Moving to Tokyo 101: Housing

Moving anywhere is stressful. But this is my first time moving somewhere with a language barrier, so it’s safe to say that I’ve been continuously in a cold sweat for the past month. 

Since we arrived we’ve been trying to sort ourselves out as quickly as possible, so it’s been a mad dash to get organized. There’s a lot that we’ve covered, so I’m going to break this into a few separate posts. This one will cover “moving into a place” as it’s own separate post because it’s a big one.

Finding an Apartment 

We had no idea what to expect when it came to the real estate scene. The only two places we’re familiar with housing are Vancouver and London, and they’re both painfully expensive. So our only hope was that it wasn’t more so.

I researched a lot of real estate sites before arriving in Japan, in hopes of lining up appointments for us to go to as soon as we got there. One site that my uncle sent to me was especially great:

It has an English option, so you can actually read what the site says (fuck yes). It was easy to put in our preferences and narrow our search based on location, price and apartment size. Owen’s work had some pretty specific location requirements so we had to work with those. Once we found a couple places that we loved, I reached out to the real estate company via the apartment listing. Someone got back to me right away and we arranged a viewing for the day after we arrived in Tokyo. She told me that there was a high likelihood that the apartment we had picked out would be gone by the time we arrived, but if I gave her some information about us and what we were looking for, she could make sure they had some places fitting our bill for us to view regardless. 

I would definitely recommend the company that we used: there are English speaking real estate agents available, and have their forms also available in English. The name is hilarious, but it’s a good company: Balleggs

We got to the appointment and everything went smoothly- they told us that the place we had looked at previously was, in fact, gone. But they had many other options for us. After some discussion we decided to work our way from small but extremely centrally located apartments to bigger, but further out ones. From many options, we chose our top 3 and then they drove us to each apartment to view. We got so lucky in that the 3rd apartment we viewed was the one we ended up getting. We never had to go back to re-evaluate and go out on a 2nd or even a 3rd apartment viewing day. Once we decided we wanted to apply for the apartment, we went back to the office and filled out the application form. Here are the things you will need before applying for an apartment:

  1. Passport
  2. Resident’s Card (which you receive at the airport upon entering the country with a visa)
  3. Japanese Emergency Contact (We are so lucky to have close family friends in Tokyo who have helped us so much during this whole process. They are amazing and offered to be our emergency contacts. If you don’t know anyone in Tokyo, maybe reach out to friends who do know someone who wouldn’t mind being an emergency contact, or if you have a job, possibly they wouldn’t mind being your emergency contact, even temporarily. If none of these are options, maybe the company can come up with another option, but you would have to ask.)
  4. Hanko (Japan is very advanced, but also upholds many of it’s traditions. Hanko is one of them. Hanko is a name stamp which acts as a secondary signature and is still required for many official transactions such as signing contracts for apartments and often bank accounts. Traditionally you use your last name, but you can also do your full name. You can get them at pretty much any stationary store, for me it was easy as I have a common Japanese last name. But for Owen, who does not, we had to get one made. We went to ドン・キホーテ 中目黒本店, and upstairs there is a hanko machine that let’s you create your own hanko in less than 20 minutes and under 2,000 yen! We translated Owen’s last name into katakana, which I would recommend for anyone doing this with a non-Japanese last name. And boom, done. If you have time and money, you can get a super cute one done with your full name and little characters or designs.)
  5. Money: Once the process hits it’s final stages, you will need quick access to money. And a decent amount of it. Tokyo is, surprisingly, an affordable city to live in. But the primary costs of moving there are very high. And the first month of bills, moving in costs and extra expenses will be a huge shock to the bank account. But they settled down soon enough.

The real estate company we used (Balleggs) has it’s own guarantor company that checks you out and makes sure you’re not completely psycho and they feel comfortable renting you an apartment- which is amazing, because otherwise this would require you having a guarantor in Japan, which many people wouldn’t be able to find. 

The process is basically: first, getting approved by the guarantor company, which is usually just a phone call to you, and then a phone call to your emergency contacts. Second, a meeting either with your real estate agent on their own or also with the landlord to discuss terms and expectations. Our meeting was just with the real estate agent, where they told us about our landlord and how she only asks that we are quiet and respectful, and just wanted to know if we were nice people. Then you go in to sign tons of papers and pay tons of money. Remember to bring your hanko, you won’t be able to do anything without it. To be safe, bring everything from the list above. The payments can be made by wire transfer or in cash, which sounds insane, but you’ll soon get used to the fact that large cash transactions are not uncommon in Japan. Once the payment as processed, you set a move in date!

