It was never my dream to live in Tokyo before, living an NYC fashion designer I felt like why would I want to go anywhere else?
Well, everything can change once you traveled outside of your box.
Where I started
Beginning of January 2018 I landed in Tokyo. I captioned this photo “new beginnings” on my Instagram. It’s not very creative but I really believed I’d make a home out of this city.
I don’t speak Japanese, no family no friends no big saving…Even though I don’t know how, I like it enough to pack everything, got on a plane and find out.
Capsule hotel experience
So when I thought I’m going to live outside the box, I got here. The legendary Japanese capsule hotel. Inside there’s a charger, different settings of lights, shower room and lockers big enough for your suitcases. the switch is right within your reach, everything is thoughtful af. I heard the voice: welcome to the future.
Tokyo feels like something from the comic book, it is so busy, so clean, so organized and people walking around with no facial expression, just looking at their phones but still know when to turn and which way to go.
Totally opposite of being in NYC, where everyday strangers talk to you on a subway, you chat with co-workers, chat with friends, chat with people waiting in line at the supermarket. Here, nobody looks at you, they will never bother you or bother anyone. I think “not bothering people” is such a big part of their culture. It is good to keep it in mind.
Sitting on the subway with heated seats, I couldn’t stop wondering, how did I get so lucky.
For about $50 a month you can rent a big storage space if you need a temporary place to store your stuff while looking for an apartment. It’s also good to have if your apartment is too small and you can just switch it off each season.
So I got this share-house information from a friend of a friend, who’s been staying in the same share-house different location. It’s called OAKHOUSE. I will write later about how this place became the happiest place in my memory.
I visited their head office in Shibuya and made a couple appointments to visit places within my budget. House managers were all super nice. They arrived early, picked me up with their car and gave me hand warmers because it’s cold outside… The second place I visited, the house manager was really fun to talk to and I felt like home right away, so I took the place on the spot.
They didn’t require too many documents at all to sign the contract. It took about a week after I sign all the papers, made all the payments till I moved in. I didn’t really understand why they need 5 days to staple all my paper works together, but the politeness of the house manager made me forgot to even ask, I happily agreed on the move in date and felt like what just happened after I stepped out of his office.
This was the view when I got off the train at my station. it is in Nerima Ward which is about 50 mins by train from the center of Tokyo. It was a very quiet neighborhood.
First day on my own
Since I don’t speak Japanese at all, I felt intimated even just to go to a convenient store. I took all the courage to run to FamilyMart, during checkout, because I’m not familiar with the money it took me really long time, finally the cashier just picked the corns out of my hand while I was blocking the line, I felt sweaty after.
I also try to eat the food there and I think she’s trying to tell me I shouldn’t do it. Since we can’t communicate I just smile and nod, she smiles and bow but keep talking, so I smile and bow more… I finished my food but pretty sure I’m not going to come back for a while until they forgot about me I’m going to a different FamilyMart.
You can see cuteness anywhere for no particular reasons, they’re just there to make your life better.
Slept with my coat as a blanket for a couple days, I got out to Ikebukuro to do my bedding shopping. Took me a long time to figure out which department store to go, Japanese Department store seems confusing and most information is only in Japanese didn’t help neither. I finally got all the bedding before the department store closed for about $100 at SEIBU, and it’s very good quality. I kept brushing it against my face when I put them on. That moment Japan seems perfect.
This was me smiling like an idiot about finally having something to sleep on.
I felt really lost at nights though. One night I walked around the city with all the flashy lights around and suddenly feel like crying… I don’t know anything or anyone, I don’t understand anything going on, who am I…
All those feelings ended here when I found you…
I was one happy girl after eating this and start to sing songs while walking back home. I think having a home to go back to after the sun’s down is very important.
I got Pasmo card for the trains, it’s a prepaid card to save you a lot of time buying a ticket each time, it charges about $5 deposit. You can buy it from any ticket machine at any station.
Where to shop
For electronic stuff, there’s BIC CAMERA everywhere, it’s a huge department store, you can find about anything comes to electronics with good prices. I found my coffee machine here for less than $60.
For everything else in my house, I pretty much got them taken care of at 100 Yen store and Don Quijote. They have everything for the house and it’s very good priced and I generally trust Japanese quality no matter where I go.
And yes you will find picture spots outside the shops …
Warming up in the share-house
Couple nights after I moved in at my share-house, I walked in the shared living room, met one of the roommates. He was nice and showed me how to use kitchen equipment briefly. I’m used to the simple American gas stove, I totally got lost on all the different Japanese buttons. I think it took me 2 months to really figure out the correct way.
