Tokyo Apartments Rent Blog - August 2012

How to Take a Japanese Traintitle


Japan simply couldn't function without its amazing electrical rail networks, which are continuously upgraded with new technology and rolling stock due to the wear and tear of transporting tens of millions of people every day. A trainspotter's utopia from one end to the other, the country is also home to an entire cult devoted to the evolution of Japanese rail. There are magazines, museums and multiple gatherings of the likeminded devoted to the nostalgic longings evoked by trains of the past, and the wonder stimulated by the cutting edge technologies continuously introduced in high-speed rail.
Without a doubt, Japan’s electric rail system is a truly great achievement of Japanese civilization, and is deserving of its reputation as the world's safest, most reliable and punctual. Indeed, in the rare instances of accidents, injuries or deaths due to human or systemic error, one can be forgiven for wondering why more don’t occur, given the shear scale of the system itself and the number of people using it every day.

All Aboard

A busy Tokyo railway station can be a chaotic and confusing place, and even the signs you are able to read are often confounding in some way or another. If you don’t already have a pass, you will have to locate the Kippu Uriba (Ticket Sales) area and buy a ticket at a vending machine, which usually has an English button and fairly clear operating instructions. Japan is high tech. Above, a large map of the system marked with fares to the various stations will tell you the price of the ticket you need to buy. Insert money, push the button of the price you want, receive ticket. At the wicket, insert the ticket into the slot and pick it up as you pass through the gate, as you’ll need it to get out of the destination station.
If you have an IC card (Suica Card or PASMO card) or other pass you can sail right through the automated ticket wicket by simply touching the card to the spot like everybody else. If you don't have enough credit on your IC card the wicket will slam the gates and throw a noisy fit, so you will have to go charge it at the Kippu Uriba.

Ticket Options

Commuter Passes

Monthly commuter passes (teiki-ken) for working people (tsukin teiki-ken) and students (tsugaku teiki-ken) will, for a fixed price, permit unlimited travel between the station nearest home and the one nearest the office or school. Most Japanese companies provide employees with a tsukin teiki-ken as part of the employment package, which can add up to an enormous personal savings over time, especially if most or all of one’s daily needs can be had at shops nearby stations between home and workplace.

Coupon Tickets

Discount coupon tickets (kaisu-ken) provide savings up to 10% from the original ticket price for trains as well as buses and are a logical choice for people who visits the same destination regularly. These typically come in a pack of 11 tickets for the price of 10.

One-day Ticket

A one-day ticket (ichinichi josha-ken) allows passengers unlimited rides on the specific day, making it a great option for a day of sightseeing in Tokyo.

Round-trip Ticket

A round-trip ticket (ofuku-kippu) from one specific station to another is also available, sometimes at a discounted price.

Unlimited Three-day Pass

The JR Kanto Area Pass (East Japan Railway Company), at ¥8,000, provides enormous value for anyone planning to move around for sight-seeing over a period of three consecutive days. It allows unlimited travel throughout Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto region, home to numerous popular destinations), and is available to all non-Japanese passport holders, unlike the Japan Rail Pass, which is not available to expatriates residing in Japan.

Useful Links:

Japan-Guide on Railways
JR-EAST, East Japan Railway Company
Tokyo Metro Co., Ltd.

Train Timetables

Timetables are prevalent outside and inside of stations, and there are a variety of useful websites and smartphone apps, especially in Japanese, for determining the best way to get from A to B, and the cost. 

