Japan has a significantly high and ever increasing number of expats with over 2.2 million long term and permanent foreign residents.
With a dwindling local population and increased demand of highly skilled talent, the expat traffic is set to rise even more drastically.
Being the heart of the nation and host to the 2020 Olympics, Tokyo is already positioning itself to be Asia’s most cosmopolitan city.
But the key question is, how do foreigners feel about living in Tokyo?
In this blog, I am trying to reflect the sentiments of the expat community in Tokyo.
What do expats love about Tokyo the most?
There are way too many things to be mentioned, so I picked up my favorite ones below.
Cleanliness: Most of the developed world is generally very clean, but Japan takes cleanliness to a completely new high.
The dedication and passion of Japanese people for clean and tidy surroundings is profoundly infectious.
Where else in the world will the staff come and pick up your garbage in the middle of a sumo game or while watching festivals at local streets?!
Safety: As a foreigner, one’s biggest concern abroad is one’s safety and in this area too, Japan scores very high over many countries.
Crime rate is almost nil and it is highly unlikely to hear from an expat that he/ she was robbed, discriminated or harassed.
Humility: Yes the Japanese have sometimes difficulty in English communication but that does not hinder them from being the super kind humans and good Samaritans.
Each expat will narrate to you hundreds of stories – from extremely friendly treatment at shops and restaurants to locals going out of the way in helping strangers.
“Gaijin sama” – that’s the polite word Japanese people use for a foreigner.
And to me the word “sama”, meaning ‘our dearest guest’, is quite literally a everyday humbling experience.
Customer service: Many expats swear by it and are always in awe of the magnificent customer service experience.
Whether it is a fancy cafe or a salon or even government offices, attention to detail and complete customer orientation in almost every business is totally unrivaled and is simply mind boggling.
Also, what makes the Japanese hospitality very unique is that nobody ever expects or gives a tip, even for extremely high quality of service.
What do expats do for socializing?
As a foreigner, a large share of socializing opportunities come from the after work team get-togethers Nomikai.
These help both the locals and foreigners get personal and understand each other better.
Also, there are plenty of ways for socializing with other expats.
Networking sites, forums and meet up groups in several areas of Tokyo allow Gaijins to share their Japanese experiences and learn from each other.
I am part of a few of these forums and have become friends with people of several nationalities.
Recreation and entertainment
Tokyo is always super busy and bustling with action.
There are all kinds of events happening all year round – seasonal public events, grand traditional festivals, global food festivals, carnivals, concerts, shopping sale and sports events that can keep expats busy all the time.
If you have locals in your group, there are the Izakaya (restaurants) dinners followed by crazy Karaoke sessions.
If you like gaming, there are the maddeningly loud pachinko gaming centers which will take you to a different world.
The Not so pleasant things
This list is not a long one.
One thing that foreigners struggle the most to deal with in Japan is cultural differences.
These differences lead to miscommunication and trust gap at the work place.
The polite and humble Japanese style is contrastingly different from the straight-to-the-point Western business style.
More English usage would be nice, especially in written form.
With complex kanjis to decipher, most Gaijins have to resort to translation of literally everything they put their eyes on!
On a different note, many translations end up being completely irrelevant to the subject and also extremely hilarious.
My friend asked me recently about my overall impression of living in Tokyo.
My answer to her was – ‘My love for it is growing deeper each day’.
This is probably what many foreigners feel too and almost certainly they never would have imagined this before arriving to Japan.
I think I am very blessed to experience it all.
My heart goes Arigato Gozaimasu to the great times I have had here and I hope to enjoy this for a long time to come.