For the past five years, Lisa has been living happily in Tokyo with her husband and two teenage children. The family has just recently moved into their second new Tokyo home, while the teenage siblings near the end of their middle school studies.
Could you tell me what your neighborhood is like?
We live in Moto-Azabu, which mainly consists of houses, low-rise apartments and some greenery thanks to the local park. It feels more like a quiet neighborhood rather than an overwhelming concrete city. On top of that, our area is really convenient as it is littered with shops and restaurants. We have the luxury of enjoying either the more traditional and slow paced Azabu Juban area or the modern and bustling Roppongi Hills. There’s a high concentration of expats living in the area, so it isn’t so hard to make new friends if you don’t speak Japanese.
Are there any particular places in your neighborhood you and your family enjoy going to?
There’s one in particular that works well for me at the moment, and that is the Tokyo Tennis Club, which happens to be across the street! My husband plays with the expat softball team at the field just by the tennis club. My kid’s friends are all living within walking distance so they often go out for little outings to coffee shops or play in the park. It’s nice that we can give our kids the freedom since it’s very safe here.
What were your requirements when choosing an apartment and location?
We were looking for a place, which had a neighborhood and family friendly vibe as opposed to a business-like feel. Easy access to the kid’s school was a must and we couldn’t have asked for more since the school bus stop is literally on our doorstep! As for the apartment itself, we needed a four-bedroom apartment because our kids are getting older and they’ll need their own space. I wanted to have large sized appliances such as big stoves, washers and dryers, which just makes things a little easier for us. We also looked for good security, meaning cameras, a front desk and an intercom system. At the end of the day, if you can have your kids all set and happy, then the rest is a walk in the park.
Which things really impress you about your apartment?
I think what impresses me is when you enter the building; you’re entering an apartment building. But by the time you get to our home’s entrance and walk in, it’s like a house. We also like the peace and quiet here as well as having many windows to allow natural light in. We love the amount of space we have here because it feels more like our home in the US. A typical night can be my son doing his homework in his bedroom, my husband is upstairs in the office, my daughter is up in her room, and maybe I’m cleaning the kitchen. Of course we love spending time with each other, but we can also accomplish our own things without getting in each other’s way. In fact, just recently my boy had six of his friends sleeping over at our place and they all managed to fit comfortably in his bedroom. Finally, our garden is something I’m really proud of as we recently had it all redone by the building’s gardener.
What has helped you to settle since moving to Japan?
I think talking to other expats was helpful. There was a class through the Tokyo American Club called ‘Tokyo here and now’, which offers classes twice a year for new foreign residents. It was a three day class involving information on cultural awareness and things like that. But the key to this class is the fact that everyone is new to Japan and they are all in the same boat. Actually, some of the people I met in that class five years ago are now my closest friends. In addition, I also get involved in the school community and events so I got to know a lot other mothers that way.
What concerns did you have prior to arriving here in Japan?
Well we had lived in the US our whole lives, so this was all brand new to us. I had phone conferences with expats already living in Japan armed with a ton of questions. I just couldn’t picture what life would be like here, but fortunately for us I already had a friend living in Tokyo for me to visit. After having lots of in depth discussions, I realized how happy and comfortable she was, which made me realize that I can do the same too.
How is life in Japan now compared to when you first came?
It’s definitely much easier. We didn’t own a car in our first year, but that just helped us to get more familiar with our surroundings. Of course the language barrier made life a bit difficult at times, but I have all my basics down now so I rarely come across major hurdles. The amazing thing is that the Japanese don’t give up on you. If you don’t understand them they just keep trying to help you, which shows how kind and patient they are towards us.
Why did you choose Ken and how have they continued their support?
Well our company pointed us to Ken to start with as well as recommendations from friends who had previously lived in Japan. They all mentioned how happy they were with their apartments and the service Ken provided. As service goes, our agent checks in on us from time to time via email or telephone, which is really nice and reassuring, even after being here for five years. I can always rely on him to help us with any queries we may have at any time.
Could you share some advice for the people interested in moving to Japan?
I would encourage them to talk with people who have experience living in Japan. Make a list of all the questions and concerns you may have and try to have a phone conference with them. Try to get things taken care of even before you arrive to make the transition as smooth as possible. Even after so much preparation, you will probably have a whole new set of questions to ask after you arrive so don’t feel stupid to ask. Although it can be overwhelming on arrival, you should try to get involved with communities as much as possible. Doing things you used to do back home can make you and your family more comfortable and will ultimately make your life here all the more enjoyable.