Monthly Archives: March 2009


Earth Hour

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Taking a (not so) brief break from the writeup of my house hunting experiences, I thought I’d make a quick post about the upcoming Earth hour.

I know some folks who don’t subscribe to the theory of global warming, feeling instead it’s all sensationalist rantings by attention-seekers.  I don’t consider myself well enough informed on the subject to be able to argue the scientific details in favor of global warming, or whether the “facts” have been cooked up by fear mongerers.

I do however, feel that most of us are very wasteful in many ways.  Leaving water running, lights blazing, heater/air-conditioner pumping away – many of us simply don’t care enough to think of how much energy/water/fuel we waste.  (and I’m not even going to get into a discussion of the amount of garbage we produce on a daily basis..plastic bags, styrofoam containers, bottles, etc)  I used to be much the same way in that I simply didn’t think about waste, but lately have been trying to be more conscious of my energy consumption.

I now try not to leave the water running when I brush teeth, I try not to leave lights on in the room when I go out, and I have so far gone all winter with no heater, choosing instead to layer myself in clothing to conserve warmth.  For those who don’t really care about the environmental consequences, consider instead how much MONEY you can save by reducing your energy/water/fuel usage – it’s possible to save hundreds of dollars a year by using energy efficient appliances and/or cutting down on energy consumption.  Definitely something to consider if you pay your own utility bills (something I will be doing soon, so another reason I’m trying to get in the habit of being energy conscious)

Considering this, I do approve of what Earth Hour is attempting to do – trying to get 1 billion people worldwide to turn off their electricity for 1 hour.  It may not do much for your wallet, being just one hour, but anything that helps raise awareness for reducing waste and saving energy is ok in my book – and might be a first step for some in developing longer-term habits of being energy conscious.

Details of Earth Hour can be found HERE and it starts on Saturday, March 28th at 20:30 local time, anywhere in the world. So come Saturday go ahead, turn off your computer, light a few candles, and enjoy a cozy meal or play a board game with your family for an hour. 🙂

Experiences Thoughts

Apartment Hunting in Tokyo – Part 2

This is Part 2 of my experiences house/apartment-hunting in Japan.  For Part 1, please click HERE.

As mentioned at the end of the first part of this writeup, a lot more properties become available if you are willing, and linguistically and legally able, to step out of the “safe zone” of foreigner-focused agencies.  There are so many housing agencies everywhere, possibly more ubiquitous than even combini (convenience stores).  You’ve got the major chains such as Able, MiniMini, Pitato House, and Mitsui Chintai, as well as hundreds of smaller, more local/area-specific agencies.  Obviously, the bigger chains are more open to the idea of dealing with foreigners, but the individual agencies may have better deals or access to more local information.  At the end of this writeup, I’ll include links to some of the agencies I’ve tried.

One thing that I’ve found interesting about my house-hunting experiences to date is how much my expectations have changed over time.  I actually started looking for a place of my own sometime around the middle of last year, so it’s been quite a while.  At the time, I was much more focused on finding a place close to a park (so I could pursue running), regardless of distance from the office.  I also wanted a place that accepted pets, had a garden, allowed piano-playing, had a large kitchen/stove – and was less than an hour from the office. (yes, yes, I know any non-expats who’ve ever lived in Japan are wondering just what dreamland I was living in at the time)

Back then, I settled on a 2-story 62sqm place about an hour away from the office, located at a tiny little station that had very little in the way of supermarkets/stores around.  It was also a tad expensive (for me), at 124,000 JPY per month, but at the time I didn’t really care thinking that the size/garden made it worth it.

The only reason I’m not living there now is because at the time my company had indicated that they would be able to help me with the initial costs (more on that later).  So I filled out the application form, sent it off to my company for approval, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Three (3!) months later, I finally got approval – but the house was gone by then.  I was pretty frustrated at the time but now in retrospect, I realise that I’m actually glad I didn’t get that place for several reasons – primarily because it was still too far away from work and secondly, due to the economy, I’m just as glad not to be paying a premium for someplace that would probably have been too big for a single person anyway!

I started searching again around the end of January this year and…but maybe I should mention first that up until now, I’ve been sticking exclusively with one agent.  The reason for this is because of what my company had mentioned previously, about the possibility of their being able to assist me financially in regards to either the initial costs, or some kind of tax deferral/benefit.  They had also said that they might be able to serve as a sort of corporate sponsor/guarantor on my behalf.  The requirement for all this was that I had to use a company-approved housing agency, which happened to be one of those agencies more geared towards the foreign/expat community.  Despite the fact that it limited the number of properties available to me, I chose to use this particular agency exclusively since any form of financial assistance was very appealing.

Lest anyone think that I’m a cheapskate (I’m not!  I’m just frugal 🙂 ) or just trying to bilk my company for the all money I could, perhaps I should also explain something about the costs involved with renting property in Japan.

Renting in Japan typically incurs the following costs:

  • 1) 1 Month rent
  • 2) Deposit/Shikikin: ranges from 1-2 months rent and theoretically refundable, minus repair costs
  • 3) Key money/Reikin: ranges from 1-2 months rent, NON-refundable! (basically free money to your landlord…)
  • 4) Agent fee: ranges from 1-1.5 months rent, though some agencies are now charging only 1/2 month rent

If I were to have moved into the first place I found (which had 2 months shikikin/reikin), my initial costs would have been almost 750,000 JPY, or about $7,500!! Hence why I found the possibility of any financial assistance from my company very appealing…

I think I’m going to have to break things off here and continue in yet another post as this is getting fairly lengthy yet again.  Stick around for Part 3!



