This is a continuation of how I moved out of my sharehouse and into my very own apartment in Tokyo. Click here for Part One.
The month of September was spent thus: Every Monday, I’d wake up early, eagerly awaiting a LINE message from my agent. We’d meet up, hit the streets and check out two or three apartments. None of the choices were bad per se, but I guess I was looking for the Goldilocks apartment: I wanted it to be just right. There was a quirky apartment in Shibuya with the largest room but the tiniest bathroom, a chic one in Higashi-Shinjuku that was just outside my budget, and a gorgeous one in Harajuku that was snatched up before we had a chance to apply. Finally, when we met for the fifth time, we headed out to see an apartment in residential Medaimae. Upon stepping inside, I knew it was the one. Maybe it was the charming green wallpaper, the light-filled corner location, or the fact that it was 30 m² and still within my budget. We applied, and I waited, this time not picking up the phone when the guarantor company called. Three anxiety-filled weeks later, I received the news that I had been accepted, and I could move into the apartment in mid-October.
When it came time to fill out the paperwork, I met my agent at a Jonathan’s restaurant (an “American” diner), for what he said would be an hour-long meeting. I didn’t see how something straightforward like signing a contract would take that long, but I blocked out my schedule.
When he arrived, he pulled a huge stack of papers out of his backpack. It hit the table with a dull, heavy thud. This would take a while.
There were multiple contracts, and multiple copies of each contract. The contract with the landlord, with the management company, with the fire insurance company, more contracts than I can remember. Everything was in Japanese, which my agent translated for me. After the contract terms, there were the rules of the apartment: don’t make noise, no pets, no instruments.
“While living in the apartment, you are not to become a member of an underground organization,” he translated.
Don’t join the yakuza while living there. Got it.
When renting an apartment in the United States, one can have certain expectations for what will be included. Usually, the apartment will come with a fridge, oven and stove top, and blinds on the windows. Bonus points if it includes a dishwasher, microwave, or parking space. And if it includes a washing machine and dryer, it is the holy grail of apartment rentals.
But in Japan, “unfurnished” means exactly that – nothing. No furnishings of any kind. Your apartment is essentially an empty box. And if you are going from a furnished sharehouse to an unfurnished apartment, like I was, you will need to find things to fill your empty box with.
While this is a daunting and expensive process, modern living thankfully provides us with a lot of convenient ways to get things to put in the box. And one of those conveniences is in the blessed form of IKEA, which will ship any amount of items in a certain radius for ¥3000. So although I was planning on getting a ton of stuff secondhand, I figured that there were a certain number of items that it would be nice to have delivered upon move-in day, and off to IKEA I went.
Sometimes, life in another country feels like constantly messing up, having to swallow your pride and just go with it. I would have thought, three years into my Japan journey, that this phase would be over, but no; it is a lifelong struggle.
My trip to IKEA was exemplary of this: I got on the wrong bus, and managed to ride it to the end of the line before I finally figured it out. I was pissed off at myself for doing something so stupid and wasting so much time, but what could I do? I figured out which bus I needed and got on, but the 3 hours I’d set aside for my IKEA trip that day was now reduced by half. Have you seen the size of IKEA? 90 minutes is not enough time, but I had to make it work.
Under this time crunch, I attempted to sprint through IKEA, but there were just so many options for EVERYTHING. It was while trying to pick out some cups, that I started to feel truly overwhelmed. There were so many choices to make: what color? Which size? How many? It occurred to me, then, that I’ve never made this many decisions before at one time in my adult life. I’d never truly started living some place from scratch, on my own before; and I’d always had another person to help me decide what I wanted. What did I want? What was I doing here? I grabbed the 6 pack of green cups.
After similar mini-crises over mattresses (foam or spring?) and curtains (length? material? color?) I would eventually make it out alive, only to discover that I’d messed up and bought the wrong type of duvet for the fast approaching winter. I would later return to IKEA and buy another duvet. This one would also be wrong. It was the appropriate one for winter but too small for my duvet cover. I ordered a duvet off of Amazon. It arrived three days later, and was perfect.
If you don’t want to (or can’t afford to) buy everything new, there are some useful life hacks, brought to you courtesy of the wonderful connectivity of Facebook. In Japan, it can be difficult and expensive to get rid of items like furniture or electronics, so foreigners leaving the country are stuck with the quandary of how to get rid of these things. And, say what you will about Facebook, but literally everyone is on it, and it’s a great way to connect with others. Thus, sales groups such as Sayonara Sales Tokyo and Mottenai Japan were born, both of which I used to source second hand furnishings for my new digs. On these groups, people leaving Japan are able to sell or even give away their stuff. Usually the buyer has to figure out transportation and things like that, but the enterprising gaijin can find great household goods for quite cheap or even free. Of course, it requires a good amount of legwork sifting through posts and if you see something you like, you have to act fast – IKEA as a one stop shop is certainly more convenient. But from these groups, I was able to get my fridge, washing machine, dining room table and chairs, a bookcase, laundry poles and racks, and a myriad of assorted kitchen supplies for a fraction of what they would have cost new.
Move-in day was perhaps the smoothest day of this whole journey. I met my agent to get the keys, and walked into my shiny new apartment. I waited around for the gas man and my IKEA delivery. The gas man told me I was beautiful and the IKEA delivery man complimented my Japanese. On the weekend, I rented a tiny Kei truck for a day to pick up my secondhand appliances and move the rest of my stuff out of the sharehouse. I was nervous about driving the rickety little truck, but it was actually pretty fun! Probably the most fun I had during the entire moving experience.
At last, I was in the apartment, but was the journey over? Not quite. . .