Before Moving to Japan | My Tokyo Lunch Box Life

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I’m back with another dosage of that I’ve affectionately labelled “My Tokyo Lunch Box Life.”

I do hope you haven’t lost interest in these types of posts! I’d love to share more about what I do and get up to regularly here in Tokyo besides the obvious book worming and survival part time working.

Being able to spend another year in Japan always makes me feel blessed to be able to live in this larger than life city and I’m super keen to start writing a series of Japan life hacks. Hopefully I can impart some wisdom from my time here so far.

Before getting into the common “How do I find a Japanese Apartment?” or “How do I get a Part-Time Job?” type of topics, let’s rewind and start at square one. For those who are interested in moving to Japan in the near future, here are some answers to a few burning questions and things to consider before making that move to Japan.

How much Japanese do I need to know before coming to Japan?

Before I came to Japan, I had some experience learning Japanese prior but my fluency and practice had been lost to many years of not touching the language since 1st year university. Even with general tourist Japanese, using the language for semi-local living was another challenge especially when you are living on your own. A simple task of visiting the grocery store and being asked a bunch of questions that they didn’t teach you in the textbook is just one way textbook Japanese doesn’t help real-life Japanese situations.

In general, I would say if you fall into this category:

1. plan to stay in Japan for the long run (or at least a commitment of 2 years for your apartment contract)

2. want to live on your own or local share house

3. want to find a part time job (or full time) in Japan

Level of Japanese: N3 to N2

If you fall into this category:

1. plan to stay in Japan for a short time (under 1 year)

2. want to live in an international friendly shared house, dormitory or home stay

3. have access to good Japanese learning support assistance at school or university etc

4. don’t want to work in Japan (unless you want to get an English teaching job)

Level of Japanese: Beginner to N4


How much should I save to live in Japan?

Now this is a tricky one as like with every other country, living in the capitol will have a much higher cost of living than the rural areas or in other cities. Since I live in Tokyo (the capitol and probably hands down the most expensive of all cities) it would be only fitting to give estimations on expenses you might face when living here and this can probably give you a gauge of what expenses would be like if you were planning to settle in another city in comparison.

As this estimation won’t include expenses on being specifically an international student factored in such as textbooks and tuition fees, this information should be helpful for those who are planning to take that step and move to Japan based on other reasons other than studying.

From the guidance we were given by our university, they estimate that the “minimum” living expenses for Tokyo for one year is around 1,700,000 yen (roughly $17,000). This total includes rent, food and living expenses, health insurance and medical fees as well as a category called “others” which I believe is the occasion going out money etc.

Now, if we were to break this down into months, that would be roughly $1416.65 per month if we could make everything dollar to dollar and to be honest, that is a good outlook for someone who is a moderate spender.

The problem I found was that because Tokyo has so many cool things to buy, eat, see and do all year long, it was hard to keep faithful to this figure even on my best behaviour!

Also, a large chunk of this amount is rent which they estimated as being 800,000 yen ($8,000) a year which would be roughly $666.67 a month. This amount could be higher or lower depending on what type of place you end up living in. On the flip side, I had a co-worker who used to live in Yamaguchi who was only paying around $200 per month for a entire house! Say what?! Though the nearest entertainment was an hour drive away…

The university also didn’t factor in one important expense – transportation! They factored this as being a student expense but let’s be real for one sec, transportation money is necessary in everyday life and Tokyo’s train system doesn’t even offer a high school or university student option when buying tickets (there is a separate discount fee system called a 定期券 teikiken which I will explain in a future blog post). With Tokyo’s maze of different Metro lines owned by different companies, traveling within Tokyo and its outer suburbs will cost you a few especially if you rely on this for getting to and from work on a daily basis.


To get a ハンコ (hanko) or not?  

A ハンコ (hanko) is a small seal that has your name written on the tip used in situations were signature is required. Although there are some places (though very few from my experience) where signature is ok as a sign of authorisation, the hanko seal has been used for centuries in Japan and is still the dominant “signature” for authorisation.

I have met soooooo many people who refused to get a seal based on the logic that they will never ever be using it while in Japan or outside the country and so, why waste money. The problem is that many necessities such as phone, internet companies and banks will ask for your hanko seal as a standard requirement. A local phone number is a minimum requirement on many forms and without a phone number, you can’t get an internet plan or a local bank account. Some other places you might also need to provide a phone number is at some karaoke places or hotels – even cheap stay ones like manga kissatens (manga cafes). Heck, if you are a super big foodie and want to take advantage of the exclusive only-in-Japan-need-to-book-3-months-in-advance dining experiences, you will find that many of these places will need a phone number based in Japan and not all places will accept calls made on your behalf from your hotel. If you don’t have a phone because you didn’t want a hanko seal, you could be missing out on some interesting experiences.

But of course this is up for subjectivity. If you are only staying for less than a year, living in an all inclusive dorm and can plan for these little details, than a seal is not needed.

But if you want a hanko seal, it will cost around $15 and can be made anywhere were the shop says ハンコ outside. Also after your time in Japan, it makes a great souvenir!

Hopefully that was helpful!

If you have any questions, please leave a comment and I’ll try to answer them or create a more detailed post about it.

Until Next Time!



  1. Rina says

    I would love to visit Japan one day! How cool is it that you’re moving there! I hope to live in another city at some point in my life too.. If only I could encouraged my hubby to be just as adventurous =P

    xoxo Rina

  2. nat says

    i recently went on a holiday to Japan and I absolutely loved it, to the point where I thought I could live here
    so reading this post was super interesting!!
    thanks for sharing

  3. Jack says

    I look around before Moving to japan it is an great journey about to journey there. I think Most Peoples are try to Fly with Etihad Travelling ways because i love to go with the family thank you.

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