Tokyo Diary: 10/31/12 – I Feel the Earth Move Under my Feet

Nothing unusual about that here.

The earthquake – 地震 / じしん / jishin – is certainly a part of daily life here.  I’ve felt three or four since I’ve been here, none of them really big, but the 5.0 centered about 100 miles away did last for quite a bit.  Oddly, there was a 5.5 even closer (Ibaraki) last week that I never even noticed.  The one today was small, didn’t even make the news – but what struck me was that the teacher put us right back to work before the shaking even stopped.  The Japanese are some of the most stoic folks you’ll ever want to meet.
As always in life, there are few major decisions that are easy to make.  After struggling to find a taker I now find myself looking at several different apartments, and having to decide which to choose.  The options:

  • A place in Kagurazaka, my preferred neighborhood.  Advantages: where I want to live, has a loft, rent is only 70K.  Kagurazaka is like a little bit of Kyoto in Tokyo – cobblestones, lanterns, geisha, plus a strong French influence makes it very gaijin-friendly.  Disadvantages: owner is old-school and up-front cost is a month’s rent, month’s security, month’s agency fee and a fee to a guarantor company.  What a racket – key money?  Why do I have to pay you for the privilege of paying you rent?  The only thing I have a chance to see back is the deposit and they’ll likely find a way to keep half of that.  Also no furniture or appliances.
  • A place in Kichijoji, near where I am now and my second choice for areas. Advantages: near the beautiful Inokashira Park and a great walk through the Kichijoji shopping arcade to get there, and on a quiet cul-de-sac.  Huge closet.  Disadvantages – again, no furniture or appliances, and a huge up-front outlay – no key money but they want two months rent (which doesn’t bother me that much) and a bunch of miscellaneous “screw you fees” that make the initial outlay almost 400K yen in an apartment that rents for 75K.
  • A place in Mejiro, a forgotten stop on the Yamanote line near Ikebukuro.  Again only 70K, but with a gaijin-friendly agency who charges no agency fee or key money and no guarantor, only 30K cleaning fee.  Comes with washer, fridge and stovetop.  Mejiro isn’t my preferred choice and the apartment itself is somewhat older and more plain, but the area is convenient and quiet, and near several shrines and a university.
  • A place in Ikejeri-Ohashi.  Again a giajin-friendly landlord with no fees or guarantors, just a 30K deposit.  One stop away from Shibuya, where I commute to, and on a pretty nice street.  Big plus (sue me, I can’t help it): it’s next to a Shrine.  Also furnished.  But very small, an older building, no bath and 80K per month.
  • Lastly, a place in Shinsen, which is close enough to Shibuya that I could literally walk there in 10-12 minutes – no train costs.  Area is surprisingly traditional and low-key considering bustling Shibuya is around the corner, and the neighborhood is full of atmospheric izakaya and cafes.  Same LL as above, furnished, no stupid fees and just a 30K deposit.  But this one is 90K per month, and the building is very old – wooden (more noise and I wonder about quakes, though building codes here are ridiculously tight) and a bit run-down.  While I was there the tenant said the downstairs neighbor complained they walked around too much.

So there you have it – what to do, what to do? I guess the way I have to look at it is, whichever one I choose is in Japan and that’s the main thing…



  1. e

    Hmm… no furniture would be an advantage if you're positive you're staying there forever, because then you'd pick your own stuff according to your taste and as brand new and clean as you can afford it. Basically, in case of no furniture is it worth it (or rather in which cases is more worth it after taking the other fees into account?) Can you find decent furniture on the cheap?
    And in case of the Shibuya one… no bath? Bummer. Meaning you have a toilet and sink but no shower/tub combo? Is there any public bath nearby to make up for the latter (also, would this be convenient cost-wise)?

    Anyway, happy decision making!

  2. When I say no bath, I mean literally – it has a shower, but no tub. I do like taking baths, especially in Japan where the tubs are nice and deep. But it'd be an incentive to go the sento, I suppose (which is another expense).

  3. e

    Ah, you would have a shower in that case then. On the bright side, shower is more eco-friendly than filling a whole tub…
    For the tub I was thinking about the sento costs in fact (couldn't remember the word while writing).

  4. A

    ''The Japanese are some of the most stoic folks you’ll ever want to meet.''

    I guess when you have them this frequently, it's just something that happens every once in a while for them?

    Usual disclaimer about how I don't know everything in your life and what not and I have no clue about the history and nature of each area, but I'll just give my two pence and say what I would choose if I were in your place.

    Going by the descriptions you've given, and since there isn't really much worry about the culture in each location (they are friendly to foreigners) I'd honestly go with the place near Mejiro. This isn't so much that it's the most balanced when compared to the other 4, but more with how it seems like it has the best value for money from them all. The first two, while the most ideal places for living and seem very nice, seem to have some pretty difficult landlords and all this extra money for just renting the place seems excessive and honestly not worth it if you are thinking about the long run.

