Japan is a beautiful and unique country where you as parents can give your children a priceless opportunity to live in. If you are relocating from another country with children, there are a number of things better to know beforehand about how it will be living with children. Here are 5 essential facts and a listing of family-friendly activities.

move with kidsPhoto by Brandless on Unsplash

If you are moving to Tokyo with kids, you need to know what the situation is for foreigners and kids in Japan.

First of all, how many foreigners are living in Tokyo?
There were a total 2.7million foreigners living in Japan 2018, this is marked the highest number ever recorded in history according to the ministry of justice. There are roughly 568 000 foreigners living in Tokyo alone!

What about the numbers of foreign children?
There are 16000 children of foreign nationality across Japan, according to The Mainichi.
Kanagawa prefectural capital of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, has the highest number of registered foreign children.

Now, let’s see the other things you should know.

1 Life Style & Safety

Let’s take a look at how foreign children are living in Tokyo.
Probably you have heard stereotypes of Japan being a clean, polite and safe country with a low crime rate.

Being polite is an important social rule in Japan, saying ”Thank you = Arigatou gozaimasu” and “Excuse me = Sumimasen” a lot. Let’s remember these words first. Other social rules are punctuality, cleaning up after yourself, queueing in an orderly fashion for the bus/train station, turn off/silence your mobile in the transportation, so on.

Talking about safety, according to the Global Study on Homicide 2019 published by the United Nations, Japan was ranked as “The lowest murder rates” in the world. Unlike the US or other gun-free countries, Japan has very strict weapons regulations.

In Japan, children are expected to go to school by themselves, without an adult by their side. If a school is located within walking distance from their home, children can be seen walking together with neighbours and friends. They even go solo sometimes!


2 School Life

Attending elementary and junior high school, roughly from the age of 6 to 15, is compulsory for Japanese children. The basic school system is composed of 6-years elementary school, 3-years junior high school, 3-years high school.

How expensive is the cost of education in Japan? Here is the average annual cost:

Kindergarten: Public 121000 yen / Private 319000 yen
Elementary School: Public 60000 yen / Private 870000 yen
Junior High School: Public 134000 yen / Private 997000 yen
High school: Public 276000 yen / Private 755000 yen

Source: 文部科学省「子供の学習費調査」学校教育費 

What are the school terms and holiday dates in Japan? It’s probably different than what most around the world are used to.

The beginning of the Japanese public school year is April, ending in March. Usually, school holidays are in Spring: 26 March – 5 April, Summer: 20 July – 31 August, Winter: 26 December – 7 January. (Dates differ slightly depending on year and school)

All schools have lunch programs(給食=Kyushoku), the typical Japanese school lunch consists of rice or bread, some form of protein (fish, meat, etc.), vegetables, soup, and milk. Overall the meals are well balanced and often really tasty!

It is not only eating at school, but the lunch program is also considered to encourage students’ responsibility, independence, thoughtfulness through how to handle your task with others, serving your classmates and returning plates by themselves.

Are you considering International schools?

According to the education ministry, there were 36 international schools in Japan in 2018. However, including unlicensed institutions, there are actually more than 50 international schools in Japan, according to Nikkei Asian Review. Many schools are taught in English – school terms and holidays differ depending on the school.



3. Overcoming Language Barriers

In a large city like Tokyo, many people can speak English, however, learning the local language is useful and it will likely enhance your experience as it will be easier to interact within the Japanese society.

When starting a new life in Japan, you’re bound to encounter some administrative paperwork – contracts with utility companies(telephone, Wifi, water, electric etc.) and bills. It’s going to be tough to navigate. If you can get help from friends, it would be great but when you don’t have someone to ask, attending Japanese lessons could be a huge help. It’s not only learning the language, but you can also get to know locals (teachers, school staff) and classmates to ask.

There are many organizations and volunteer groups providing Japanese lessons like every weekend in your city.

For example, in Minato ward, Minato International Association provides lessons for foreigners:
12 lessons included a textbook ¥10000(non-members)
50% fees will be supported by Minato City for people who live, work or study in Minato City if you submit the required documents.
More information – Minato International Association

Also, Tokyo Nihongo Volunteer Network help and support people who find it tough to learn Japanese or to communicate with Japanese through Nihongo Volunteer classes.
More information – Tokyo Nihongo Volunteer Network

Learning a new language can be overwhelming for some people but it helps to learn the local language as early as possible. Even any small steps, it makes your life easier! Kids tend to learn Japanese pretty quickly from school, friends and by watching TV but for parents, if you are working in a non-Japanese speaking environment, you need to take time to learn Japanese.

4. Transportation

Japanese public transportation is a well-developed network of railways, often praised for its efficiency, punctuality and superb service. In Tokyo, most of your journey could be completed by trains and subways, sometimes buses. We recommend you to know 3 things.

Firstly, download an app to help you get around like “NAVITIME for Japan Travel”, “Japan Transit Planner by Jorudan” or Google maps also works. The app will show you the route or how to transfer by railways and check the fare as well. Since some stations in Tokyo are really complicated, especially Shinjuku station – it’s the world’s busiest transit station! The navigation app will help you a lot.

Secondly, get a convenient IC card such as “Suica” or ”Pasmo”. These IC cards are a must-have prepaid card for travelling across Japan; rechargeable, used for the train, metro, bus, ferries, also can be used at many convenience stores and vending machines. The IC card can be purchased at Multifunction Ticket Vending Machines in the stations.

Last but not least, for your kids, getting a student commuter pass for transportation would save you a lot. About the student commuter pass you can find more information here in our other article: Japan Train Cards – Get a Commuter Pass for your Pasmo and Suica to save more!

5. Activity for Kids

Our top recommendations for the best places to go with kids in Tokyo.

Ghibli-museumImage by pen_ash from Pixabay

Ghibli Museum

If your kids (or you) are a fan of anime, especially Studio Ghibli films such as “My Neighbour Totoro”, “Spirited Away”, “Princess Mononoke”, visit Ghibli Museum. You can see the imaginative world of Hayao Miyazaki, an award-winning anime director. An important thing to note is that you can only get tickets to the Ghibli Museum in advance through the website below or the Loppi machines in Lawson convenience stores.

More information –Ghibli Museum

Miraikan(National museum of emerging science and innovation)

A family-friendly museum which offers great interactive exhibits about robotics, the solar system, universe and earth!

More information – Miraikan

KidZania Tokyo

Kids can role-play nearly 100 jobs; such as firefighters, policemen, bakers, bank officers and more! Activities feature real-world tools and equipment.

More information –KidZania 

ASOBONO! Tokyo Dome City

One of the largest indoor play areas in Tokyo! From babies to adults – doesn’t matter if it’s raining or snowing, under any weather condition, everyone can enjoy safely.

More information –ASOBONO! Tokyo Dome City

Legoland Discovery Centre Tokyo

Located within a ship-themed shopping mall, the Decks Tokyo Beach are filled with attractions such as theme parks and boasts impressive views of Tokyo Bay. A family-friendly indoor playground.

More information –Legoland Discovery Centre Tokyo

Have you got any idea about the Japanese lifestyle and school life? For more articles follow us at Expat Japan Life! You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for blog updates and information about living in Tokyo.

If you are looking for more information about where and how to live with your kids in Tokyo, MetroResidences is here to make sure your living situation is convenient, safe, and easy. We provide English language support and are happy to help every step of the way through your exciting Japanese journey!