6 Things I Wish That I’d Known Before Moving To Tokyo

6 Things I Wish That I’d Known Before Moving To Tokyo

Before moving here, we all have a certain image about Tokyo, and how amazing our life in Tokyo would be. It’s like we have this dream life in our mind and the excitement of making it coming true might leave some of us dumbfounded when we actually arrive in Tokyo and realize that our real life here is far from the dream. In order to help you minimize your cultural shock when you try to acclimate to your new lifestyle in Tokyo, we write this post to tell you about the things that we wish that if we had known them before leaving our home country to come to Japan. Your transition to your new life here may be much smoother if you know these things in advance, we are sure.

1. Knowing Japanese Can Make Your Life Easier & More Fun

Believe it or not, many come to Japan with no Japanese and don’t realize that life in Japan (including Tokyo) is so much easier and more fun when you can speak at least conversational Japanese and can read basic letters in Japanese. The US State Department ranks Japanese as a Category 5 language, alongside Korean, Arabic and Chinese as the most difficult languages for a native English speaker to learn. Japanese is certainly a daunting task to many, especially to people coming from English speaking countries like America, Canada, UK, but it’s not impossible to learn to speak and read Japanese, at least to intermediate level.

It costs you so much more if you live in Japan and do not speak the language. One of my colleagues, when first arrived in Tokyo, tossed the letter with the health insurance card inside which was sent to his house from the city office to the garbage bin as he thought that it was a junk mail. Without knowing basic Japanese, you won’t be able to read these important letters from the city office, which sends out notices about health insurance, income taxes etc.

Also, knowing Japanese can also give you the chance to make friends with many local Japanese who can’t speak English. My first ever Japanese friend is a middle-aged Japanese lady who lives just next door. It was a cold winter morning, and I stumbled upon the lady when I was hurriedly leaving for school. She was sweeping dutifully the common area in front of her house. I was running late but eagerly taking it as a chance to say hi. Generally, Japanese are shy to foreigners and this lady carefully took her time to gaze at me intently before starting asking me tons of questions. And we became friends, after the first occurrence, she invited me over for Japanese home-cooked dinner with sukiyaki, and introduced me with her two daughters. She still sent me hand drawn postcards in the New Year and sometimes we hang out. I can certainly say that becoming friends with Japanese has made my life in Japan so much more memorial and fun and I am grateful for all the Japanese friends I have been able to make during my 3 years living here and the beautiful memories that we made together. It’s clear that nothing will make the experience of living in Japan more likely to succeed than being able to converse with others, especially the local Japanese.

2. Eating More Japanese Food Helps

Japanese food to some people is only sushi and sashimi, all the raw fish you can name. However, in reality, Japanese culinary is so much more than that. Traditional Japanese breakfast can come with a set of grilled fish, a bowl of white rice and a bowl of hot miso soup. While many Japanese nowadays opt for bread as it takes less time. But for lunch and dinner, eating what Japanese eat on a daily basis will save you tons of time and effort. Another reason is because buying locally available grocery is also more affordable, while exotic such as cheese and fruits may cost 2-3 times the price in your home country.

3. Save Your Self Some Bucks by Signing a Mobile Contracts with Smaller Carriers

Even though you can find it easier to get a contract with the main providers such as Docomo (NTT), au (KDDI) or SoftBank, because their shops are readily available and you can receive support in English, but you have to pay a premium for that, the monthly plan will start at a higher price compared with carriers such as Y! Mobile, UQ Mobile, Rakuten etc. Once again, it depends on your Japanese proficiency to be able to manage to get a contract with these latter carriers, but if you can get help from a Japanese friend or any friend who can speak Japanese, you will realize that we don’t always need to sign contract with the main providers. When I first moved to Japan, I, however, didn’t know about this and signed with Docomo, together with the instalment monthly for the iPhone, my mobile phone bill came at almost US$ 100 each month, which was outrageously expensive. After 1.5 years living in Japan, I finally switched successfully to Rakuten Mobile, and my mobile phone bill was reduced to only 2,500 JPY each month, 70% less while I have more data to use with this new plan!

4. Buy a Monthly Train Pass Will Save You A Lot!

Tokyo’s train network is one of the most complicated one in the world and the city often boasts it’s efficient and punctual train system. Indeed, train is the best method of getting around in Tokyo. You can easily get to any place within the greater Tokyo with no problem using trains only. However, train fare is not cheap here, one way can cost you from 150 yen, and it can add up if you travel both ways. So, by any chance, you need to commute to a particular station every day, it is highly recommended that you buy a monthly train pass for the route. Use hyperdia.com to find out the details of train fare, as well as the best route for the commute. For example, one way train ticket from Ikebukuro to Shibuya is ¥170, return fare is, therefore, ¥340. If you need to commute this route 5 days a week, it will cost ¥6,800 totally for 20 days. However, buying the pass will only cost you ¥5,270, and what’s more, you get to travel unlimited rides between Ikebukuro, and Shibuya whenever you want, as well as, you can stop in the midway stations for free. So this route includes stations such as Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shin-Okubo, if you want, you can drop by these stations using this pass and it will cost you no extra charge at all! That’s why buying a monthly train pass is such a bargain for everyone living here. And if you buy a 6 month pass, the cost of each month reduced to only ¥4,215 only! Even a bigger bargain.

5. Time Is The Most Precious Thing Here

Once you get used to your new life here, you will find out there is no time left for almost anything. Everyday becomes a routine, one day when sparing a minute to glance at the scenery outside of your office’s window, you may suddenly realize that it’s been a few months you arrive here and the life you are living is exactly not the life you had been thinking about when you were still in your home country. One advice we can give you is, making time for yourself, and learn to manage your time better. Life is not only a juggle between school, work and home. Find a hobby, join a club, go to meetup event, try out Michelin-rated restaurants, make new friends, practice Japanese with the local, travel during weekends, read books about Japan, exercise, go to the gym, change your diet. Be it Tokyo, or anywhere else, making time work for you by planning things ahead or prioritization turns out to be a very important skill, which helps make your life better or worse.

6. Japanese Standard of Being On Time Is Being Early

We all know that Japanese like being on time and some says that they are obsessed with punctuality. Indeed, if the official starting time for your job is, say, 10:00 AM, you are actually supposed to be in your sit at least at 5 minutes before that, if not 10 minutes. The Japanese thinks that, in order to be able to start work “on time”, meaning starting working from 10:00 AM, you need preparation, for example, turning on your computer, opening the software/application you will use, making coffee for yourself and others etc. Certainly if you come right at 10:00 AM, you won’t have enough time to do those things. Once, when I first started working in a very traditional Japanese company, we usually have a short morning meeting (or greeting) with the whole department before the work day. I often came to the office at 9:57 – 9:58 AM, as the meeting starts at 10:00 AM. However, after a few days, my sempai (senior) at the office sent me a message asking me nicely if I could show up earlier, like 9:50 AM? At that moment, suddenly I felt very embarrassed myself as in my home country, showing up 2-3 minutes earlier is already very good. Apparently, in Japan’s standard it’s still not good enough, 5-10 minutes or even showing up more early is a sign that you are reliable and “being on time”.

Opposite to what many people think, that trains in Japan are always on time, during peak hours, there is high possibility that trains may run late. Even though, there are rare cases when train companies in Japan have to published their official apology for departing earlier than the actual schedule. Taking that factor into scheduling your day in advance, you should always set aside some minutes so that in case the train runs late, you don’t need to find yourself email or text an instant apology to your boss (you can’t use phone to make calls while on the train here).


Is there anything here we forgot to mention? If you want to add anything, email us at info@modernliving.tokyo

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