    The other 2 are simply too old, and I don't think are worth paying that much for. I personally tend to avoid living anywhere too old (advice from my mother and granny) but as you had pointed out, the codes in Japan are pretty strict and thinking about it, the Shinsen one would have seen several quakes in it's life time, and if it still standing after all this time there shouldn't be much to worry about.

    That said, I wouldn't mind living in the Shinsen one if it came to it (and with a lower price) since you'd be saving on transportation. It's actually similar to the place I'm living in at the moment here, except it isn't as old but there is a lot of noise from the trains (sometimes we have a coal train pass by, at the middle of the night!) but it is close to every where I need to go and it is a 15-20 minutes walk to uni. It being furnished is a plus, though what condition the furniture is in can be worrying. I'd put it as a fallback option.

    ''Big plus (sue me, I can’t help it): it’s next to a Shrine''

    LOL. So is it like a 10 second walk to the shrine or something? What makes it better than the place in Mejiro then (or do have something against universities)?

  5. I don't know if it's better or worse than the Mejiro place – the apartment itself is definitely not as good. But you literally have a Torii in the lot next door instead of a front door – a Jinja is the neighbor. It's kind of cool though for a native, I expect that would be a hilarious opinion.

  6. A

    Hello Enzo. I'm Japanese and I always enjoy reading your articles since I can tell you're enjoying each anime – a very unusual attitude for my fellow country folks.

    That you're in Tokyo right now is kind of amusing. What's more amusing is that I have to go to the U.S. for long term for my job. It's my first visit there. Not that I'm worried about anything. It's just that… you know what I wanna say… It seems I'll be lost in America, now that you're lost in Tokyo.

  7. H

    Silly anime coincidence (and not even one you'd watch): The first episode of OniAi (Onii-chan dakedo ai sae blah blah) had Akiko exiting the Mejiro JR station on the way to her new dormitory.

    (I'm pretty sure that's what I remember)

  8. A

    C. You'll like being out of the way.

  9. A

    About that stoicism, you might have heard of this term:

    And if I were you, I'd definitely be wary of choosing a place easily prone to noise pollution from neighbors and whatnot. That kind of stuff can really get to you and disrupt your life after a while.

  10. A

    Mejiro sounds like the best bet here. Although if you find a better apartment in Shinsen, you could reconsider. Good luck with your choice!

  11. l

    Mejiro sounds the best to me. It is also situated in an area which is good for some discovery as it is more a residential area than a magnet for people to visit. You can always go to the other places of interest during the weekends.

  12. S

    So far the Meijiro seems to be a clean sweep in the comments thread. Considering its Tokyo, I'd definitely prize "quiet" fairly highly. Also seems like a solid combination of "quality" and "price", which is probably what most of us honed in on.

  13. It's the "brain" choice. Kagurazaka is the "heart" choice. I love that area to death, and the apartment (4 minutes off the main drag and in a quiet spot) is theoretically the same rent (70K) and basically nicer.

    Kagurazaka – Initial outlay includes roughly 2-2.5 months rent in fees I'll never get back. No furniture. But it also has a loft, which means the main room can be a true room – no need to take up space for a bed.

    Mejiro – Save the 2 months in fees. Fridge and washer included. Older building and no loft, but OK quality. Roughly 18 Square Meters vs. 22 (not including the loft) in Kagurazaka.

    Tough choice.

  14. e

    If you are not blowing your budget over furniture go with your heart choice then :). An environment you like both indoors and outdoors is an investment for your soul's welfare and serenity in the long run. When you return home and tired at the end of the day every little plus counts.
    You are already following your kokoro with your country move, might as well go all out with it. I get the impression you're still enough of a brain person you can afford this single indulgence for yourself.

  15. l

    If you can afford it which includes the furniture, go with your heart and pay the extra. Otherwise, go for the brain choice. The extra space of your heart's choice would make me choose that because a bit more space does wonders as it feels less hemmed in. Either choice, you may want to forego the bed and get a futon. Frees up space.

  16. It's a futon all the way, either way. If I take the place in Kagurazaka I'm sleeping in the loft.

  17. A

    hmmm…I would say, Enzo, simply listen to what you heart wants — you will never regret it. As for the earthquake, it scares me a bit when reading your post. Take care.


  18. A

    As for the earthquakes, Tokyo is the big league. San Francisco is just a triple A.

  19. l

    Considered other areas, for example, like around Ueno? For example, a unit like this? A 25m² unit that rents out for ¥70k/month with maintenance of ¥8k/month. Total upfront costs are about ¥150k.

  20. Ueno is a bit of a hike to Shibuya, where I commute to every day.

  21. G

    I say go with your heart's choice if it's within your budget. You just gotta bleed a little in the beginning, but the state of the house and the environment, which you seem to love, compensates for the loss. Again, if you can manage the initial cost, I don't see why not!

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