Tokyo: Love It or Hate It? 

Tokyo needs talent, but what do long-term residents really think about the city? We asked for your opinions and you didn’t hold back.

Courtesy on Tokyo's streets: Japanese drivers are required by law to give way to pedestrians, even when there's no crossing. (Flickr/TakeshiGS)
Courtesy on Tokyo’s streets: Japanese drivers are required by law to give way to pedestrians, even when there’s no crossing. (Flickr/TakeshiGS)

I am a city boy at heart so I enjoy being able to experience city living without the crime. I have basically never feared for my personal safety in the 10 years I have lived here.

Tokyo is clean, orderly, and safe.  Public transportation is excellent – I got a Japanese driver’s license, but never needed a car.  Customer service is great – where else in the world will a convenience store clerk run after you to return a 1-yen coin you dropped?

Outside of rush hour trains, the occasional crazy person or drunk, people are usually polite, well-mannered, and helpful.

Tokyo is a world capital of food. The range of culinary options is extraordinary and often surprisingly cheap.
Tokyo is a world capital of food. The range of culinary options is extraordinary and often surprisingly cheap.

The variety of food, nightlife, and having almost every train stop as a mini city to explore keeps me excited, even after 17 years.

Tokyo is full of festivals and events and amazing restaurants: not just the Michelin variety, but hole-in-the-wall yakitori joints and izakaya.

The crime rate is ridiculously low. The service mindset is impeccable. And I can’t remember one time where the food was bad. On top of that, the whole Onsen and bathing culture should be exported everywhere.

Away from the main transport hubs, Tokyo can feel like a village at street level. Most essential conveniences are clustered around local train stations.
Away from the main transport hubs, Tokyo can feel like a village at street level. Most essential conveniences are clustered around local train stations.

The city is clean and there is entertainment everywhere, plus you can get your hands on anything. However, the lack of nature is disturbing. The odd occasion when I heard birdsong put me in shock when I realised I hadn’t heard a bird singing in forever.

Tokyo itself is just too big and dense. It lacks green or open space sufficient for healthily living. There’s also a lack of urban planning to support alternate modes of commuting like bikes.

Quality of life is poor in overcrowded, polluted Tokyo. People work hard, not efficient. And internationalization for some reason seems to be a bigger hurdle than in other countries.

Seasonal events like Hanami, or cherry-blossom viewing, are celebrated in Tokyo as religiously as they are across Japan. (Flickr/kalcul)
Seasonal events like Hanami, or cherry-blossom viewing, are celebrated in Tokyo as religiously as they are across Japan. (Flickr/kalcul)

The way cultural traditions are continued and enjoyed by the people should be envied and emulated by other nations such as the UK where they have all been forgotten about and consigned to the history books.

I like the holiday times, like Golden Week, when you can see the relaxed and having fun side of Japanese society. I don’t like keigo and overly polite staff.

The people are great and very welcoming. The bureaucracy, however, is ridiculous, and common sense often does not prevail.

Despite the cleanliness and efficiency of public transport, packed rush-hour trains are a major source of discomfort, pointing to a general low acceptance of flexible working. (Flickr/Alessandro Baffa)
Despite the cleanliness and efficiency of public transport, packed rush-hour trains are a major source of discomfort, pointing to a general low acceptance of flexible working. (Flickr/Alessandro Baffa)

I would consider myself an urban child/person, but the stuffed trains – especially in the evenings of “bonenkai” season, and early mornings – get me every time.

It’s anything-goes on rush hour trains. The city is generally ugly and full of drab ferroconcrete buildings – yes, I know they’re earthquake resistant. There’s a lot of noise pollution: election trucks, right-wingers, bosozoku, and speakers screaming “irrashaimase”.

I love the immaculate and timely Shinkansen service. I have utmost respect for their building engineers – they know how to construct quake-proof buildings.

Tokyo's working culture is a great divider of opinion. Some people admire the dedication to duty, while others want to see improved efficiencies. (Flickr/Phillip Kalantzis Cope)
Tokyo’s working culture is a great divider of opinion. Some people admire the dedication to duty, while others want to see improved efficiencies. (Flickr/Phillip Kalantzis Cope)

I love the group harmony and teamwork oriented conduct of business. However, it can negatively impact the final result as it is very time consuming and negative points are not clearly stated amongst the group members.

Japanese fundamentally do not value time when it comes to office work. There’s an attitude that it’s an unlimited resource so no one tries to be efficient because even if you complete everything, you’ll just be tasked with more work. This keeps Tokyoites in their offices far longer than need be and deprives them of both of the needed sleep and leisure to recharge and be effective in their lives.

I like that people generally just put their heads down and work their butts off. And when it’s time to play, they play. It seems very much like a well-oiled machine. I don’t know if I would have looked at this as necessarily a good thing 10 years ago, but now it’s a big reason why I prefer to stay.

The sun mostly shines for the long-term Tokyo residents in our survey. But work-related frustrations cast a shadow over the Tokyo experience for many.
The sun mostly shines for the long-term Tokyo residents in our survey. But work-related frustrations cast a shadow over the Tokyo experience for many.

It would be nice to see corporations move out to support other municipalities and prefectures. At the same time Tokyo could be opened up to beautify the city more.

I personally have no qualms with Tokyo life. My opinion is that many foreigners living here become quite complacent because they have a higher sense of entitlement than Japanese people do. As Westerners we often talk about Japanese bureaucracy being a major problem as if it didn’t exist back home, but it really does. Japan is my chosen home because I seem to slot into society here with little effort and this place treats me very well as a result. OK, there is just one thing… the TV does suck.

So does the TV back home!

Final thoughts?

Tokyo has been increasing its efforts to attract skilled workers from overseas, a new trend for this notoriously insular global city. Long-term Tokyo residents in our survey point to many benefits: a feeling of security, impeccable customer service, and respect for cultural traditions.

At the same time, Tokyo’s work culture is frequently called out for criticism. Bureaucracy, long working hours, and the cultural conformity that leads to packed morning trains are the most common barriers to the pursuit of happiness in the world’s largest city.

Companies that can successfully negate these frustrations will be the big winners in the race for global talent that is already taking hold in Tokyo, as in so many other world capitals.

Responses came from 20 long-term Tokyo residents during January 2017.

Workers University

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