Dubai vs. Tokyo Explained Simply

Last Updated on March 18, 2024 by Jamie Marshall

Tokyo and Dubai are two huge cities, vibrant and enchanting in their own ways. It can be hard to imagine them side by side, some similarities and yet some stark contrasts.

The Makeup of the Cities

Tokyo is Japan’s capital and the world’s most populous metropolis. Tokyo began its story in the 16th century as just a small castle town. Edo, as it was known then, became Japan’s political center in 1603 when Tokugawa Ieyasu established his feudal government there.

The Meiji Restoration of 1868 saw the emperor and capital moving from Kyoto to Edo. That is when the city was renamed Tokyo, meaning ‘Eastern Capital’. Today, Tokyo offers seemingly unlimited choices for shopping, entertainment, culture and dining. Residents also love that Tokyo offers a number of attractive green spaces in the city center.

Dubai, by comparison is a young city. With origins as a pearl-mining destination, as well as a stop on the trade route from India, it has flourished over the last 30 years in a way that defies belief. Now it is a city that stretches a length of about 60kms, the artery of which is the 14 lane highway Sheikh Zayed Road. The residential areas have of course spread out, creating large urban areas.

Despite that, Dubai is still a baby city when compared to Tokyo. Dubai has just 2.4 million residents, while there are estimated to be a massive 13.5 million people living in Tokyo.


Both Dubai and Tokyo are wonderful, brimming with culture and oozing character, albeit each in their own way. They are vastly different.

Dubai, with the Arabic foundation and the expat influences, has become a melting pot of different opportunities and adventures. With an apparent focus on monetary wealth and material possessions, it is very much a city strewn with status symbols.

When you dig a bit deeper, you find firmly held beliefs that value family, tradition and religion near to the heart. Education has become increasingly important over the last decade, and many local families now send their children abroad so that they can attend the world’s most prestigious universities.

Tokyo is another extreme, and impressively so. Spotlessly clean, the Japanese have a respect for their surroundings to such a degree that they come and go and leave virtually no trace that they’ve been. Attention to detail is very important, and they like to pay it forward.

For example, when they visit a public washroom, the toilet paper will probably be folded like origami. When they finish with it, they will re-fold it as origami for the next user.

Seniority (by age and by rank) is also hugely respected. The Japanese greeting (a bow from the hips) is determined by age and seniority; the depth of the bow is directly related to the level of respect you wish to show.


Dubai cuisine has a great and varied offering. The traditional Arabic food is of course a staple, and high quality food is readily available, whether you prefer your dinner setting to be in a stand-alone restaurant, in a mall or in a hotel.

Due to the large expat community, there is also an exciting variety of international cuisines available throughout the city, meaning that you can explore dozens of different tastes a month.

Tokyo, on the other hand, has earned itself a pretty incredible reputation around the world for its food. After all, it’s not all about sushi. You can find out about some of Tokyo’s other favourite foods and ways of cooking (think teppanyaki, tempura and yakitori) here.

Don’t forget the famous liquid lunches on offer, ranging from craft beers to various different creations of sake.


Michael Gove said “Learning a foreign language, and the culture that goes with it, is one of the most useful things we can do to broaden the empathy and imaginative sympathy and cultural outlook of children.”

Both Dubai and Tokyo offer this opportunity, to you, to your family, to anyone who is open to it. Although English is widely spoken in both cities, it’s important to remember that it is not the first language in either city.

In the younger generation, particularly in workplaces, language barriers are rarely an issue. That said, there is a benefit to embracing the language, and the culture, of a new city and enjoying the sense of achievement that comes with it.

Both Arabic and Japanese are a far stretch from English; be prepared to learn a whole different alphabet where letters look more like pictures.

There are a multitude of schools and companies that offer language classes to adults. As an example, you can check out Arabic Language Center in Dubai and Coto Academy in Tokyo. It might even be worth speaking to your employer to ask whether they would support your language lessons, either by contributing towards the cost of it, or by allowing a flexible working schedule so you can attend classes regularly.

Cost of Living

A major consideration when deciding on a base for your future is always the cost of living. Dubai is notoriously expensive, with high accommodation costs as well as increased spending on items such as food, especially if you have a family. School fees if you have children can seem crippling, so for many people the work package determines whether the costs are bearable.

A lot of Dubai employers provide accommodation, or at least an allowance towards the cost of accommodation, and they also contribute towards school fees for up to 3 children. You’ll have to read the proposed contract carefully, since these aspects are normally the deciding factor.

Not surprisingly, the cost of living in Tokyo is (almost) as expensive. According to the website Numbeo, you would need to earn around 591,294.74¥ (19,246.44AED) per month in Tokyo to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 20,000.00AED in Dubai.

This assumes that you pay rent and is calculated on net earnings (after income tax). Interestingly, the category of your spending would be different. For example, in Dubai, rent is 33% higher than in Tokyo, while a grocery shop is Tokyo will cost you 55% more than in Dubai.

You can visit Numbeo for a complete breakdown of estimated costs to give you a better idea of what you’ll be spending your money on.

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