This guide to setting up an apartment in Japan can help you save time and money. Not everything you take for granted back home is available here but on the flip side, there are other conveniences only available here. Tips for ALT's new to Japan or for anyone moving into their first apartment in Japan.

About Japanese apartments

Finding an apartment in Japan can be easy for some, hard for others but it is always time consuming. As an ALT, the company you are coming to Japan with will often offer some sort of support and they may even organize the apartment for you and all you have to do is move in.

Japanese apartments are generally smaller than western standards so adjust your expectations and approach setting it up with an open mind. You may have to give up the luxury of a queen bed and get comfortable with a futon.

Japanese apartment amenities

What you can expect in most Japanese apartments:

  • Western style toilet
    In older (and therefor cheaper) apartments you may occasionally see a Japanese style squat toilet. If you end up with this option, you can go to the hardware store and buy something that resembles a potty-trainer - a large plastic thing you place over the squat toilet to allow you to sit.
  • Unit baths
    The bath is so integrated into the Japanese life and culture, you are almost guaranteed to have one. A unit bath is where your shower and bath are built into a plastic molded room - great for cleaning. In small/cheap apartments, the hand basin may also be in the same room.
  • A small stove (or not)
    It may be electric. It may be a gas stove. You may just have a gas connection and you are expected to bring your own gas stove. These usually consist of two burners and a small grill designed grilling fish.
  • On demand hot water
    In most cases, water heating is on demand gas water heating. If you are living in an older apartment, the kitchen hot water may come from a separate wall mounted gas water heater with a hose and fitting that allows you to direct the water where you need it, as a spray or stream.
  • Tatami
    You may or may not have a room with tatami mats. Love or hate 'em, they are becoming less common in newer apartment.

Moving in

When you move in, you can expect the apartment to be bare. Starkly empty. (Leaving your apartment in Japan you will be expected to leave it in the same condition.) So, unless you are picking up an apartment from a previous ALT (a common occurrence with the JET program) there are a few things you will need to make it live-in-able.

Moving out of your apartment is one of the costs of leaving Japan you probably want to know about beforehand.

Setting up your apartment

You will need to get a bunch of stuff initially, but unless you are planning to settle, you will probably want to live minimally and cheaply.

The company you come over with may also put you in touch with the predecessor to your position to enable you to organize receiving or buying some of their old houseware.

Cutlery, glassware, dishes, pots and pans, other small stuff

If you can find a 100 yen store (a big chain is called Daiso) this is the easiest and cheapest place to find what you need for cutlery, cups and plates. Generally you can buy single items for 100 yen each. This is also a good place to get other small stuff such as coat-hangers and various other plastic goods designed to make life more convenient.

For pots and pans, you can get these at a hardware store which most towns will have. Personally, a better alternative if you can find one is Nitori. Nitori is a good option for slightly better but still very cheap houseware. They have furniture (big and small), bedding, appliances, etc.

Refrigerator, washing machine, heater, table, couch, desk

It's great if you can get these big items from your predecessor for free or for a small fee, but if not then there are a few options.

  1. Go to a second hand shop. You can get this kind of stuff from recycle shops, however, know that goods from recycle shops in Japan aren't discounted as you might expect - usually it's only slightly discounted from the original value. Also know that if you take things back to the recycle shop you will get very, very little for it. In other words the mark up is big.
  2. Buy it new. April is moving season. March is financial year end and many people get reassigned between company offices and have to move. Everyone is shopping so second hand shops can be all out.
    But, as mentioned, new isn't so much more expensive. Some big electronic stores have deals for new washer/drier + fridge package for a very reasonable price. For a couch/sofa (and don't feel the need to get one right away - everyone gets used to sitting on the floor!), desk and table you should try a big cheap furniture shop such as Nitori (ニトリ).
    A nice resource for checking prices is kakaku.com.
  3. Rent your furniture. Rental is nice because you can pay monthly and you don't have to worry about what you are going to do with it when you leave. The thing is, it's not that cheap. However, over one year it is probably cheaper than buying new. Over two years you are probably better off buying new.

Note 1: Kerosene heaters are the most common variety in Japan. However if you have an air-con unit, it probably does heating too and you should be fine to go without another heater. The other thing is if you are arriving in April or August, you won't need a heater till winter.

Note 2: In Japan there is a great piece of furniture called a kotatsu. This is a low table with a heater attached under the table-top. This is wonderful in the cold winters (especially in the north). Even without the heaters, the low tables can take the place of a desk and are where you might find yourself eating dinners if your kitchen is too small (and in the winter, cold).

Bedding and bathroom stuff

Buying a real bed would be very extravagant. Most ALT's do what most Japanese do and opt for the traditional futon. You can often get this from a local hardware store or more likely, a department store or mall. Here you will also find sheets, duvets (aka comforter), sheets, pillows, etc. For towels: a hardware store or mall. Or again, Nitori has it all.

Curtains

Though Japanese apartments and houses aren't as open in terms of windows and natural lighting as western housing, your apartment may still need curtains. (I did say they come bare.) If you want curtains, try a hardware store (or Nitori). Until you do get curtains, a sheet can offer privacy just as effectively.

The cost of setting up an apartment in Japan

The cost of setting up your new apartment will vary depending on what it is already furnished with, whether you are getting the apartment of the ALT who was there before you and if they left you everything you need, etc.

On average:

New futon: ¥5,000 - ¥10,000
Cheap fridge: ¥18,000 - ¥25,000
Cheap washing machine: ¥18,000 - ¥30,000
Dishes, cups, cutlery, pots & pans: ¥2,000 - ¥6,000
Table: ¥5,000 - ¥15,000
Other stuff: ???
Total: From ¥48,000 to ¥86,000 or more.

You can do it cheap or you can go for a bit more comfort. If your goals are all about making the most of you time in Japan then there are things you probably can do without and put that money to better use!

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