In our final article on housing, guest David C. writes about his experiences at Toriumi Haimu, one of the popular options for apartment rental through the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org Enjoy!
Finding housing in Japan is a guaranteed adventure. I have moved three times in my two years here and if I have learned anything, it is that the moving process can be long, frustrating and, above all, expensive. Even for someone who is fairly well versed in Japanese, navigating the realty scene to find a place which has a good location, quality and price is no small task. Thankfully, the Inter-University Center (IUC), understands this point and does its best to help students live in pre-furnished housing on short leases without any of the usual administrative “bull-poo”. One such apartment complex is the Toriumi Haimu. Toriumi is the last name of the owner and Haimu…well…that remains a mystery to this day. As a Haimu veteran, please allow me to introduce you to the wonderful, wubbulous world of, as the students affectionately call it, “The Haim”.
Very little to worry yourself about here. The rent, at least in 2009-2010, was 70,000JPY a month. There is also a 2,000JPY furnishing fee. Due to generations of IUC students living in the rooms there is some discrepancy in what items are legacied into the different rooms. For instance, some nice things I got were a bed, a large table and a very effective gas heater for those cold winter nights. Other rooms got things like kotatsu, desk, desk chair, nice tv, etc. There is no such thing as a free lunch so you are expected to pay a bit for whatever furnishing your room happens to have.
One of the reason moving can be so expensive in Japan is that there are a variety of upfront fees. You can usually expect to pay your first month’s rent and then a security deposit, gift money, real estate agent fee and, if you contract to an outside agency to act as your guarantor, payment to them. These fees are normally 1 month’s rent, but sometimes they are two. Thanks to the IUC all you have to pay upfront is your first month of rent and gift money (1 month’s rent). Please note that this will have to be paid in cash.
After the initial payment you can expect to pay Ms. Toriumi through bank deposit. Ms. Toriumi does not live on-site, but her representative, Ms. Tamura does. Though I did not have much interaction with Ms. Tamura, other residents looked upon her as kind, somewhat benign, presence. Any issues you may have should first be directed to Ms. Tamura and then, if necessary, it may be elevated to Ms. Toriumi. While most of the students living in the Haim had no quibbles with Ms. Tamura or Ms. Toriumi, one married couple were quite dissatisfied with the pair. They had experienced a couple of gas leaks and felt that the ownership did not take the situation seriously enough. They eventually moved out and, although I am not aware of every detail of the situation, from what I understand, they seemed to be justified in their frustration. Utilities (gas, water, electric) were paid separately and, depending on your usage tended to be anywhere between 7,000 and 10,000 a month. I shared an internet bill with a few other residents so it only cost about 2,500.
The Haim is not a deluxe apartment in the sky. It is rather close the ground, rising only 5 stories, and is located on the very edge of one of Japan’s most notorious slums, Kotobukicho. Before conjuring up images of Compton and people getting capped left and right, please remember that 1) Japan is one of the safest countries in the world and 2) the Haim is located on the border itself. If you take a left out of the apartment you will hit a fancy bridal store in about 10 feet. There are a number of homeless, basically harmless old men living in the area but it is almost a sure thing that you will have little to no contact with them or the occasional yakuza patrolling the area. Basically, living in the Haim is one of the easiest ways to get street cred without actually doing anything illegal, painful or otherwise foolhardy.
The building itself is fairly run-down. Built over 30 years ago, it shows its age. As with most cheaper Japanese accommodations (and even some not so cheap ones), it has no central A/C or heat, the water heat is gas powered (figuring out how to make the shower work is a rite of passage for all Haimu residents), the kitchen has a two burner gas range but no oven, insulation is poor, the kitchen is tiled, the living rooms are tatami and, yes, you may be visited by cockroaches and other endearing critters.
However, considering you will be getting a 2DK all to yourself (pairs are allowed if you are married or if you get the lone 3DK) and many of the other housing issues outlined above are moot, the inconveniences of age are perhaps worth it. Generally speaking, the higher off the ground you are, the less chance you have of encountering bugs. I was on the 3rd Floor and I kept my apartment relatively clean. For the entire year I only spotted a few bugs. However, one of the other students on the 3rd Floor did have to wage a battle to reclaim his turf.
2DK is really a nice amount of space. In fact, several students would pool their resources to throw parties in the Haimu for the entire IUC and would, more or less, comfortably fit about 30-35 people in the room. The room was even able to handle 41 guests for a Thanksgiving dinner party so space, at least, should not be one of your concerns.
Utilities were generally less than 10,000JPY a month. I shared internet service with some of the other students so that helped to defray an otherwise costly item.
The nearest station is Ishikawacho (石川町) on the Keihin-Tohoku Line (京浜東北線). The KTL is the only line that goes through the station. To get the Yokohama subway line, you need to go to Kannai Station (10 min away), to get to the terminus of the Minato-Mirai/Tokyu-Toyoko line, you need to go to Motomachi Station (20 min away), to get the Yokohama rail line, you need to go to Sakuragi-cho (20 min walk, 4 min train) and to get to Yokohama Station with its bountiful line transfers you need to take the KTL for about 7 minutes.
It is about 45 minutes from Shibuya or Shinjuku in Tokyo, more like an hour to Ueno or Akihabara in Tokyo. While is Tokyo is certainly a good time, Yokohama is nothing to overlook. Ishikawacho is within 10 minutes of the following:
- The largest Chinatown in Japan
- Yokohama stadium, home of the Yokohama BayStars baseball team
- Motomachi, a ritzy shopping district
- Kannai, a fun area with tons of restaurants, bars and the like
- Isezakicho, a more reasonably price shopping district, also with lots of restaurants
- Sakuragi-cho/Minato-Mirai, a recently developed area with a variety of malls, movie theaters, shopping, restaurants and is known for hosting events ranging from Oktoberfest to Jazz Festivals to the recent APEC summit.
In terms of going out, Tokyo is always an option but Yokohama is no slouch when it comes to having a good time.
Living in the Haim is a little like living in a dormitory complex. There were 9 rooms for 12 people my year and it was nice being able to stop by and shoot the breeze between study sessions. We would also sometimes have dinner or even Sunday brunch together. If you are new to Japan, having a support network in close proximity can go a long way to easing into your new adventure.
At the same time, if you know the Japan-game and/or if you are a little bit more independent-minded, you may want to consider arranging your own housing and tailor it to your needs and tastes. Of course if you choose that route, you’ll want to come extra early to get everything set up before school starts. For experienced Japan-ites I would give the Haim a 77/100 grade but, for newbies, probably an 86/100.