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Tokyo is Japan’s capital and the country’s largest city.  The city presents a complex urban landscape, laced with layer upon layer of railways and highways with a mighty conglomeration of buildings in between. However there are parks and gardens everywhere and within an hour of the city center there are beaches and a green hinterland.

Tokyo is clean and safe, easy to get around, and to get things done. The low crime rate is famous, and the efficiency of the city’s public transport legendary. Computerized systems keep the city functioning smoothly; shopping is easy, and information is on tap from any source in the world via printed media or on screen.

As a new resident you will love the festivals, good food, and the flowers of the season. But more importantly you will find when it comes to matters of the soul, the Japanese are generous in their acceptance of anything new, exotic, playful, or witty.

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    About Tokyo

    Tokyo is the capital and one of the forty-seven prefectures of Japan. Within Tokyo are twenty-three municipalities (the “special wards”).  Also in Tokyo are the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, the home of the Japanese Imperial Family. Tokyo is located on the mid-eastern part of Honshu, Japan’s largest and most historically important island.  Its geography, with over 2,000 square kilometers to explore, spans not just the city, but rugged mountains to the west and subtropical islands to the south.

    A major advantage of living in Tokyo is to participate in the many festivals that take place around the year. Each year a festival is held during which the passing seasons are observed by visits to local shrines or temples. With over 500 annual events, the festivals provide visitors tangible links to the past and present. The upbeat atmosphere is one of the things that makes Tokyo so appealing. This vitality has become part of the popular culture, a culture which seems to be constantly in the midst of a celebration of life.



    This is not only the business heart of Tokyo, but its spiritual heart as well. Hibiya is where the Tokugawa shogun built his magnificent castle, and was thus the center of old Edo. Today, Hibiya, in Chiyoda-ku, is no less important as the home of theImperial Palace, built on the ruins of Edo Castle and today the residence of Japan’s 125th emperor. Bordering the palace is the wonderful East Garden, open free to the public.


    Back when Edo became Tokugawa’s shogunate capital, Nihombashi was where merchants set up shop, making it the commercial center of the city and therefore of all Japan. Nihombashi, which stretches east of Tokyo Station, still serves as Tokyo’s financial center, home of the computerized Tokyo Stock Exchange and headquarters for major banks and companies. The area takes its name from an actual bridge, Nihombashi, which means “Bridge of Japan” and served as the focal point for all main highways leading out of the city to the provinces during the Edo Period.

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    Fast Facts

    Population: 11,781,000 (metro) 8,280,000 (city)

    Foreign residents (2005): 353,826

    Most common foreign nationalities:






    Area: 223 square miles (577 sq km)

    Location: Honshū Island

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    The temperate climate brings dry and mild to cold winters, warm and humid summers and pleasant springs and autumns. Rainfall is common March-October. The best times to visit are April-May, for the blooming cherry blossoms and pleasant weather, and October-November for changing leaves and similarly enjoyable weather. It can get hot and muggy in August. Winter seldom brings snow, but temperatures usually drop below freezing for a few days.

    Month Avg Hi Avg Lo Avg Precip
    Jan 48°F 33°F 1.90 in.
    Feb 48°F 34°F 2.60 in.
    Mar 53°F 39°F 3.70 in.
    Apr 63°F 49°F 4.30 in.
    May 71°F 57°F 3.80 in.
    Jun 75°F 64°F 5.50 in.
    Jul 81°F 70°F 4.20 in.
    Aug 85°F 74°F 4.80 in.
    Sep 79°F 67°F 7.00 in.
    Oct 69°F 56°F 6.20 in.
    Nov 61°F 46°F 3.30 in.
    Dec 53°F 37°F 1.90 in.


    Taxes in Japan are paid on income, property and consumption on the national, prefectural (similar to our state level) and municipal levels. Below is a summary of some of the most relevant types of taxes paid by individuals:

    Income Tax

    Paid annually by individuals on the national, prefectural and municipal levels. Also known as “resident tax” on the prefectural and municipal level. The amount is calculated based on the net income of the individual person.

    Enterprise Tax

    Prefectural tax paid annually by self-employed individuals engaged in business activities. The amount is calculated based on the person’s net income and the type of business.

