Moving is kind of always a big deal, so I knew going into my recent move that it would be a process. This wasn’t even my first international move either, as Tokyo is now my fourth city abroad, so I figured I knew what I was in for. But as it turned out, I had no idea.
I return home from a 10 day trip to Taiwan and realize that I can’t not deal with life in a sharehouse any longer. I can’t deal with the fact that no one does their chores, the fact that some people have no idea how to close a door without slamming it, the fact that my house mates are drunk every weekend. I’m just too old for this shit.
Initially, a sharehouse made a lot of sense. It’s cheaper, furnished, the move-in process is quite easy, and you can easily meet new people. But I missed my space and my privacy, so it was time to bite the bullet and move on.
While there are ways to look for apartments on one’s own, I chose to hire a real estate agent, since almost all private property owners use agents to rent their listings. But for me, an American with poor Japanese skills, hiring an agent was vital to navigate the murky language and cultural barriers presented by the challenge of finding an apartment.
Here I got really lucky, as a friend who’s been a Tokyo resident for some time recommended me an agent that spoke great English and doesn’t charge an agency fee to his clients. Truly, nothing would have been possible without him, and he has continued to provide me support even after the move-in process was completed.
Moving in Japan can be exorbitantly expensive. One can expect to pay the first month’s rent, deposit (equivalent to one month’s rent), a guarantor company fee (usually 50%-75% of one month’s rent), a building maintenance fee, fire insurance fee, and other fun surprises that the average foreigner might not anticipate. There is also a delightful fee known as “key money”. Key money is considered a gift from the renter to the landlord of the property in exchange for the privilege of receiving the key to the apartment – and is also equivalent to one month’s rent. Here again, my choice of agent was lucky; he doesn’t believe in the concept of key money and considers it old-fashioned, a stance that I agree with, and so only showed me properties that didn’t charge this, saving me quite a bit in the process.
Every part of the searching and application process I did through my agent. I told him what I was looking for, and every Monday for several weeks he sent me any listings he had come up with via LINE, a popular Japanese messaging app. We would meet at the closest station, walk over to the apartment, and take a look. To his credit, he only showed me quality listings, not wanting to waste either of our time. The first day we met, I really liked one of the apartments, and gave him the green-light to apply for it.
Now, here’s where the process grinds to a halt. In the US, it is common to apply to many different apartments at once, due to fast turn-over rate, and then wait and see which apartments accept you and choose from there. But in Japan, the process is more of a courtship. The landlord wants to see that you want them, and only them, to be your landlord, and so you should only apply for one apartment at a time, as a show of your commitment. My agent applied for the apartment I had chosen in Ogikubo, and we waited. I received a call from the guarantor company, to verify information about myself – which went terribly, because the woman on the phone spoke no English, and asked basic questions in Keigo, the proper formal register in Japanese that I am not very familiar with. I waited. Obon passed. The guarantor company called again. This call was also terrible. I asked my agent. He said they “were still considering me”. One month after making the application, I received the news that I’d been rejected because of my low Japanese ability.
After a month of wasted time and anxiety, it was back to the drawing board.
Two months into the journey. . . would I get lucky in September? Find out in Part Two.