Moving to Japan

See Also: Visiting Japan

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Living in Tokyo with infant

Jan 2015

My niece is pregnant with her first child (due in May) and moving to Tokyo at the end of this month because of her husband’s work. She would welcome advice about having an infant there, including what you brought with you, what you wish you’d brought, and what equipment was unnecessary or didn’t work out. She’ll also not be working for the first time, after a busy career as a television journalist/producer. So thoughts on adjusting to life as a stay-at home-mom in a new culture would also be of interest.

Tokyo is a sophisticated city. It's like moving to NYC. I don't know why you think you will need to bring stuff with you. Your one restriction may be the size of your living quarters and Japanese clothes tend to run smaller than American sizes. If you're a size 16+ or 6 feet tall it may be difficult to find clothes that fit. Tokyo is a fashion center - clothing there is pricey but well made and chic. You may need to buy maternity clothes on line. Japanese women get pregnant and have babies, too. Enjoy Tokyo while you are there. Fabulous city. JnmiM

Moving to Tokyo with 20 month old

April 2012

We may be transferred to Tokyo in the next few months, for a 2 year contract. We have a 20 month old. I am reaching out to the BPN community for advice on many fronts. I am excited by the chance to live in and for our daughter to be exposed to a different culture early in her life. On the other hand, I am anxious about leaving my comfort zone, social and professional networks. Tokyo, from what I gather as an uninformed newbie, makes the East Bay look like Little House on the Prairie. I would like to hear from you about how to prepare for living abroad in general - how to close down a home, storage strategies, international banking options, how to stay in touch with the community we anticipate returning to in a couple of years, and set our selves up for returning with the least stress manageable. What do you think we need to bring with us? I'd like to hear anything in your experience about Tokyo, especially for families with young children: nature, rhythm of life, transportation, weather, access to good food (farmer's markets?), setting up a budget (cost of living), health care... I don't speak a word of Japanese. What's the best way to learn? If I speak English and very bad Japanese as I learn, how can I get by and what is the best way to show respect to the Japanese? How do I start introducing this change to our daughter (20 Months old) to set her up for success? What are the most important aspects to prepare her for? Also, does anyone have any information about the radiation situation from Fukushima and it's effects on Tokyo, the whole of Japan and the supply chain there? I hear disparate bits of data here and there and don't have a clear picture of the situation and how to manage it with a little one. Please feel free to pipe in on any little point you can shine light on as we face this transition. I'm trying to get my head around this and there is so much to consider. Thanks y'all! dragon.pearl

I don't have much advice, but can tell you that Citibank has branches in Tokyo (and other major cities in Japan), and their ATM card can be used without charge at any 7-11 ATM - and those are everywhere in Japan! (though there will be that aggravating 3% foreign conversion fee). Also note that you must have a four-digit numerical PIN. Within Tokyo, you can easily get by with English alone, though of course you will be able to interact with the locals much more easily and completely if you learn some Japanese. There are many language schools there, but I don't have personal experience with any of them.

If you haven't already discovered, go there now! You will find a wealth of information. There is a very active forum where you can ask detailed questions and get good answers. R.K.

I am afraid that I don't have any exact answers, as I was an expat kid in Japan more than 20 years ago, but seeing as you didn't receive many answers, here is what I do know: There are many, many expats in Tokyo as well as elsewhere, and many companies that send employees abroad either have their own in- house relocation group to guide you on closing up your house, finding new housing at your destination, choosing international schools, etc., or they may contract with outside relocation consultants to offer these services to their employees. These companies/groups also help with transitions home.

I don't have answers on language schools (I already spoke Japanese when I went to Japan as an expat), but I do know that most families who go there don't speak the language and still get around fine. We just went to Tokyo for spring break and I can tell you that it is incredibly easy to get around with a small child there - public restrooms in every train station, trains that arrive at 2 minute intervals, ramps and elevators to use with strollers and a million and one convenience stores that sell diapers, wipes, etc. Pretty much every restaurant we went to whipped out kids' plates and utensils before we could even ask for them.

You may want to check in with a relocation group and ask for locations of English-language preschools and maybe find a place to live relatively close by. Tokyo is absolutely huge, and though it is easy to get around it would probably be nice to have a home base within the city that fills your basic needs.

Last but not least - sometime within your first few months, after you've moved in, found a supermarket, figured out which kind of milk to buy and such the fact that you will be living there for a while will sink in and the knowledge can be really overwhelming. If this happens to you, as it did to our family on multiple expat excursions, please know that the feeling will pass and several months in you'll find your local legs and be just fine. Enjoy your opportunity to get to know a completely different culture and country. American School in Japan grad

Living in Nagoya for a semester with a 1.5 year old

Aug 2006

Hi. My husband is teaching at the U. of Nagoya for six months beginning in April of next year. We will have our 1.5 year old with us. Any thoughts on travel, places to go, places to live in Nagoya, etc.? Thanks, Jenny

We were in Nagoya last March w/ my (then) 1.5 & 3.5 year olds. I would definitely love to return someday. We had the benefit of my sister living there, who spoke Japanese pretty well. My recommendations are to bring only a very lightweight stroller, as they are inconvenient to use there. Most people carry their babies. We brought and used our ergo carrier a lot. Always carry a water bottle for you & your baby (tea is always available, but not water.) The subway/train system is kind of crazy, so purchase a good map. You sometimes need to transfer 2-3 times onto different lines & rail systems (paying each time) to go only a few miles! Bring a JP/ Eng dictionary (or computerized translator) that includes medical terms. We spent 3 days in the Nagoya Daini Red Cross Hospital and came across only a few people who spoke English (this was particulary scary/frustrating in the ER.) Be prepared to have the JP people take photos of you and your family (esp. the baby.) It'll prob get old after awhile, but we thought it was funny. There are TONS of snack foods everywhere, but lots of processed, refined, sugary, salty snacks mostly. If I were staying 6 months, I'd prob stock up on my kids' favorite snacks/foods. In fact we were asked to bring Cheerios to my sister's friends who have kids. My sister also told me that she stocked up on deoderant/antiperspirant and toothpaste at ''home'' since she didn't like the JP kinds. Oh there's probably more, but feel free to email me if you want to talk more. We could just do it over the phone maybe. Have a great trip. It will be so much fun!! And check out the archives for all the advice on long airplane trips. paula