So before moving to Tokyo I thought I wasn’t going to experience much culture shock, at least new culture shock. I have visited Japan twice before, traveling to several different cities across Japan, including Tokyo so I thought I had experienced enough things to know my way around.
On my first trip here, I was in awe of all the anime characters used in every day ads, I was appreciative of all the exemplary and polite service in Japan, and I absolutely loved that Japan seemed to enjoy mango-flavoured food items just as much as I did. I’ve also experienced packed, but super quiet trains (while watching a girl across from me put on a full face of make-up including false eyelashes), I’ve been run after when leaving a 10-cent tip once (no tipping in Japan!), and I’ve been chastised for climbing over a 5-inch railing on to a temple platform (turns out I was supposed to take my shoes off first and there were signs by the main entrance to do so, oops).
I had experienced Japan and Tokyo before and was excited to really try and live in the country, as least for a short while. Chris had also been studying up on Japanese and I can speak some basic and conversational Japanese, so we really thought we were going to be somewhat okay in Japan. But wow, was I wholly unprepared for some things. These things mainly had to do with setting up for living in Japan, which turned out to be an exhausting process. So if you want to know or read more about this mundane part of living in Japan, please read on because it’s a long story.
We actually started looking at neighbourhoods and places to rent in Tokyo about 2 months before we left just to get a sense of what we wanted, what was in our budget, and what types of places were available. We started contacting realtors about a month before we left and were told to contact them again closer to the date. Pretty much the next day after we landed in Tokyo and had settled into our AirBnb, we immediately set up viewings for apartments for the next few days. We were being proactive, things were happening, and we felt good.
The first day we went to go see some apartments, we were using the GaijinPot service which advertised paying rent via credit card and English language support (though it turned out English language support was just a guy over the phone translating between us and the realtor). We saw a really tiny place which we knew would not work for us and then these two apartment/townhouse building type places which was BRAND SPANKING NEW–as in there were still tags on appliances! But unfortunately, it was really far from central Tokyo and kind of in a depressing area to be honest. However we accepted that it would be an okay option if we didn’t like what we saw in our next viewings.
The second day we went to go see apartments we were going with a different company called Daito. This set of viewings was much more official as we met them at their office where we had tea served to us, staff introduced to us, and then taken around to apartments. They also advertised English language service which by the way turned out to be Google Translate. Freaking. Google. Translate.
However, despite the communication challenges, we really liked the two apartments we saw with Daito and wanted to move into one them right away. So back to the office we went, signing our first multiple page set of forms for our application package, happy that things were going so well. We sat down with our very nice realtor (which I’m sorry, I still don’t remember his name) and was informed that process would take 10-14 days! How can that possibly be? For our apartment in Vancouver, the process was barely 2 days. I’m still not quite sure why it takes so long to be honest, but I think Japanese people really like protocol for protocol’s sake or maybe it’s just because in Canada we just don’t have a long draw-out protocol for moving into a place. I don’t know.
Over the next few days we exchanged some information and they called our references and everything was approved. Yay! We set up a time to meet to sign the contract and went out to buy a Hanko, which is basically your last name on your stamp (pictured below) which acts as your signature. Though you still have to sign your signature, so I don’t really get that either. *shrugs*
Long story short, on the day we met our realtors to finalize things, we ended up spending 6 HOURS in that office. We filled out 3 sets of multiple page contracts and forms which required the same exact information, took some online course about fire safety, and did a lot of nodding whether or not we actually understood what they were saying to us. It took 6 hours because our realtor had to translate line by line for us on all 3 contracts while filling out our forms. On top of that we had issues setting up our payment because while we were told originally we would pay with our credit card, but it turns out it’s an entirely different matter when it’s an international credit card. Then they had to get approval from the owners for us to set up a bank account after we move in, which we would need as we couldn’t pay with our credit card. So that means you need a bank account to get a place/address and you need a place/address set up a bank account. Funny how that works, eh?
Anyways in the end, we got it done, but all in all, the apartment viewings, the calls and emails back and forth, and the finalizing of a contract (for a rental apartment!) was probably a 15/16 hour process. But after two weeks of feeling like transients, we were happy to finally have a place to call home.
P.S. A huge thank you to my friend Jen for being so gracious with her limited time and allowing me to wake her up on one of her very few days off and translate for me over the phone when I was really struggling to understand what the realtor was trying to tell me that one time. Thank you for all your help, Jen! ❤ ❤ ❤
Moving-in to our place was a complicated process on it’s own. First of all, a typhoon was coming which was slated to arrive the day after we moved in so we had to make sure to have enough food and essential supplies (our first night sleeping in our new place and the windows rattled all night!).
