When we moved to Tokyo I found it very hard to figure out. As expatriate assignments go, Japan is like moving to Mars and dramatically more complex than when we moved to Europe.
As a public service announcement, I share a few key learnings in the hope that it helps others in the future.
- Japanese addresses: Have your home address in your contacts in Japanese. It makes it much easier with the taxi drivers. If you are going somewhere, print it out from the web and hand it over in Japanese. Easy.
- Metro: The Android/iPhone application for getting around the subways is invaluable. Put in your starting location and your ending stop and it maps the way. I use it all the time.
- Costco: It took us months to figure out where the Costco was. There are (now) many in Japan. Want to avoid that $50 melon? Costco is the place. Amazing prices, English signs and great service.
- Amazon.jp: I wish I would have known this right from the beginning. Amazon.jp sells almost everything imaginable and has been a savior for the family. Boxes of lemon water, kitchen items, condiments, a vacuum cleaner, humidifiers (it gets very dry), vacuum bags – you name it, that is where I start when we need something (other than Costco). As an Amazon prime member shipping is free on many items so you don’t have to worry about buying a single bottle of $2 cinnamon. The trick is finding things, you can select “English” on the website but it may not find what you want so I often use the “People who bought this also looked at these items” features or browse by category. Last, there is nothing more amazing than ordering two boxes of vitamin water at 9AM and having it arrive at 7PM that same night .. on a Saturday.
- Google Translate: Invaluable for a few words. Avoid sentences to ensure you do not accidentally offend (smile). At home, use the Chrome browser and install the extension as sometimes it gets “stuck” translating a page into Japanese and it is handy to be able to hit the translate button and have it start over. Plus, very handy on your iPhone. It is how I bought a car.
- Money: The best way to move money from country to country (unless you are moving a huge amount), is with a check. You can read more here.
- Electric bikes: If you have young children, buy a bike in Japan. They have electric bikes which are a mix of pedaling and battery power. Tokyo is a VERY hilly place, and that battery “boost” will be very helpful if you have a child or a host of groceries on the back of the bike. Just don’t be like most of the expats and almost all of the Japanese, wear a helmet.
- Guam and Saipan: We needed a break from the city in the summer and tried to head down to Okinawa or into the central parts of Asia (Philippines, etc.) when we first moved here. As we drove to the airport we cancelled our trip to Okinawa as a typhoon was hitting. The summer is typhoon season in Asia, making your choice of destinations one that requires a lot of research. I wish I would have known about Guam – close to Tokyo, beautiful beaches, English speaking and simple. We have been there 3 times in the last 2 years – it is the easy, get out of the city break for a beach.
- Lunch: Tokyo has, absolutely, the best restaurants in the world. More Michelin stars than anywhere else. But dinner is expensive – with the restaurants pushing set menus that range from $75 to $250 per person. The secret is that lunch in Japan is the best deal in the world. Those $200 dinners for $30 (with less courses). Do lunch.
Tokyo is the safest and cleanest city in the world. It has beautiful parks and perplexing rules. The Japanese people are incredibly friendly and will openly try to help you out as a foreigner.
But it can be daunting, as I described in this post. I hope this helps others.