If you think the stove was complicated, don’t ever try the oven…
Waking up in a totally different country could be tricky, a mixed feeling of OMG I’m living in Tokyo and WTF am I doing here.
Luckily my room was so nice and comfy, after the first cup of coffee and Japanese power shower, I was like this.
We have shared Jacuzzi, fitness room, laundry and movie studios. as well as the kitchen. The only part is one person allowed was the Jacuzzi. but I start making friends by going anywhere else.
First I was also recognized by “the girl who’s always running on the treadmill” And met few new roommates. I worked out every day, partly because I want to get in a routine so I feel normal, also I have no other type of entertainment at that point. But having this image of a super disciplined person was great, also gave me no choice but keep going.
occasionally when I was doing yoga downward facing dog, the house manager would walk in showing potential guests our facilities. So my butt starts to meet more people too.
This was the first brunch I cooked with friends in our kitchen, I go wild on the ingredients, because our kitchen was so nice! Also, I really enjoyed cooking with other people, the eggs and avocados really brought us closer.
Also, I started to hang out at the movie room a lot, there are musical instruments and people who actually know what they’re doing, Also I think this was the time my laugh was recognized by even the second-floor residence.
Making friends everywhere
I also made my first friend outside the residence by ordering ice cream at Baskin Robbins. An American girl heard I was having trouble ordering so she helped me out, strangely the Japanese name for that flavor sounds a lot like English, as you are making fun of someone’s Japanese accent. We sat down had ice cream together and a long conversation on the culture difference between Japan and America. It was a very meaningful ice cream time.
Jogging in the park
I also found out from her that my residence is close to a big park Shakuji Koen. So I put on my super tight running outfit run to the park, first time was during rush hour people going to work, and then I realized my sports outfit from America also may not be appropriate in public here. But forming this habit was a great start. I actually kept doing it till it gets too hot.
Once I got settled, I got on Tokyo Cheapo to find travel information so I can plan some trips close by when I have time.
There’s a very useful website for foreigners called Gaijin Pot, you can find information about jobs, studies, apartments, and trips that are customized for foreigners (gaijin means foreigner). I went to their networking events with my roommate before and it was a lot of fun, free drinks and snacks, and a great way to meet other foreigners.
Food and grocery
Like grocery shopping, there’s a supermarket chain close by SUMMIT, very nice place, playing happy music all day and you can find really good pre-made food as well. I often got a sushi box for about $6 and it’s a lot of sushi.
For cheap fast meals, I love Matsuya, Coco Curry and Mos Burger.
If I want to treat myself, I’d go get all you can eat BBQ Yakiniku or Conveyor belt sushi places. usually still spent less than $30.
I do feel like if you are not Japanese, you need a circle of foreign friends to keep your social life going, Japanese will be very nice and welcome to you, but it’s hard to get in their circle. Luckily I have a group of roommates and can make more friends from going out with them. They taught me a very important word “Nomihodai” (all you can drink)
This was us Nomihodai-ing. there are so many fruity mixed drinks that I was apologizing to the logo cutout before I realized I was drunk. So my limit became “not apologize to the logo cutout” since then.
Karaoke love it or leave it
There is one thing I wish I don’t hate, it was Karaoke, as it’s such a big part of their culture. My roommates often go wild at those dress up Karaoke places. I mean…
So yeah life started to look pretty good after few weeks, and I can’t believe it kept getting better and better…
I really hope whoever has the thoughts of coming to Japan would give it a shot, it is so unique, so rich in culture and truly beautiful. I’m going to write more about my travel experiences in Japan in depth. Hope you stay with me through my journey.
As for career, if you don’t speak Japanese there are very limited choices
If you are an English speaker and ok with teaching English or being an international recruiter just to have the experience living in Japan, you don’t have to learn much Japanese, just the daily stuff to make life easier. But if you’re really serious about finding a career and moving up, I strongly recommend taking some Japanese classes. Some businesses are easier to find jobs if your Japanese Level is not very high, as if you’re a computer
Just remember to get in a routine as fast as you can
It helps you get over the change mentally. You should also talk to people whenever you get a chance to, you will get a lot better information than researching online. And never forget to enjoy the simple little things around, life is full of them if you just pay attention…
If I have the chance to do it again I’d get on a plane tomorrow. I think I might end up there in the future, there’s something about Japan words can’t describe…