Traditionally, Japanese realtors are wary of renting apartments to foreigners. For one, foreigners don’t tend to stick around too long. Secondly, foreigners will rarely know a local (Japanese) person well enough to secure them as a guarantor. Thirdly, foreigners sometimes don’t speak Japanese well enough to handle the transaction. Fourthly, many foreigners are appalled by the Japanese custom of “key money.” Why bother when it’ll be a headache for everyone involved? Savvy realtors, however, know that there’s a large, profitable market out there for foreigners in need of accommodation in Japan. So they hire an English-speaking liaison. They advertise in the English-language websites. They work around that pesky “key money” issue. They waive the need for a guarantor. To sweeten the pot further, they advertise their apartments as “fully furnished,” knowing that a person on a working holiday dreads the idea of having to deal with a bed when they’re moving back home.
I’ve lived in 3 apartments in Japan, all of them “fully furnished,” and I’ve come to learn that “fully furnished” can mean different things. Were someone to ask me how I’d define “fully furnished,” I might list off appliances: microwave, stove, refrigerator, washing machine, dryer and oven. I’d then list some furniture: bed, couch, dining table, table, and chairs. If I were being greedy, I might include a TV/DVD player, vacuum, iron, a bookcase and curtains. Then I’d turn red because Japanese apartments don’t include beds, silly! They include futons. And an inexpensive Japanese apartment won’t include an oven, either. Or a counter. Or a stove with more than two burners. Or dryers. It will, however, include a balcony to dry your clothes, a charming well in the floor for shoe storage and a plastic stool-and-bowl set with which to conduct your Japanese-style evening bath.
My first apartment was arranged through my school’s housing company, which, of course, caters to its foreign employees. Those apartments did have beds, as well as large dressers, a table, a short bookcase, and the usual appliances. They also included Western-style toilets; the flusher printed on either side with the Kanji for “big” and “small.” When I moved, I chose not to stay with that housing company. Instead, I went with a Japanese firm I’d seen advertised online that, again, catered almost unabashedly to foreigners. That said, it was markedly more Japanese in design: we got the appliances and basic furniture but the toilet, shower and sink were all in separate rooms and there were no beds – just stacks of used futons. We did, on the other hand, get all kitchenware included in the rental fee. Cutting boards, plates, bowls, silverware, chopsticks, blender, rice cooker, potato peelers, measuring spoons – you name it, we got it. It was both a relief and an agony to leave the whole kitchen kit behind. On one hand, we didn’t have to take it with us. On the other, we’d have to buy the whole lot all over again. And I’d happened to like that rice cooker. Bah.
Our apartment here in Abiko came “fully furnished” as well but according to our landlord Matsubara-san, “fully furnished” means a giant sofa, short barstools, a refrigerator, a heater, a rotating fan, and a long plastic table that takes up most of the kitchen/living room like a Viking buffet. Thus, no beds, no futons, no TV, no garbage can, and no microwave. And that’s cool; for the man who helped me get my internet set up in 3 weeks, I’d live without a toilet.
Plus, there is this:
Forget the microwave – this here is your sweet deal. As for the long table in the living room, it is draped in the turquoise and gold elephant-printed table cloth I bought last year in Thailand and as for the beds, Sean and I are heading to IKEA tomorrow. A new one just opened up over in Osaka City, much closer than the one in Kobe, and we look forward to having an excuse for chucking the old, grisly futons once and for all.