Settling In: Your Apartment
→ Go back to the JET Resource Page
Getting Settled into your Apartment
Upon arrival in Japan, separate from your work duties there are a number of things you should do to assure a smooth living experience. While you may be tempted to leap into work and focus on this entirely, keeping your quality of life in good condition is a vital part of ensuring you have the best possible JET experience.
The Very Basics
This is the very first thing you’ll do upon arrival at your placement, and you will be assisted by staff from your workplace. You’ll be brought to your local city hall’s branch office, and will register with the municipality. It’s a simple process that involves giving your address and workplace. After you’re done, your address will be marked on your residence card. Congratulations! You aren’t just a working resident of Japan now, but a registered taxpaying resident of your home in Japan.
Opening a bank account
This is the other major task that your workplace is technically required to help you with. Anything outside of this is a special favour to you as a new resident. Your supervisor will take you to a local bank branch and help you open your Japanese bank account.
Most Japanese banks generally offer the same services no matter which one you go for. The main difference between Irish banks and Japanese banks is the card system. When your bank account is opened, you will be issued a cash card and a bank book. The book can be used with your bank’s ATMs and functions as a kind of combined bank statement/card, with the book automatically logging any transactions and withdrawals. When it’s filled out, you just need to ask for a new one. Bank books can’t be used without the cash card, but cash cards can be used on their own.
Cash cards do exactly what it sounds like: allow you to withdraw cash from an ATM. Notably, this is not a debit card. You will have to request a separate debit card from your bank if you’d like one. Also be aware that service charges for ATMs outside your main bank chain are extremely common: if you make many withdrawals from convenience store ATMs you will very quickly rack up 200+ yen charges. You will soon find yourself working out the location of “your” ATMs to avoid this.
Though times are changing, cash is still king in Japan. Due to a low violent crime rate and a tendency towards tradition, many people feel comfortable walking around with a few tens of thousands of yen in their pocket, and you may find yourself paying at a restaurant only to realise you do not have enough cash and they won’t accept your card. When you’re just starting out, it’s worth keeping a few bills on you, lest you get caught out. As an aside, increasingly popular are payment apps such as PayPay and Rakuten Pay, where the user loads the app with cash and pays with their phone. These are occasionally more common than card services, as they only require the shop to have a phone with the retailer version of the app.
Most Japanese apartments are empty upon arrival. There are multiple ways to obtain furnishings that vary in cost and effectiveness.
Receipt from Predecessor
Many departing JETs will offer to sell or just leave you their belongings, especially if they are leaving Japan completely. Most JETs are good sorts who remember their own situation upon first arriving, and due to the inconvenience of disposing of large pieces of furniture you will likely get a good deal. However, as with any online purchase, be careful and ask for photos of what you’re buying. A cheap fridge is hard to turn down, but make sure it doesn’t come pre-stocked with mold.
Japanese second-hand shops like Second Street and Hard-Off are notable for having extremely stringent quality checks on their products, as they do not take donations, but are rather re-sellers. Since they purchase their stock from individuals, they want to make sure they’re getting a good deal too! The larger ones also offer delivery services if from their shop if you aren’t able to carry things home.
Japan is home to a number of international and local retailers, like Edion, Yamada Denki, Amazon Japan and Nitori. These will of course trend much more expensive, but if you’re looking for something in shop fresh condition you won’t go wrong. Like many Japanese businesses these have membership systems with varying degrees of value.
These are also a good way to get used to the variety of payment options present in Japan outside of card payment. Many delivery services offer cash on delivery as an option, which can be useful if you are waiting for your card. Also available are convenience store payments, where you are issued a code that lets you pay with no extra charge at any nearby convenience store.
An appliance so important they get their own section. In Ireland we usually rely on desktop fans, central heating and insulation to manage the temperature of our homes. However, Japanese houses are generally built with thinner walls and no central heating, a natural product of a country regularly struck by natural disasters. As a result, no Japanese apartment is complete without an air conditioner (commonly called “Aircons”). While potentially expensive to run and purchase, they are the most convenient way to stay comfortable.
Air conditioners are categorised by their “tatami” size. Tatami mats are the woven bamboo mats seen in traditional Japanese rooms, but their size is also commonly used as a unit of measurement. One tatami mat (jo) is equal to about 1.62 square metres.
A 12-jo air conditioner will run you above 150,000 yen (950 euro) in terms of product cost alone, which only goes up when one takes into account delivery costs and installation. A good alternative is to buy second-hand from a specialist like Aircon Hanbaioh. Just like the second-hand retailers above, these shops refurbish their products and test them regularly. Relatively new models still only cost around 50,000 yen, and delivery and installation is also offered.
Air conditioners have both cooling and heating functions, and as a result can be costly to run. Expect to see much higher electricity bills during summer and winter months if you regularly use one. However, this cost is well worth it when the alternative is boiling alive in a hot and stuffy apartment.
If you are looking for home internet, Softbank Air is a popular choice. A sort of high-powered wireless only router, it’s easy to set up and performs well. Some private apartments do come with wi-fi built in, but as this is shared internet it may not always run the fastest.
For mobile phone networks, virtual carriers are the most popular option. Using the networks of large-scale operators like Docomo and Softbank (who have their own services), they offer lower cost sim-only plans. Mobal and Sakura Mobile are popular among JETs as they are aimed at English speakers, with good quality English-language support and a startup programme for JETs. The company will deliver your sim card to the orientation hotel. However, the monthly costs trend a little high.
Hundred Yen Shops
For everything else (cleaning supplies, cutlery and cookware, storage and even home decor), most JETs will turn to the hundred yen shop (hyakkin). Big chains like Daiso, Can Do and Seria differ from your average Eurostar by the variety and quality of products available. If you’re looking to quickly stock up on your most basic home necessities and amenities, finding the nearest hyakkin will always be one of your best options.
When moving, it can be overwhelming trying to work out what needs sorting first. As a rule, it’s best to put your own comfort and health first. Do you need a TV right away? Probably not. Do you need an air conditioner? Absolutely. Above all else, mind yourself. After your supervisor has dropped you off at your apartment for the first time and you’re left with an empty flat and a single futon, you may be hit with the first big realisation that you have moved. Take heart. With patience and a bit of kindness to yourself, you can quickly turn an apartment into a home, and a comfortable one at that.
→ Go back to the JET Resource Page