and payment is made in cash into the farebox beside the driver. This is a flat fee regardless of destination. Rear loading is the opposite and when you leave you would pay the fare indicated on the electronic panel at the front of the bus.
With around 50,000 taxis in Tokyo, these may be hailed on the street. There are depots at most railway stations and at the airports. The maximum passengers allowed per taxi are four.
Bicycle hire shops are open from 8 am until 8 pm. A photo ID must be produced and payment is generally made with a credit card.
Two major airports service Tokyo. The largest, Haneda, is located 30 minutes south of Tokyo. Transport into the city includes monorail, trains, two bus services and taxis. Narita International Airport is around 37 miles from the city. Transport into Tokyo includes the skyliner, trains, express and normal buses.
The country of Japan is a homogeneous society, both culturally and ethnically, with only Tokyo being an exception to the rule. Foreigners living here – around 490,000 of them – include South Koreans, Filipinos and Chinese.
Apartments may not have central heating or air conditioners, so do as the Japanese do, buy a heater and a fan. There are many modern Western-style flats in the city, but these come at a price and even these have small rooms, are not soundproof and are often badly insulated.
Voted as the most popular area to live in by locals, this area is home to embassies and international companies, making it the destination of choice for expats. It is an up-market area, centrally located so cuts down on transport requirements and is close to all amenities. One of the highlights is its proximity to Yebisu Garden Place, a mini-city with restaurants, high-end shops, residential areas, along with izakaya, or Japanese pubs. Its name, Ebisu, comes from the brewery that was once situated here.
Close enough to the city centre to be convenient, but far enough away to have a relaxed atmosphere, Kichijoji was the most popular neighbourhood before Ebisu took over. The diverse and vibrant commercial district is close to the tranquil residential areas, and the Inokashira Park. A real escape from the city, the park has a beautiful lake, filled with koi and ducks and swan boats, and a small zoo, live amateur music and shrines.
The shopping and commercial areas are located around the train station. There is everything here, from patisseries, art galleries, coffee shops and bars to department shops and branded chain stores. The bohemian feel attracts the arty and the creative.
Just 30 minutes by rail from Tokyo, Yokohama is Japan’s second largest city. Popular with expats trying to escape the crowded, high-density living of the capital, the well planned and pedestrian-friendly streets offer after-work strolls with cooling ocean breezes. Probably most famous for its large Chinatown, with hundreds of gift shops and restaurants, the area caters for locals and tourists alike.
Minato Mirai 21 was a master-planned development in the 80’s and is one of Yokohama’s better areas. It is a tourist centre, so has great amenities. Musashi Kosugi station is a quick 16-minute ride from Tokyo, so is ideal for commuters looking for more reasonably priced accommodation. It is surrounded by a ‘tower mansion’ neighbourhood with five apartment buildings reaching 45 storeys high.
With tree-lined, leafy streets Jiyugaoka is a peaceful and sophisticated area, and is only ten minutes from Shibuya, making commuting to the city a breeze. Boutiques, restaurants and cafes are plentiful and residents are spoiled for choice in entertainment choices.
Many compare Omotesando to Fifth Avenue, New York City or Paris’ Champs-Élysées. Trees line the streets, along with top-notch designer boutiques and high-end department stores. Tucked away are smaller shops in the back streets, which share the space with residential properties.
It is, firstly, a commercial district but many residents are happy with the smaller, older and more expensive apartments here.
With a lovely combination of apartments and houses, one is more likely to meet English-speaking people in the restaurants and shops. There is an inordinate number of foreigners living here, so many that the area is nicknamed the gaijin ghetto. It is a self-contained neighbourhood, with shops, the Red Cross Hospital and the international supermarket making it possible to shop and live without having to leave.
Translated, this means Red Hill. Situated in central Tokyo, it is a business district in the day with an abundance of nightlife after dark. However, this makes it peaceful and quiet on weekends. The US Embassy is here and accommodation is in state-of-the-art skyscrapers, all with awesome views.
Filled with embassies and parks, shops, cafes, bars, restaurants and the international supermarket, many foreigners choose to live here in free-standing houses or low-rise apartment blocks. As one of Tokyo’s most expensive areas, many expats employed in the finance and banking sectors live here.
With larger homes and a more suburban feel, this is the last stop on the American School in Japan bus route to Chofu campus. Accommodation is cheaper, with greater choices than elsewhere.
SHIROKANEDAI AND SHIROKANE
Divided by the Meguro Dori, these areas are popular for those wishing to live in a house instead of an apartment. It is not really commercial but the Platinum Dori, the main street, has many cafes, restaurants and up-market shops.
Home to many eccentric people, and with eclectic architecture, this unique area is ideal for those who prefer a quirky outlook, but without the convenience of good transport links.
Who Lives and Works in Tokyo
Tokyo’s population is over 9 million, and including the prefecture, exceeds 13 million people. The prefecture forms a part of the most populous metropolitan area in the world, with in excess of 37.8 million people, the largest urban agglomeration economy on earth.
Japan is still one of the key economies worldwide, despite environmental and economic challenges in recent times. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey, 2016 ranked Japan 34th out of 189 countries surveyed.
