As a Tokyo Private School JET, housing was not already set up for me like it is for many other JETs. This means that I was responsible for finding housing on my own – which was both a blessing and a curse. The pros were that I got to decide exactly which neighborhood to live in and what kind of place I want; the cons were that it took a lot more time, energy, and a lot more $$$ to get it all set up.
I opted to work with the real estate company that was recommended to us by JET, because they specialize in helping foreigners. I was assigned an agent, a cheerful Korean man with excellent English skills, and we spent a few days apartment hunting. While it was stressful, it was also fun. I felt like I was on House Hunters International. Originally my Co-JET and I had decided to find a place together, so we looked at some two bedrooms, then some single apartments, and then a share-house. We looked at some really nice, really expensive places, and some scary looking, tiny ones. Finally, my decision came down to choosing between a room in the share-house, or an apartment on my own.
I spent a couple days agonizing over the decision, going back and forth in my indecisive brain. After a couple days of torturing myself, I finally decided on the apartment. The share-house would have been cheaper, easier, and less of a hassle, but I don’t think it would have been the right choice for me. I would have been sharing a kitchen and bathroom with 11 other people. I’m a light sleeper and kind of a neat freak, and I think I would have gone crazy. And I’m going to be here for a whole year – I really want a place that feels like home, that I can decorate, make cozy, and make my own.
I’m happy with my apartment. It’s a 10-minute walk from the Mitaka Station, which is one stop away from my school. It’s in a more quiet, residential neighborhood, which I like, but there’s still got a grocery store 3 minutes away, a liquor store 5 minutes away, and a bunch of restaurants and shops within walking distance. And I can always hop on the train one stop to Kichijoji for anything else I might need. It’s 23 m2 (~250 ft2), which is HUGE for a studio by Tokyo standards. Rent is actually pretty affordable. And the building is bright yellow and happy looking, which I look to be a good sign.
Once my decision was made, I had to actually go through the procedure of getting the apartment, which is not as a foreigner is not easy in Japan. First of all, a lot of properties just flat out will not rent to foreigners. It’s straight up discrimination, but it’s acceptable in Japan. Once you do find a place that will rent to foreigners, then you have to pay all of the start-up costs. In the US, you have usually just pay first month’s rent and a security deposit. In Japan, you have:
- Reservation fee (tetsukekin)
- Deposit (shikikin)
- Key money (reikin) – this does not exist in the US. It’s like a bribe to the landlord.
- Service fee (chukai tesuryo)
- Guarantor’s fee (required because I am a foreigner)
Plus, Japanese apartments do not typically include appliances, like they do in the US. So my apartment did not have a fridge, stove, microwave, or washing machine.
Once I handed over a good chunk of my life’s savings in cash, I got my housing contract. It took over two hours just to go through and sign everything. Granted, my agent had to translate everything from Japanese and make sure I understood, but still. Signing my lease in the US took 20 minutes tops. Japanese bureaucracy is… very thorough.
The next day, my agent met me at my short-stay apartment and helped me carry my baggage to my new place. This man is an angel in disguise, and I am eternally grateful for his kindness. It was 100 degrees out, one of the hottest days since I’ve arrived in Tokyo. The two of us carried my two enormous 50-pound suitcases, my carry-on suitcase, my giant osprey backpack filled to the brim, and two giant Ikea bags filled with kitchen stuff across the city, on to the train, and then to my apartment. It took us hours, and was physically exhausting. We arrived, both literally dripping in sweat, he handed over the key, and the apartment was mine.
I went out to Nitori (Japanese Ikea) and bought the cheapest futon, just to have something to sleep on for the night, came back and collapsed. I didn’t have a bed, fridge, stove, or even hot water for the first night. But I had functioning A/C, which is really all I needed, and I had my apartment. It may still be empty, but it’s mine. Home sweet home.