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10 things you should know before moving to Tokyo

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Meditative, though crazy busy. Traditional, though avant-garde. Chilled-out, though outlandish. Ancient, though modern. Are you thinking of making your home in Tokyo? Well, in Japan’s megacity located on the main island of Honshu, you’ll find everything and everyone. Here are 10 things you should know before moving to Tokyo.

1. Learn Japanese

It’s super beneficial to learn some Japanese before hopping on the plane. While the locals tend to speak more than they let on, a certain degree of fluency will make your life so much easier—not to mention accelerate the paperwork and steps you’ll undertake after arrival.

2. Get your residence card

Got your visa? You can get your residence card processed at the airport upon arrival. You’ll need this, later on, to open up a bank account, get a driver’s license, register for health insurance, obtain a mobile phone plan, even for reentry to Japan after traveling as part of the proof of your current visa. This is your official ID card, so keep it on you.

3. Carry cash

Tokyo is still (largely) a cash society, with credit cards not accepted at every store, especially smaller ones. Banks have shorter working hours than you may be used to, so avoid being caught without cash by withdrawing money regularly at convenience store ATMs.

4. Flat downpayments

Come prepared for a hefty down payment on your rental. You’ll be looking at three months, maybe even up to six months, upfront. This includes “key money” (a sort of bonus to the landlord), deposit, and real estate fees. You’ll also need a guarantor to vouch for you. If you have a contract, this may be your boss (many companies will offer this).

5. Visit your ward office

Within two weeks of arriving, you have to register your address at your local ward office or kuyakusho. Bring your passport and newly-issued residence card to do so. At your ward office, you’ll find information about jidokan (a sort of children’s play center) and even reasonably-priced, if not free, Japanese classes. This is also where you’ll be able to enroll in the national health insurance system and get information on local resources and facilities (hospitals, parks, etc).

6. Recycling

There are a lot of practices to learn to make the system work—but it relies on everyone doing it. The recycling system will change by neighborhood, so prepare to learn yours. You’ll soon find that your local district has certain days dedicated to particular materials. Respect the recycling norms and they will respect you!

7. Transport

Rejoice! Tokyo has an excellent, comprehensive public transport system. Purchase your rechargeable Pasco or Suica card (the same idea, just offered by two different companies) to touch on local train, bus, or subway services. Plus, your card can be used on small purchases, such as to pay for lockers, taxi services, and generally, anywhere you see the logos.

8. Unspoken social rules

An interest in learning etiquette and a willingness to improve is certainly appreciated by the Japanese. For starters, remember that cash and cards are not usually passed directly from person to person, but left on an intermediary tray to be collected. And don’t pass food from chopsticks to chopsticks, spear food with them, or serve from a shared plate yourself using the end you put in your mouth.

9. Not just sushi

We know you’re just itching to sample authentic sushi while in Tokyo—but remember that there’s a wealth of other options to try. Be sure to taste soba (buckwheat noodles), hitsumabushi (grilled eel served with rice and seasonings), okonomiyaki (savory pancake), tako-yaki (grilled, battered eel), and onigiri (triangular rice balls with different fillings).

10. First grocery shop

On the subject of food, take a Japanese contact or someone fluent in the language to introduce you to the options at your local supermarket. Why? There will be dozens (and dozens) of products and culinary concepts you haven’t heard of, and having a walking talking dictionary with you will make this first trip run far more smoothly!

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