Tokyo at a Glance
Living in TokyoiStockphoto
Tokyo is an urban jungle with lots of hidden cultural treasures.
Upon arriving in Tokyo, you will probably notice that Japan is a relatively homogeneous society, ethnically and culturally, but Tokyo is an exception to this rule. Over 420,000 foreigners are currently living in Tokyo, among them numerous expats, as well as migrant workers from China, the Philippines, or Korea.
Living in Tokyo’s central wards is especially popular among more affluent expatriates. We have described this in our overview of moving to Tokyo and the neighborhoods that expats prefer.
This article should give you a brief introduction to daily life in Tokyo. If you have seen the award-winning US movie Lost in Translation (2003), you may remember that it depicts the city as lonely and alienating. Sofia Coppola’s portrayal of solitary life in Tokyo was criticized for its caricature of modern Japan, which is a far cry from reality.
The earthquake of March 2011 and the resulting nuclear disaster caused an increase in local radiation levels. The area around Fukushima’s nuclear power plant has been declared a prohibited zone.
Radiation levels initially increased in Tokyo as well, and various governments issued travel warnings for Japan. However, these warnings were lifted a long while ago, and the Greater Tokyo Area is considered safe. Please refer to our articles on Japan for further information and contact the nearest Japanese Embassy or Consulate.
There are no other travel health warnings for the Tokyo area at the moment. As far as immunizations are concerned, doctors recommend a standard set of tetanus, polio, diphtheria, and hepatitis A/B vaccinations.
Foreigners interested in living in Tokyo may be glad to hear that medical standards in Japan are very high. However, medical care can be fairly expensive, depending on the clinic and your insurance plan.
The language barrier is often the biggest problem for expatriates. Doctors and nurses in Japan do not necessarily speak English or another foreign language. Therefore, quite a few embassies offer lists of recommended medical service providers for their nationals living in Tokyo.
Medical Insurance Options
As a foreign resident living in Tokyo for one year or more, you have to enroll in the national healthcare plan (see our article on living in Japan). Unfortunately, many doctors, medical specialists, and clinics catering to foreigners are private and do not accept public health insurance. Expats often take out additional health insurance from a private provider.
If you don’t have any private medical insurance, always enquire first if patients enrolled in the Japanese National Health Insurance plan are welcome. However, if you can afford it or if your employer is willing to support you, getting private healthcare is essential for expat life in Tokyo.
If your doctor accepts the options of the National Health Insurance Plan, don’t forget to bring your health insurance card to every visit. Otherwise, you have to pay in cash. You also have to pay for 30% of medical costs, not covered by the public option, from your own pocket immediately. Taking enough cash to the doctor’s is therefore necessary.
Most patients with private medical insurance also have to pay on the spot and then file an insurance claim to be reimbursed later. Some private insurance providers do have direct billing services with selected clinics, though. Many international clinics in Tokyo also accept credit cards as a form of payment. Since this is not a given, however, make sure to ask about payment methods and billing options beforehand.
Further Medical Information
If you have any further questions on medical care in Tokyo, just call the AMDA International Medical Information Center. They provide information in English, Chinese, Tagalog, Korean, Portuguese, Thai, and Spanish (03-5285-8088).
A similar service in English, Chinese, Korean, Thai, and Spanish is offered by the Metropolitan Health and Medical Information Center for foreign residents living in Tokyo. It is available daily from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm (03-5285-8181). The latter also has a translation hotline for medical services (03-5285-8185, Monday-Friday 5:00 pm-8:00 pm, all other days 9:00 am-8:00 pm).