Study Abroad in Asia Throw Down: Tokyo vs. Hong Kong

by Published

That settles it. You’ve decided to study abroad in Asia and you’ve narrowed down your city choices to two equally awesome cities. Neither one is a bad choice for study abroad in Asia, it all depends on you. So, now it’s time for a throw down: Tokyo vs. Hong Kong. Both are extremely vibrant Asian cities, crammed with great universities, excellent food, incredible shopping, and out-of-this-world nightlife; both look like the city straight out of Blade Runner and both have the X factor, that je ne sais quoi.

So, Tokyo or Hong Kong, which is better (for you)? It’s a real doozie of a question, so we made things a whole lot easier for you by breaking it down piece by piece below.

Cherry blossoms blooming in Tokyo
International students in Tokyo won’t want to miss the beautiful blooming cherry blossoms.

Tokyo vs. Hong Kong: The Basics

Tokyo Highlights

Tokyo is one of the top Asian cities AND one of the top five places to study abroad in Japan. It’s really a collection of smaller cities, and it’s also one of the most densely populated places in the world: about 13 million people with 6,000 persons per square kilometer! Japan’s capital city is everything you ever thought it was, and then some.

Set against an iconic Mount Fuji, it’s a mixture of old world charm and new world cool with salarymen doing the Shibuya crossing everyday, temples and shrines in the most unlikely places, and the notorious nightlife in Roppongi. It’s also a city of superlatives: one of the safest, cleanest, most expensive, and most liveable places on the planet! For many, Tokyo is the epitome of “cool Japan”: anime, manga, cosplay, and avant garde couture. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the city’s bright lights and crowds, but once you peel away the surface, you can find pockets of sheer stillness in Tokyo as well.

Hong Kong at dusk
Hong Kong has all the hustle and bustle of most top Asian cities, but you can always find a little calm at dusk.

Hong Kong Highlights

With its unique British colonial history, Hong Kong really is where East meets West. Today, it’s a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. What this means is that Hong Kong is basically independent and runs its own affairs (except in military defense and foreign affairs) separately from the rest of mainland China.

Hong Kong is also quite crowded, with a population of over seven million and is easily one of the most multicultural cities in the world. In fact, it’s been branded “Asia’s World City”, and this name does not tell a lie! Hong Kong is also the ultimate city of contrasts: ultra-glam, financial hub Central easily co-exists with chaotic night markets and street hawkers in Mong Kok as well as the laid-back beaches of Lantau and other islands. It’s also the place for spectacular festivals (check out this guide on how to celebrate in Hong Kong).

So, Tokyo vs. Hong Kong, which is really better...for you?

Studying abroad is different to simply traveling on a tourist visa, so let’s see how Tokyo and Hong Kong compare on some key study abroad criteria, in order to narrow down the best country to study abroad in Asia.

Arrivals and departures board at an airport
Tokyo is a major travel hub, so you’ll always be able to satisfy your weekend wanderlust.

Weather

Tokyo, like the rest of Japan, has a typical temperate climate with four distinct seasons, complete with sticky summers and mild winters. It can get quite rainy in Tokyo, so stock up on umbrellas and raincoats! Tokyo is also vulnerable to typhoons and earthquakes, but don’t worry, there’s usually adequate warning and time to prepare for these events. Be sure not to miss the prettiest seasons in the city: koyo or autumn leaves viewing in fall and sakura or cherry blossom viewing in spring.

The island metropolis of Hong Kong also has four seasons and is susceptible to typhoons during the summer. However, temperatures are a bit higher in Hong Kong than in Tokyo year round, which means hot, muggy summers and cool winters, so pack enough sunblock along with a heavy winter coat and boots!

Academics

Tokyo has been ranked as the third best city in the world to go to university in, according to the QS Best Student Cities 2016 rankings, and Japan frequently makes the top of the list as the best country to study abroad in Asia, with its many private and public universities. It’s also home to the famous United Nations University, which is perfect for those interested in postgraduate studies in international development, peace studies, and the work of international organizations. But, that is not the only option for study abroad in Tokyo. How about studying science at University of Tokyo, Japan’s most prestigious university?

Hong Kong market at night
Hong Kong markets in Mong Kok give you a crash course in navigating life and culture abroad.

It’s important to know that the language barrier is one of top five challenges you will face while studying abroad in Japan. One drawback to studying in Tokyo, in fact, is that many programs are delivered in Japanese. However, in recent years, Japanese universities have been encouraging more international students to study abroad in Japan by offering more courses and entire degree programs taught in English. Another thing worth noting: the academic year starts in April, not September, in Japan.

