Travel tips, stories, and adventures from around the world.

Month: February 2019

Getting our Long-Term Resident Visa (Ancestry) for Japan – Bonus: Moving to Japan! (Part 4)

The Visa was tough, but not as rough as actually moving to Japan and getting settled! Check out our post about finding an apartment, setting up utilities and making friends in Japan.

TL;DRThe Visa was tough, but actually moving to Japan was a rollercoaster! Finding an apartment, registering at the local ward, figuring out utilities and daily life in a new language? Compared to that, the Visa was a piece of cake! Still – I have to admit that all of it? #worthit. Scroll to the end for our shout-out to all the amazing people that have helped us get settled. Love you guys. 

This is the fourth and final part in an epic series! See below for all posts:

  1. Our Story and Situation
  2. All the Required Documents for an Ancestry Visa in Japan
  3. Application Process and Timing
  4. Bonus: Actually moving to Japan (this post)

Leaving home (for good!)

Leaving was bittersweet – the one thing we’d been barreling toward full-speed was finally upon us, but we still had to say goodbye to our family, friends and the comfort that comes with having a support system. Still, we were moving to Japan! To be honest, sometimes I go outside and it still feels surreal.

A lot of people ask us when we’re coming back and how long our Visa will last. Honestly? We don’t know where life will take us, but we do plan to stay here for the foreseeable future. Our Visa can be renewed annually and once I pass the JLPT, I can renew that bad boy for FIVE years! So for now, this is our new forever home. Japan has unknowingly adopted us! Hahaha.

Actually Moving to Japan

Now let’s talk about the actual move. There are some KEY elements that you need to have sorted when you move. Your one-way flight is booked and you’re ready to go! First things first…

Immigration

Make sure you have your passport with your shiny Visa and your Certificate of Eligibility. It’s crazy how simple it is, but you get in the specified line at Immigration and hand over your docs and they process you right there and hand you a Zairyu Card (Resident Card). Which you’ll need for everything.

Finding an Apartment

You’ll need an agent. Yes, for a rental. Unless you’re fluent in reading (not just speaking) understanding that rental contract, application requirements, and all those fees will be pretty tricky.

For us, it took just about 3 weeks to have keys in hand. A week to tour various apartments, get approved and sign the contract. If you find a cheap enough place to stay when you arrive, I’d say a month would be a less stressful time block to get it all done. Especially if you’re working like we were.

Things we’ve learned

  • Living near a grocery store is key since the refrigerators here are tiny.
  • Living near a station that has multiple trains is also super nice – or between two stations.
  • Measure all your entryways to make sure the things you buy will fit (!)
  • Be ready to buy all the things – Apartments in Japan come with literally nothing. Some don’t even have a stove, much less a fridge, microwave or washer.
  • Everyone hangs their clothes outside vs. buying a dryer. It’s a thing, embrace it!

Buy all the things!

When we first moved here, we went straight to Muji because everything looked so cool and I’ve always loved Muji. While Muji does have an amazing assortment of quality products, it’s fairly pricey compared to Nitori. Not to mention, if you’re just buying things that don’t necessarily need to last forever, you can get them over at Daiso for a low¥108.

  • Big box stores like Yodobashi and Bic Camera have “new life support sets” (lol) that typically include a fridge and washer, plus smaller appliances like a microwave, kettle, rice cooker, etc.
  • Check out Daiso first, then Donki, then Ikea. You’d be surprised with what you can find at Daiso that looks suspiciously similar to brands like Muji.
  • TIMING – we visited Ikea and Nitori while we were waiting for approval so that we could click the order button online when we had an occupancy date. Our furniture arrived the day after we got our keys!

How much did we spend?

We get this a lot, actually. So here’s the breakdown. I shed a silent tear when I added it all up, thank goodness we started saving real early in the process (and that the process took FOREVER ahahhaa).

