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Get Set for a Successful Home Search
Before You Get StartedBefore you even get started, it's important to do a few things to make sure your home search will be as smooth and stress-free as possible. Here's a few things to do before you go out to see your first potential new home:Register at your local government office, even if it is a very temporary address. You need to do this within 14 days of arriving in Japan for a stay of 3 months or more. If you are registering now, get a copy of your residence certificate (jyuminhyo) at the same time in case it's needed for your application. Once registered, your address will be recorded on the back of your residence (zairyu) card. Open up a bank account in Japan if you haven't already, and ensure you have enough funds in Japan, or the ability to have them transferred to Japan. In order to transfer money from abroad to a Japanese bank account, it is now necessary to register your My Number (also known as Individual Number) with your bank first.Research to get a feel for price vs size vs location vs building age vs distance from the closest station and so on.Consider the main places you will commute to regularly (work, school, meeting places for social events) and the maximum commute time you wish to travel for your most regular destination, and if you will accept the need to transfer one or two times for example, or if you will only consider properties on a direct line.Determine if you will have a personal or private lease as this will have an impact on properties available for your consideration and costs involved.Put together a list of your home search parameters that you will provide to your selected real estate agent. Be as specific and detailed as possible to help find the best property for you quicker. Include as much as you can, such as: personal or corporate lease; budget; size (in square meters or number and type of rooms); location(s) you will most frequently travel to and commuting parameters (travel time, direct line or transfers ok); specific areas of interest or a description of the type of area you are looking for (quiet family friendly neighborhood / lively area with easy access to cafes/ close to park etc); other important considerations to you - this might include the age of the building, amount of light / direction the property faces, if you prefer to live on a lower floor or higher floor, views, amount of storage space, if you have large furniture that needs to fit (e.g. double and larger beds will not always fit in bedrooms). Also specify on your list if you can speak Japanese and if you have lived in Japan before as many landlords are reluctant to rent to people who don't speak Japanese. Other considerations that should be listed include if you need car or bicycle parking space, if you will have a pet and if an instrument will be played at home.Getting StartedAfter following the steps above, you should now be ready to commence your home search in earnest. You can usually expect to be able to move in around 3 - 4 weeks from this point if you can find your preferred property within the first 1 - 2 weeks. I recommend contacting a reputable real estate agent experienced in dealing with foreigners and working exclusively with that agent as much as possible as they will be far more likely to go the extra mile for you if they know you're not shopping around. Most properties on the market are accessible by any agent, with the exception of some properties that are only available through an exclusive arrangement. These agents will also usually help you to set up utilities and give you other valuable information and advice. Request the agent to send you some floor plans for your consideration and let them know when you wish to start visiting properties of interest.With your list of search requirements in hand, the agent will look for properties that meet as many of your criteria as possible AND they should also screen the properties to make sure the owner will likely accept your application. Without this important step, you will unfortunately find many owners will reject your application on the sole basis of you being non-Japanese. Do NOT rely on online listings as many of these will be out of date and used to lure you to contact the agent.After reviewing the floor plans, let your pagent know which properties are of interest and which are not, and describe why as much as possible.As you visit the potential properties, continue to give as much feedback to your agent as you can to help them narrow their future search if you don't see anything you like. Take photos and make notes on the floor plan as the details will quickly get jumbled in your mind otherwise.If you have narrowed it down to a shortlist, ask the agent to revisit those properties and ask any extra questions to help make your final decision.Making an ApplicationCongratulations- you've found a property you like. The fist step is to ask your agent to put in an application. Don't waste time at this point as the market moves quickly and you want to make sure yours is the first application. It's important to include at this stage any special requests or items you wish to negotiate, but be sure to be reasonable. Depending on the price range you are looking at, you might be able to request a lower rent or reduced key money, or you might be able to negotiate to have something included such as light fittings or air conditioning. Your agent should be able to help direct you to what requests are reasonable, but note that each owner is different. Some will not budge, yet others can be quite accommodating to requests and negotiations.In other posts I will look at the lease process, costs involved and getting set up in your new home.
