Posts Tagged ‘Japan Living’

Renting an Apartment in Japan and What to Expect

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Japanese apartments are very different from those in the United States, primarily due to the smaller size of most accommodations, particularly in large cities like Tokyo. While many apartments are still small in size, there are a growing number of larger apartments throughout the country that are more like Western style apartments. Visitors who are familiar with the country already know that there are differences in the bathrooms of nearly all Japanese homes, but in many other ways, today’s apartments are simply smaller versions of what most visitors are accustomed to. Visitors to Japan who are planning to stay for an extended period often prefer renting a furnished “short stay” apartment as a way to cut costs. With a few exceptions, Japanese apartments are similar to homes in Japan and many reflect the modern culture of large cities.

Japanese Rental Apartments Mansions and Houses

While most American apartments are measured in terms of square feet, Japanese apartments are measured in terms of tatami mats. A tatami mat is a woven straw floor covering which measures roughly three by six feet. Apartments are measured this way whether they have wooden or tatami flooring, and both are common options in Japan. Rooms that have wall-to-wall carpeting are fairly rare in Japanese apartments.

Upon entering Japanese apartments, you will usually walk into an entrance area called a genkan where visitors are expected to remove their shoes. Apartments all have a bathroom and separate toilet room, although other rooms in the apartment will vary. When looking at listings for Japanese apartments, you will usually see the abbreviations L, D, and K, which refer to the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Apartments are listed with the number of bedrooms first, followed by L, D, and K to indicate which rooms are in the apartment.

Japanese apartments will look different based on the area where they are located, the age of the building, the cost of renting the apartment, and whether the building is considered more “traditional” or “western”. The very small apartments that some people picture when they think of Japan are usually found in big cities, and they are usually older buildings where rent is less expensive. The best way to describe these apartments is to say that they are similar to a college dorm room, with enough room for the necessities but not a lot of extra room. On the other end of the spectrum are luxury apartments that are often quite expensive to rent but which provide all the amenities that a person could want. It is not uncommon to find that Japanese Apartments have rooms separated by sliding doors, rather than solid walls. Also called “shoji screens”, these dividers can make an apartment feel larger than it really is. In general, the Japanese are not fond of having a ton of possessions that clutter up the living space, and so there is usually not a lot of storage space in Japanese apartments. The standard of living that is expected of most people is to have a clean, simply decorated apartment that is free of excessive “stuff.” Remember, the concept of Feng Shui comes from Japan originally, and the principles of this design aesthetic are common throughout the country.

Japanese apartments reflect a country that is small, and often crowded, and where the people are very proud of their homes. Visitors will find that living in Japanese apartments can be cramped if they fill the apartment with a lot of excess “stuff”. For those planning an extended stay in Japan, staying in a short term lease furnished apartment can save money and give a more realistic experience of today’s Japan.

Living in Fukuoka Guide

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

I just picked up a Living in Fukuoka guide book from the foreign registration office. It’s pretty sweet and talks about how certain things are different in Japan, where to take some Japanese language courses, how to sort your trash, what to do in case of an emergency, how to get a Japanese drivers license, and a ton of other things. I’ll definitely post some info from the guide book so others can get answers to their questions. Until then you can do some research on the Fukuoka Website.

Finding an Apartment in Japan as a Student

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

It can be a cumbersome task for foreign students to find apartments in Japan, because of some major differences in the language limitation and renting systems. Also there is a factor as to how the Japanese view a foreigner, because they usually base their relationships upon trust.

If you are coming to study at a university, then you may ask the university officials to arrange a living space for you in the student dormitory. The rent is comparatively cheaper and you have the ease to get along with other students from various nationalities.

It also gives you an easy way to interact among the Japanese students and communities. However, an early enrollment into the student dormitory can be convenient.

There are many housing companies that offer furnished apartments based on rental system to foreign students. However, as a matter of fact, these apartments are highly expensive and will cost you too much if you plan to stay for long. Contrarily, the apartments from the residential housing schemes are also far too expensive to live for a longer period. There is a lot of cash-in-front required to arrange a private housing in Japan.

While you are looking into getting an inexpensive place to live, do not go for cheap places either. These will save you money, but will bring in many other issues that might be costly to you. For example, you will have to spend extra money to get warm water during the winters. You might also have to share toilet and kitchen with other tenants as there are only one each located outside the building.

In addition to monthly rent, you should also expect to pay off monthly maintenance charges, environment cleaning fee, utility fee etc. These costs are clearly mentioned on the fliers so you should look into then with detail before deciding.

There are several things you should take notice of; some of these are described below.

