While digging through the scrap box of left-overs from the old site, Igor pulled up a little series he did on being cheap in Japan. Thinking it required tizzying up, Igor slapped bastard into the title and, hey presto, the article’s been repurposed or that’s what those industry types might say. Well, it’s only a year old and not too atrocious, so please enjoy (or grimace through) Igor’s piece on accommodation…

You know Japan is an expensive place, especially Tokyo. Rent is a killer, but that is true in most major capitals around the world. Transportation is pretty high, but companies will usually pay for worker’s train passes. Going out can become impossibly expensive, but you gotta go to the wrong sort of places ;-) . Food can be expensive, but there are always cheap options like my beloved gyudon pitstops. And going out for a bit of R&R is usually gonna cost more coin.

So I’m starting this little quest into cheapness with the unavoidable cost of city apartments.

Well, you get what you pay for with accomodation. It’s damned true alas. The logic is pretty straight forward. The further out from Tokyo your apartment is, the less it costs. The further from the station, the less it costs. The crappier the apartment, the less it costs. The more industrial the area, the less it costs. The smaller the place, the less it costs. So you could choose between a central Tokyo shoe box, or somewhere with space an hour out of Tokyo (maybe even in Chiba or Saitama). Your choice.

There’s still the problem of foreigner-unfriendly agents, but you gotta understand there are difficulties such as: language issues, people not understanding/respecting rules of places they live, people who run off without recourse, lack of guarantor, etc. I ain’t advocating not serving the gaijin (hell I am one), but you gotta see things from the other guy’s perspective – there are simply more risks when dealing with the foreigner. Of course, there are ways of dealing with this without telling the client to seek apartments elsewhere. I wouldn’t waste time asserting my rights with a place that avoids serving me – I would much rather pay rent to someone who appreciates my presence. Find a gaijin-friendly place and you’ll be okay. Don’t speak Japanese too well? Get a friend to come along and help.

What are the kinds of options you got? You could decide to stuff it and head for a gaijin house. I’m not exactly sure what these places are like, but somebody described it like a backpacker hostel or student accommodation and that was enough for me to make me look elsewhere. The benefits would be no big bond payment, per night or weekly rates, you get to meet all kinds of people, and you can bug out without much hassle. The downside’s that you’ve got a tiny room with everything else shared. If you’re laid back then it could be pretty cool, but if you’re not a social butterfly or you get stuck with a bunch of maniacs you’re kind of stuffed. Worth a look as a launchpad. You’re still going to be up for a fistful of yen each month, but it’s easy and not too many strings.

You can find find listings in most major city English free-zines such as Metropolis in Tokyo or doing a quick Google Search. You can find some information on gaijin houses at Japan Guide.

Next step would be sharing with someone else. You can usually find listings in the local free mags (there are just so many of these damned things). You may be paying a bit of a premium on the rent side (although some guys score well with wealthier cohorts), and you’ll still be seeing at least one stranger in their underwear in the mornings, but you’ll only be battling one person for the bathroom and kitchen. Of course, if that person is a maniac, you got major problems as there is nowhere to hide. The good things include more space for your yen and you don’t get hooked up with a lot of upfront costs. Again, the free classifieds are the logical first choice for searching.

Renting by yourself or with someone you know is definitely better for getting some personal space (not much space in most cases, but a bit is a bit is a bit). The place will feel more like yours and it shouldn’t matter if you walk around the place naked. Most places are unfurnished, but there are furnished places around. I’d take unfurnished and go for a gomi-run (wait for part two) rather than furnished as I like owning my stuff. What you’ll be up for could be expensive through to Oh my farking GOD!

It’s a big whack to get across the threshold. First there is the monthly rent, but then you got bond (1-3 months rent), an honararium called thank you money (0-3 months rent), and finally agent fees (1 month). Thank you money is a real rip, because you will never see it again. At least with the bond you have a chance of getting most of it back, but thanking someone for taking your money with more money – sheesh, just beat me with a wet fish already!

So to begin with you are looking at a minimum of three months up front (one month each for the agent, the bond and advance). It has the potential to go all the way up to eight months (3 bond, 3 thank you, 1 agent, 1 in advance)! For a place going for 120,000 yen that can be anywhere from 360,000 to almost 1,000,000 yen! I was up for 700,000 in my first place and I have just two words to say on the topic: NEVER AGAIN

The other thing is getting a guarantor. Most places need a guarantor so they can extract money from the guarantor in case you skip out (this saves thinking tasks such as risk assessment). The problem for most foreigners is that it usually needs to be a reliable local. Fair enough, but if you aren’t in well with a local, then your options suddenly become much more limited. But there’s hope.

There are a number of places catering to foreigners (some expensive, others seem reasonable), that can help you cover the guarantor issue with their apartments. However, there is no escaping the fact that you’re up for some coin to get set in an apartment.

Sites worth a look on this topic:
Japan Guide :: Information on renting
Finding Accommodation in Japan :: Government info for students.
Open Space :: A search site in Tokyo.
Sakura House :: An agent covering various cities.

The other major accomodation alternative is being homeless. I’ve heard of a few cases where people did just that (for a while). It’s not recommended, but whatever’s your cup of tea. For the price of a tarp, light and gas cooker you have a place to stay. There’s laundromats, bath-houses, cheap restaurants with TVs in the background, so it is possible. For a piece on a real-life homeless foreigner check out Homeless activist makes plea to save the trees.

Next entry will be on scoring stuff like a cheap bastard should.

Note: All links are examples only, not recommendations one way or the other.

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