Gift Giving Guidelines in Japan
Giving gifts are an incredibly important part of Japanese culture and presents are given for so many different occasions. In fact, gift giving in Japan is taken so seriously that it's not only seen as common courtesy, but a social obligation as well. Of course, like any gift giving culture, there are a certain number of rules that one needs to follow. So let's take a look at some of the etiquette involved in presenting presents to all types of people for all types of occasions.If you're a visitor to Japan who plans on giving gifts to someone, a small present or souvenir from your hometown is greatly appreciated. And because Japanese people receive gifts all-year-round, it's best not to overload the gift-receiver with too many trinkets. Therefore, something edible from your home country is probably the best gift you can give. The price of the present is also not as important as the meaning behind it. However, expensive gifts will still be appreciated (and are not viewed as a forms of bribery). It's a good idea to avoid gifts that include the numbers four and nine, as well as potted plants, lilies, lotus blossoms, and camellias - as there are a number of superstitions involving these gifts.The presentation of the gift is also often as important as the gift itself, so make sure that any present is nicely wrapped. Although the color of the wrapping has become less and less important in modern Japanese culture, you can still use this handy guide to really impress your Japanese friends. In many countries, we often give gifts at the beginning of our interactions. But in Japan, it's far more polite to wait until later in your meeting to present the gift to your host. This not only shows politeness before jumping in, but it also highlights how much you value your relationship over the gift. In terms of actually handing over the gift, it's best to use two hands and insisting on the present if the recipient refuses. This is because it's often polite in Japanese culture to decline a gift at least once or twice before accepting. You should also say the words "tsumaranai mono desu ga..." (つまらないものですが・・・) This literally translates as "It’s something boring, but please accept it" - a phrase that once again highlights the importance of your relationship over the importance of the gift itself.If you are on the receiving end, then remember not to immediately rip the gift open as soon as you receive it. You see, in Japanese culture (unlike Western cultures) it's more polite to wait until you are in private before opening a gift. If the gift in not wrapped, then it's good to thoroughly thank the giver for the gift. Once again, it's polite in Japan to refuse the gift once or twice before officially accepting it. However, not many Japanese people expect you to know this, so don't worry about it too much. It's also common to reciprocate gifts that were given for special occasions - even if the return present is given months later, it's still considered better to be late than never.
Life Line Vender: emergency vending machines
I was wandering around Gifu JR station and I saw this intriguing vending machine that has an eye-catching sign. Take a look:It sells the usual drinks and some energy bar if you're in for a quick snack. Nothing special, right? But did you notice the green sign? "Life Line Vender""This vending machine will provide necessities for everyone during a time of emergency"So I guess if there was a major earthquake or other disasters, people stuck at the station can come here and this will unload all its drinks and food for everyone to live, for free, I assume!Thanks in advance, Otsuka Med Supplies.
A Unique Way to Apologise - no bloodspill required
Committing suppuku (ritual suicide) seems a bit of an extreme way to show remorse for a mistake or wrongdoing to me. Thankfully a creative Tokyo confectioner, 3rd generation owner Yoshihisa WATANABE, came up with a slightly less life altering way to offer one's apologies. Enter, the seppuku manju, a Japanese-style sweet produced by confectionary company Shinshodo. Sinshodo is located in Shimbashi, Tokyo, near a stone monument marking the place of death of Lord ASANO Takuminokami. Asano-san was ordered to commit ritual suicide after attempting to his instructor with a sword. He killed himself in a garden what was not too far from the the stone monument erected in 1940 in 4-chome Shimbashi, on Hibiya-dori. The popular "seppuku manju" is made with a red bean paste oozing out from a crisp outer shell. Biting into the sweet, you discover a soft, chewy white mochi (sticky rice cake) in the centre. Visually, the sweet is a representation of the bloody deed. These days, business people who need to apologies to a client for example, will produce a box of these sweets to show their remorse. Traditionally, the most common form of ritual suicide is harakiri, also known as seppuku. Harakiri (腹切り) and seppuku (切腹) are both written with the same characters. 腹means "belly" (stomach) and 切 means "to cut". Harakiri is a slightly less formal way to refer to seppuku. ShinshodoHours: 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM (open until 5:00 PM on Saturdays).Closed:Sundays and holidaysAddress: 4-27-2 Shimbashi; Minato-ku, Tokyowww.shinshodoh.co.jp/
So you're foreign? Well we don't have a place for you.
