Tokyo English Life Line

Need to talk? TELL is here to listen - anywhere in Japan!

As someone who's been in Japan for almost twenty years, it's easy for me to forget just how much of an adjustment it was getting used to life here all those years ago. Not only was the language seemingly impenetrable, so also were many aspects of the culture. The locals were usually friendly and helpful, but there were invisible borders and barriers that had to be navigated. In such circumstances, many people resort to overdoing the socializing and partying, very easy to do in Tokyo and the other cities that are on the go 24/7. Alienation, depression, addiction, I've seen all these and more result from an inability to adjust. Leaving Japan may be one option, but sometimes just having a sympathetic ear can make a big difference. And if you can confide in someone knowing it needn't go any further than that, all the better.

For this feature, Japan Zone has asked the folks at Tokyo English Life Line to tell us a bit about their service, which has helped out many a distressed gaijin over the years.

Tokyo English Life Line

Tokyo English Life Line Established in 1973, Tokyo English Life Line (TELL) has been providing confidential counseling and support to the English speaking community nationwide for more than thirty years. Initially a crisis counseling line, TELL has expanded to provide individual, couples and family face-to face counseling, as well as a variety of workshop and outreach programs that reflect the organization’s goal of assessing and responding to the needs of the community.

Calls to the Life Line cover a broad range of issues including grief counseling, depression, anxiety disorders, pregnancy, HIV/ AIDS, and mental illness, as well as emergency and suicide calls, and TELL’s phone counselors undergo several months of training in order to be able to respond to these. However, a significant percentage of calls received are from people that simply want to talk or “feel connected”. That could mean someone struggling with the challenges of cross-cultural communication or cultural adaptation, but could also include Japanese returnees that are trying to re-establish themselves after living abroad and feel that an English-speaking counselor is better able to relate to their situation.

The advantage of the Life Line is its ability to connect with anyone, anywhere in Japan, and for many it is the first point of contact for finding help in their area. For residents in Kanto, and to some degree the Kansai region, English-speaking support or services may be well publicized and readily available. Residents in other regions, however, may not know what services, if any, they can turn to, and in response to this the Life Line has built up an ever-expanding database of English-speaking services across Japan. In September 2008, these resources will be available through the TELL website in a wiki-style database, meaning that anyone in Japan can contribute information on English-speaking services in their local area…a first in Japan!

When resources are not available, TELL becomes the only safety net and as part of our vision to provide comprehensive and state-of-the-art counseling and support, we are exploring all avenues that will allow us to offer a reliable nationwide support service. The Life Line is currently available from 9AM to 11 PM, 365 days a year, and it's our goal to expand this to 24-hour coverage. We are also exploring the possibilities of counseling via the internet, plan to introduce a diverse range of downloadable resources, and are developing articles and reports on mental health issues affecting the community in Japan today.

Understanding the needs of the community is fundamental in achieving our goals and we welcome feedback from the international and English-speaking Japanese community nationwide. We also seek to develop closer ties with international centers, community groups, university student centers and any nationwide networks that can help let English-speakers across Japan know that if they need to talk – we’re here to listen.

Tokyo English Life Line

The Life Line - 03-5774-0992

Need to talk? We’re here to listen. Call from anywhere in Japan, 9am to 11pm everyday.

  • TELL is now accepting applications for its next Volunteer Telephone Training Program which will commence in September in Tokyo. Visit for more information.