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    Government & Economy

    Officially, Japan is a constitutional monarchy with the emperor as the head of state. Elected officials are considered to be erai (great, worthy of respect) and it is much more common than in Europe or the US for electoral seats to be ‘inherited’ by family members. The power of rural politicians tends to rest in their ability to satisfy their constituents by bringing infrastructure projects – roads, bridges, bullet train lines etc – to their region. The impression you get is that city dwellers tend to stay away from the ballot box in favor of interest groups and citizens’ movements. Political news often dominates TV and newspapers but most Japanese do not get directly involved in politics and there seems to be a general sense of apathy towards the subject.

    Tokyo has the largest metropolitan economy in the world: its nominal GDP of around US $1.315 trillion. Economically, Tokyo comprises one third of Japan’s major industrial region, the other two-thirds are Kawasaki and Yokohama.  A few of the more important industries are steel plants, manufacturing along with textiles and luxury goods. The city brings the most modern wonders of technology, commerce and architecture side by side with the old.

    Imperial Family

    The Japanese Imperial family is the oldest hereditary monarchy in the world. The family’s lineage dates back to the sixth century BC, though the title of Tenno (emperor) or Sumera-Mikoto (heavenly sovereign) was assumed by rulers in the sixth or seventh century and has been used since. The family crest is the kiku, or chrysanthemum.

    The role of the Emperor (and occasionally the Empress – there have been 8 to date) has varied in importance. Considered a divine being until the end of World War II, the postwar Constitution made him the “Symbol of the state”. He plays a largely ceremonial part in the life of the nation.


    Japan has 13 public holidays. When one of them falls on a Sunday, it is reported to the following Monday.

    1 January New Year’s Day

    2nd Monday of January Adult’s Day

    11 February National Foundation Day

    21 March Vernal Equinox Day

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    By Car

    The public transportation system in Tokyo and the rest of Japan is fantastic, so there is little need for a car.  If you decide to have one, U.S. license holders must take an English written test and a road test. EC or UK driver license holders are not required to take the two tests; however, they must still apply for a Japanese license in person with their passports, alien registration cards (not temporary) and a copy and translation of the EC or UK driver license. As it takes 2 weeks to receive an alien registration card, expatriates who need to drive sooner should get an international license prior to coming to Japan. These licenses are good for up to one year.

    Owning a car in Japan is expensive due to the mandatory bi-annual inspections, mandatory insurance, an automobile tax and the fee for a parking space. The cars themselves, however, are relatively inexpensive, with smaller new cars starting at under one million yen. A liter of gasoline costs around 100 Yen. The use of highways is subject to tolls.

    Public Transportation

    Subway and Rail

    Tokyo has a massive public transportation system that is used by most residents of the city.  It’s so large that it’s easy to get confused when you first start using it.  Part of the confusion is because there are different rail lines within the city.

    Trains generally fun from 5 am to 1 am.  There are 5-10 minutes between trains normally, but during rush hours trains come every 3 minutes.  It’s best to avoid riding the trains during this time if you can help it, because things can be very crowded.

    Nearly all of the lines can be paid for with rechargeable smart cards.  The cards are loaded with money, and then it is deducted as you ride the train.  The cards are tapped on the turnstiles as you enter and exit.  There are also one day and holiday passes that offer unlimited travel for that time period.  They are good for tourists, but generally not for those who ride the trains often.  You can also buy tickets for individual rides, but it can be hard to figure out exactly how much a trip is going to cost.

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    Air Transportation

    Tokyo has five airports

    Tokyo International Airport (Haneda)—Mainly for domestic flights.

    Narita International Airport (Narita, Chiba)—Major gateway for international travelers.

    Chofu Airport in Chofu City—Handles commuter flights to the Izu islands.

    Oshima Airport—Oshima island

    Hachijojima Airport—Hachijo island

    Tokyo International Airport (HND)

    Tokyo International Airport is located in Ota, Tokyo.  It is commonly known as Haneda Airport.  Haneda consistently ranks among the world’s busiest passenger airports (ranking fourth in 2005), even though nearly all of its flights are to destinations withinJapan. By passenger throughput, Haneda is the busiest airport in Asia, handling 62.3 million passengers in 2004.  Most travel is serviced by Japan Airlines and Nippon Airways.

