Daily life in Japan can be very different from what some foreigners are accustomed to in their home countries. Without knowing how to do simple things, such as find the food you like or use the post office, it is easy to get discouraged. Fortunately, there are many organizations and resources dedicated to making the process of acclimating to life in Japan easier.
The first way to find out about life in your new area is to locate the local ward office. Visit the Living Information Guide to find the address and telephone number of your ward office. If you are a foreigner working in Japan, you will most likely have to visit this office to apply for an Alien Registration Card. While there, the ward office can provide you with information on local hospitals, activity centers, area schools and much more.
If you are having difficulty in some aspect of life in Japan, consider contacting the Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) by calling 03-5774-0992. This confidential service provides support, counseling, and information to the international community.
Weather in Japan varies greatly depending on where you are located, but there are four distinct seasons of spring (March-May), summer (June-August), fall (September-November), and winter (December-February). It can get brutally hot in the summer months or extremely cold in some areas. No matter where you are, watch out for tsuyu (the rainy season), typically from early June to mid July. Also, August to October is the typhoon season in Japan. Humidity is especially high during rainy seasons.
Even though many will agree that the food in Japan is excellent, often people will find themselves craving a dish from their home country. It can be challenging to locate the ingredients or restaurants that you want, and although it is possible to get ethnic foods from all over the world, they will likely not taste like the foods from your home country. It is a good idea to experiment with Japanese food and find out what you like. You may be surprised to find Japanese specialties that become your favorites!
When you want to eat something from a more Western diet, there are a few ways to go about it. Housing Japan has a list of many supermarkets that carry Western food items. Stores like Meidi-Ya and Nissin World Delicatessen feature the most variety. National Azabu supermarket, located in Hiroo, is also popular with foreigners. If you read Japanese, visit the National Azabu online store. Be aware that international supermarkets may be more expensive than regular Japanese stores, so you may want to limit your shopping in them to specialty items.
Some of these stores will not be conveniently located, depending on where you live and what mode of transportation you use. For those with access to a car, you may want to shop at large wholesalers like Costco or Carrefour (a Japanese-only site).
Even with the multiple supermarket options, you still may have trouble locating exactly what you want. If this is the case, try an online importer like The Foreign Buyers’ Club.
Many foreigners also worry about finding restaurants that have English menus. EnglishOK! provides information and reviews on many restaurants in Tokyo that offer English menus. Another good resource is the Tokyo Food Page, which lists restaurants and bars according to neighborhood, some of which have English menus or English speaking staff.
Most post office branches in Japan will be open from around 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, although some offices that make deliveries stay open until 7:00 pm. With a few exceptions, post offices are closed on Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. International mail must be sent from a post office or through a global shipping company like FedEx. You can also use the ATMs at post offices, which usually accept foreign debit cards. For more information visit the Japan Post Service website.
If you are sending domestic mail, another option is to use a convenience store, many of which are open 24 hours.
It can be easy to feel disconnected from the world when you are far from home and surrounded by news presented in Japanese. Luckily, several newspapers in Japan are available in English. Large papers like The International Herald Tribune/Asahi Shimbun and The Daily Yomiuri are popular with English-speakers. The Tribune is affiliated with The New York Times, and considered to be liberal, while the Yomiuri is seen as a more conservative publication. Another newspaper that is favored by the English-speaking foreign community is The Japan Times, which is the only independent English newspaper in Japan.
For pop culture and events, English magazines like Metropolis and Japanzine are your best resources. Most of the content is geared towards helping foreigners enjoy their time in Japan, but they also cover more substantive issues. In addition, these magazines list community activities and feature extensive classifieds sections. Both are available by subscription, but are usually offered for free in Western bars and restaurants.
To keep current on business in Japan and the rest of the world, visit the Tokyo Stock Exchange site or Nikkei Net Interactive. Nikkei also offers Japan’s only English financial newspaper, The Nikkei Weekly, which covers business, finance, technology and more.
While the main religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shintoism, there are mosques, temples, and churches in Tokyo. Visit the Tokyo English Life Line website for a list of places of worship and their addresses and phone numbers. If you are interested in Buddhist-Shinto practices and temples, visit long-time Japan resident Mark Schumacher’s web page. Anyone, regardless of faith, can visit these temples and appreciate their beauty. Japan-guide.com also provides a list of famous temples and shrines.
To find sporting activities in Japan, a good bet is to ask your co-workers and neighbors for tips. Another resource is to visit the Outdoor Japan website. Outdoor Japan’s website and magazine present athletic and outdoor events around the country, as well as travel information and articles. Also try the back pages of Metropolis magazine, which features sports associations and their contact information. To find a gym or fitness center, consult Housing Japan’s Fitness Directory.
As you will quickly notice, many people living in Japan have pets. That said, it is important to remember that apartments in large cities like Tokyo tend to be small, and some landlords may not allow pets. If you are planning on bringing your pet to Japan, know that there are several requirements (vaccinations, etc.) that you will need to meet. Also, you must notify Japan’s Animal Quarantine Service (ACS) in advance if you are bringing a pet into Japan. Be prepared that your pet will most likely be subject to quarantine. During this period (which can last up to 180 days), you are still responsible for your pet and must take care of them yourself or arrange for a third party to do so. Depending on which country you are coming from, you may be able to take steps in advance to shorten the quarantine period. Visit the ACS website for more information.
Earthquakes are relatively common and you will likely experience at least one while you are in Japan. Due to the frequency and probability of these quakes, it is recommended that you be prepared. Know the emergency evacuation area (hinan basho) in your area, and keep a bag packed in your home with money, food, water, a radio, a flashlight and other supplies. For a full guide on how to prepare and react to an earthquake, read the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Earthquake Survival Manual.
With regard to crime, Japan is one of the safest places in the world and violent crime is rare – perhaps due to the nearly 100% conviction rate. Be aware that police can detain suspects for up to 23 days without trial. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that you do not break any laws while in Japan. If you are arrested or involved in a dispute, and do not have your own lawyer, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Consultation Service for Foreigners may be of help.