After relocating to Tokyo from Singapore, I have been asked by several friends in Taiwan about the differences between living in Tokyo and Taiwan. Honestly, since I haven’t lived in Taiwan for years, I don’t think I can answer that question properly. However, from another perspective, I would like to talk about the similarities and differences I have felt so far between living in Tokyo and Singapore.

Diversity: Singapore is More Diverse

Singapore is a country of multi-culture. There 4 major races (Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians) and 4 official languages (English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil) in Singapore. Plus, Singapore is well-known as a foreign-workers-friendly country. So naturally, when you walk on the street, you see different faces speaking different languages. In Singapore, you don’t feel you stand out because of how you look since everyone is different. However, in Tokyo, even as an Asian, I still feel like I can’t melt into the crowd.

One interesting thing I observed is that, in Tokyo, unless you are in a more fashionable or subculture area like Shibuya or Shinjuku, people on the street look very similar to each other in the way they dress. For example, in early spring, almost all the girls on the road are wearing either beige collarless long coats or black leather jackets. So honestly, when I first came to Japan, I was a little bit anxious about my appearance because even though having an Asian face, other people could tell I was a foreigner by the way I dressed. But now I’ve accepted that I am indeed a foreigner in Japan anyway (trust me, you will give up changing yourself just to make others happy or comfortable when you reach mid-age). I even go out with shorts in summer sometimes now (usually Japanese adult women don’t show too much skin when they reach a certain age).

Public Holidays: Japan > Singapore

Japan has lots of national holidays (17 days in 2023 for example) and the government also arranges longer holidays for residents on purpose (e.g. Golden Week in May). However, Singapore has fewer holidays (11 days in 2023), and to fulfil the needs of different races and religions, the number of holidays allocated to each race and religion is only about 2 days in a year. For example, the most important holiday for the Chinese in Singapore is the Lunar New Year, which is only celebrated (ie. set as public holidays) on the first 2 days of the Lunar New Year. And for Christians, Easter and Christmas (1 day each) are celebrated. From these examples, we can tell how hard it is to have long holidays in Singapore. Singaporeans consider it a long weekend if they have a holiday on Friday or Monday (which makes it a 3-day weekend). If you live in Tokyo or Taiwan, it’s normal to have at least a 7-day holiday in a year.

Living Expenses: Tokyo < Singapore ; Tax: Japan > Singapore

The cost of living in Singapore is one of the highest in Asia (reference here). The Big Max Index also tells a similar story. For the same Big Mac, Japan spends US$2.83 while Singapore spends US$4.24, which is almost 50% more than Singapore.

I do feel the same way. Take the rental fee as an example, I have to pay about 50% more in Singapore to get an apartment that is similar to what we have in Tokyo. When it comes to food expenses, unless you only eat at hawker centres and do not drink any drinks or alcohol in Singapore, Japan is also cheaper. The only expense I feel Japan is much higher is transportation, especially taxi fees. I have had to quit taking cabs everywhere since I came to Japan.

However, the tax in Japan is higher than in Singapore. For consumption tax, Singapore’s GST is 8% (raised to 9% since 2024) while Japan’s consumption tax is 8% or 10% (depending on the purpose of consumption, e.g. 10% for dine-in and 8% for takeaways). For personal income tax, both Singapore and Japan use progressive tax rates, but Japan charges a maximum of 45% of income, whereas in Singapore, if you apply to the local tax rate, it is a maximum of 22% (24% from 2024 onwards), and capital gains are not taxable in Singapore while Japan is taxable.

Convenience Of Banking & Transections: Singapore Is More Mature And Fast-speed

In Japan, there are a lot of restrictions and you may suffer from a longer waiting time when related to money, for both online and offline. Below are some examples that I have encountered.

  • You may be rejected for opening a bank account by some banks just because not able to speak Japanese or not working. Housewives who want to open an account may be asked to provide the original certificate of employment of their husband within three months.
  • Money transfer via Bank is not real-time, even when you transfer money between accounts in the same bank. Your receiver may take days to see the money appearing on the account if you transfer money during a public holiday.
  • Even if you want to prepay your credit card bill to increase the current credit limit, it may take a few days as well.
  • You need 2 identification documents for applications usually. In Singapore, an ID is sufficient.
  • Cash only for quite a lot of places.
  • You can only withdraw/deposit money in certain ATMs depending on the bank you use in Japan which is the same in Singapore. The difference is you probably need to pay for additional fee to withdraw/deposit money in Japan while in Singapore, you only need to pay when you deposit coins.