Apartment hunting isn't fun. The same with job hunting, it's stressful and is usually a pretty big decision. It should be a simple thing though right? Go out, look at places, pick one, sign some papers and you are set and ready to move in. But deciding can be so difficult. How big do you want it? How much are you willing to pay? Do you need to have a bathroom? That last one surprised me when I first looked at apartments with a friend in Japan. I had never shopped for apartments before because I was lucky and my job provided me an apartment with all its key money paid and the furnishings half set up. I never had to worry about making a decision, because my board of education had made it for me. I was right across the street from my school in a two-bedroom new(ishily) built apartment. It was pretty swag for a single person on a low budget. All that space to stretch out in ...... (except for the room with the toilet where your knees touched the wall when you sat down). It was magnificent compared to the only other apartments I had seen in Japan, the efficiency apartments. These were only one room and a toilet, occupied by my university mates who weren't living at home with their parents. Efficiency apartments are the equivalent of living in a dormitory, but you had your own bathroom...in most places. These were the places a friend was searching for. Places with just enough space to live, but nothing more. Many of them had a small space for laying out a futon mattress, a little sink to wash a cup or plate, and a bathroom that often had the toilet inside the shower space. Many of the apartments didn't have space for a washer, or a shower space at all. You were expected to go to the public bath down the road, or wash your clothing by hand outside. But all of these places were closer to Tokyo and in very populated areas. The prices of the apartments often were affected more by their distance from train stations than the amenities like a bathtub or kitchen space. The only other time I have gone searching for apartments was with my boyfriend (now husband) and his two children. Clearly the criteria for a perfect place was very different, what with two children still in kindergarten. Our requirements, first floor because children are loud and we didn't want to be “those noisy upstairs neighbors”, and anywhere large enough, cheap enough and would accept foreigners. The first 4 real estate agencies we went to, took one look at my husband's name and told him they had nothing for him. The fifth and final agency where we ended up contracting with was the only one unconcerned about his foreign status or foreign heritage. I was extremely shocked by how biased the agencies were. No one was rude, but we were just politely rejected time and again. There are plenty of foreigners in the town that we live, and I have to wonder how much business they lose due to their bias. And now onto a funny story that may explain where the bias comes from …. So “those loud upstairs neighbors", we have them. They live caddy corner to us, which means the amount of noise we get is subdued by the walls. Now this apartment complex isn't the worst for carrying sounds, but footfalls do tend to echo about if you don't step lightly. If our neighbors are having a yelling fit or someone is throwing a tantrum, everyone around is bound to know about it. But normal daily activity isn't loud or obtrusive enough to disturb most residents in the complex, and usually by 10 pm everyone is getting ready to sleep for the next day of school/work. I mean most Japanese know the unwritten rule of no laundry after ten. But this apartment complex is 90 percent foreigners. Some just don't seem to get the memo. (Literal memos posted in their mail slots). That caddy corner neighbour though takes it to a new level. For some reason, their lifestyle demands they vacuum at 2 o'clock in the morning. Their one year old's play time is between midnight and 5 a.m. Their loudness was so disturbing it drove off the neighbors directly below them, our closest. The space left open by that lovely family to be filled with yet another set of foreigners. Not very nice or polite foreigners. Foreigners who were disrespectful enough to throw their empty beer cans in my bicycle basket and laugh about it. Foreigners who fought with each other often, and partied late nearly every weekend. Foreigners who did not like that the upstairs neighbors schedule didn't match their own for when it was ok to be loud. And they were very confrontational. They did, however, respect the 10 o'clock rule, unless it was to bang on the walls in frustration at the people upstairs. Loudly and angrily. You could feel the hostility in the vibrations. It scared the crap out of me the first time they did it, and that was at 2 in the afternoon. Being woken by someone slamming on the wall at midnight was even less fun. This was the beginning of the sound wars. If upstairs was vacuuming, downstairs turned their TV up. If downstairs started banging on the walls, upstairs turned on the radio. This continued for quite some time. My husband hated it. He can’t stand extra noise, especially rhythmic like a ticking or constant vibrating, so when downstairs bought a bass system (really getting into their friendly neighborly war), he had had enough. He began searching for a new place to live. However he was yet again rejected by all real estate companies in town and this finally kickstarted his quest to change his citizenship. Then comes the funny part. While I was away visiting my family in the states, my husband found an apartment he could move into, across the street with the same real estate agency we were currentlyvcontracted with. He had moved most of the stuff into the new apartment when he noticed just how sound friendly our place was before. If he stood still, he could hear the guy upstairs snoring. What a mistake. And the next day…. While my husband was in the process of finishing moving, the loud confrontational neighbors got into a fight at work and were fired. They were going to move to find work somewhere else. What luck right? And then the true beauty of the real estate company shone. They allowed my husband to move back into our apartment, no questions asked, no fees. He handed the keys back and they acted as if nothing happened. The angry neighbors, they left before their contract had completed and the upstairs continued vacuuming at 2 am. I can honestly see why some real estate companies don’t want to deal with foreigners. The cultural differences can honestly cause problems for both surrounding contracting residents, it is more work for the agencies, and there is an honest fear that residents will just disappear, not following through with their contracted time frames. So if you are frustrated when looking for an apartment in Japan because you are treated differently just because you are a foreigner, remember these biases typically form because there were other foreigners who set bad examples. Don’t be one of “those foreigners”. Set a good example and your landlord and real estate agency will appreciate you.