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    Local Phone Numbers

    U.S. Embassy Tokyo
    1-10-5 Akasaka
    Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420
    Unit 45004 Box 205
    APO AP 96337-5004
    (03) 3224-5000 / DSN (03) 224-5000 Switchboard
    Fax: (03) 3224-5914 / DSN (03) 224-5914 (all passport inquiries)
    Fax: (03) 3224-5856 / DSN (03) 224-5856 (all other non-visa inquiries)
    (03) 5354-4033 Visa Information

    U.S. Embassy Reference Service
    (formerly Tokyo American Center Reference Service)
    1-10-5 Akasaka, Minato-ku
    Tokyo 107-8420
    (03) 3224-5292
    Fax: 03-3505-4769
    Please make a reservation one day in advance before you come to the U.S. Embassy Reference Service for research, call between 9 a.m. and 12 noon, or 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

    Tokyo Regional Immigration Bureau
    5-5-30, Konan
    Minato-ku, Tokyo
    (03) 5796-7111
    This office can help with extensions of period of stay, permission to acquire or change status of residence, applications for Certificates of Eligibility, and consultation for residence procedures and re-entry permits.

    Tokyo English Life Line (TELL)
    (03) 5774-0992
    (03) 3498-0246
    Trained volunteers offer free telephone counseling and information in English seven days a week, from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM and 7:00 to 11:00 PM.

    Country Code 81
    Police 110
    Fire and Ambulance 119
    Marine 118
    Police English-Speaking (03) 3501-0110
    Fire English-Speaking (03) 3212-2323
    Mizuho Bank
    1-1-5, Uchisaiwaicho, Chiyoda-ku
    Tokyo 100-0011, Japan 
    (03) 3596-1111
    The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi
    2-7-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku
    Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation
    Sumitomo Shimbashi Building
    8-3 Shimbashi 1-chome, Minato-ku
    (03) 3573-4661
    UFJ Bank
    2-7-1 Marunouchi,Chiyoda-ku

    To call Japan from the US:
    011 is the international prefix used to dial somewhere outside of U.S.A..
    81 is the international code used to dial to Japan.
    03 is the local area or city code used to dial to Tokyo
    XXXX-XXXX   Exchange X with your number

    To call the USA from Japan:
    010 is the international prefix used to dial somewhere outside of Japan.
    1 is the international code used to dial to U.S.A..
    XXX There are multiple city/area codes for every city
    XXX-XXXX   Exchange X with your number

    Mobile phones
    Japan is a leader in mobile phone technology and usage. Mobile phones are omnipresent and have been constantly incorporating additional functions, such as internet browsers, games, cameras, televisions, wallets and train passes.

    Note however, that due to different technologies used, mobile phones from your home country, including GSM phones, are likely not to work in Japan.  Most other mobile phones in Japan are sold in combination with a monthly and yearly contract and are usually only available to residents of Japan. Foreign residents will need to present their alien registration card in order to subscribe to such a contract.

    Land line phones
    In Japan, conventional land line phone lines have be bought or rented. Buying a new phone line costs around 35,000 Yen, while buying a used phone line from somebody else is cheaper. Rented phone lines may not allow you to make international calls. Telephone lines are handled by NTT (Nippon Telegraph and Telephone).

    The local time in Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of New York

    Japan Standard Time Zone: UTC+9 hours = 8:00am
    NYC Standard Time Zone: GMT/UTC – 04:00 hour = 9:00pm

    Japan does not observe Day Light Saving time.


    1, 2 NHK Tokyo
    4 NTV
    5 TV Asahi
    6 TBS
    7 TV Tokyo
    8 Fuji TV
    9 Tokyo MX
    12 Open Univ.


    English Newspapers in Japan

    The Asahi Evening News
    5-3-2 Tsukiji, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0045

    Mainichi Daily News
    1-1-1 Hitotsubashi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0003

    Shipping and Trade News
    Tsukiji Hamarikyu Bldg.
    5-3-3 Tsukiji, Chuo-kKu, Tokyo 104-0045

    The Japan Times
    Japan Times Bldg., 4-5-4 Shibaura, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023

    The Yomiuri Shimbun
    1-7-1 Ohte-machi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-0004


    The typical Japanese meal consists of a bowl of rice (gohan), a bowl of miso soup (miso shiru), pickled vegetables (tsukemono) and fish or meat. While rice is the staple food, several kinds of noodles (udon, soba and ramen) are cheap and very popular for light meals. As an island nation, the Japanese take great pride in their seafood. A wide variety of fish, squid, octopus, eel, and shellfish appear in all kinds of dishes from sushi to tempura.

    There are plenty of restaurants where you can have a full meal for between 500 and 1000 Yen. Noodles (ramen, soba and udon), domburi (for example, beef domburi), curry rice, bibimba (Korean style domburi), hamburgers and many more types of dishes are available at such inexpensive restaurants. Look for them around and inside large train stations and in business areas.

