Before coming to Japan, I was told by just about every man and his dog how extortionate Tokyo living was.
Let’s face it; England isn’t exactly cheap. Also, having spent a few months in Singapore last year – as well as spending some time in Australia over the past few years – I was a little skeptical of their warnings. Could it really be more expensive than those places?
As was the case in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and most places on Earth, I’ve found that there are ways to live cheaply in Tokyo. On the whole, it’s easy to find cheap food, drink (in moderation!), and getting around is fairly reasonable.
However, at the beginning of December, I finally experienced an incredibly expensive side to Japan: I moved house.
Having been given a rather extensive checklist of things to do and clean before leaving – with ensuing fines for any incompleted items – I spent my final two days in my Leo Palace apartment on my knees, scrubbing and vaccing just about every square inch of surface in sight. Let it never be said I don’t make the most of my days off.
Upon leaving my apartment for the final time, I posted my key through the letterbox as requested. Job done, right?
Around halfway through the walk to my new apartment, I had a horrible realisation: I’d left a cupboard full of food.
Now, I know I’m a bit of a tightarse but hear me out here; I honestly wasn’t bothered about leaving the food behind. That really wasn’t the problem. The problem was more to do with the fact that I would be charged ¥2000 for every single item left behind. To put that in to some sort of context: ¥2000 converts to roughly £10. There was a good chance this cupboard could set me back around a hundred quid!
Not being one to lose out on money though, my friend Chris and I hatched a plan over a few beers.
I didn’t technically have to vacate the apartment until 10am the next day, so I just needed to go back and get the food. Sounds easy, until you remember that a few paragraphs ago I mentioned that I’d already posted the keys!
Thankfully I’m a rather forgetful sod and throughout the four months I lived in the apartment, you could count on one hand how many times I’d remembered to lock the window. All I needed was Chris to check the window when he got back, and if it was open I’d nip back first thing in the morning, climb through the window, take the food, lock the door on my way out and post the keys again. Job done!
As is often the case, one beer turned into several, which turned into karaoke, which inevitably turned into a belting hangover but – true to his word – Chris checked the window when he got back and I woke up bright and early ready to break into what was technically still ‘my’ apartment. Judging by the state of me on this video, it’s quite an impressive feat that I managed to get up and function so early, never mind break in to an apartment.
In hindsight, I can think of few more suspicious sights than a guy checking a window to see if it is unlocked at 2am, followed by another guy turning up in the morning with an empty carrier bag, who then climbs through the window and exits with the bag full of stuff. Anyone know the Japanese for “It’s my apartment officer, honestly!“?!
Thankfully it never came to that, as I escaped unseen and with the food intact. It was time to finally get settled in my new place.
This is where the sting begins. I have found that in Japan, to do almost anything essential will cost you time and more than likely a small fortune. Registering a new address? An hour, minimum. Setting up a bank account? Same. Getting a mobile phone? Three hours and ¥35,000. You won’t be surprised to hear that moving house is no different.
I decided to move to a ‘Social Apartment’, a big house reminiscent of student halls in England with shared facilities such as the essentials – a kitchen, washing machines, etc – and the not so essentials too, like a big flat screen TV, PS4, pool table, roof terrace, and so on. Quite the contrast from my one bedroom apartment next door to an absolute nutter. That said, the welcoming party in my new apartment wasn’t quite as nice as I’d expected either, as you can see from the picture…
After agreeing to move in to my new apartment I was handed a number of forms to fill in for the agent and the guarantor. Personal information, the personal information of an emergency contact who speaks Japanese (not easy when you’ve only been in the country four months), a signed copy of the house rules, and photocopies of your passport and residency card. This is just the application process; the contract is next level stuff. I don’t ever want to see my signature again.
After about a week of having my application reviewed, realising I’d forgotten a form, and generally hoping I’d have a place to live when my lease on my old place ended, I was finally accepted and sent an invoice for my first payment of – wait for it – ¥206,100. Yep, two hundred and six thousand yen. I appreciate that to most of you this means nothing, so for the benefit of those living outside of Japan, this converts to roughly £1,100. Eleven hundred quid! For those of you living outside of Japan and England, you can figure it out for yourselves.
So let’s break it down. Included in that initial payment was:
- My first month’s rent
- A deposit equivalent to one month’s rent
- Key money
“What the hell is key money?” I hear you ask. Let’s take a closer look…
I’ve encountered some illogical, strange and sometimes downright annoying things during my travels, but I think key money takes the crown as the worst.
To put it simply: key money is a one-off, non-refundable gift you pay to your landlord when you move in to a new place. That’s right, you’re paying your landlord to thank them for letting you pay them every month. Confused? Me too. I think the guy I saw on TV the other night summed it up rather wonderfully…
Now, I wouldn’t mind if it was a small, token gesture. A bottle of sake, maybe, or a box of chocolates, sure. But oh no, you’re not getting away lightly here and in most cases, key money usually equates to one month’s rent. That’s right: in addition to paying your first month’s rent, a potential deposit of a month’s rent, it’s also possible you will be paying the figure for a third time, and for what? To say thank you?! I find a pint usually does the trick for me, but next time someone wants to thank me I might ask for thousands of yen instead. Don’t ask, don’t get, right?
As it happens though, there was once a rather justifiable reason for key money. After World War II, finding a place to live in Tokyo was rather difficult as many buildings were still being rebuilt. As a result, key money (or ‘reikin’, in Japanese) was a gift given by people to homeowners who allowed them to stay in their property.
The last time I checked, Tokyo wasn’t still in a rebuilding phase yet this custom has stood the test of time. It should be said that it doesn’t apply to all properties though, so it can be the luck of the draw. You win some.
Forms, forms, and more forms
It’s now two weeks since I moved in to my new place, and I’m still discovering extra pieces of admin that I’m supposed to have done. Just today, upon ringing the postal service to ask why i’ve not had any mail since moving in (no jokes about me having a lack of friends, please), I was informed that I had to fill out a ‘tenkyo todoke’ (change of address form) at the post office and submit it. Until then, all mail for me at my new address would be returned to the sender.
I’m sure there’s a perfectly logical reason for this – although I can’t find one online – but to me it just seems like paperwork for paperwork’s sake. I guess I’ll have to send myself some Christmas cards this year.
Having filled out more forms and signed my names more times than I care to remember, I can safely say I will not be moving house again for a long time. I can only hope this place is decent.