Apr 28, 2017
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.
American step mom with beautiful Brazilian babies. Raising them in Japan. I'm a crafter too