Moving house is a stressful enough activity wherever you are. But in a country as fond of red tape as Japan, and – for most English-speakers living here – in a language as difficult to read as Japanese, especially in its official form, that stress is only exacerbated.
Let’s look at the steps involved in moving addresses in Japan, and the how you can minimise stress, maximise savings, and prevent yourself from being ripped off or getting in official hot water.
Finding a guarantor for your next place is usually the most critical consideration. As a foreigner, you will need a Japanese citizen aged 20 years or over who is willing to accept responsibility for anything that may befall you in regard to your next rental contract. The ideal guarantor is married and in a position of responsibility. If you are a company employee, your boss is the most natural choice. If you are a student, your guarantor could be one of your teachers or professors. However, from my experience, some rental companies who are aimed towards foreigners do not need guarantors. These companies, however, usually charge higher rent per month. So you will have to do more self-research to find just the right one for yourself.
2. Personal seal, or Inkan
You will need your own personal seal (inkan in Japanese) for the contract for your new apartment. You can get one made at an inkan shop for no more than about 2,000 yen. You could also get one from Don Quijote. You will then need to take it to the local town, ward, or city office to register it.
If you are already living in Japan, you will have a rental contract with your landlord. It is usually for a term of two years. The contract does not bind you to stay the full two years (or whatever the term of your contract may be); you can leave at any time you like. However, you must give your landlord notice of your intention to move. If you’re not sure how many days that the landlord has to be notified in advance, contact the real estate agent for your dwelling to find out. (It’s at least 30 days, usually more.)
Rent is charged by the calendar month, so you should aim to move out by the end of the month. If you notify your landlord too late and end up officially moving out on, or any time after, the first day of a new month, you’ll have to pay rent for that whole new month.
4. Finding a new place
You may have gone through the chore of apartment hunting before, but maybe not if your first lodgings in Japan were found and provided for you.
a) Choose an area where you want to live. It may be you want proximity to work, to shops, to water, to nightlife, to a train station, to friends, etc. Do you prioritise location or living space? The more “desirable a location (i.e. such as an upmarket part of town, or near public transport and shopping areas) the fewer square meters you get for your money.
b) Decide how much you want to spend on rent. This will depend, or have a bearing on, the size of your new apartment and, as mentioned above, where it is located.
c) Once you have decided on a neighbourhood or area, walk around it for a few hours looking for “For Rent” signs (if they point you to a real estate agent, not a landlord – see (d) below) and at local real estate agents’ windows. Once you have found a likely place or two, get the agent to take you there. They can usually do it right away, there and then.
d) A word of warning: if possible, avoid apartments where the landlord lives in the same block. Think: nosy, suspicious, bossy, nit-picking – and avoid. If you do have the misfortune of having to meet your landlord, don’t even bother trying to get on his or her good side by giving presents or the like. In a fix, it will make no difference. Be polite and, if possible, affable, and leave it at that.
e) Once you have settled on a place, the land agent will take you through the procedures. They take one month’s rent as their commission. Traditionally you are required to front up with another four-months-worth of rent on top of that: 2 months’ worth as a deposit (shikikin), and 2 months’ worth of reikin, or “gift money”, to your landlord. However, with the declining population, and the economy not like it used to be, these can often be negotiated – so be tactfully tenacious, politely pushy, and pleasantly persistent.
If you have a trusted Japanese person in tow, all the better – ideally your guarantor. His or her presence will put the estate agent more at ease and lessen any problems with communication. Just having a local witness to the proceedings is also a plus in itself.
f) The agent should carry out a joint inspection of the dwelling with you, noting any prior damage, nicks, stains, etc. Be sure that it is all properly noted. Be as nit-picking at this beginning stage as you are averse to being nit-picked at moving out time.
Now that you have arranged your new rent contract, contact your telephone, electricity, gas, water, and internet providers in plenty of time and let them know when you’ll be moving out. Termination procedures for some utilities may involve a representative coming around, so you may have to arrange a date and time for that.
At the same time, you can arrange with the providers to start providing you with utilities at your new place, unless you are moving out of their service area. If so, contact the appropriate providers for your destination and make arrangements. Getting a telephone line used to be a big deal, and expensive. With the universality of the cell phone, getting a landline is now cheaper – but you’re still looking at over 5,000 per month. Ask yourself if it is worth it.
Getting your utilities installed — the phone, electricity, water, gas is also important after moving in. Use the post card on the circuit breaker as your application for your electricity. This post card will have the last meter reading, the last person living there, etc. There are some cheaper companies for domestic long distance calls in Japan. For making international calls there is an option of making calls through the internet (VoIP) and costs can be less. Also there are many internet providers in Japan, with many different rate plans: Softbank and NTT are just two of the major ISPs in Japan.
6. Oversized garbage
Moving out is a heaven-sent opportunity to get rid of junk. Ditching that 15″ screen for a home cinema monster? Ridding yourself of that coffee-stained couch? That four-year-old DVD player? You are required by law to arrange for the disposal of items that exceed ordinary household garbage size. Contact your town, city, or ward office and arrange for it to be taken away. Unfortunately, it will cost you. To save money, try giving stuff away, or selling it (e.g., on Yahoo Auctions).
7. Arranging removal
Removal arrangements depend on your budget, but it is one of the least expensive aspects of moving house in Japan. I quickly found a small, but adequate, truck and driver for hire in Kyoto in late 2017 for 6,000 yen per moving. Of course, this will increase with distance and the number of hands you require, but removal services will not break the bank if you look around.
8. Changing official registrations
Finally, once you’re settled in, go down to the town, city, or ward office with your alien registration card and register your new address. If you have changed jurisdictions, there is no need to notify the previous town, city, or ward office of your departure. There will, of course, be other things that will require a change of address registration, like driver’s license, bank accounts, credit cards, etc., but your alien registration card is the most important.
If you need advice, or find yourself in an undesirable situation where you feel you are the wronged party, consult with your nearest international centre for help in English.