A year ago, my wife and I decided to pull the trigger and move from Gunma, where J-List is based, to Tokyo, 100 km to the south, on the weekends. Our kids had grown up, and since I’m able to work anywhere there’s an Internet connection, we decided we’d spend the weekends in Japan’s capital, exploring restaurants and museums and other cool stuff like that. Here are six things I learned by moving to Tokyo!
You Walk a Lot in Tokyo
One of the reasons we made the move was for health. Thanks to needing to walk 1-2 km to get to the train station or to my gym is a lot better than back home in Gunma, where we drive everywhere. Another benefit: having millions of thin and stylish people around you provides lots of social pressure to get healthier ourselves.
75% of Restaurants are Either Chinese or Indian
Tokyo appears to have a law that says three out of every four restaurants is required to serve either Indian or Chinese food. When my wife and I walk from Shinjuku Station to our condo, we pass something like five Chinese restaurants and six Indian curry establishments. While we love both kinds of food, we’ve started getting burned out on both. When you add in the number of Boba Tea places exploding in Tokyo, it leaves very little space left for other kinds of food or drink.
Convenience Stores and Lack of Vegetables
Even if you’ve never visited Japan, you probably know that conbini like Seven-Eleven, Lawson, Family Mart and so are pretty cool. They’re literally islands of convenience, offering all kinds of foods and drinks in a uniform way that great for everyone. You can buy awesome bento, steaming meat buns, alcohol, ice cream, and pretty much everything. You can even pay with newfangled cashless payment systems.
The problem is that, while convenience stores are pretty awesome, everything they sell is extremely processed, and after a few months of eating most of our meals from the local Lawson (or the even more awesome 100 yen Lawson next door), we started to feel the influence of eating so much processed food.
Another issue is the lack of vegetables at the small supermarkets in Tokyo, or at least, lack of vegetables of the quality that we’d actually buy them and enjoy eating them. As a result, we go overboard when back home in Gunma, making extravagant salads and other vegetable dishes to make up for our time in Tokyo.
Lots of Greenery, and Kids Everywhere
As I wrote in my post about Japan’s birth rate challenges, before we made the move to Tokyo, I was expecting our new life to involve a lot of asphalt and concrete. Little did I know there are some great parks in Tokyo right near us, including Yoyogi Park and Chuo Koen Park in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. As a result we feel we’ve got more nature and greenery around us in Tokyo than we had back home in Gunma, where we’re usually inside the office surrounded by computers and hentai products.
We were also surprised at the number of children we see in Tokyo. Gunma is a great place to raise kids, with lots of space for them to run around and be loud, and I always imagined nothing could be worse than to raise kids in a big city like Tokyo. But I see happy families all around us, spending time at the park with their parents and having lots of fun, and everything seems fine.
Tokyo is Remarkably Cheap
When my son moved to Tokyo to attend university, I was naturally nervous about the costs, expecting a big city to be extremely expensive. And while Tokyo isn’t extremely cheap, it is pretty reasonable. My son’s rent for a one-bedroom apartment was around $700 a month, and the high-rise condo my wife and I are in now is only $2000 a month, quite a bit less little than in other world-class cities.
Food can be surprisingly cheap, if you follow some rules. For example, never eat in touristy areas like around Shinjuku Station, but keep walking until the prices fall to a more reasonable level. West Shinjuku, with its thousands of government and office workers, can be a super cheap place to get bento or curry for 500 yen ($4.60) around lunchtime, and competition forces the izakaya to offer all-you-can-drink plans for a pretty reasonable cost. Some of the bars are downright cheap, too.
All my regular places in Omoide no Yokocho are filled with foreigners visiting for the #RWC2019. So I’m drinking at another place that’s cheap af. This maguro sashimi is 200 yen (us$1.87). pic.twitter.com/g7uEVEqrp5
— Peter Payne (@JListPeter) October 6, 2019
I’ve Fallen in Love with “Depa-Chika”
In the U.S., when I see a department store, I don’t generally think to myself, “I’ll bet there’s a really awesome supermarket in the basement of that store.” But in Japan, there usually is. They’re called depa-chika, or below-ground supermarkets underneath a department store, and they contain awesome things to discover, like individual mini-kiosks selling exotic foods, cakes so delicious you’ll remember eating them for years, freshly baked shio-pan (buttered bread rolls with salt), limited Kit Kat flavors, and more. They can be expensive — $15 for a hand-crafted piece of cake baked by a Japanese chef who underwent years of training as a pâtissier in Paris — but life is too short to not try amazing things every once in a while.
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