Interview: Living and Working in Tokyo

Tell us about yourself and why you chose to move to Tokyo in Japan…

I’m Kristie, originally from Townsville in North Queensland in Australia however most recently I lived in Sydney where I met my fiancé. He was working in Tokyo at the time, so we did long distance for 12 months (lots of trips to Tokyo and Sydney during that 12 months!) and after travelling through Europe together we decided I should move to Tokyo. I probably would never have chosen to relocate to Tokyo if I hadn’t met him (I hadn’t even been here prior) however it’s been a fantastic experience that I would recommend – if the conditions are favourable….

How long have you been there?

12 months! It goes so quick but I’m definitely still getting used to life here.

Did you need a Visa? What was the process?

I did need a visa. Initially I was on a student visa as I was studying Japanese full time however I have recently changed to a partner visa. My partner is half Japanese so has a child of Japanese national visa, however our situation is pretty unique. Anyone wanting to come to live and work or study would need to obtain sponsorship from either a school or a workplace.

Did you move solo or with a significant other?

I moved with my fiancé (obviously)! However having him speak Japanese is a godsend! People think that Tokyo is another Singapore or Hong Kong where English is widely spoken. Traveling is fine but living here it is definitely handy to have someone who can help with the life admin side as it’s usually in Japanese!

How did you get there? Is this the best way?

We always fly direct from Sydney. I prefer the overnight flights as you can sleep on the plane and given there is no real time difference to Australia we don’t lose any time during the days! This obviously depends where you are flying from but given the location there are plenty of direct flights to Tokyo!

What were your first impressions?

Tokyo is an amazing city, and I have always been so impressed by how convenient everything is. However, when it comes to organizing visas, finding apartments, bank accounts etc, a lot of the processes are tedious and are made easier by having a Japanese speaker. You can definitely get help in English but it’s not as easy as I would have thought. Also, many people think that Japan is very advanced however that is not the case. The workplace practices are yet to catch up with the western world (flexibility, lifetime employment etc) and there is little to no diversity – including women in the workplace and senior management positions.

Where did you stay when you first arrived?

We stayed in a serviced apartment until we found our apartment. It was a straight forward process to rent a serviced apartment however I won’t lie – my partner took care of all of this!

How did you find a place to live?

My fiancé used a real estate agent who was bilingual who talked us through everything and helped us find a place. There are plenty of agents here who have English options so it isn’t so difficult. The application process is slightly more difficult than what I was used to but the agent helped us with everything.

What is your room or place like?

We live in a brand new apartment in a lovely area – it is definitely not as big as home (Australia) though! Tokyo real estate is not cheap. Most people move a little further out to get more value for money.

What are your tips for others trying to find a place to live?

Use a bilingual agent and make sure you understand the commitments. The Japanese writing can be daunting so it’s important to understand what it actually says!

How many places have you lived in since you’ve been there?

Just the serviced apartment and our current apartment. I think most leases are for two years. If we stay more than two years I think we will look for a slightly bigger place but that’s purely because we will eventually want to start a family!

Where is your place in relation to the city centre?

We are close to the major attractions, within 5kms of most of the popular suburbs in Tokyo.

Asakusa Sensoji temple

Transport – how do you get around? 

Usually by train – Tokyo has this downpat! They are so organized and if you miss a train there is always one very soon after. You definitely need a travel app though, Navitime is the best and gives easy instructions. We also walk. A LOT.

We also use taxis sometimes. Uber is yet to take off but you can use uber black, just watch out for the price surge in peak time. The taxi service is easy to use and they are usually very helpful so uber hasn’t really been required!

How much does it cost per month for living essentials like rent, food and transport?

This depends on how you live! Rent is not cheap, (currently our apartment is around 3.5k AUD a month which is about 290,000 Japanese yen) however you can get very cheap lunches and meals from some restaurants. Alternatively, you can also find many fine dining restaurants that are amazing but you pay for the experience!

Transport is generally pretty affordable and general groceries aren’t overly expensive, you can most definitely live on the cheaper side but you do need to watch it!

What are you doing for work?

My background is HR and it was very difficult to find a HR role in Japan without the language. In fact, it’s quite difficult to find many roles in Japan without the language. I was advised it would be difficult however I was able to find a global HR role with a Japanese insurance firm. I feel very lucky as I know it’s not that easy to do. There are plenty of opportunities for native English speakers to teach English or take up a career in recruitment however I didn’t feel either of those would make me happy. If you can master Japanese it definitely opens up the doors!

Is the salary comparable to what you’ve earned elsewhere? 

Again, language is key here – without Japanese you will struggle to climb the ladder, so I have taken a pay cut to work here. I am however making up for the lack of salary with the unique experience of working in a Japanese organization! In general, the Japanese culture promotes on the basis of years of service not necessarily talent, so the organizational culture of where you work is important.