    Most restaurants provide a hot towel for cleaning your hands before eating. It depends on the food, of course, but hashi (chopsticks) are the most widely used implements for eating. It’s not impolite to ask for a knife and fork or spoon if you have trouble with chopsticks.

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    Bridgestone Museum of Art (Bridgestone Bijutsukan)

    1-10-1 Kyobashi

    (03) 3563-0241

    This privately owned museum contains a small but impressive collection of French Impressionist art, as well as Japanese paintings in the Western style dating from the Meiji Period onward. This is one of the best of Tokyo’s private art museums.

    Edo-Tokyo Museum (Edo-Tokyo Hakubutsukan)

    1-4-1 Yokoami

    (03) 3626-9974

    This is the metropolitan government’s ambitious attempt to present the history, art, disasters, science, culture, and architecture of Tokyo from its humble beginnings in 1590 — when the first shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, made Edo (old Tokyo) the seat of his domain — to 1964, when Tokyo hosted the Olympics.

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    There is so much to see and do in Tokyo, ranging from visits to shrines, temples, and excellent museums, to trips throughout the various shopping areas. If you enjoy sightseeing, make sure to embark on a relaxing and fascinating 40 minute day cruise on the Sumida River between Asakusa and the Port of Tokyo.

    Tokyo is a shopper’s paradise. An amazing variety of high-quality goods and brand designer products can be found in elegant specialty shops located in Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya, Yurakucho, and Ikebukuro. The dazzling lights of Ginza, Japan’s answer to New York’s Fifth Avenue, and Tokyo’s most celebrated shopping district, attracts both the avid shopper and the window shopper alike.

    In the sports arena, baseball is big business in Tokyo. The spectacular Korakuen Dome, home of the popular Giants, features Japanese professional baseball games which are held regularly.

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    Sony Building

    5-3-1 Ginza

    (03) 3573-2371

    A popular place to kill an hour or so of free time in the Ginza, the Sony Building offers six floors of showrooms and amusements, as well as restaurants and shops. The latest in Sony video and digital cameras, high-definition TVs, CD and other portable players, laptops, and computers are all on display for public inspection. A PlayStation on the sixth floor has Sony games you can interact with for free.

    Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea

    1-1 Maihama

    (45) 683-3777

    Virtually a carbon copy of the back-home version, this one also boasts the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Space Mountain.

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    Sensoji Temple
    2-3-1 Asakusa
    (03) 3842-0181

    This is Tokyo’s oldest and most popular temple, with a history dating back to 628. That was when, according to popular lore, two brothers fishing in the nearby Sumida River netted the catch of their lives — a tiny golden statue of Kannon, the Buddhist goddess of mercy and happiness who is empowered with the ability to release humans from all suffering. Sensoji Temple (also popularly known as Asakusa Kannon) was erected in her honor, and although the statue is housed here, it’s never shown to the public.

    The Imperial Palace (Kyokyo)
    Hibiya Dori Ave

    The Imperial Palace, home of the imperial family, is the heart and soul of Tokyo. Built on the very spot where Edo Castle used to stand during the days of the Tokugawa shogunate, it became the imperial home upon its completion in 1888 and is now the residence of Emperor Akihito, 125th emperor of Japan. Destroyed during air raids in 1945, the palace was rebuilt in 1968 using the principles of traditional Japanese architecture.

    Zoo & Aquarium

    Ueno Zoo
    Ueno Park, Taito-ku
    (03) 3828-5171

    Founded back in 1882, Japan’s oldest zoo is small by today’s standards but remains one of the most well-known zoos in Japan, due in part to its giant panda, donated by the Chinese government to mark the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries following World War II.

    Sunshine International Aquarium
    3-1-3 Higashi Ikebukuro
    (43) 3989-3466

    Claiming to be the world’s highest aquarium, this Sunshine City complex is the unlikely home of more than 20,000 fish and animals, including dolphins, octopuses, eels, piranhas, sea horses, sea otters, seals, giant crabs, and rare — and rather weird — species of fish.


    Avoid shouting loudly at someone to get their attention–wave, or go up to them.

    It’s polite to initially refuse someone’s offer of help. Japanese may also initially refuse your offer even if they really want it. Traditionally an offer is made 3 times. It may be better to state you’ll carry their bag, call a taxi, etc., instead of pushing them to be polite and refuse.

    Avoid excessive physical and eye contact–forget the back-slapping, prodding, and pointing directly at someone with your finger (use your hand to point, if you must).  Japanese often use silence for communication as much as speaking.