Tokyo is one-third of the major Japanese industrial region, along with Yokohama and Kawasaki making up the other two-thirds. The region is the leading industrial centre in the country. Heavy industries are located in Kawasaki, Chiba and Yokohama with their steel plants and manufacturing, luxury goods and textiles. Tokyo itself concentrates on light industry, which includes the production of electronic equipment and book printing.
There are a massive 3,158 foreign-affiliated companies in Japan, many of which have headquarters in Tokyo, located mainly in Marunouchi. The capital is also the centre for finance and management and the Tokyo Stock Exchange is located in Kabutocho. Otemachi is the focal area for financial and insurance institutions, along with the communications giant, NTT.
The Japanese work culture is ‘kaizen’, which is the drive for constantly improving. This is portrayed in the work ethic, renowned exceptional customer service, and the quest for improving business practices. Business etiquette may seem strange at first, however, it must be taken seriously in order to succeed.
The Best Bits
Rated amongst the 37 tourist cities surveyed by Trip Advisor, Tokyo was top in best taxi services, cleanest streets, best overall experience, helpful locals and best public transport. All good news for relocated families.
- A mix of traditional and ultra-modern, Tokyo has a large number of shrines and temples. Meiji Shinto Shrine, with its wooded surrounds and its towering gate, is peaceful and impressive.
- The Imperial Palace is not generally open to the public, but the Imperial Palace East Gardens are and admission is free. Visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds on January 2nd and the Emperor’s birthday, December 23. Members of the Imperial Family make several appearances on a balcony throughout the two open days.
- Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea are a great way to entertain the family.
- There are around 100 museums in Tokyo, but Ueno Park is an ideal start for culture-vultures. It is home to the Tokyo National Museum, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, the National Museum of Western Art, the National Science Museum, along with smaller museums and the oldest zoo in the city, Ueno Zoo. This zoo has two pandas.
- Zoorasia is located in Yokohama and is a modern zoo with animals including elephants and polar bears, as well as Japan’s native animals.
- There are four aquariums in Tokyo.
- There are a few sandy beaches, ideal for sunbathing. However, due to the poor water quality, swimming is prohibited, although some beaches allow paddling. Nicer beaches are an hour or two away by train in Chiba, the Izu Peninsula and Kanagawa Prefecture where swimming is permitted.
- The city is quite close to popular snow destinations such as Yuzawa, Kusatsu Onsen and Minakami Onsen. The snow is deepest in January and February.
- Robot Restaurant is a cabaret show where dancing majorettes and eight-foot-tall robots trip the light fantastic to a soundtrack of Broadway musicals. Prepare for a loud but entertaining assault on your senses.
- Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the biggest in the world. The 5 am auction includes fish tossing and loud bids from customers. A maximum of 120 people is allowed to watch.
The famous intersection in front of the Shibuya subway station is a wonder to behold. The sheer number of people crossing the road is fascinating. Look around for the Starbucks on the 3rd floor to get an aerial view.
Bringing the Kids
Because of language difficulties many families choose to send their children to one of the 24 international schools in Tokyo. Many of these schools teach in English, but Chinese, Korean, German, French and Portuguese expats are catered for, as well as other nationalities. These schools cover from kindergarten to middle grades, but some go up to Grade 12. High school is optional in Japan. Although most schools use the American based curriculum, some use the Canadian or British systems, while some incorporate a Christian-based curriculum, but not all of them.
Some schools require a certain level of English, and admission requirements differ. As only a few schools have boarding facilities, many insist on the families living nearby. International schools are expensive and places are sought after, so early admission application is advised.
Should the posting be long-term, a few families choose the public schooling system or a private school. Most subjects are taught in Japanese, with some schools offering international tracks. English is the required second language. Elementary schools are assigned based on the family’s location, while private schools are not. There are some excellent private schools.
Public high schools require an entrance exam and competition is fierce. The high school attended dictates the university the student can apply to.
While home-schooling is technically illegal, it is popular with expats. Permission is required from the assigned school in the area to allow home-schooling. Generally, the school is helpful in this regard, especially if it does not have English support.
There are 54 universities in Tokyo covering everything from agricultural to science. The top internationally ranked universities are : University of Tokyo; Tokyo Institute of Technology; Waseda University; Keio University; Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU); Tokyo Metropolitan University; Hitotsubashi University; Yokohama City University; Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology; Yokohama National University; Tokyo University of Science; Ochanomizu University; and Aoyama Gakuin University.
Relocating to Tokyo
Tokyo is a very safe city, although there are areas where one must be careful. With a surfeit of culture, strengths in banking, finance, heavy industry, book printing and insurance, some excellent green areas, great choices of accommodation in a diverse variety of location, Tokyo is a favourite location for expats. Escaping from the hustle and bustle of the city is easy, with fantastic public transport both within and outside of the city. There are nearby beaches and snow resorts and plenty for families and singles to do. Of course, the language problem may be difficult and quite daunting. Tokyo is the ideal city for using the services of a local relocation specialist. Smooth your way through the transitional period with help at hand, negotiating leases, choosing areas and schools, spousal support and general form-filling.
Average Monthly Rent - Tokyo
|Apartment (1 bedroom) in city centre||¥110,450.00|
|Apartment (1 bedroom) outside of centre||¥73,102.56|
|Apartment (3 bedrooms) in city centre||¥249,827.59|
|Apartment (3 bedrooms) outside of centre||¥144,692.31|