TrainRouteFinder by Jorudan Co., Ltd.
Hyperdia by Hitachi Systems, Ltd.
Yahoo Japan Loco (Japanese only)

The Pink Cow

I have traveled to many places in the world.  Wherever I go I try to find an establishment that feels comfortable, a place I can call my home away from home.  In Tokyo it’s easy to find a really good place to eat but it may be harder to find a good spot to hang out on Saturday nights.  I like having places in the city where I can just show up unannounced, and feel the night will be ok.  Just like that classic American TV hit, Cheers, I enjoy having a place where everybody knows my name. 
Several years ago I found just the establishment.  It’s called the Pink Cow and it is every bit as funky as its name. The Pink Cow is a restaurant.  If you go there you will find a great selection of delicious foods, which have been prepared by their long-time chef Andy Warden.  Each dish tastes like good old-fashioned home cooking and the portions are generous, by Tokyo standards. If you are lucky enough to show up on a day when they have homemade brownies you will praise the heavens for chocolate.  
The Pink Cow was also meant to be a community space for creative expression. If you go there you will find an eclectic mix of professional and amateur performances.  I love it.  It reminds me of my hometown.  There was a café on the corner of my street that had live music, poetry readings and a big variety of performing arts happening every night.  When I first moved to Tokyo that place was the thing I missed most until I found The Pink Cow. Just like the café in my old neighborhood, The Pink Cow has live bands, poetry, knitting circles, networking meetings, improv comedy, movie night, body painting and just about anything you could imagine.
Traci Consoli is the mastermind behind the Pink Cow.  She is a California native, a painter and sculptor.  The first day I met her she was wearing an outrageous outfit that consisted of a mini skirt, high boots, and a Russian style bear fur looking hat.  She told me she wanted the Pink Cow to be a place where people could freely exchange ideas, express themselves artistically, and encounter new people.
I admit, the Pink Cow isn’t for everyone.  Some people like a little less vaudeville and a lot more Grey Poupon. You won’t find fancy waiters in black and white uniforms moving about to answer your beck and call.  When you walk in the door you can seat yourself wherever you like.  You can even stand and eat if you want. Traci will tell you herself, “This is your home too.  Make yourself comfortable.” So, if you just want to disappear into the background and be served in ceremonious fashion then don’t go to the Pink Cow.
However, if you don’t feel like being alone, if you are new in town and want to make new friends, if you are looking for a regular hangout spot, if you are dying to have something that tastes like home cooking, if you enjoy laughing and hearing the sounds of celebration, if you enjoy the local scene, if you like meeting people from all over the world, and if you love having an experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the whole gigantic metropolis of Tokyo then the Pink Cow is for you.
The Pink Cow relocated from Shibuya to Roppongi.  The opening party is on September 1, 2012.  For more information, a monthly calendar, and a map visit the Pink Cow’s website.

Living in Japan: Public Transportation


The Japanese transportation system is a wonder of the modern world. Whether traveling by train, taxi or bus, one can expect a clean, orderly, safe and highly punctual service, if not a low-cost one, and most always provided by courteous and helpful drivers, conductors and other crisply uniformed officials. Japan's train system operates pretty much right on the clock most all of the time, making it a reliable way to get around town and between cities, while taxis, which can get stuck in a wall of traffic or go to the wrong place through misunderstanding, are at least clean, comfortable and honest, and easy to locate and hail. Buses are especially convenient, although also at the mercy of traffic conditions.
For any resident of Japan, there are many options that make for moving about the city a quick and easy part of daily life. Just the right mix of personal vehicles and public transportation services are the way to make even the most congested cities like Tokyo and Osaka convenient and pleasant places to live and work, despite the crowds and chaos. Here are some things to know about getting around Tokyo—first, related to Japanese signage and language issues, as well as the popularity of pre-paid IC card systems, followed by future posts on the various modes of transportation, as well as driving in Japan.

