Living in Japan/Getting Established
- 1 Housing
- 2 Hankou/Seals
- 3 Alien registration
- 4 Banking
- 5 Health Insurance
- 6 Internet access
- 7 Computing in Japanese
- 8 Mac OS X
- 9 X11 (GNU/Linux, UNIX-like, etc.)
- 10 External links
Finding a good place to live is difficult no matter where you are, but it is particularly difficult in Japan. Apartments and houses tend to be very small by American standards, and rather cramped by European standards.
There is no shortage of apartments in Japan: you can find "for rent" signs on every other city block in Tokyo, and new buildings are constantly being constructed.
The main consideration in getting an apartment is money. Usually, leases are for at least one or two years, and it can be difficult for a landlord to evict a long-term tenant without cause. So getting an apartment in Japan usually requires a lot of money up front. The up-front money is divided into reikin, a gift to the landlord, and shikikin, a kind of security deposit which is supposed to be refunded but rarely comes back. Reikin and shikikin together usually amount to three or four months' rent. If you go through a real estate agent to get your apartment, you will need to pay the agent a commission as well, usually equal to one month's rent.
Some apartments in Japan are as small as 9 square meters (100 square feet)! Usually, the size of an apartment is given in square meters or in tatami mats. The configuration of an apartment is usually described using the following codes:
- ワンルーム (wan-rūmu) denotes a one-room (studio) apartment.
- A "1K" has a bedroom and a tiny but separate kitchen.
- A "1DK" has a bedroom and a kitchen large enough to eat in.
- A "1LDK" has a bedroom and a larger kitchen which can accommodate both a table and a couch.
- "2K" usually denotes an apartment with two bedrooms and a small kitchen, but some landlords or agents may use the term to refer to something more like a 1DK (in which the kitchen is part of the smaller "bedroom").
- After this, you have 2DK, 2LDK, 3DK, 3LDK, etc.
Naturally, if you plan on spending much time at home, you will likely want a 1LDK or larger apartment. In any location within 45 minutes of central Tokyo, a 1LDK costs at least ¥70,000/month in rent alone, and the cost of rent goes up dramatically in the most popular areas of the central city. One-room and 1K apartments are often much cheaper, however. The cost of rent also goes down if you live in a more distant location.
An alternative to an apartment is a "monthly mansion" or "weekly mansion." These are designed for shorter stays and do not require any deposit up front. To compensate for this, the monthly rent is about ¥20,000 to ¥50,000 higher than an equivalent apartment.
A "guest house" is a building shared by several people. Tenants in a guest house have their own bedrooms, but usually share bathrooms and living space. Some guest houses are actual houses in residential areas: others may be set up in apartment blocks or in converted commercial space. A number of guest houses are only occupied by foreigners: these are often called "gaijin houses."
There are obvious privacy and security concerns inherent in living in a guest house, and the other tenants may be insufferable. However, these tend to be the cheapest form of medium to long-term housing in major cities. A guest house room can be had near major train stations in central Tokyo for as little as ¥65,000/month.
Hankou or (signature) seals are carved stamps used throughout Japan for official matters. They are legally considered as an equivalent to your handwritten signature and are used whenever you are required to sign an official document (lease, mortgage, will etc). You will need to purchase your own hankou if you intend to stay in Japan, and you are obliged to register the hankou with your local city hall.
All aliens who plan to stay in Japan for more than 90 days must register with their local city hall during their first 90 days in Japan. Registration is a relatively simple procedure. The forms are available in English, Chinese and Korean, and you only need to bring your passport and two photographs (the photographs can usually be purchased from a machine at city hall).
Once you are registered, you will be issued a Certificate of Alien Registration, known colloquially as a "gaijin card." You are required by law to carry either the card or your passport at all times. Japanese police may ask you to show your card from time to time, so you should carry it any time you are in public.
Opening an account
Once you have a Certificate of Alien Registration, you can go to a Japanese bank and ask to open an account. There are many banks in Japan. The largest are Mitsubishi-Tokyo UFJ (MTU), Sumitomo Mitsui (SMBC) and Mizuho. In addition to these, many foreigners use Citibank (which has a full presence in Japan) or Shinsei Bank (a Japanese bank with foreign management and extensive service in English). Another option is Yucho Bank, a savings institution tied to the post office.
Some banks insist that you must live in Japan for a certain period before opening an account. This is incorrect, and if a bank denies you an account on these grounds you should find another bank.
Using your account
Some banks, particularly the large ones, give you an ATM card and send you a monthly statement in the mail–a familiar process for most foreigners. Smaller banks may still follow the "traditional" approach of giving you a passbook instead. To check your balance, you insert the passbook into an ATM, and the numbers are printed directly on the passbook.
Cheques are rarely used in Japan. Instead, you will probably pay your bills and receive your pay through furikomi, an interbank transfer system. You can send a furikomi from an ATM, or through online banking if your bank offers it. There is usually a fee of 100-500 yen to send a furikomi.
To make a cash deposit, you insert the bills directly into the ATM, which counts the money and confirms the total before depositing it into your account.