  • Key Money: Reikin is an amount of money which is usually given to the landlord (ooyasan) as a gift. The amount may vary but usually it is equal to a month’s rent. Shikikin is another amount which prevents you from disappearing from the house without prior notice, whereas Tesuuryou is an amount payable to the housing agent, if you hire any.
  • Maximum Length of Stay: Usually, all rental housing schemes ask you to mention a minimum period of your stay. If you breach the contract afterwards, it might result in a penalty. If you plan to reside for less than a year, then inform the ooyasan early.
  • Room furniture: Generally, apartments do not contain any furniture, but you will be given some equipment, such as gas stove, common washing machine, an air conditioner and maybe an internet connection.
  • Miscellaneous items: There are several other matters, such as fire insurance, gas usage, neighbors, room size and type. These directly link to the housing agent and the homeowner.

The last thing to keep in mind as a foreigner is that people mostly do not prefer to rent out to foreign students. You might come across some fliers that clear mention their reservations about foreign students. Just hire a housing agent and ask for moderately priced rental location with basic utilities.

About the author of this contributed article:
Andrew has been travelling to Japan as a student a few years ago. Andrew is now distributing sushi conveyor belt and sushi maker

Travel Volunteer Project – A meaningful contest to promote Tourism in Japan

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

This post is a contribution made by Eric, a Travel Volunteer Team Member.

In an effort to show the world that Japan remains a safe destination and promote international tourism back to Japan, we are sponsoring two “Travel Volunteers” to visit Japan’s 47 prefectures during a 100+1 journey.

The idea for this project came from one of our employees at The Real Japan: three months after the events, we were brainstorming on ways to restore confidence and bring back tourism to Japan. We had all seen the coverage about Japan from international media and felt an important part of information was missing… Although the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear issue are terrible disasters which claimed many lives, Japan as a country was NOT entirely destroyed or irradiated. All other places outside the evacuation zone remained totally safe. But the media never mentioned it.

An idea arose and immediately caught everyone’s enthusiasm: ”How about creating a contest to win a journey through all 47 prefectures of Japan in 100+1 days and report on a Blog and social media? All travel and accommodation expenses, including international airfares would be covered by the project. Impossible? Crazy? The seed for the “Travel Volunteer” project was planted…

Japan Travel Volunteer Project

We also involved Japanese tourism businesses from all over the country to sponsor a part of the journey and many contributed in the form of complimentary room-nights at hotels and Ryokans, with local guides offering their services to escort the Travel Volunteer for free in their city. We would like to thank them for their support.

On July 6th , after one month of excitement and intense work, the Travel Volunteer website was launched. It took off immediately, with over 200 applications in less than two days. Two weeks later, the Facebook page of our project was shared more than 10,000 times!

On July 31st, the application closing date, we had received 1897 applications from 85 different countries in the world… Every applicant was requested to pay a USD 5.00 fee to enter the contest, thus ensuring they were serious and committed. The funds were raised to support “On The Road”, a grass-root NPO, actively involved in the reconstruction efforts in the devastated Tohoku region.

Message Board of Support and Hope in Japan

Board of Messages full of Support and Hope

On August 15th, we had read all 1897 applications and pre-selected 5 candidates based on their answers to three simple questions:

  • What is your personal reason to apply for Travel Volunteer?
  • If you are selected, what would be your dream while in Japan?
  • Why should we choose you?

The “lucky five” were 3 single applicants – 2 female & 1 male) from Canada, Malaysia & Ukraine, plus two couples from the UK and the USA.

On September 13th, they were invited to join the final selection process (return flight paid) at Kaikaro, a prestigious Geisha Tea House in Kanazawa, in presence local personalities and Japanese TV’s covering the event. The selection process was broadcast live on U-Stream (watch it here) and on local & regional TV’s.

Foreigners getting into Japanese culture

Foreigners (Gaijin) wearing traditional Japanese kimono with Geisha girls and learning more about Japanes tradition as well as culture.

This non-profit project also aimed at raising funds for a grass-root NPO called “On The Road”, actively involved in the reconstruction efforts in Tohoku region, through a USD 5.00 application fee. As a result, USD 10,000 have been raised and symbolically handed over to the President of “On The Road” by the 5 pre-selected candidates, at the end of the ceremony.

Akita City Food and Beverage Association Annual meeting

Contestant winners Katie & Jamie from the UK who will be visiting 47 47 prefectures of Japan while they blog about their experiences!

On September 15th, our finally selected Travel Volunteers – Katie & Jamie from the UK – departed Kanazawa at 08.50 am to their first destination, Toyama. They are now on their way through Japan and will keep blogging everyday about their journey in Japan, until Christmas Eve on December 24th, when they will be in Tohoku, distributing gifts to children displaced by the tsunami.

For more information, please visit:
The Website: Travel Volunteer|トラベルボランティア
The Blog: (Japan) Travel Volunteer Blog
The Facebook Page
The Twitter Page

How to sell everything, move to Japan, and keep a U.S. address

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

You’ve decided to let go and move overseas. It’s time to sell as much as you can, if not everything! I sold stuff at a flea market, in the newspaper, using Craigslist, and on eBay, and I had a garage sale. I donated some household items and clothing, and the rest of my stuff I just gave away for free. These methods helped me get rid of everything I owned in the U.S.