  • Initial fees for our apartment ¥754,266 – this included first month’s rent + prorated for extra days, security deposit, key money, agent fees, guarantor fee, management fee, 24/7 support (not optional) fee, lock change fee, fire insurance fee.
  • Base furniture ¥321,085 – this included our bed frame, mattress, pillows, sheets+pillowcases, refrigerator, microwave, washer, kotatsu, floor sofa, rug and curtains (honestly the biggest cost was linens – curtains for all the rooms and sheets are so $$! – and the kotatsu, which I love and was totally worth every cent now that winter’s here)

For an idea on our apartment size, we have a 500-ish square foot 2 bedroom apartment in a 3-story walk-up building about 5 minutes from the train station in Nakano. Over the past 9 months, we’ve definitely added more furniture and silly things like sleepy animals. Lol. If anyone wants an apartment tour, let us know in the comments. Otherwise, I’m way too lazy to do video. Hahaha.

The document circle of death

When you move, you’ll probably want to get a Japanese cell phone, open a bank account and register at your local ward. However, there’s a tricky paperwork trap.

  • Bank account – you need your resident card, a Japanese phone number and (if you want to wire money overseas) your MyNumber card
  • Japanese cell phone – you need a resident card with your address registered (and sometimes a Japanese bank account)
  • Resident Card – within two weeks of landing, you’re required to register an address with your local ward/city. This is also when you sign up for National Health Care if you need to.
  • MyNumber Card – After you register your address, the local ward will send you your MyNumber card. This usually takes ~2 weeks.

Since we were staying at an AirBnb for only 2 weeks (we didn’t know about the paperwork or have any clue how long the apartment process would take) – we registered using our friend’s address. Once we got our own apartment, we could just change it, but at least we got the 14-day requirement settled.

The one thing we did right was skipping the Japanese cell phone and using Skype to get a Japanese number. We’re both on Google’s Project Fi so we paid for data by the GB and mostly used WiFi. Honestly, there’s a ton of public WiFi in Japan, so on average we burn through only about 1GB a month, so $10 USD. This also gave us the ability to setup a bank account, granted we couldn’t wire any money into it until we got our MyNumber card. Lol.

Sidenote: Having a Japanese phone number also means you can use Takkyubin, which is the best thing ever if you’re moving with four huge bags that are all just skimming the weight limit. (avg bag cost for our huge luggage to go from Narita to Tachikawa was $25/each)

If you book your initial place for over two weeks, I’d check with your hotel/Airbnb host/friend to see if they’re cool with letting you register with that address, with the understanding that you’ll change it upon moving to your own digs.

Utilities

When you live at McDonalds because you have no Internet at home

Hooray for our real estate agent taking care of PART of this. He contacted the electric company, gas company, and water company. All we had to do was make sure we were home for the gas company to come in and get us setup. Internet was a whole nother beast, though.

Setting up Internet in Japan

First – it took THREE weeks to get Internet into our apartment after we moved in. THREE. WEEKS. For two people that work remotely from 5am this was pretty inconvenient, but we did luck out in that there was a McDonald’s down the street that was open 24/7 and had free WiFi. It’s crazy but the coffee shops in our area open at 7am at the earliest, with most cafes with seating not opening up shop until closer to 10a. So McDonald’s became our new coworking space.

Second – the actual process was hard. At this point, my Japanese level was pretty low so we headed to BIC Camera in Shinjuku thinking the bigger areas would have someone that could maybe speak English and we were right! It was a lot of patience on their part and a lot of google translate on ours, but three hours later, we signed a contract and were told to wait.

The next part was confusing. The company came to install the Internet, but while we had the cord running in our apartment, we still could not GET ON the Internet! We had to wait for our service provider (it’s typically a different company) to send us login information. This was all kind of unclear (boo google translate) but luckily the company we went with had English support (another reason we picked them) and when I called them, they were pretty helpful in explaining. It was SUCH a tease, though! We had the Internet – just no stinking login to set everything up. -_-

VPNs, TV and online accounts

Other things we’ve done since moving here is purchase a VPN (we were constantly using public WiFi when we were Internet-less) and setup online accounts for some Japan services. Like Amazon! Holy cow it’s $3USD/month for Prime and Prime shipping is actually next day here. #best. I also bought a Netflix Japan account (similar to US pricing).

Since we don’t have a TV (we haven’t had one since we moved to NYC back in 2011!) we watch most of our shows either on the lappie or the iPad. Which also means no Japanese cable TV, and we have the perfect excuse for when the NHK guys come to the door.