Apartment hunting in Tokyo – Part 1

Time has flown by – I hadn’t realised that it’s been over a week since my last post!  There hasn’t been much time to just sit down and relax lately, though hopefully things will be a little less hectic as time goes on (though you wouldn’t know it by all the running around I was doing at work this week! – and yeah, I know it’s only Tuesday..already!)

Aside from the daily grind at the office every day, most of my free time has been spent house-hunting.  I currently live at Higashi-Kurume which, while being a pleasant neighborhood, is just a little distant.  It currently takes me about an hour and a half door to door (depending on if I can catch the bus on time), and involves a bus ride and transfers between three (3) train lines one way.  For the math inclined, that’s 3hrs on the train every day, 15hrs every week, 60hrs every month, and 720hrs (or 30 days/1 month) a year.  So…I’ve effectively spent 3 months of my life in a train during my 3 years at Kurume.

Also, though the family I’m staying with is very nice, I would really LOVE to have a place of my own now.

So… I’ve been house-hunting and though tiring, it’s also been learning experience in several ways.

In my case, the biggest barrier in this process has been the lack of language ability.  Yes, I fully acknowledge that the fault is entirely mine – I have simply been too lazy to learn more than what I need to get by.  If I can order food, or ask for general directions, then I can get around without much difficulty in Japan.  Even outside of central Tokyo, one can get by with minimal vocabulary (and patience) since Japanese people for the most part are fairly helpful and kind.

When it comes to renting a place though, the Japanese are not so accomodating and understandably so.  After all, you’re going to be living on their property and presumably needing to interact with them from time to time.  If you can’t explain the thick smoke billowing out of your window, or why water is flowing out of your apartment, and what the heck a howler monkey is doing on your balcony, then you’re setting yourself up for potential tension down the road (though if you’ve got a howler monkey on your balcony you’re probably setting yourself up for tension regardless of how good your Japanese is).

In my case, agencies and landlords are happy to see my name (Matsuya) and even happier to know I’ve got Japanese citizenship, passport and all.  However, they quickly turn glum when they realise just how minimal my Japanese is.  Some agents won’t even bother showing you any of their available properties until they’ve called up the landlord and asked if they are willing to accept a non Japanese-speaking tenant.  I am still fairly lucky though – I hear that the situation is usually much more difficult for someone who’s not a Japanese citizen/permanent resident, even if they’re fluent in Japanese.

It really, REALLY helps to have a Japanese friend along with you who not only acts as your translator, but also is able to assure the agent/landlord that you’re really not such a bad and scary foreigner.  Having a Japanese friend with you also means that you have access to many more property options.  Sure, one could go exclusively to housing agencies that are more foreigner-friendly, but these tend to either focus on the really cheap (usually shared) guest/student houses or thousand-dollar expat homes.  I think it’s safe to say that there are more housing opportunities becoming available for non-Japanese these days, but the best (in terms of cost anyway) properties are still to be found amongst the local housing agencies.

Hmm… I can see this post building up to one of my mega-writeups, so I’m going to take a break (literally) and continue on this topic in another post shortly.



Go Go Fedex!

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Not quite sure what it is with super-powered theme Fedex is presenting here, but given how much I love comics and superheroes, it works for me – certainly good for a chuckle after a long day at work. 🙂


Still around

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I realise it’s been quite a while since my last post.  Unfortunately, real-life has taken precedence over even blogging.  

As mentioned in my previous post, my co-worker and friend had been laid off and this has meant that the amount of work I’ve needed to do in the office has skyrocketed.  I’m now on early shift which, given the distance I live from the office, makes it necessary for me to wake up at 0430 every day to make it to work by 0700.  From that point, I’m usually on the phone with my counterparts in the US, or running around troubleshooting any number of issues our users are experiencing.  Alot of the time I also find myself acting as the go-between/intermediary between the main support branch in the US and our local Japanese users – and it’s like pulling teeth sometimes to get people to reply or follow-up on trouble requests.  The time zone difference doesn’t help, NOR does the fact that the people in the US typically go home at 15:30!!  I keep thinking they should try coming here, where I have users in the office from 0645 to 22:00.  In fact, that’s been my schedule all week – in the office from 0700 to anywhere between 1900 to 2100.  

Last weekend I also came down with a strange stomach bug.  I literally woke up on Saturday morning around 0900 and had to immediately run to the bathroom to throw up.  Rinse and repeat the same process (with the addition of other unmentionable bodily excretions) each hour throughout the day.  I would literally spend a good 20-30 minutes locked in the bathroom, come back to my bed and collapse for another 30 minutes before having to dash back into the bathroom again.  

Finally in the evening I asked the host family I am staying with if they could drive me to the hospital (well, first I asked if they had any medicine but they recommended the doctor).  We were lucky enough to find a clinic open on the weekend and there I got an IV drip for a couple of hours to replenish all the nutrients/minerals I had lost.  After giving me some medicine, I headed back home.  I stayed in bed all Sunday, weak as a kitten, but was able to pull myself together enough to head off to work on Monday.  I know if my coworker had been there, I would probably have taken Monday off as well, but… 

Well… it’s been a rough week.  At least as of Thursday I’ve been able to move beyond rice gruel (known as okayu here in Japan) and can eat real food without my stomach cramping up and feeling like I might still throw up.  Today I’m staying home all day and catching up on sleep.  Tomorrow will be back to work.  Yay.