But what about staying in contact with your home country? You know… a phone number, voice mail, and a mailing address? Sure you can use your parents address or another family members address and this would be the most affordable way, but sometimes it feels good not to have to rely on anybody to get things done. Here are some steps on how to make it happen on your own terms.

  1. Get a new address first using a 3rd party service. You could use the service Mailboxes Etc, but it’s not convenient. I recommend an online service such as Earth Class Mail. They’ll email you, scan your mail, even forward things to you. It’s important to do this first because once you decide where you’ll be getting your mail you need to get a notarized copy of USPS Form 1583 to authorize the service to receive mail on your behalf. Get this done at a notary or your local bank. But watch those fee totals! You’ll be paying a monthly fee + scanning fees + mail forwarding fees. Last year I spent a more than $1200 USD on this service. This year I’m estimated to spend about $800.
  2. Keep one credit card with a small limit. This is my recommendation so you can shop online more securely. You don’t want to become a victim of fraud where somebody drains your Bank Debit Card and you have to fight with your bank (while in Japan) about how to get your money back. You can check your credit score free at Credit Karma and they also can recommend credit cards based on your score.
  3. Get a bank account you want to keep for a long time or forever that offers nice online banking and minimal fees. You’ll need this to pay bills that may come up, etc. I have a checking account but I also bank with Capital One for savings (high yield money market account) and the cheapest withdrawals. I also just got a Charles Schwab savings account. They told me they don’t charge a conversion fee and reimburse ATM fees worldwide. I also signed up with to track all of my bank accounts from one login.
  4. Get a PayPal account and tie it to your bank account and any credit card you need to. Sometimes it’s a convenient solution to paying people or to buy products, but you should consider getting it even though you might not use it. I can access Paypal on my iPhone!
  5. I run my business online (from my ‘virtual office’ aka laptop) so I also have a fax number. I got a free fax number from so I can receive faxes. I also then use a  send-only service like Green Fax to send outgoing faxes using my email.
  6. More than 90 days before moving, renew your driving license for the longest time possible. This way you can use it to get an International Driving License, and when you return home it might still be valid. Why 90 days? Well sometimes if you have the proper visa it can be transferred to a Japanese license. Please don’t ask me about this, I have no idea how to do this or the rules because I use the subway. On a side note – make sure your passport is current!
  7. Secure your internet connection. When you do online banking, work, and even Facebook it’s a good idea to use a VPN. I use The VPN Company’s service on my laptop and my iPhone. The VPN Company works great in Japan and gives me a dynamic IP address. I pay for the premium membership for unlimited speed and server locations. Before using a VPN I’ve gotten locked out of my PayPal account a handful of times and my regular bank account. And wow, it is a pain to get the accounts verified and re-verified when you need your money asap. I’ve even had to verify orders I make in America or the UK over the phone because my IP was coming from Japan or wait for mail to be delivered and scanned. The benefit of using a VPN service (especially on public connections) is you’ll be able to encrypt your internet connection at home, at an internet cafe, wifi hotspot, and even on your smart phone. We’re talking serious business here… 2048 bit VPN encryption for my laptop and 128 bit for my iPhone at the same time (it’s basically 2 accounts for the price of one)! TunnelBear let’s me choose the server I connect to each time (USA, UK… for now) I’ve also been able to use geographically restricted sites like Hulu and U.S. network TV and even listen to Pandora online.
  8. Secure your laptop. Most likely you’ll have everything on your laptop (banking, contact info, important documents, photos, etc) and it’s stuff you can’t afford to lose. It’s a good idea to sign up for LogMeIn (even the free account) in case you lose your laptop or it gets stolen. I used to use 2GB of free online storage with DropBox and treat it as “My Documents” but then I switched to SugarSync that offers 5GB of free storage and multiple folder backup, then I back everything up using BackBlaze in case my hard drive crashes.
  9. Get a phone number. One that you can receive calls to and originates from your home country. I recommend doing this through Skype. It’s a solid VOIP company and I haven’t had any problems over the last 3+ years. For $60 a year you’ll have a number your friends and family can call to talk to you, leave voice mails, and you can use it to call phones for an unlimited amount of to the US and Canada. If you’re from another country then visit their site for more details on what they offer. I can use Skype on my iPhone! So that’s an added bonus.

And there you have – those are my tips for moving overseas and living in Japan or a another country abroad while still having a presence in the United States. It’s all about living a location independent lifestyle! If I think of anything else I’ll update this blog entry. If you have any useful tips please post them in the comments section.

  1. Get a phone number. I recommend doing this through Skype. It’s a solid VOIP company and I haven’t had any problems over the last 3 years. For $60 a year you’ll have a number your friends and family can call to talk to you, leave voice mails, and you can use it to call phones for an unlimited amount of to the US and Canada. If you’re from another country then visit their site for more details. I can use Skype on my iPhone! So that’s an added bonus.