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Moving to Tokyo

This airplane takes you to the world's largest metropolitan area.

After arriving in the Japanese capital, you won’t be surprised that its official Japanese name is Tōkyō-to (the metropolis of Tokyo). Nobody would guess that Japan’s largest metropolitan region has its origins in a sleepy village near the mouth of the Sumida River.

Edo (‘bay entrance’ or ‘estuary’), as it was called, did not have any political or cultural importance until a 15th-century nobleman built Edo Castle. Today this is part of the country’s Imperial Palace grounds, a sight that attracts countless visitors and expatriates.

Around 1600, this castle became the seat of Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan’s first military dictator. Suddenly, the country’s political power players and the upper classes started moving to Tokyo. Due to the influx of Tokugawa retainers in Tokyo — still known as Edo — it became the world’s largest city, with a million inhabitants by the mid-1700s.

The Great East Japan Earthquake

Occasionally, earthquakes take place in the Greater Tokyo Area and all over Japan. Most of them are quite harmless. Unfortunately, in March 2011 a major earthquake of nearly 9.0 on the Richter scale shook the ground of Japan’s east coast, causing a devastating flood wave. The tsunami destroyed many towns along the east coast and resulted in up to 19,000 lives being lost.

Furthermore, a nuclear power plant near Fukushima was heavily damaged. A considerable amount of radiation was set free. The government eventually declared an area with a radius of 20–30 km around Fukushima a prohibited zone. Neither local residents nor visitors may enter this area.

The long-term results of this disaster on both the environment and the economy of northeast Japan are yet to be determined. However, foreigners moving to Tokyo from abroad will be relieved to hear that life in the capital is back to normal by now. If you are worried about the potential long-term effects of radiation, please contact your diplomatic mission in Tokyo for further health and safety information or have a look at the current radiation levels in various prefectures on the official MEXT homepage.

Tokyo in the 21st Century

By the population of its administrative area, contemporary Tokyo ranks only between10th and 20th biggest city around the globe. However, the Greater Tokyo Area — with commuters moving to the city and back to the suburbs on a daily basis — ranks first on most worldwide comparison lists. Moving to Tokyo can thus be a confusing and overwhelming experience!

Tokyo is one of 47 Japanese prefectures (regional authorities comprising municipalities)  and is furthermore divided into 23 special wards (ku). The ward system evolved in order to meet the special needs of such a big metropolis as Tokyo; each ward forms a town of its own. But moving to Tokyo on an expatriate assignment can also mean settling even beyond the prefectural boundaries. It reaches far into adjacent prefectures, including the cities of Chiba, Saitama, and Yokohama.

The Metropolis

However, moving to Tokyo certainly means not only moving to a world of commuters and suburbia, as depicted in William Gibson’s cult novel Neuromancer. Your relocation will introduce you to expatriate life in a global hot media capital — one of the world’s largest urban economies.

This ultra-dynamic city offers plenty of tourist attractions foreigners moving to Tokyo should not miss. After moving to Tokyo, you never know when, in between hypermodern architecture, you will stumble upon a sight reminiscent of old Edo.

Expat Neighborhoods

Among the circa 420,000 foreign residents who completed moving to Tokyo, there are many British, Chinese, Filipino, French, Korean, and US American gaijin (‘foreigners’). Some nationalities are living in foreign-dominated neighborhoods, such as the Korean quarter near Shin-Ōkubo station, but most expats moving to Tokyo choose their home according to practical considerations.

These very considerations — proximity to work, international schools, public transportation, shopping facilities, etc. — do make some wards and districts more popular than others. While it’s, of course, impossible to introduce all 23 ku, we can highlight some areas where expatriates moving to Tokyo choose to live.

Everything within the circumference of the Yamanote Line is centrally located, attractive for foreign residents, and even more expensive than is usual for Tokyo. Nonetheless, quite a few expatriates settle within the eight most central wards, e.g. in Meguro, Minato, Shinjuku, and Shibuya.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

Edmund Taylor

"Tokyo has so much to offer and InterNations made it much easier to become acclimated to life in this bustling city."

Marina Salgado

"In such a huge city, InterNations has created great events for expats to meet in Tokyo."

Expat Magazine