There are as many different reasons for moving to Japan as there are foreign residents here! Real Estate Japan recently conducted an email interview with Sigfried Trent, a freelance writer and English instructor, on what brought him and his wife, Anne, to Japan and how they found their housing through the GaijinPot Housing Service.
Sigfried gives us the scoop on their amazing journey to (and around) Japan, how they dealt with various housing issues, and great advice for making the most of your time here.
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you became interested in coming to live in Japan?
Sure. My name is Sigfried Trent. I’m nearly 50 and delighted to be married for nearly 20 years to the lovely and talented Anne Trent. I was a software engineer for 20+ years, but these days I work as a freelance writer and English Instructor. My wife and I have taken up a notion to “see the world” and have been living on the road for nearly 5 years now.
I’ve felt a connection to Japanese culture since I was a child. I became fascinated with “Shogun Warriors” toys. This was a line of imported Japanese robots and monsters licensed from Japanese anime and movies in the 1970s. I figured any place that could make something so cool had to be awesome! My interest branched into Kurasawa films, ninjas, martial arts, and in the late 1980s into anime.
In 2015 my wife and I decided to do some serious traveling. We sold nearly everything we owned, bought a travel trailer, and traveled the US by road for 3 years. It was an incredible adventure and we found ourselves yearning for something new. We decided to go abroad and Japan was the top pick for both Anne and I. We set our sights on living two years in Japan.
We write about some of our experiences in Japan on our website: www.2HugeInJapan.com
2. How did you find out about the GaijinPot Housing Service?
I found GaijinPot while researching visa options for Japan. They also had, by far, the best job search listings available, not to mention a lot of very helpful information about visas and living arrangements. It took some time, but once I got a visa sponsorship we started to look at housing options. It was Anne that noticed GaijinPot also had a housing service.
3. What kind of apartment were you looking for in Tokyo when you contacted the Housing Service?
For me, location is almost always the most important factor. I hate long commutes. A lot of folks talked about how small Japanese apartments are, but having lived in a 250 square foot trailer for 3 years that really wasn’t a concern. I’d learned to really appreciate the benefits of small and efficient living spaces.
The big challenge here was I didn’t know exactly where I’d be working until pretty late into the process. Added to that, my job was a contract position so my exact income was up in the air. For that reason, keeping the rent modest was an important consideration. Ideally, I was looking for something my cash reserves could pay for a year’s stay.
My wife has a strong preference for newer construction and modern amenities. That tended to be the big tie-breaker when looking at properties with similar locations and prices.
4. Did you end up renting an apartment in Tokyo through the Housing Service?
We didn’t at that time. There weren’t many GaijinPot listings that made our initial cut and those that did wanted us to look at the property in person. I needed to secure housing for the moment I landed in Japan so I needed to secure the agreement while I was still in the US. I ended up renting from an American ex-pat who listed his properties independently. He was willing to make a “handshake” deal to secure it without a long-term commitment.
5. We understand from our colleagues that you got in touch with the Housing Service a few months later to help you find an apartment in Sapporo. Can you tell us what led you to move to Sapporo?
I’d come to Japan more as a “slow traveler” than anything else. My thought was to live in different parts of the country. Tokyo is amazing but it’s also a pretty hectic place to live. My students recommended Sapporo as a good place to enjoy Japan’s natural beauty and good food.
6. What kind of apartment were you looking for in Sapporo?
My requirements were pretty similar: close to work, affordable, clean, and convenient. I was looking for a 6-month lease but that’s very hard to come by so it wasn’t high on my list. Thankfully, apartments in Sapporo are much more affordable than in Tokyo.
7. Did you end up renting an apartment in Sapporo through the Housing Service?
I tend to do my housing searches by making a big spreadsheet of options that look interesting. I rate each option on location, price, amenities, and so on. I use that to pare them down to a shortlist and I start making inquiries. I used the GaijinPot website listing pretty heavily, but not exclusively.
I inquired with the agencies involved for each of the properties on my shortlist. GaijinPot had quite a few that looked attractive and reasonably priced. The GaijinPot customer service team did a great job responding quickly and following up with me during my search. Fortunately, this time around they were able to make arrangements such that I could secure a rental contract without appearing in person.
With most properties you make an email inquiry through a website, then the agent contacts you. In this case that was GaijinPot. Most of the rental agencies that list for English speaking tenants can speak English, but GaijinPot staff are considerably better at it. This makes asking questions and getting answers much faster and easier.
We arranged to pick up our keys from the Japanese apartment management company the same day as our arrival in Sapporo. There was some confusion about exactly what office the Japanese company was in, but a call to GaijinPot got that sorted out for us and we got the keys without any real difficulty. We’d already learned that in Japan, having the address of a business isn’t always enough to actually find it.
