After years of living in Tokyo, our host Anthony has finally moved back to Canada. In this episode he reflects over the differences between living in Tokyo and Victoria.
The weather is one of the big changes. Unlike the typical mild summer weather in Canada, Tokyo is hot with high humidity. The Japanese seem to prefer being hot rather than turning on the air conditioners, so it can be difficult to escape the heat.
Tokyo is a huge city with many possibilities to find work and it has among the best infrastructure in the world. But, it can be overwhelming to constantly have so many people around you, and to travel for hours for outdoor activities because there’s no easy access to nature in the city.
Even when you do get out of the city, you never really feel like you’re away from it. Transportation and services are found almost everywhere. You can even find vending machines on the hiking trails. Not only that, but you also share the experience with millions of other people. So, let’s look at 7 useful tips on how to make living in Tokyo easier.
1. Learn Japanese
Learn as much Nihongo (Japanese) as you can, as soon as possible. For a tourist, basic English and google translate could be enough to get through your holiday just fine. Most people in restaurants, hotels and the bigger cities speak a limited amount of English. However, if you’re planning to live and work in Japan, you’ll soon find out that your professional opportunities are limited if you don’t speak Japanese. Even simple things like trying to get a bank account or pay rent could be a struggle without a basic understanding of Japanese. The key is to start lessons right away because the longer you wait the harder it is to start, as you become adept at navigating through life in Japan with the limited amount of Japanese you know. If your plan is to stay in Japan for the long term, learning Japanese is a must.
2. Buy noise cancelling headphones
Tokyo is an incredibly loud city with talking elevators, talking escalators, talking sidewalks, giant TV screens blasting out commercials and most annoying of all the political trucks running around yelling their name over and over again! To get some peace and quiet and keep your sanity, a pair of good noise cancelling headphones are vital! Anthony has used and recommend the “QC 35 Over The Ear, Noise Cancelling Headphones” from Bose. These headphones are not cheap and the quality is iffy, I had to return a couple of pairs when the noise cancelling feature stopped working. But when they work they are fantastic and offer some of the best noise cancelling on the market today.
3. Buy rechargeable batteries
This is a small thing but with all the latest tech gadgets that use batteries, it’s best to invest in some good rechargeable batteries. I was actually very surprised when I moved back to Canada and saw that they don’t sell a lot of rechargeable batteries. Japan really leads the market in this field as I’ve had the same rechargeable double a batteries now for close to 8 years! Save some money and the environment by switching to rechargeable batteries.
4. Learn which side of the train your exit is on
Tokyo has an outstanding train system, one of the best in the world and you’re going to be spending a lot of time on trains since that’s the main way to get around. Most people have seen videos of crowded Japanese trains where the conductor is trying to push more people on. Now imagine you are on that train and need to get through that mob to get off when the train comes to your home station. Save yourself the hassle to trying to squeeze through while muttering すみません over and over again.
5. Spend your cash and collect your change
Japan is a cash-country and mainly use cash, not credit cards like we’re used to in most western countries. This is a huge difference compared to Canada, where most people pay with credit cards, even for the smallest amount. Due to how the Japanese currency works, it doesn’t take more than one or two train rides before your pockets are full of coins. Do yourself a favour and start collecting all that change into a coin jar. You’ll be surprised that in just a few months you’ll be able to collect a few man just in change!
6. Become a master of “Google Fu”
Google is very helpful when it comes to moving to Japan, especially three of the functions – Search, Maps and Translate. They can really save the day when it comes to communicating and finding your way around. Google Maps is especially good at fingering out which exit to use at the train station. Another useful app is Line, a Japanese version of Whatsapp or Viber. Almost everyone in Japan use it daily, it’s the best way of staying in touch with your new Japanese friends.
7. Make Japanese friends
It can be difficult to make good Japanese friends. The Japanese generally love their culture and would be happy to share it with you, but only if you speak the language and if you are real friends. Try your luck by joining group activities like painting, photography or hiking, but don’t expect to find friendship in language exchange groups.
We’d love to hear if you have any other tips that would make life in Tokyo easier.