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Living in Tokyo: What You Need to Know

Tokyo is considered one of the best cities in the world to live in, ranked by Trip Advisor in first place for:

  • Nightlife
  • Helpfulness of locals
  • Cleanliness of streets
  • Shopping
  • Public transportation
  • Overall experience

If you want to live a high quality of life, Tokyo is the place to be!

See Also: Living and Working in Japan

1. About Tokyo

Tokyo at Night

As the capital of Japan, Tokyo is also the largest city--home to nearly 38 million people in the metropolitan area. It’s also one of the most expensive cities in the world to live but is still considered "highly livable". Tokyo has earned more Michelin stars than any city, and it has the largest metropolitan economy in the world, as well as being a major international center for finance and business.

2. Getting Around

pushing in train

One of the great things about living in Tokyo is the fact that it’s INCREDIBLY easy to get around!


Taxis cost a small fortune, with fares starting at over 700 yen for the first 1.25 miles, and increasing by nearly 100 yen every 1,000 feet--or 40 seconds. You can pay your taxi fare with a credit card, but be prepared for a high bill.


The Tokyo subway system is one of the best in the world, and it can take you everywhere in the city. There are 13 lines around the city, and navigating the subway system is incredibly easy thanks to the detailed maps. During rush hour, the trains can fill to bursting point quickly--potentially becoming dangerous to unwary commuters. Tickets start at 160 yen, and the price rises according to the distance of your destination.

JR Train

Electric commuter trains are the aboveground option, and they tend to be slightly cheaper--fares starting at 130 yen. The JR Train doesn’t provide the same amount of coverage as the Subway, but it’s much more pleasant.


Buses are ideal if you’re only traveling a short distance, but be prepared for bus drivers that don’t speak English. The bus stops are also not in English, making it harder to get around if you don’t know where you’re going.

3. What to See and Do


If you like culture and history, visit:

  • Ueno Park and the Tokyo National Museum
  • Edo-Tokyo Museum (museum of Japanese history during the Edo Period)
  • Nezu Museum (private museum of fine arts)
  • National Museum of Modern Art
  • Imperial Palace (the main residence of the Emperor of Japan)
  • National Noh Theatre (theater for Noh performances)
  • Kabuki-za (famous Kabuki theater)
  • Nippon Budokan (indoor arena, home to concerts, sports events, festivals, etc.)

There are festivals all throughout the year, including:

  • Sanno (a major Shinto religious holiday) 
  • Sanja (another religious holiday, held in honor of the three founders of the Buddhist temple of Senso-ji)
  • Kanda (religious holiday celebrating Tokugawa Ieyasu’s victory at the battle of Sekigahara in the 17th century)
  • Sakura (cherry blossom festival)

For those looking for fashion and shopping, Harajuku is like Saks Fifth Avenue or Savile Row. Shinjuku is home to electronics retailers and wholesalers.

4. Eating in Tokyo


To buy food, you’ll want to shop at these supermarkets:

  • OK Supermarket (regularly offers discounts and lower prices)
  • Ozeki Supermarket (mainly found on Tokyo’s South and West sides--place to find cheap groceries and meals)
  • Y’s Mart (common around Tokyo’s East Side--good deals, no frills)
  • Costco/Hanamasa (two great stores to buy in bulk. Costco has more American offerings, while Hanamasa is more Japanese.)
  • Yamaya (liquor store mixed with deli-style eats)
  • Gyomu Supaa (known for its incredibly cheap fresh foods)

Try to eat out at least two or three times per week. Tokyo has earned more Michelin stars than any other city, making it one of the best places to visit if you want to find quality foods. Dinners are almost always pricey, but even the best restaurants in the city will offer lunch specials. Have a bigger lunch and keep dinner cheap.