The Language Factor

Even short-term residents who have no need or intention of learning the Japanese language still have to remember Japanese train station and bus stop and area names, which are not always displayed in English on signage, maps and Internet services. Moreover, train and bus announcements are always in Japanese, of course, but only occasionally in English.
This makes it a good idea to spend a few weeks at the outset of your stay in Japan learning the fundamentals of Japanese kanji and kana, and familiarizing yourself with the written Japanese names of the train lines, key stations, areas of the city and other locations relevant to your life, as it will make it easier to use the Japanese signage to move around Tokyo and beyond. It’s also important to understand how Japanese pronunciation works and the ability to imitate it reasonably well, in order to help avoid many of the frustrations that come from interacting with Japanese taxi and bus drivers, train system officials, and other people who staff the Japanese transportation system, most of whom can be expected to have a poor or nonexistent command of English.
At the end of the day, however, one need not ever worry in Japan, as the Japanese especially like helping a lost foreigner, and don’t expect him or her to speak the language. So feel free to stop someone and politely ask in English where you are or how to get to where you want to go. Just be patient, because often they don’t know themselves, may lack confidence in their own English ability, or simply be pronouncing English in intelligible ways.

Pre-paid Systems

Japan’s rail and bus ticketing system has largely gone the way of pre-paid systems like IC Cards and mobile phone based services. The Train stations still have ticket machines, but they are largely used for dispensing and charging IC cards like Suica (Super Urban Intelligent Card by Japan Railway) and PASMO (Passnet system used by many non JR lines in the Tokyo area), and other pre-paid services. Most pre-paid services, including mobile phone based services, can be used for trains, buses and taxis, as well as at a variety of retail shops and vending machines.

Suica Card and PASMO

Suica and PASMO cards require a returnable deposit of ¥500 to obtain (included in the first charge), and can be continuously recharged at railway stations in various 1,000-yen increments to an upper limit of ¥10,000 and more.
JR-EAST (East Japan Railway Company)
Suica Card
PASMO Co., Ltd.

Suica & N’EX

For customers holding non-Japanese passports, a special Suica & N’EX card is available, which includes a Narita Express (N’EX) one-way ticket from Narita International Airport to Tokyo or Yokohama plus a Suica Card. It can be purchased at Narita International Airport Terminal 1 Travel Service Center or Terminal 2 Travel Service Center during office hours (open 365 days a year).
JR-EAST (East Japan Railway Company)
Suica & N'EX

Living in Japan: The Essentials


Living in Japan:  The Essentials

Tokyo is without a doubt an exciting place to live.  Nowhere on earth can one find quite the same blend of modernism, traditional culture, avant-garde youth movements, excitement, and tranquility in one bustling metropolis. The fact that Tokyo is ultra convenient, clean, and relatively crime free makes it a true wonder to behold.  Still, even in a city like Tokyo emergencies can happen.  When they do the hardship can be infinitely compounded by not knowing where to go to get the help you need in a language you can understand.So, in order to help make your life in Tokyo as stress free as possible, I have compiled a helpful list of places you can contact to get help when you need it.

Police & Ambulance

As I mentioned above Tokyo has a very low crime rate.  Compared to other megacities around the world, theft and violent crime are almost non-existent.  No matter how safe Tokyo is it is not an accident free zone.  Fate does favorthe prepared so knowing the following numbers will come in handy if you need an ambulance, the fire department, or the police.

Police: 110
Ambulance and Fire Department: 119

Ambulance services in Japan are free of charge.  Of course, these numbers are intended for emergency use only.   Both 110 and 119 can be dialed from a regular phone, public phone, or cell phone.
Tokyo is infamous for its hard-to-figure-out addressing system.  If you have to call one of the above emergency numbers but you don’t know the address you should try, if possible, to call from a public payphone. All calls from public payphones are traced automatically.  To make an emergency call from a payphone just pick up the receiver, press the red emergency button and dial 110 or 119.

Natural Disasters

The two biggest natural disasters residents of Tokyo have to consider are earthquakes and typhoons.  Don’t worry. Hollywood and the media make both of these seem more monstrous than they really are.  By taking the proper action you can greatly improve your ability to insure your own safety.


