With 26 districts, 23 wards, 8 villages, 5 towns and nearly 37 million people, Tokyo, Japan is the largest city in the world. It is a metropolis you can easily spend a gap year exploring.
From the Tsukiji Fish Market to the Oedo Onsen Monogatari hot springs theme park, the options of activities, explorations and adventures are immense. Even with a year, you will be discovering new places until you leave.
There are several ways to spend a year living in Tokyo. One of the most common is teaching English, and you can make a modest salary. Teaching English overseas is a great way to jump-start a career in education and the experience of teaching English to a foreign speaker is invaluable. The JET Programme takes individuals with a Bachelor’s degree and places them as Assistant Language Teachers who help teach English in elementary and secondary education classrooms. JET is not just about teaching though, as you could become a Coordinator for International Relations working in local government offices. TeachAway is another program that matches teachers with classrooms overseas including Japan. TeachAway splits its applications between public and private schools and boasts extensive vacation time. When applying for a teaching abroad position anywhere, it is beneficial to have a TEFL or TESOL certification to enhance the likelihood of being hired and receiving better pay.
Interested in volunteering with children in need? Living Dreams brings art to orphans in the Tokyo area with classes and summer camps. Another organization to work through is Hands on Tokyo. They send volunteers to spend time with children ages 3 through 18 at the Wakabaryo Children’s Home as well as decorating for birthdays at Saiseikai Infants’ Home. Beyond working with children, check out Hands on Tokyo if you are interested in working with seniors, single mothers or youth with disabilities.
Adventure and Cultural Travel
Perhaps you want to forsake all forms of work paid or otherwise. Tokyo has enough adventure to keep you busy as if it is your job! Spend time like a local and take a stroll, or several, through the activity filled Ueno Park. Stop at the Ueno Toshogu Shrine, a structure having survived since the Edo-era. Visit the Ueno Zoo, home to 460 species. Rent a boat on Shinobazu Pond, featured in many famous works of art. Of course, stroll down the Ueno Park central path for a Hanami, cherry blossom viewing, at the end of March or early April, prime cherry blossom season.
Gaze upon the Imperial Palace, home to Japan’s royal family. The palace is surrounded by grand stonewalls, large moats and a beautifully maintained park. Twice a year, January 2 and December 23, visitors can enter the inner palace grounds and the Imperial Family make appearances on their balcony.
If you want a trip outside the city of Tokyo, consider visiting the Fuji Five Lake region and Mount Fuji itself. At 3,776 meters, Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain and an active volcano. The official climbing season is July and August when the mountain is free of snow and weather is mild. Climbing and ascending the mountain in one day is discouraged due to altitude sickness, but there are many mountain huts along the trails where hikers can stop to sleep and eat. If you do decide to make the climb, bring proper gear, take the trails slowly with plenty of breaks and enjoy the spectacular view!
Cost of Living
Tokyo is not a particularly inexpensive city. Expect to pay about 900¥ for an average meal, 500¥ for a beer and 115¥ for a bottle of water. (Check what that means to you at Currency Converter.) Advising on taxi prices anywhere is risky due to the constant change, but currently the average start rate is 7¥ and 3¥ per kilometer. Rent, like most large cities, depends on where you live. An apartment in the city center is 1,350¥ a month while places outside of the center can come in at 620¥. A useful tool is Numbeo with listings of everything from the current price of one-way public transit in Tokyo 160¥ to average one-hour tennis court rental price 2,000¥.
Health and Safety in Tokyo
For being the largest city in the world, Tokyo is incredibly safe. Most everyone says they are comfortable walking down the street in the middle of the night and there are stories of wallets left in taxis being returned with cash and credit cards intact. Many attribute the lack of crime in Tokyo to Kobans, small police offices with on duty officers, on nearly every corner. But like any major city, there are reports of pickpocketing in crowded areas and bike theft. Also, be vigilant if you choose to visit the Roppongi bar scene, as there have been reports of bars overcharging credit cards and forcing patrons to pay.