Living in Japan - how is it like living in Tokyo?
It has been almost a year since living in Japan (check out my introduction here). I was living in a cozy little university town, Hiyoshi, located in Yokohama when I was studying at my university. I have always frequent Tokyo when I was living in Hiyoshi as the Tokyo Meguro line brings me to Shibuya in 20 minutes or so with an express train. However, I never got to really live in Tokyo till 2 months ago when I moved out of my school’s dormitory to a place 4 stops away from Shibuya train station and started my internship in Japan. I would love to share with you some of things I faced when I first arrived in Japan and also while living in Tokyo.
Language barrier was a major thing for me when I first arrived in Japan. It is common to find Japanese that can speak English in this metropolitan city however it is not universal. All Japanese do understand basic English however; they do not speak it often. It took me a lot of guess work and gesture reading in the beginning. But again, it motivates you to study hard and brush up on your Japanese!
Bank accounts and ATMs
It was a hassle creating bank accounts as there were so much paperwork and things you need to get ready for to open an account. An example would the requirement of having a native speaker with you if you are a foreigner that can’t or speak little Japanese. ATMs are also different from Singapore in my case, as there are extra charges applied when you withdraw money outside of the working hour’s timeframe. Creating a bank account is only possible if you have a resident card.
Another aspect that I found interesting but confusing at the same time was garbage disposal. Japan lives up to its name as the country with the most complicated recycling system. Waste must be separated into burnable and non-burnable, what’s more the latter has further categories divided. I was shocked at how you had to tear off the labels from the plastic bottles, remove the bottle cap from the bottle and each of these 3 components goes to different trashcans. However, this is definitely a good practice which I foresee myself continuing even after I return back to my home country.
You can get internet excess easily at cafes, fast food chains like Macdonalds, Family mart, on the train with Metro Free Wi-Fi however, they all come with a limited time that you can use. I got by with and do recommend a pocket Wi-Fi that costs about 4000yen per month with a decent plan and a 1000yen per month basic mobile SIM card that comes with a phone number and 2gb of data a month. You also have prepaid cards available so you can use your own phone while you're here and recharge it once you run out of data.
Earthquakes and typhoons
In Tokyo, earthquakes and typhoons (August, September especially) are common but they are not that severe in the city or most parts of Japan, not at least in the recent years. Coming from a country without any natural disasters, I was indeed shocked. What I can say is don't panic, keep calm and you will get used to it overtime. Usually all the news channels will keep you updated. You can expect some delays with the train but it's never so bad that your internship or class gets cancelled.
Transportation and Access
It can be confusing for the first few times with Tokyo’s large metro infrastructure. You can always turn to reliable train applications and websites (乗換案内, Hyperdia, Google Maps) that shows you different routes to get to your destination, even providing you the train platform number to wait for your train. You can also simply ask a train staff or anyone lining up beside you that are friendly enough to guide you! Furthermore, Tokyo is a walkable city and there isn’t the need drive everywhere, or taxi around. You can easily walk a distance of 2 or 3 stations when you are exploring places.
Inexpensive Dining and Access to Food
Tokyo’s food scene is international and has plethora of cuisines from different parts of the world. In my honest opinion, the dining out is not that expensive. For the same quality of food, services, experience, I find that it is cheaper than prices in my country. If you ever get lazy like me when you start living alone, Konbini (Convenience Stores) are your best friend and I mean it. Lawson, Family Mart, Seven Eleven operate 24 hours and you can get a delicious, reasonably priced bento set that will leave you feeling satisfied. For people that prefer to cook, once you figure out the discount timings of supermarkets around you can also get cheap groceries with relative ease.
Incredibly safe city is all I can say. My friends here could forget their wallets and be able to retrieve them in the police station with their money, transportation cards, ID cards all intact. There is also hardly no part of Tokyo where you'd be afraid to walk alone at night (just make sure it is not in the wee hours) as street crime is rarely unheard of. I have also not gotten into any form of trouble or harassments except for the occasional “nanpas (getting hit on)” in Shibuya which you just have to shrug your shoulders, say “Sorry, I don't speak Japanese” and laugh it off.
In all, having lived in Yokohama and Tokyo, I do feel sometimes, that everything is too good to be true, surreal would be the best adjective to describe my stay! Although Japan and Tokyo, like every country has its drawbacks, it is an enjoyable place with massive and interesting array of classic and modern culture to experience. What I adore the most is also the manners; the politeness and patience that Japanese has towards foreigners. When I was lost in my first week of navigating around in Japan, I actually met a group of Japanese ladies whom I still contact with till today. They have embraced me like their own child and invited me to their houses for dinners as and when they hold house parties.
Today, I feel fully integrated into the neighborhood and society. Tokyo is indeed a vibrant city to live in, with people showing you nothing but kindness and respect. I can’t help but to express how fortunate I am to have this opportunity of living, studying, working and interning in Tokyo. I have certainly known some exchange students who lived here, disliked it, and could not get used to it even at the end of the program. But for me, I do genuinely feel that it is a great city to live in and I do recommend everyone looking for a overseas working experience should give this city a shot.