My note on finding a home in Japan (Living Japan #3: Mission Apartment) remains as the most-read post on this blog, so there must be many who had the same questions and struggles as I did. Hope that note helped you to some extent. I’ll continue with the next steps: filling up the house and actually making it a home.
1. Buying new electronics
As I wrote in Living Japan #3, most apartments come without furniture. For regular apartments (non-UR), the common rooms come with an air conditioner (works as cooler and heater) and a set of stoves (single-stove electric type or two-stove gas type). That is all. My first apartment didn’t even have those. Other essentials that are not provided are laundry machine and refrigerators. Of course there are options to live without these essentials.
I lived in my first apartment without an air conditioner. It didn’t make sense for me to waste at least USD 500 for a disposable electrical equipment for a temporary house (there are second-hand air-con, but I didn’t see those as a good idea either). My colleagues couldn’t believe I could survive the summer and winter without it. Well Japanese and non-Japanese people here hate the summer. I admit it’s very hot and humid, but it’s bearable for me. In fact it’s the best season to live in, if only spring isn’t sabotaged by annual typhoon. I survived summer by leaving the small ventilation windows open all day, all night. The winter, though, was tough. I managed to survive with a small electric heater, wearing layers, and warm house shoes. But I confess that it was a torture. Get yourself a proper heating because there’s no central heating in the country (due to its vulnerability to earthquake).
The easiest way to buy electronic equipment is to visit electronic shops like Yamada Denki, Yodobashi Camera, and Bic Camera, they will deliver and install them for you. The big branches in Tokyo and Yokohama have English-speaking staffs: Yodobashi Camera Yokohama; Shinjuku; Akihabara, LABI Yamada Denki Shinjuku East, Bic Camera Yurakucho. You can get air-cons, laundry machines, refrigerators, and any other electronic equipment at these stores — even things that you never thought you need. 😉 The big electronic shop chains hold crazy discounts every once in a while, especially in the end-of-year period. For example, people line up from 7 am in the hopes of getting a Windows Surface laptop for only a USD 100.
I also recommend you to support smaller retails around your neighborhood. These local shops can be less dizzying and less impersonal. Matsuya Denki is one example, and you most likely can find one around your train station.
Alternative way of living without a washing machine is using coin laundry if there is any near your house (search for コインランドリーkoin randori, yes that’s one example of the confusing use of katakana). Or, you can do as the Japanese city people do: bring all your dirty shirts and socks to the laundress. It DOES sound ridiculous, and it’s hard to believe that this habit is increasingly common even among average-income people. Of course, coin laundry and laundry are more expensive compared with getting a washing machine in the long run.
2. New furniture
Three places to answer all your needs: Nitori, MUJI, and IKEA.
Nitori is a Japanese brand selling all range of home products. It’s cheap, it’s everywhere, it delivers with a low charge. The quality of basic household products are good, though I don’t recommend getting “specialty” products, e.g. French press cup, here. You can check their Nitori online shop, use the magic google translate trick. Nitori is often even cheaper than the home supplies store near your house.
Compared with Nitori, MUJI has a higher quality, more style and sophistication in design, but more expensive and less variety. MUJI has basic fashion and food items, too. I’d call MUJI a “lifestyle” shop whereas Nitori is a “home products” shop. MUJI stores are also everywhere.
Like everywhere else in the world, IKEA shops are vast and located outside the city. Consider going there for a full-day shopping spree. There are free shuttle buses from the nearest big train station. There’s an English version IKEA online store and it recently started delivery service for small items.
3. Second-hand electronics, furniture, and items
You may have heard that recycling is an integral part of the Japanese life. There are plenty of second-hand shops for all kinds of stuff: electronics, furniture, regular fashion, haute couture fashion, books, CDs and DVDs (yes, these are still big in Japan).
One of the main reasons for recycling or selling-out used electronics and furniture is the cost you’d have to bear if you simply throw them away. Unlike in Southeast Asian countries or many countries in Europe, you can’t just put them at the garbage area to be picked up by waste services or your neighbors; you have to make prior arrangements with the city waste services for pickup, and pay for it. So rather than doing so, it’s much more preferable to sell or give them to someone. In fact, I was lucky to get many second-hand furniture from an office colleague who happened to be moving out at the time I came.
Book-off is a major chain for second-hand stuffs including electronics and furniture. Their branch shops that sell electronics and furniture are called “Book Off Super Bazaar” at Hachioji, Oomori, Ofuna, etc. Other second-hand store that I know are called Treasure Factory. The quality of products greatly vary, but it’s usually you-get-what-you-pay-for. I think the selection of furniture at recycle shops are usually not so great, but electronics are fine.
If you buy at the shops, they can arrange delivery and will install the stuffs for you. Before going there, make sure you have your full address, phone number, and the delivery time that you want. Delivery time are usually offered in five periods: morning (until 12:00), afternoon 1 (12:00-14:00), afternoon 2 (14:00-16:00), evening (16:00-18:00), and night (18:00-20:00).
Another treasure chest, located on the web, is called Craigslist. I’m sure many of you, especially Americans, have used this website. It’s active in Japan’s big cities with all kinds of offers, from dining tables, cabinets, beds, chairs, sofas, etc. I’m very lucky to get a second-hand but barely-used road bicycle through Craigslist. Buying through Craigslist include arranging delivery or pickup directly with the seller. Recently, a new mobile application-based second-hand hub called Mercari was launched. It’s getting very popular nowadays, but I notice most of the things on offer are small items, e.g. cups, decorative stuffs, cute containers, and cute pillows or puffy seats.
Of course, aside from all those shops and websites above, you can find everything you need at Amazon.jp. Pay for the Amazon Prime and you’ll feel like a king: they deliver the next day. But be careful, not all items being sold on the website are authentic.
I think getting a bicycle is a must in Japan. You can find them at bicycle shops around your house, the electronic shops mentioned above, MUJI, or Amazon. After getting your bicycle, you need to register them as your property through the bicycle shop where you buy it. The bicycle shop will register your name and address and put a sticker on your bicycle, like a license plate on a car 🙂 Yes, this country is full of regulations. Your apartment building management may also ask you to register your bicycles and they will issue yet another sticker. This is important, though, because non-labeled bicycles may be disposed of during major building clean-ups.
None of those stickers will prevent the bicycles from being stolen or taken away if you park at non-designated spots. Japan is a safe country, but bicycles are like gazelles to lions. The less alert ones are the best prey for an occasional treat. Don’t expect to get your stolen bicycle back (yes, you can cry, as I also would). No matter how much your bicycle is, it’s not considered something precious. Lock your bicycles anywhere you park them, even at the paid parking spaces (e.g. at the train station). Parking on the streets is a very minor offense, so it’s a daily practice for cyclists, but once in a while the city will clean up bicycles stranded on the streets. These are done at random times, and you can go to the collection area and get it back (but I don’t want to imagine the hassle).
5. Settling in
I wanted to include the social aspects of settling in a new home in Tokyo in this post, like how to interact (or not to interact) with your neighbors, building the “at home” feeling, etc., but this post has become long enough and it feels like a different topic. So I’ll write another post for that. As usual, share with me your questions and stories in the comments! 🙂