If you want to imagine how I feel during moving apartments while in Japan, imagine me smacking my forehead and using the last fragments of my voice to utter an “Uhhhhhhh” to the sky.
Granted, these last couple of days, I’m in a sweet spot where I just have to pack up an apartment and not deal with many or people or phone calls.
In America, the process (for moving apartments) is so different. You know your lease is about to expire, so you go visit complexes, get tours and brochures and if you like it, fill out a paper, sign a release for background and credit checks and viola! Choose your moving date. Get a couple of friends to help you move (and if necessary, you could even rent a truck, but a friend with a truck is even better). Home sweet home, you unpack and you’re done.
Here, I feel the process is more akin to… say… buying a house. Ok, I’ve never done that, but I’m sure it can’t be much hectic than this.
Here are the steps according to my experience.
- Walk around the nearest train station of the place you want to live. Locate the real estate agencies (easy to identify). Stare at their outdoor selection of places and prices they offer and eventually go inside. They will serve you tea, ask you preliminary questions such as size and budget and distance from the station. They’ll then show you any number of places (I’ve had as few as 2 and as many as 10 options presented to me). You narrow it down and then select a day to go look at them (if you’re lucky, you might even be able to see one of them that day). Lather, rinse and repeat at the next real estate agent to see what they have to offer. It may also take time for them to confer with the owners to see if they will approve a foreigner living in the apartment. Here are some interesting notes on apartments:
- Size: In America, we have one bedrooms, studios, 2 bedrooms, etc. In Japan, you have initials. First, there’s a number (1, 2, 3, even 4). This stands for the number of rooms. And L stands for living room, D stands for Dining room and K stands for Kitchen. Now, don’t be fooled, the D part usually just means you have an American normal sized kitchen and not a galley one. Currently, we live in a 3DK= 3 rooms and a dining room and kitchen. One of the rooms we use as a living room. So, really, our apartment functions as if it were a 2LDK. Room sizes are measured by how many tatami mats fit in them. On Japanese TV, when they show American houses, they tell you how big each room is in “Jo” (the mats). And then the audience gasps.
- They also tell you the overall size of the apartment in square meters. So, you hear me say “Oh, my apartment is a 3DK”, which sounds large, right? Well, it’s like 53 sq.m. which is about 570 sq. feet. The very first studio apartment Vicente and I moved into was 416 sq. feet. Our 1 bedroom apartment was 716 sq. feet.
- Tour the place, fill out an application. For us, because we are foreigners, it meant an application with what’s called a guarantor company and turning in a paper from our place of employment that shows how much we make annually. In the past, we’ve had a guarantor person, which I guess is like a cosigner. However, this time we are the first Americans (first Westerners I think) to move into our building and our new landlord is a a little skeptical. So, we applied to the [ridiculously expensive] company, waited a couple of days for their response as they checked into our background and tax records. We tried to go the route of the guarantor person, but to no avail.
- Real Estate Agents negotiate deals over a couple days and then you fork over all your pennies, as well as your arm, leg, and left ear and then sign the contract.
- Begin negotiations with moving companies. I’ll post about that later because wheeeeeew-wee! That’s another experience.
- Call local companies to get your utilities turned off or transferred. Call numbers for new apartment and get utilities turned on. Any other services such as internet, you have to call to determine what to do.
- Get your mail forwarding thing processed at the post-office. Or online. Notify any other companies of your new address. For me, that meant searching through those companies’ webpages and remembering login info and finding the right buttons to do that. And in one case, it will mean mailing copies of my new ID card registrations in the new city in order to guarantee that I am who I say I am. Which leads me to the next point…
- Go to favorite place: City Hall. Get a form to register that we’re moving out of the city and into a new one, cancel insurance card (I think) so that I can get a new one at the new city hall, figure out how taxes/city taxes are gonna work living in a new city and how Rosalyn’s health insurance (a similar but different system) and benefits work. Do we cancel? Do we transfer? We’ll find out next week when we visit a million different desks to accomplish these tasks.
- Go to important doctors (for pregnancy and a few others) and have them write letters of introduction to new doctors that I’ve already chosen in the new city, otherwise pay a hefty fee at new place.
- Make sure your stove is compatible to the new place. In our case it’s not. We are going from a propane system to a natural gas system. So, sell old stove and get new stove.
- Visit all friends and say “goodbyes” though we won’t be that far away that we can’t see each other.
- MOVE. UNPACK.
- Clean old apartment and be there for gas to be turned off, as well as meet the owners for the first time while they inspect our apartment for any damage. Turn in keys. (oh yeah, whenever you notify the real estate agent of your 30 days, then you have paperwork to file with that).
- Get new gas turned on, everything installed, etc. New internet set up. The gas thing needs to have been done earlier though and you have to be there for that.
- Give your neighbors a gift to introduce yourself and ask that they have favor on you kinda thing. No, they don’t bring you cookies, you bring them cookies!
- Go to new city hall to turn in the paper from the previous city hall. Start the process of getting your new residence registered and your Foreigner ID card updated, health insurance set up, Rosalyn’s health insurance and benefits set up, my pregnancy coupon tickets figured out for the new city system, and taxes… Joy.
- Go to new doctors and set about locating appropriate doctors in the new city. Figure out best new places to go grocery shopping, etc.
- Breathe. Hope that you accomplished it all and that there isn’t any surprising but necessary thing you were supposed to have done.
I THINK this is the process. At least, it’s what I can remember right now. We’ve done this all on about a 5 week timeline by the time all is said and done.
Also, please translate ALL of these steps into Japanese and then you’ll have a feel for what this is like and the millions of phone calls from unknown numbers that you won’t know what you’re dealing with until you pick it up. Because for some reason, they don’t leave messages here. I wish they did.
Now I know why the Japanese don’t move that often!