    It’s polite to bring some food (gift-wrapped in more formal situations) or drinks when you visit someone.

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    Currency & Banking

    Japan remains strongly a cash-based society, and credit card companies use every incentive possible to try to supplant cash – but mostly in vain. Even in major cities, many smaller shops or restaurants do not accept cards at all, or if they do, they usually restrict its use (over a certain amount, or not for lunch in the case of quite of few restaurants).

    The Japanese currency is the Yen, literally meaning “circle”. One yen corresponds to 100 sen. However, sen are not used in everyday life anymore.   The Yen is the basic coin in Japan just as the cent is the basic coin in America.  Japanese money is called Okane. [Pronounced oh-kah-neh]

    Coins come in 1 Yen, 5 Yen, 10 Yen, 50 Yen, 100 Yen and 500 Yen.

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    Embassy & Visa

    U.S. Embassy Tokyo

    1-10-5 Akasaka

    Minato-ku, Tokyo 107-8420


    Unit 45004 Box 205

    APO AP 96337-5004

    (03) 3224-5000 / DSN (03) 224-5000 Switchboard

    Fax: (03) 3224-5914 / DSN (03) 224-5914 (all passport inquiries)

    Fax: (03) 3224-5856 / DSN (03) 224-5856 (all other non-visa inquiries)

    (03) 5354-4033 Visa Information

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    The Japanese healthcare system is based on the principal of universal, national health care for virtually all citizens. This system, established in 1961, has helped people obtain medical treatment anywhere in Japan. It is also credited with helping Japanachieve the longest life expectancy in the world.  The life expectancy as of 2003 of people living in the Japan is 80.9 and the 2003 infant mortality rate is 3.3 per 1,000 live births.

    Although Japan has a system of universal health coverage,  individuals may receive coverage quite differently. Under this system, Japanese are required to join the health insurance plan for which they qualify, depending on their status. Farmers and the self-employed, for example, must join the health insurance plans which are managed by their local government, while salaried workers at small companies are in the central government-managed insurance plan. It can be divided into two broad categories: National Health Insurance and Employees’ Health Insurance. Membership in either program is compulsory.

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    Some of the world’s most expensive land can be found in central Tokyo. Consequently, even tiny apartments in the city center are very expensive. However, housing costs are distinctly lower in Tokyo’s suburbs, surrounding prefectures and in other regions and cities of Japan. Additional commuting costs are often more than compensated by the savings on the rent, especially as many Japanese companies pay part or all of their employees’ commuting expenses. If you prefer to live close to city centers, gaijin houses are an inexpensive option to consider.

    Utilities such as gas, water and especially electricity are expensive, and phone rates are high. For international calls, consider callback services and other offers for the expat community.

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    Postal Service

    Post offices provide a range of postal services including the shipping of post cards, letters, parcels and registered mail as well as savings and insurance services. Door-to-door delivery services, known as takuhaibin, are also provided by various companies other than the post office.

    Small post offices are open Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 17:00 and are closed on weekends and national holidays. Larger offices are opened on weekdays until 19:00 and may also open on Saturdays and Sundays. Most post offices are equipped with international automatic teller machines (ATMs). Mailboxes are red.

    Japanese Addresses

    With the exception of major roads, Japanese streets are not named. Instead, cities and towns are subdivided into areas, sub-areas and blocks, similar to the insulae system of the Roman Empire.

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    Higher Education

    If all the institutes of higher learning in Tokyo were counted, they would number over 200.  Tokyo University is the most respected state university and Waseda and Keio are two private universities held in high regard.

    University of Tokyo

    7-3-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku

    Tokyo 113-8654

    (03) 5841-2089

    The University of Tokyo consists of 10 faculties, 15 graduate schools, eleven affiliated research institutes, 21 university-wide centers and various other large and small research and educational facilities promoting diverse advanced research and educational activities. It has about 7,600 teaching and administrative staff on three campuses at Hongo, Komaba and Kashiwa.

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    Compulsory Education

    After the Second World War, the Americans reformed the Japanese education system which consists of six years of elementary school, each three years of junior and senior high school and four years of university or two years of junior college.

    Compulsory education includes elementary school and junior high school. Over 90% of all students also graduate from high school and over 40% from university or junior college. At universities the percentage of male students is higher than that of female students while the opposite is the case at junior colleges. The number of graduate university students is relatively low.

    The Japanese school year starts in April and consists of three terms, separated by short holidays in spring and winter, and a one month long summer break.

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