January 30, 2007

House-hunting in Japan

We live in a fifty square meter apartment (about 500 square feet). With another child on the way and the center of our family's activities half an hour away, we've decided to look for a new place to live. Starting the process reminded me why we've stayed in this apartment for so long. Looking for an apartment in Tokyo is a frustrating, time-consuming experience; it's only slightly better than actually finding an apartment and signing a lease with all the accompanying expense and red tape. I'll blog our way through the process since it's what's been big on my mind the past couple weeks and probably will be for a while longer.

We want to live near the school where Tomomi and I work and where our children study, so we asked around to the neighbors if they know of any openings. That's often a good way to go because many places go unlisted and the real estate agents with their huge finders fees can be left out of the equation.

A neighbor told us about a house right across the street from our school. I has been vacant for a while and we've actually had our eye on it. I asked him to look into it for us about a month ago. He said he would but didn't get back to me for quite a while. About a week ago, I told him we had begun house-hunting in earnest. He said he had told the owner about us but didn't get a positive response. Then he added, "What country is your wife from anyway?" I answered that she's Japanese and he said, "Oh really, well in that case . . ." A couple days later he had arranged for us to see the house. Yesterday we looked at it. We could tell from the outside that the house was old but we were shocked to see the inside: bare wires, cloth stuffed in the gaps between window glass and frames, no place for a washing machine. I kind of like old places with character, but this was too much even for me. Tomomi was relieved.

Yesterday evening we went to a realtor, one that had an interesting listing online. The online listing was taken (bait and switch) but they did have a condo for rent about a one minute walk from our school. We went to see it this afternoon and are seriously thinking about taking it. The commute couldn't be better. It overlooks a grove of trees in a park. It's within our price range. It's about 700 square feet which is dinky by American standards but decent by Japanese. The units in the building are mostly owner-occupied. In all, it looks like a great match for us. We have only two worries. One is that the owner could sell the unit out from under us with six month's notice. The other is that it's a fourth floor unit with people living below so we'd need to be careful of noise. (Small children don't have a quiet walking mode.) OK, we have a third worry that I hesitate to mention: some Japanese are racist about renting to foreigners. We have encountered it personally and have many friends who've also had to deal with it. It isn't all that bad for us because Tomomi is Japanese and I'm white, from America, speak Japanese, and have permanent residence (all "good" things).

Anyway, If you're a pray-er, we'd appreciate your prayers. If you know of a place in or near Narimasu , we'd appreciate a lead. If you are thinking of renting or buying in Japan and have questions about the process, ask them in the comments or email me at misterjeremy @ seminoff dot fastmail dot fm.

"And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." -Hebrews 11:13-16