We also had no furniture. We had actually gone shopping for furniture at Nitori (basically Japan’s Ikea though they have here as well) a week before and had managed to order a mattress, but the mattress was set to arrive a full 4 days after we moved in (earliest possible time). So we were sleeping on this thin futon mattresses for the first few nights. Nitori has a lot of wonderful and beautiful furniture and accessories, but after hours of debating over couches and chairs, and finally deciding on our items, we were shocked to learn that a lot of their items actually take full WEEKS (if not a month!) for delivery, which just did not work for us. Can someone tell me if it takes that long in Canada as well?! I feel like that’s a no! We ended up ordering most of our things from Amazon Prime (thank god for Amazon Prime), including our couch, coffee table, television, television stand, etc. However, now whenever we walk by a Nitori, we get this strange queasy feeling in our stomach and a wave of irrational anger, thinking of all the time we wasted in that store.
In terms of utilities, setting up electricity, water, and gas was not as hard as I thought it would be, but internet was more difficult than expected. We had called more than a week before moving in to set-up internet, which turned out to be entirely necessary. My friend Jen had urgently suggested it and she was right to do so because the earliest we could get someone to come and set-up internet turned out to be in two weeks! So we were without home internet for about a week. Upon googling the matter, it takes a month for some people (!) so I should be grateful for sure.
Our place is in the quiet area of Mitaka-shi, which is a very nice change from our place in Vancouver downtown with all its’ noises and sounds of traffic, drunk people, fire and ambulance sirens, and speeding cars. That being said, there’s this dog–we can’t tell where it is because sound travels when it’s so quiet–that barks at the wee early hours of the morning (poor dog, Chris thinks that it’s cold and wants to be let in) and there’s a house that’s being built literally 10 feet from our apartment. So kind of quiet and kind of not? Haha. Our bathroom also has a clothes drying function which we love and our toilet is one of those high-tech ones with bidet functions which is a good thing.
However, I don’t think I realized how complicated the garbage sorting was going to be or rather I don’t think I realized that garbage sorting was going to be a complicated thing at all. There are 7 categories of garbage for the area of Mitaka-Shi. The 3 most common for our personal garbage is PET bottles, Combustibles, and Plastics. There are also Non-Combustibles, Hazardous Items, Cans/Bottles, and Yard Trimmings. Coming from Vancouver (and me working at the library) we are used to sorting our garbage, but when you’re given an entire manual on how to sort your garbage, it’s a whole different matter. After reading a few blogs and learning about the red tag of shame (where if you sort your garbage wrong, they label it with a red tag and refuse to take it unless it’s resorted correctly), I had to learn the intricacies of real garbage sorting.
I’ve gotten somewhat used to it now. But for example, if you have a plastic bottle of coke, You have to rinse out the bottle, take off the label and cap which goes in Plastics, then place the bottle with your PET bottles. Or let’s say you buy a package of cookies and they are all individually wrapped (Japanese people seem to love individually wrapping things). The outside packaging and plastic tray goes in plastics, and any food crumbs go in combustibles, and the individual plastic wrapping? You would think they go in plastics. But because there’s some chocolate sauce on there that you can’t seem to wash away (or can’t be bothered to), they actually go in Combustibles.
On top of that, you can only use specific, city-approved garbage bags for certain types of garbage. And if you want to throw away a big appliance? There’s a whole other process for that that I don’t even want to get into…not that I really could since I don’t really understand it.
Thankfully, we have been very successful with our garbage sorting adventures, and our garbage has been taken away each time. I have yet to see the red tag of shame and hope to never see it!
Suffice to say the first month of so in Japan had been difficult, stressful, and mentally draining. We were and are pretty tired. Setting up our apartment, moving-in, garbage sorting, learning how to actually live in Japan has definitely been a learning experience.
We are about 2 months in now and are feeling a lot better than we did a month ago. Things can only get easier with time, so I am feeling hopeful. In the mean time, we have really started to venture out and explore and are very much enjoying ourselves.
There is so much delicious food to try, interesting events to attend, experiences to be had, cities to visit, and adventures to chase. Even if things aren’t going as well as I thought or hoped they would, this trip is still going to be (and is!) a great and fun experience and I’m very glad we decided to do it. 😀
This was a very long post and I think part of me just wanted to rant, so thank you for reading to the end if you did!
Leave a Reply