Now, this is what killed us: Most places in Japan come with nothing. Our place literally had nothing when we walked in. So we had to start from scratch. Here are the main ones, and what we had to do:

  1. Electricity: For our place, all we had to do was flip on the main electricity switch, turn on the lights and we would start being charged. The bill comes to your place via mail every month and can be paid by credit card or even at your local convenience store! Just take the bill to the counter, and pay.
  2. Gas: This one sucked. You have to make an appointment with Tokyo Gas (in Japanese) and then have someone come to your place to turn on your gas and explain what to do in case of a large earthquake (in Japanese). Again, we were so lucky and our family friend made our appointment for us and came over to be there for the appointment. She saved our butts big time. It was a quick appointment where the guy started our gas and explained that the gas would shut off in two instances: A large earthquake, or if we were using an insane amount of hot water and the machine would assume we were running a bath and had fallen asleep for several hours. In either case there was a button to push to restart. He then asked us how we would like to pay our bill, to which we decided to have it come in the mail and pay at the convenience store. Done. I’m sure if you didn’t have someone to help you like we did, you could ask the real estate company to help you make the appointment with Tokyo Gas, and then the rest you could stumble along. The gas company guy gave us an English info pamphlet, so if you didn’t understand what he was saying during the appointment, all the key points were in there. 
  3. Stove: Chances are, your place won’t come with a stove. Our apartment came with a little spot with a gas spout made for a stove. We measured the space, and headed to Bic Camera (the superstore to buy anything from appliances large or small, to shampoo) to buy a stove. Ours ran us about 15,000 yen, and came with two burners and a little fish grill. Just make sure that you measure the space, keep in mind where the gas spout is (ours was in the center of the counter space, while the spout attachment on the stove itself was on the side, so we needed to buy a small tube to connect them. They were sold right next to the stoves at Bic Camera and cost about 400 yen)
  4. Fridge & Washing Machine: Yup, neither of these things came with our apartment either, and chances are they won’t come with yours. Our real estate company suggested an appliance rental company, but after an extremely frustrating 2 weeks of trying to arrange what we thought was a very cheap, very simple way of getting furniture and not having to find a way to get rid of it- turned into a nightmare. Long story short, they wouldn’t rent to us because the apartment was in Owen’s name and he doesn’t speak Japanese. So they told us the only way we could do it was to ask our Japanese friends to rent it for us… Nope. But we headed on over to the trusted Bic Camera, and found a small fridge and washing machine for 10,000 yen less than it would have cost to rent! They delivered it the next day and installed it for us. YES. And as a side note, driers are very uncommon in Japan. Our place came with a little clothing line outside our window to hang our laundry to dry.

Household Things

      When it comes to getting all the smaller things for your place, anywhere from pots and pans to rags and toilet cleaner, we found a couple gems:

      1. Nitori: It’s like the Japanese version of IKEA. Cute, clean, and super affordable. They have an online store that delivers, unfortunately it’s all in Japanese so unless you or someone you know reads Japanese, it’ll be tough. Or, they also have a fantastic store front in Nakameguro, about 1 block away from the station. We got all our kitchen wear, bedding, carpet, curtains, etc. from Nitori. It’s amazing. We even ordered our table and bed from them online.
      2. 100 yen shops: 100 yen shops are nothing like dollar stores back home, where literally nothing is actually a dollar. Here, on the off chance that something isn’t 100 yen, it’ll be specially labeled. I got all our cleaning supplies, rags, dish towels, plastic wrap, foil etc from the 100 yen shop. I literally got all the little bits and bobs I could possibly need for under 4,000 yen.

      Now, once you’ve got your place and you’ve got the keys, you need to head to your local town hall to register your address onto the back of your Resident’s Card. A lot of official processes, like getting a phone plan or wifi, require you to have your address registered on the back of your Resident’s Card. So get that done as soon as possible. It’s relatively painless, and you’re eligible to get it done the day you move in.
      Well, that’s housing! Stay tuned for more!

      Thanks for stopping by.



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