Earthquakes happen on a regular basis.  The vast majority of them are extremely mild and of no cause for concern.  If a major earthquake were to happen the first and most important thing you should do is remain calm.  Blind panic will put you at greater risk.  Stay safe by keeping your wits about you.
  1. Do not try to go outside until the shaking has stopped.  Power lines and other falling objects are infinitely more dangerous than the shaking building.
  2. If you have a strong table get under it and hold on to one of the table legsuntil the shaking has stopped.
  3. If there is no table available kneel down next to an interior wall (walls on the inside of the house that do not face outside.  Cover your head and neck with your hands and wait for the shaking to stop.
  4. If you are in bed the best thing to do is cover your head with a pillow and stay there.  Studies have shown that more injuries occurred to people who jumped out of bed and tried to make a run for it.
  5. DO NOT RUN OUTSIDE during the quake.
  6. DO NOT STAND IN A DOORWAY.  This advice goes against the well-known myth that the doorway is the safest place during an earthquake.  However, in modern buildings, doorways are no stronger than any other part of the house, and the doorway does not protect you from falling objects or flying debris. You are safer under a table or bracing yourself against an interior wall.
Remember, in an earthquake, falling objects is the biggest danger to your safety.  The three key words to remember are drop, cover, and hold on.
Once the earthquake has stopped be sure to switch off the main gas valve and the circuit breakers before leaving the building.


Typhoons usually hit between July and October.   In the heart of Tokyo, flooding is not as much of a concern as flying debris.  Street signs, roof tiles, and broken branches can pose a serious risk.  The best way to protect yourself during a typhoon is to stay indoors.  Other common sense precautions include staying away from rivers, lakes, and oceans.  If you try to surf a gnarly wave during a typhoon it may be the last wave you will ever see.  Don’t laugh.  It actually happened once.  Unfortunately things didn’t end well for the surfer.


No matter how much fun you are having in Tokyo, there might come a time when you have to take your body in for some maintenance work.  Visiting hospitals and clinics in a foreign country can be a daunting experience, especially if you don’t speak the language.  Below is a list of phone numbers and a website that can help make that experience a little less hectic.

Tokyo Metropolitan Health and Medical Information Center

Tel: 03-5285-8080 or 03-5285-8181                            
Hours: 9:00am-8:00pm everyday

Languages: English/Chinese/Korean/Thai/Spanish

Information about treatment centers as well as the Japanese health insurance system.

Emergency Medical Translation Services

Hours: Weekdays5:00pm-8:00pm / Weekends &Holidays9:00am-8:00pm

Languages: English/Chinese/Korean/Thai/Spanish

Interpretation service through phone is available for foreign patients if their treatment is not going smoothly because of language difficulty. This service is only to be used for medically relevant translation.

Web Link To Medical Facilities

The New Zealand Embassy has compiled a wonderful list of medical facilities where English is spoken.
A list of medical facilities

If you visit a hospital or clinic make sure you take your health insurance.  If you do not show your health insurance card or if you do not have health insurance, you will be required to pay the full amount for treatment.  That can be extremely expensive.  You should also take your passport for identification purposes. If you are taking any medication at the time, takethat with you as well.   Be aware that some private clinics, especially those run by foreign doctors, are not part of the national health care system.  If cost is a concern for you then you could save yourself from having an unpleasant surprise by calling ahead to confirm.
If you live in Japan, you are required to have some kind of public health insurance. There are two types of health insurance in Japan: Employees Health Insurance, which is offered to employees working at companies and factories, and National Health Insurance, which covers self-employed or unemployed people. If you are enrolled in public health insurance, you are generally required to pay only 30% of the medical expenses.  This rate is standard for the whole country.


The Tokyo International Communication Committee has compiled a wonderful list of government run facilities where foreign residents can go to get consultation on various issues related to living in Japan. When the need arises why not visit their website or contact one of the offices nearest you to find out if they can help find a solution to your problem. 
The Tokyo International Communication Committee
For more information on the essentials of living in Japan visit one of the websites below.
Tokyo International Communication Committee
Ministry of Foreign Affairs (downloadable PDF)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Guide To Japanese Visas