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It can be very hard to find an apartment in Japan. There are many agents about but assuming you can negotiate the Japanese language you still have to find somewhere suitable. Then you probably need a guarantor, someone who will vouch for you as a responsible person and pay for you should any money problems arise. You'll also need lots of money for the deposits, key (gift) money and the movers fee. You could be looking at well over 5 months rent in total!
All that we may cover later on, but this blog is all about the actual move. What do you need to do? Read on.
- Say goodbye! - You probably made lots of friends where you live and your work will hold parties for you even if you didn't get on that well. So enjoy some goodbye parties with friends and coworkers. At work, be prepared to make a little speech about how much you liked it there, even if you didn't. It'll be appreciated. If you are a teacher like me, you have the extra chore of saying goodbye to students. Most won't mind too much (what good is English anyway?) but some will be genuinely sad and may come to you crying. Then, of course, there are a few presents you can expect from each party. Work customarily gives money. Students may give sweets. Friends might give... anything! They are your friends, not mine. How should I know what they will get you?
- Visit city hall! - Within two weeks of moving, you will need to go to city hall or your local ward office to fill in a form telling them that you are moving. They usually have an English guide but its basically just your name and address and the address you are moving to. You show that at the desk and they make up an official document for you which you must deliver in person to the city hall or ward office closest to your new address. So, yes, you even have to do this if you are staying in the same city but changing ward. While you are waiting for the document, they will tell you to inform the health insurance department too. So go do that... if you want health insurance, of course.
- Packing! - Well, first you have to find a moving company, unless you are lucky enough to have your own large car, a friend with a truck or no belongings. Movers are tricky devils. There are certain periods like holidays where everyone moves. If you want to move then, they will charge you an extortionate amount. Be flexible, suggest many dates, ask which is cheaper. Most of all, do not accept their first offer. We had one company try to charge us 650,000 yen for a move (about 6,300 USD). Another company, who we chose, offered a price of 192,000 but we ummed and ahhed them down to 90,000 yen. Anyway, they will give you boxes for your stuff but they will come and take your furniture as it is. They do all of the work, so don't worry about heavy lifting. Get to work packing those boxes. Each one should be completely sealed and clearly labelled with both addresses.
- Clean up! - It's a strong tradition in Japan not to return deposits anyway, they tend to use them for cleaning and replacing tatami, but if you want to stand any chance of getting it you need to clean like crazy. Everything of yours should be packed or thrown away. You will have a lot of garbage, and the normal collections probably won't take it, so you should check your city hall's website for the phone number of the environmental services, and you need to ask them to take away your big pile of trash. You may be charged for this. You can also get furniture and appliances taken away for a cost. If you need to replace any papou can also get furniture and appliances taken away for a cost. Then you just need to sweep the floors, mop and wipe surfaces. The whole place should be sparkling! Time to return your keys to the owner or letting agency and say goodbye.
- Move yourself! - You should be left with just yourself and the few valuables you will carry with you to your new destination. Time to go! Jump in that car, grab that train, stop that cat-bus or whatever it is you'll be doing to get to your new home.
- Unpacking! - The movers will bring everything into the apartment. They'll even place things where you ask them. So all you have to do is to unpack the boxes. Sounds easy, but its the longest job really.
- Shopping! - The Japanese have a strange tradition of taking ceiling lights with them when they move. So you may have to go and buy some from the local home centre as soon as you can. You may have to buy other things too. Anything large you can get from the home centre. Anything small you can get from a 100 yen store. See our other blog entry here for more information. Don't forget, you'll also need to buy some food to stock your cupboards. That calls for a trip to the local supermarket.
- Check your services! - You'll have a leaflet, and perhaps a friendly landlord, which will tell you about things like how to sort your garbage and when to leave it out for collection. They might also enquire about contributions to a community newsletter or cleaning bills in more expensive places. This is also a good time to take your change of address document to the ward office.
- Enjoy! - I'm sure you have plenty of things to do, but don't forget to take time out to enjoy your new place. Look around, enjoy the view, explore the local area. You did it! You moved house in Japan, and hopefully you'll never have to do it again. Am I right?
Have you moved house recently or are planning to move? Have any questions or tips? Leave a comment below.