The GaijinPot customer service team was fast and friendly. I can’t ask for much more than that.
8. Can you describe the “post-move in” service provided by the Housing Service?
Everything went pretty smoothly. We needed to get the gas turned on and that was all handled for us by and large. GaijinPot Housing Service did a good job letting us know what the process would be and keeping us abreast of when folks would be coming to the apartment to get things set up. Since we didn’t have any furniture to speak of, GaijinPot also worked with a rental company to get us our basic appliances a couple of pieces of essential furniture. This proved a lot cheaper and easier than buying and selling these items ourselves.
We’d chosen a fairly new apartment. The Housing Service wisely asked us to do an inspection and take photos of anything that looked like a problem. We did find a few small issues and the Housing Service worked to get these resolved for us within the first two weeks of our stay.
9. Did you have any issues with disposing of garbage? Difficulty understanding garbage disposal rules is a fairly common issue!
Yep, some. The instructions we got for garbage disposal from the apartment managers were years out of date and pretty useless. We ended up accidentally using the neighbor’s trash for 3 months until a neighbor clued us in we were putting things in the wrong place. At that point I emailed the Housing Service, they got in touch with the apartment managers, and we got straightened out on where to put the trash.
10. How about any other issues with your apartment?
The biggest problem we had was a leaky toilet. It was newly installed but some of the seams weren’t sealed correctly and it dribbled in multiple places. I emailed GaijinPot and they worked with the apartment managers to get it fixed. It took more than one visit by the plumbers to get it sorted out, but it was all taken care of within our first week of moving in.
We also ran out of kerosine at one point in early winter. We’d not been diligent in checking on it. Again, a quick email to GaijinPot Housing Service and things were sorted out in short order. Now they are regularly topping off the tank.
11. Would you recommend the GaijinPot Housing Service to your friends who are moving to Japan?
I absolutely would. In Tokyo, we made a deal with an ex-pat and while it was convenient at the time, the lack of professionalism from our landlord became a big problem after a while. The rental agencies in Japan are very professional, but if you don’t speak fluent Japanese, communication can be strained and slow. GaijinPot has proven to both be very professional and super convenient. If anything comes up, I don’t have a big hassle, I just send an email or make a phone call and things get taken care of.
12. What did you like and dislike about your neighborhood? Would you recommend the neighborhood to other foreigners?
Here in Sapporo, we are close to the Gakuen Mai University station. It’s just 3 stops south of the city center where I work. The commute is a breeze. The neighborhood itself is quiet and unremarkable. Like most of urban Japan, groceries and a convenience store are just a short walk away. There’s also a pretty fantastic ramen shop a couple of blocks away. I’ve tried many shops here in Sapporo and it’s pretty much the best I’ve had here.
In Tokyo, we lived in the Sendagi neighborhood. I can’t recommend it enough. Despite being in the heart of the city, it was relatively quiet and had a strong historical Japanese character with loads of shrines and small family businesses that have been there for generations. The old-fashioned “Cat Town” shopping arcade was just a short walk from the house with amazing food and lots of crafts.
13. Is there any advice you would give to other foreigners who are planning to come live and work in Japan?
First and foremost, leave your expectations behind. Come to Japan with an open heart, an open mind, and eyes wide for new experiences. By all means, do your research, especially on things like trash, transportation, banking, and your legal duties as a foreigner. Japan is an easy place to live if you care about the peace and comfort of others as much as yourself. If you look out for others, they will look out for you.
Finally, if you are finding something difficult and frustrating, seek out some experienced help. Trying to do everything yourself can get frustrating, but with help from someone who has been there and done that, Japan is super convenient and an easy place to live and work. Try to minimize your hassles so you can spend the bulk of your time exploring Japan and Japanese culture.
Sigfried, thank you so much for sharing your experience with us and our readers. We wish you and Anne continued happy trails in Japan!
If you are looking for an apartment in Japan (whether you’re applying from overseas or are already in-country), check out the GaijinPot Housing Service. With the GaijinPot Housing Service, you:
- Can choose from 2,300+ properties throughout Japan.
- Don’t need a guarantor.
- Can apply from overseas.
- Pay all your upfront costs and monthly costs with a credit card.
- Receive full English service, from the room view, to application, to post-move-in support.
You may also be interested in
It is possible and actually not even that stressful to rent an apartment in Japan from overseas. Real Estate Japan recently conducted an interview with married couple, Jamie and Shawny from Scotland, who did exactly that…and not once but twice. Check out the interview here!