How did you find the job?

LinkedIn. I knew the organization was somewhat progressive as they were using Linkedin. It is not common for Japanese people to use Linkedin yet, as most Japanese people still maintain lifetime employment (they join from graduation and stay until retirement!) and only see Linkedin as a recruitment tool.

How long did it take you to get a job after you arrived?

I wasn’t looking immediately as I had taken 12 months leave without pay from my role in Australia and wasn’t sure what the plan would be moving forward. I initially went to language school for the first six months and started looking for work seriously around June. I had my job 2-3 months later. I was relentless in looking though!

How much money did you have saved up before moving over?

I had 10,000 AUD when I left and luckily my partner had most expenses covered, so this lasted me almost until I started working. If you intend on getting casual work teaching English, 10k would suffice until you start earning a living.

What tips do you have for others trying to get a job there? 

Keep trying! And don’t listen to any negativity around finding what you’re after. Just be persistent, network and if need be, teach English (and learn Japanese!)

What do you do after work and on the weekends?

Surprisingly we do a lot of things outdoors like parks, hikes, skiing and outdoor ice skating. There’s lots of festivals on and restaurants etc. There is always something to do in Japan!

Is this something you started when you moved overseas?

We are definitely working through our Japan travel list, and we make an effort to get out and about and take part in the festivals etc. I think we are less social here but do more in terms of experiences.

How is your lifestyle different there?

We can keep to ourselves a little bit more here as our close friends are in Australia. We can relax on weekends and plan lots of travel. Add Kyoto and Hiroshima to your list, I enjoyed them more than I thought I would!

What’s the weather like?

The full four seasons! It’s actually really beautiful to experience. Sakura, Koyo (Autumn leaves) and winter are particularly spectacular in Japan!

Cherry Blossoms

How did you make friends?

The expat circle is pretty small in Tokyo, so just meeting friends of friends, my physic and people you meet out. Most people are super friendly!

What do you eat for dinner every night?

We cook at home and do typical Aussie food, vegetables and meat/chicken. Fresh food mainly. We do cook Japanese Nabe often, which is like a big hot pot of vegetables and meat!

Do you eat out often?

When I first arrived we ate out all the time! We have slowed down now. But WOW Tokyo has some amazing places to eat in all different price ranges. You will not regret eating out in Tokyo!

While we’re on the topic, have you got any local favourite restaurants or activities we must try?

Make sure to try Japanese Onsens and Ryokans – Japanese old style hotels. It’s such a lovely experience. Took me a while to get used to bathing in groups! But it is super relaxing and you become very fond of it. Skiing here is wonderful too – highly recommend it.

What are the biggest cultural differences?

I struggle with this sometimes – there are huge cultural differences between Australia and Japan. I think the biggest part is that Australian culture is so vocal and outgoing and the Japanese tend to be shy. If you have an interest in living in Tokyo I would recommend studying more about the Japanese culture, as I believe the perception many have is not necessarily accurate… particularly when it comes to the workplace.

What has been the most local experience you’ve had so far?

The onsens and Ryokans described above, skiing (my first time was Japan !) and dining in Japanese restaurants. Fabulous!

Where is home? How often do you travel there and why?

Australia is home – lots of places ! Townsville, Brisbane and Sydney are home but it depends on my mood. We travel there at least 3-4 times a year for many reasons but mostly because of weddings/work and wanting to visit home.

What do you miss most about home? 

Friends, family and the access to creature comforts that aren’t always readily available here. Fitness classes and certain food!

Do you think you’ll go back there to live? 

Yes, we love Japan but it’s not forever. I am trying to make the most of the experience while I can, as one day I know we will miss Tokyo.

How do you feel about going home?

I am excited but know it’s a few years off yet. We just want to see as much as we can of Japan and Asia and tick off the bucket list before children.

What’s been the best thing about this experience?

Pushing myself to achieve things I would never normally do! Japan is complicated and I often get super frustrated but I feel so accomplished and proud of what my partner and I have achieved. And it has taught me a whole new meaning of patience!

What would you do differently? 

Nothing. I would say sometimes my attitude to living here, but if I changed my experience, it wouldn’t be the same! You have to go through all the good and bad of living abroad for it to be really worthwhile.

Hints and Tips… do you have any other tips for living and working abroad in Tokyo?

Research!! Make connections and have an interim plan – but don’t plan too much. Be open and flexible and see what opportunities come your way. And be persistent!

How do you know Jodie from Hoff to Explore?

Jodie and I worked together in Brisbane before moving to London. We’ll be seeing each other later this year in Greece!

And lastly: describe living and working in Tokyo in one word!



Interview date: April 2017


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