As luck would have it, I have moved to Japan twice in my lifetime (so far). I’m obsessed with the country (see my Instagram) and all there is to do here. The people are so nice, helpful, and there seems to be a Disney theme wherever you venture. The country is organized, calculated, and easy to maneuver, although it can get a little expensive at times. Stated simply below are some things that have made living in Tokyo very easy and enjoyable for myself and my husband. Please have a look or send it to a friend if they’re headed East!
Come prepared. While there are Japanese equivalents to many things you’re used to using in your home country, if you know you are going to be particular for one reason or another, just bring it! I frequently go home and stock up on things like special spices (they only let you in with spices that are sealed and brand new), organic hand soap, laundry detergent, electronics and devices, toothpaste, mouthwash, my husband’s deodorant, hair products, and other items, mainly toiletries. I have grown to love Japanese shampoos even more than what I used back home, but many people find that it doesn’t work well with foreigners’ hair. A few times TSA has left my suitcase in a rather terrible state, but most times everything comes through easily.
Take care of your medical ailments and needs in advance if you can. To be entirely safe, you can have doctors back home write you letters and get special permission to bring certain drugs with you into Japan. I found the Yakkan Shoumei easy to fill out and the Japanese were quick to reply and of course stamp the paper. You will find when you get here that many things are a process. Try to roll with it and embrace it, it’s way easier than fighting and getting upset. I have found St. Luke’s Hospital to be the best for emergencies because there are people there speaking English. Surprisingly enough the Red Cross in Hiro-o is not very foreigner friendly. My dentist of choice is United, and my doctors/specialists of choice are all at Tokyo Medical And Surgical Clinic. Dr. Horiuchi is one of the most thorough and awesome gastro specialists I’ve ever met. While things may take longer than they would other places, you can rest assured you are in good hands there and the doctors care deeply about what they are doing.
Have some emergency USD on hand at all times and a ‘go’ bag. Cash is king. In a land where there is always a chance something could happen, it’s good to be prepared. The cash comes in handy, too, when you are traveling abroad since many countries will accept USD at customs (Vietnam) and while you are traveling out and about (Cambodia, etc.). Our apartment building gives us a small earthquake prep bag… while I don’t like to think about it, I’m glad we have one here in the apartment. I always supplement by having bottled water, canned goods, and a meet spot with my husband.
Grab an account with SoftBank. We love SoftBank when it comes to cell phones. This is an easy brand to work with and the branch in Roppongi speaks perfect English. Whenever we go home to the states our SoftBank phones work on the Spring network. I’ve also heard good things about T-Mobile when traveling abroad. You can call your provider at home and set your number aside for a fee, but I was glad to give mine away and start fresh!
Think outside the box. Do you have a king size bed? Even a queen… you may have trouble finding some things like fitted sheets here. Why stress, come with an extra pair stashed away. I also found that bath towels were oddly expensive and not great quality across the board here. Bringing an extra set from home saved me some time and energy navigating the city for something so random.
The dollar store here is everything. They have one use nail polish remover pads right down to swifters for the floor. The hyaku-en brands you want to search for are: Daiso, Seria, and Can-Do.
Sign up for Amazon Prime. It’s 400 yen here and it will make your life very easy! When searching for purchases, if you use Google Translate and search in Japanese you will have better luck.
Take the 20 hours or so it takes to learn Hiragana and Katakana. My first time here I didn’t do this, and it made it really hard to shop for food. By learning these two alphabets bit by bit (shoot for five characters at a time), you will look really cool among your friends/colleagues and you can actually get what you want at the store! Less surprises means a happier life.
Shoes! If you are larger than a US size 7, it may be hard to find shoes… just bring them over in advance. I happen to love the shoe selection over here, but I’m a size 6.5 in the States. During January and July there are crazy sales all over the city. Tokyu Department Store for instance will have an entire floor of just shoes laid out on sale… it’s amazing if you can shimmy into them! Around the city there are ABC Mart shoe stores which are also great and most times will have Western sizes available. Many of the stores here have point cards, and this is one of them!
Bank accounts. We got lucky and my husband’s firm sets us up with an account; however, when it came to me it was a different story. After much searching I found Shinsei Power Direct in Ginza. They let me open an account of my own.
Get your Japanese Drivers License. Having a car opens up an entire new world of travel since buses here are sometimes overnight or a long walk from your actual destination. I prepared before the exam with Kiki Driving School. Truth be told I failed my first time, but I got pretty darn close and passed with flying colors on the second. It was worth the money and piece of mind because the test is slightly intimidating! And the driving test… brings me to another point:
Grab a hanko and get it registered at your local city ward office. The hanko is a Japanese stamper equivalent to your signature on documents back home. They use hankos for deliveries, buying cars, houses, etc. Most times foreigners won’t need a hanko since the Japanese have adapted to us not having them, but it’s a really fun souvenir and it makes you look much cooler when you whip it out in front of delivery people or colleagues. I did use mine once during the license process even though it’s not necessary. It’s super cute and a great Japanese souvenir if you are loving your time in Japan like me.
And there you have it. A brief summary to help your transition to Japan go a little more smoothly, although the bumps in the road make your journey unique and quite funny at times. Enjoy the ride. \m/