Sorting Trash

Honestly, of all the new cultural things we needed to learn, this one was pretty much the simplest. Since the Ward we live in has quite a few foreigners, they even have the instructions in English. While it makes me sad to think that the government has to be so accommodating, I’m not gonna lie – I was so grateful in that moment. Now that we’re used to it, it’s second nature though. Plastics, burnables, non-burnables, etc.

Meeting New People

I learned this the hard way when I moved to New York, but it’s really important to have a support system when you move somewhere new. Ryan is admittedly WAY better than me at this. Maybe it’s because he has more hobbies (tech meetups, anyone?)? Or he’s just better at planning things when I’m always feeling lazy. Hehe. In any case – meeting people and making friends is huge. And honestly, way less difficult than I thought it’d be.

We were lucky – we already knew some people up here so we immediately had close friends we could count on. But I thought it was important to have more friends (so I can effectively combat the loneliness monster, which always coaxes me to binge Netflix/webtoons and be lazy af) so I started going to Meetup groups and connecting with people online for language exchanges – as well as reaching out to old acquaintances that have moved here, and friends of friends. Those have blossomed into some awesome friendships, and while I still have days when I just chill under the kotatsu and watch TV, I also know some great people that I’m slowly but surely getting to know better!

My advice – put yourself out there! Find Meetups for things you like to do, reach out to old friends and don’t be afraid to make new ones. We met a surprisingly large amount of people at Meetups for things like Dodgeball games, Tech things (Ryan, obvi), Language Exchanges and even Zumba.

Learning Japanese

I wrote about this in an earlier post, outlining a vague syllabus and plan, as well as an update in my year-end/new year post, but let me just say – I can’t stress how important it is to learn Japanese. I’ll be honest, I’ve met a ton of people that have moved here and have said that they’re not interested in learning Japanese and they know enough to get by – and power to them, but I didn’t move here for that.

I moved here to make this country my second home and to do that, I know I’ll need to be able to speak fluently and be able to read as well. Not just get by. Not just kind of, sort of know it. But be able to read books, have an intelligent conversation and make some legit Japanese friends. #goals. Heh.

A HUGE THANK YOU

Last, but definitely not least – since this series was all about moving to Japan, I wanted to give a HUGE HUGE shout out to all the amazing people that helped us get here. We literally could not have done it without you!

  • Tomo – for being our guarantor and making all of this possible!
  • Sheldon & Eri – for helping us out, translating and making us feel like family.
  • Misaki and Mama – for helping us get our apartment – we’d literally be homeless without you!
  • The Colliers Ohana – for supporting our decision to move and letting me keep my job. I’ll be forever grateful for having this opportunity. ❤️
  • Nicole and Elliot – for keeping me accountable during the research and application process!

And of course – to all the amazing people that have helped make Japan feel like home! For all the adventures we’ve had so far, for putting up with our sometimes ridiculous ideas to walk 15 miles home, spontaneous karaoke sessions, search for some obscure limited time snack, some Instagram-worthy dish or some epic 5-hour puzzle race across the City.

Frank, Jeanie, Aunty Amy, Miki, Maisha, Mike, Takeshi, Chikage & Kento, Shizuka, Bill & Keiko, Yasu, Sakura, Soren, Murooka Sensei, Dave, my awesome language partners: Ayumi, Misaki, Maki, Ayako, Nao, Hana and Airi and of course all the family and friends that have come through town to visit us and have kept in touch despite the distance!

We love you guys! 🥰

That’s it!

Never Give Up!

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this novel of a post! If you’re trying to get this Visa, or if you’re moving to Japan and have any questions, feel free to message me! It was definitely scary, the idea of picking up our lives and moving to a new country – but I’m so happy that we did it. If you’re on the fence about moving out of your comfort zone, I can’t emphasize this enough – DO IT.

Like they say, the days are long, but the years are short – make em count!

Links to the rest of this series:

  1. Our Story and Situation
  2. All the Required Documents for an Ancestry Visa in Japan
  3. Application Process and Timing
  4. Bonus: Actually moving to Japan (this post)
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