Comfort Level: Japan Is Clean, Organised And Full Of Fun. Singapore Is Less Prone To Natural Disasters With A Slower Pace Of Life.

Japan is an extremely clean country, if you don’t believe it, please take a look at their toilet (LOL). In addition, Japan is a paradise for pedestrians, drivers are very courteous to pedestrians (otherwise it would be against the law) and the car speed is not too fast most of the time, which I like it truely. After getting used to it, when I go back to Singapore or Taiwan, it always takes me days to get used to the loud, busy, and sometimes freestyle streets.

Despite the good experience with cars in Tokyo, pedestrians in Tokyo move so fast. I still remember when I just arrived in Tokyo, I was often hit by pedestrians on the MRT platform because I walked too slowly. The person who bumped into you won’t apologise, after all, crowded subways/trains/roads with some “little touches” are daily routines for people in Tokyo. All you have to do is to “move on” when you bump into or step on someone.

There are a lot of rules, both spoken and unspoken ones, to follow if you want to stay in Japan smoothly. But if you care about the rules too much, you might feel very stressed. For example, I was stressed by the trash categorisation and recycling rules because it’s way too detailed. For a PET bottled drink, you need to categorise it into 2 types of trash – cap and wrap are plastic, and the bottle is PET bottle (if it’s transparent). Trash needs to be categorised properly or the staff is allowed to reject and leave your trash behind. Can you imagine, there is a manual for you to throw trash and recycle? It is up to you to adapt yourself to live happily under so many rules.

Singapore is a city country in a tropical area. It’s hot and humid for the entire year. So people in Singapore usually fly overseas to enjoy their vacations. On the other hand, Japan has a big land with four seasons, so you may need years to travel around Japan.
Note: Speaking of the land size, even Tokyo is bigger than Singapore.

Tokyo has more entertainment programmes and is more fun. For example, I went to a rock band concert in Tokyo. Before entering the venue, I received a memorial card from the local fan club. And during the show, everyone was so crazy, chanting slogans and making hand gestures together. It’s quite normal that the audiences stand up through the whole concert. But when I went to another rock band concert in Singapore, the audience just sat quietly in their chairs throughout the show. The scene was so calm that if I took photos of the audience, others might thought I went to see a barre dance performance without any contradiction.

But if you are scared about natural disasters or a risk avoider, I have to tell you that there are no typhoons or earthquakes (although some places do flood occasionally) and it’s very safe in Singapore.

A small note for a spicy lover, spicy cuisines in Tokyo are usually not that spicy. Eat more spicy food while you can if you plan to move to Tokyo.

Work Related

Although I am not working in Tokyo, I heard some interesting things from my friends who have been and worked in Japan for many years that I would like to share.

  • In Japan, not all companies provide paid sick leave. So if you feel unwell, you may need to leverage your annual leave to rest at home. I’ve checked with my friend about the rationale and she said that’s because as a professional, you should take care of yourself to be healthy and ready to work. And you bring other people to trouble if you take leaves without prior notice. ( That’s tough, right? ) However, some companies give women staff paid menstrual leaves which is not common in Singapore. However, in Singapore, if you want to apply for sick leave, a Medical Certificate issued by a doctor is required most of the time.
  • Some companies in Japan provide summer vacations for days ( apart from the public holidays ). And it’s not true that every company has to overtime a lot like what we saw in Japanese dramas.
  • Japanese companies usually pay a maximum amount of commute subsidy based on the distance from office to home, but not in Singapore.
  • The typical working visa in Japan is not restricted to the company you applied visa for. So it’s ok if you want to quit the job without finding the next one as long as your working visa has not expired. However, if you work with a Highly Skilled Professional Visa in Japan, then the visa would be invalid once you leave the company. Singapore operates oppositely that the typical working visa is tagged with the company so foreign workers usually resign after they already secured the next job with an In-Principle Approval issued by the Ministry of Manpower. Only very few work passes in Singapore are tagged with the individuals.


  • Quite a lot of mobile apps in Japan are still using the mobile web so it’s quite hard to use compared with native apps. I use my laptop more often after relocating to Japan.

These are the differences between life in Singapore and Tokyo that I have experienced so far. Will update once I observe any!

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