To make a cash withdrawal, you can use your bank's ATM or another ATM within the same network. MTU, SMBC and Shinsei all have large nationwide ATM networks, including 24-hour machines inside convenience stores. If you go with a smaller bank, you may be restricted to that bank's ATMs, which may have tight operating hours.
Sending and receiving money internationally
There are several ways to transfer money from a foreign account to your Japanese account:
- International wire transfer can be difficult due to money laundering countermeasures. Some banks only allow you to send an international wire in person. Check with your institution at home about the rules and fees. There will probably be fees to send the wire, to receive the wire and to convert the money into yen.
- Writing a cheque to yourself may be cheaper and easier than sending a wire, but usually takes much longer (as much as five weeks).
- You can also withdraw cash from your foreign account at a post office ATM, then deposit the cash in your Japanese account. This avoids fees on the Japanese end, but depending on the foreign bank's pricing, you may lose quite a bit of money in ATM fees and the exchange rate spread.
Some banks in Japan now offer accounts in multiple currencies. If you have such an account, you can receive a wire from the US in dollars, then convert the money to yen whenever you want to. This is useful for taking advantage of exchange rate fluctuations, and may also give you a better exchange rate than an ATM.
Health insurance is obligatory for all permanent employees and is automatically deducted from your wage packet. It goes towards the maintenance of the National health system and entitles you to free healthcare throughout Japan.
Computing in Japanese
It is necessary to do some minor changes in order to displaying Japanese text.
For Windows 2000/XP reading support, you will need to install a Unicode typeface, such as 'Code2000' or Arial Unicode MS. Both will cover nearly all of the non-Latin scripts used throughout Wikipedia.
For input support, you will need to install the East Asian language files. You can do this from the 'Control Panel'. Open the 'Regional and Language Options' and navigate to the 'Languages' tab. Minimally, you will want to check the box for 'Install files for East Asian languages', though you may wish to also install the complex script files, too. Clicking 'Apply' will install the 'Arial Unicode MS', 'MS Mincho' and 'MS Gothic' families of fonts. All of these fonts contain the Hiragana and Katakana scripts, as well as a substantial majority of the Kanji characters most commonly used.
Depending on how your computer was initially setup, you may need the original source CD to complete the installation. Your computer will prompt you to insert the CD if it is necessary
If this does not work you can also download and install the Office XP Tool: Japanese Language Pack from the Microsoft website.
Inputting Japanese Text
In the 'Regional and Language Options' Control Panel applet, choose the 'Languages' tab. Ensure that the 'Install files for East Asian languages' checkbox is selected. Click the 'Details...' button. Click the 'Add' button and choose 'Japanese'. Click the 'OK' buttons as necessary to close all dialog boxes.
To test the new settings, open any Unicode-enabled text processing application, such as Microsoft Word. Press the combination [Alt]+[Shift] on your keyboard until 'JP' replaces 'EN' in the new section of your taskbar. To input hiragana, enter the Japanese input mode by pressing [Alt]+[~].
Type a Japanese word using romaji keys (e.g. "nihongo") and either press [Enter] to leave that text in hiragana (e.g. "にほんご"), [F7] to change the text into katakana, or [Spacebar] then [Enter] to choose an alternative version containing kanji (e.g. "日本語").
To return to English input mode, press [Alt]+[~] again.
To install a Japanese typeface, simply open Internet Explorer and open a web page coded in Japanese. An Install-on-Demand window should appear, asking to install Japanese text support. After completing this install, the Japanese page should display correctly. (Please note: Wikibooks is not coded in Japanese. Try Google in Japanese.)
Mac OS X
Apple computers display Japanese characters out of the box, and are capable of inputting Japanese characters very simply. To do so, open up System Preferences (located in the "Dock") or click the Apple icon in the top left of your display and click 'System Preferences...'. Next, select 'International' and then the 'Input Menu' tab. Scroll down until you see 'Kotoeri' and check the box to the left of it. This will by default enable the input methods 'Hiragana', 'Katakana' and 'Romaji'.
To switch between your normal input and Hiragana quickly you can do one of two things. The first way to do this is to enable the input menu in the menu bar (you do this by checking the box next to 'Show input menu in menu bar' in the same place described previously), this will put a flag in the upper right part of your display. To change between input methods click the flag and select the new method. Alternatively, you can use the keyboard combination Command + Space Bar to switch between methods, although this is problematic in Apple's new operating system Tiger as this is also the shortcut for Spotlight. There are also direct shortcuts of Ctrl-Shift-; for Romaji, Ctrl-Shift-J for Hiragana, and Ctrl-Shift-K for Katakana.
Please note, while in the Hiragana input method you can temporarily switch to Katakana by holding down the shift key in much the same way that you temporarily hold down the shift key to type capital letters in English.
X11 (GNU/Linux, UNIX-like, etc.)
For displaying Japanese, you will need the correct fonts selected. Please refer to your distribution's documentation for more on that.
You will need a helper application for inputting Japanese characters. The most prominent are:
- AA Editors FAQ? - a guide to typing special characters using common input method editors
- Let's type Japanese - a guide to setting-up SCIM/Anthy on Mandriva Linux, as well as a general guide to SCIM/Anthy
- Linjap Project - How to make any Linux distribution ready for asian languages with Canna/Kinput and and SCIM/Anthy