For cheaper options, consider:

  • Food stands/trucks -- Street food in Tokyo is not only cheap; it’s also delicious! Tokyo is clean, so there’s no need to worry about food poisoning. Street food is as good as it gets!
  • Udon/ramen shops -- Small, family run noodle shops are cheap and easy to find, and they give you a hot meal for 500 to 1000 yen.
  • Sushi -- You can find sushi restaurants all over the place, and you can eat freshly-made sushi at a fair price.
  • 7 Eleven -- If you want fast food, 7 Eleven is the place to go. Onigiri (seaweed-wrapped rice balls), manju (steamed rice dumplings), dango (pounded rice balls with syrup), and a wide range of ready-made, hot foods are available for a few hundred yen.

If you’re looking for Western influence, find the coffee shops that have become hugely popular in recent years. You can find them all over the place, and they’re home to AMAZING coffee (far better than Starbucks) and other Western-style foods.

5. Cost of Living

japan yen

Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in!

  • Movie tickets cost roughly $50--compared to $26 to $30 in New York City
  • Imported beer costs around $10--compared to $7 or $8 in NYC
  • Fast food burgers (at McDonald’s or Burger King) costs around $9--twice what you’d pay anywhere in the United States
  • Coffee in Japan will run nearly $10--far pricier than the $5 Starbucks in the U.S.
  • Gym memberships can easily cost $120/month--compared to $70 in NYC

Taxes in Japan include:

  • Income tax (for all non-residents and permanent residents alike; only permanent residents pay taxes on money from abroad--find details here...)
  • Property tax (1.4% + 0.3% of property value--only for those who own land in Tokyo)
  • Vehicle taxes (only if you own a car, bus, or truck--find out more here...)

6. Life in Tokyo

Tokyo apartment

Living in Tokyo is similar to living in New York City. The city no longer expands outward, but everything is built higher and higher. Apartment complexes are the most common place to live. An average 2-bedroom apartment (unfurnished) costs roughly $4,900 per month--compared to $4,500 in New York City.

If you want to find the best deals on apartment listings, try:

Parents will find that each "ward" (region or neighborhood) of the city has its own municipal elementary and secondary school. Foreigners can find a list of excellent elementary/secondary schools on Expats Guide...

Tokyo is also home to world-class public and private universities. Wikipedia has a list of universities in Tokyo...

Most Western insurance companies have agreements with Japanese hospitals to provide healthcare coverage. For example, Allianz has a list of hospitals to visit.

Be warned: not all doctors speak English. Expats Guide has a list of English-speaking doctors working in Tokyo.

7. Finding a Job

students with briefcase

Tokyo is an excellent place to find a job, as it is a hub for a wide range of industries, such as:

  • Robotics
  • Finance
  • Tourism
  • Software/IT
  • Communication
  • Manufacturing

One important note: Japanese are more likely to hire students fresh out of university than those with years of experience. A lot of recruiting takes place while the students are still in university. Finding a job can be more challenging the older and more experienced you are.

To find jobs in Tokyo, search:

8. How to Live in Tokyo Like a Pro

crowded street tokyo

Here are a few simple tips:

  • Don’t try to keep pace with the city. It’s like New York, Los Angeles, or London--there’s too much activity for anyone to keep up with. Take your time acclimating to life in Tokyo.
  • You’ll never run out of things to do. Explore the city one neighborhood at a time, and you’ll always find new places to see and things to do.
  • Eat like the Japanese. The Japanese diet is very healthy and fairly balanced, not to mention cheap. Don’t eat like a Westerner, as you’ll spend far more than necessary.
  • Learn the language. Many Japanese speak English in Tokyo, but you should still make it a point to become conversant in Japanese. Not only will it make getting around easier, but it will also endear you to the people.
  • Be prepared for discrimination. Japanese tend to be fairly clannish, and you will always be a "gaijin", no matter how much Japanese you speak or how long you’ve lived there.
  • Find others like you. If you’ve moved to Tokyo, find the parts of the city where other expats hang out. It’s the best way to make new friends and meet people.

See Also: Top 10 Best Cities to Live in 2014

Living in Tokyo can be a dream come true, provided you do it right! These tips above will ensure that you have a happy new life in Tokyo…


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