After 8 months living in Tokyo, I’ve learned a couple of things that would have made my life a little bit easier if I had known them from day one. There are some hurdles to getting set up, such as finding a house and registering with City Hall, but once those things are out of the way, life in Japan is pretty great! I have never felt safer in a large city, and the polite etiquette in public spaces makes the experience a lot less overwhelming than it could be in a city this big. As such, none of this advice is life or death, but it might make things that bit nicer during your stay in the most populous city in the world!
Master Google Maps
Tokyo’s public transport is notoriously complicated. With over 120 train lines in the greater Tokyo area and different classes of train departing from the same track, it’s easy to get lost or show up at the platform last minute to only realize that you need an extra ticket for the particular service you were supposed to be taking.
A number of these problems can be avoided by some strategic planning and Google Maps trickery. First, try using the “Depart at” and “Arrive by” options to see if any quicker or cheaper alternative routes come up. Google Maps often gives you the next departing train first, but the arrival time could be the same on a slightly later train. Keep an eye out for trains marked “Limited Express”. Often these require an extra ticket, so you should factor in some extra time at the station. In the same vein, the “Last” option on the Google Maps app can be a great thing to check before you get carried away in the izakaya and miss the last train!
As a resident of Japan, you won’t have access to the JR Pass. Google Maps usually gives you the fastest, and therefore most expensive, way to get to your destination. Sometimes, this might only save you 10 minutes travel time, but you can end up spending 2 or 3 times the amount of money. For this reason, I recommend checking the “Lowest cost” option when you’re planning longer trips on the app. I’ve saved a lot of money without greatly changing my travel time on trips to Nikko, Hakone, and Zushi.
Those sweet, sweet chain restaurants
When I first moved to Tokyo, I was surprised to find that groceries such as fresh vegetables were significantly more expensive than back home. Fortunately, I soon after discovered that eating out was significantly cheaper than back home. Couple this with the summer heat in a tiny apartment and the case for cooking at home grows weaker and weaker…
Luckily, it is possible to eat cheaply and relatively healthily almost anywhere in Tokyo. While I really encourage you to get off the beaten track and try some obscure mom-and-pop ramen joints, sometimes the convenience and reliability of the many chain restaurants is exactly what you need. Often heavily air-conditioned and featuring self-service ordering in English, these places can be a real lifesaver when you’re out and about in an unfamiliar part of town. Try out Yayoiken for a wide variety of traditional set meals, Matsuya for super filling beef bowls, and Sushiro for cheap and cheerful conveyor belt sushi.
Use your health insurance
Health insurance is mandatory for all residents in Japan, and getting set up on it, especially if your Japanese language ability is limited, can be a little confusing. This is all the more reason to make use of it when you’re in the country. The sheer amount of clinics and dentists in the area near my apartment in Tokyo is astounding. I was able to get a same day dentist appointment, have my teeth cleaned, and a cavity fixed for next to nothing.
Get slip-on shoes
When you live in Japan, you will spend a lot of time taking your shoes on and off. There are many places where shoes are forbidden such as homes, traditional hotels, temples, shrines, and many restaurants. If you’re running in and out of your apartment, moving suitcases, or emptying the bins, it can be quite annoying to tie and untie your shoes many times in quick succession. For this reason, I’d recommend leaving the high-top Doc Martens at home and opting for a shoe that you can slip on and off quickly and easily. You might just catch that last train after all!
Ask for the VIP Room when you go out for karaoke
Unlike the famous karaoke room from Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, most karaoke booths are windowless, cramped, and hardly provide the glamor you deserve on your big night out. For just a few hundred yen extra per person, you can opt for a larger room with a window. I must say, the feeling of belting out your favorite tunes while overlooking the glitz and grime of downtown Shinjuku is worth every last cent.
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