When it comes to higher education, Hong Kong is no shrinking violet. Hong Kong is also one of top Asian cities for study abroad. Although it ranks lower than Tokyo as a student-friendly city (it ranks at a not-too-shabby eighth in the world), Hong Kong has the edge when it comes to the diversity of its international student population. Also, in many Hong Kong universities for international students, English is the primary medium of instruction which makes study abroad a breeze for those who can’t make two cents out of Cantonese (the other official language of Hong Kong).

This Asian Tiger hosts many world-famous universities, particularly the prestigious University of Hong Kong and the City University of Hong Kong. And, if you’re into international trade and commerce, Hong Kong is one of the top five places to study business abroad.

Tokyo at sunset
With so much square footage to explore in Tokyo, you’ll never be bored.

Housing & Transport

Both Tokyo and Hong Kong are expensive cities where real estate is like gold. Consequently, rent for apartments can be quite high in both cities, and may seem out of reach for international students. However, to overcome this, you can get creative with housing and opt to stay in homestays with local families, share houses with other international students, or sleep in more affordable campus residences and dorms. Both cities also have very efficient transport systems, so getting around is a cinch, and you can also get around by bike if you want to pump up your daily cardio.

Downtime & Adventure Time

If you’re an outdoorsy kinda person, Hong Kong may be the perfect fit for your study abroad in Asia. The city’s pretty green to say the least, with dozens of sprawling country parks where you can roam, hike, camp, kayak, or chill on beaches to your heart’s content. Head to Lantau Island to check out the Big Buddha or Tian Tan, or get up at dawn and do tai chi with the locals. If you’re more of a shopping junkie, hunt for bargains in the markets that litter Mong Kok and other areas or shop in the posh malls that boast of having no sales tax.

Hong Kong is also the home of Cantonese food. There’s always something delish around the corner, with dim sum restaurants and noodle shops on almost every street. If you need to escape for the weekend or on national holidays, mainland China is just a ferry, train, or express bus away. For those who seek more exotic locales, Hong Kong is also a major travel hub, with connections to several international destinations.

Study Abroad in Asia Throwdown: Tokyo vs. Hong Kong

Even though Tokyo may not have much green space, it holds steady as one of the top Asian cities for study abroad, and packs a punch in other areas too. Check out cool districts like posh Ginza or wacky Harajuku. There’s always something going on every weekend in Tokyo, whether it’s a Belgian beer festival or a reggae concert. There’s also a matsuri ,or festival, for every season. Be sure to join in the melee during Sanja Matsuri when festival goers can take turns carrying huge mikoshi or portable shrines in Asakusa. Don your yukata (summer kimono) and tuck in festival favorites like yakisoba (fried noodles) and yakitori (grilled meat on a stick).

Tokyo is world famous for its excellent food and Michelin-starred restaurants, from cheap, steaming bowls of ramen to the most expensive and delectable sashimi. Japan is also the home of the super-fast shinkansen, or bullet train, so getting out of Tokyo to visit other prefectures and cities can be done in a day! If you’re craving more international travel, Narita and Haneda airports both serve the city.

Plot Twist: Consider Singapore

If you still can’t choose in this Tokyo vs. Hong Kong tug-of-war, why not study abroad in Singapore? This underrated country for study abroad and a Southeast Asian gem offers the best of all worlds: cosmopolitan culture, top notch universities, year-round tropical weather, multicultural cuisine, clean streets, and a very low crime rate.

Singapore cityscape
Can’t choose Tokyo vs. Hong Kong? Don’t! Set your eyes on Singapore instead.

Another one of the top Asian cities for study abroad, it’s super-liveable for international students and ranked sixth on the QS Best Student Cities 2016 list. English is one of its four official languages, so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier in the classroom. Be warned, however, that students in Singapore are super-serious when it comes to academics; so, if you choose to study abroad in Singapore, prepare to work hard to keep up with the locals.

Although study abroad in Hong Kong and Tokyo may seem very similar on the surface, each city offers incredible opportunities for students to immerse themselves in really unique, culturally-rich, study abroad experiences. Before you commit to either city, remember to read program reviews and reach out to each program’s past alumni to get the real down low on what each city can offer. It’s the only way to truly answer the question: Tokyo vs Hong Kong, which is better (for you)?

Start your search to study abroad programs in Asia now!