This week, I renewed my two-year apartment contract.

I moved to Japan right after graduating uni, with only my part-time job savings in my bank account. I never hunted for apartments before in my life, except for choosing the dorm stayed in as a student. I had absolutely zero notion of what time crept into finding the right apartment, as well as what important points were to keep in mind when choosing your home for the coming years.

I will not go into depth about how apartment hunting works in Japan, but the only advice I would like to give you from my experience is that when speaking to a real estate agent, be as concise and direct as possible about what you want. Don’t show them a photo and say, “I want something like this,” because then, chances are they will take you to see that exact apartment, even though it’s not at all within your price range, or close to anything you want to be close to.  

I contacted my real estate agent a few months before I hopped on the plane to Japan. I sifted through his company’s website and wrote him what I liked about certain apartments on there, but would prefer to be closer to work, and whether he could please recommend me apartments “similar to these”. He put me at ease by already sending me a full day schedule of apartment viewings. Little did I know he would without question take me to see every single apartment I had linked to him before. The first two weekends in Japan, beaten down by jetlag and my first days at my new job, I viewed about 20 apartments. To say I was exhausted and disappointed would be an understatement. I was well aware that having a large apartment in the city center would be completely impossible with our budget, and that we would have to look long and hard to find the perfect fit. And we did really want something spacious for multiple reasons, but the first would simply be building a comfortable new life together in this country. At that time, I just simply could not imagine living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment of 30m2 as a couple. We saw many apartments, of which some were just simply too far from work, and others were really old and almost falling apart. I was prepared to settle for the fact that we would just take something much smaller, when we found this apartment; my current apartment. It was perfect. The size was ideal, the building was relatively new and literally ticked off every box on our checklist. Except that it was still a one-hour commute to work. But that was fine to me at the time. I would read on the train. I would watch Netflix on my phone. It’s all good. Completely exhausted from all the viewings and still present jetlag, we decided on this apartment and two weeks later we moved in. Furnishing this place from scratch is a whole different story, but we had a lot of fun doing so.

A few months in, I realized the big downside to this apartment: the commute to work was not as romantic as I imagined it would be. I would still have to walk 15 minutes to the station, and then take two trains for one hour until I reached work. I would have to leave my apartment at 8am and not be home before 9pm. And whenever I would go out for drinks with friends after work, it would be much, much later. Or sometimes even missing my last train and taking a 10.000 yen (100-ish dollars) taxi ride home. I was exhausted and frustrated. I was annoyed that I barely got to see my oh-so-fantastic apartment, irritated that I had to take lunch and dinner to work, and completely vexed that I was simply too tired to see my friends over the weekend. I had come to resent my perfect apartment, because I was tired. I started longing for the day that my two-year contract would come to an end and we could finally move. I was prepared to give up more than half of my salary for a tiny mid-city apartment.

And then the pandemic hit. Our office time was reduced drastically and going out was not even on the table anymore. Being able to work from home was definitely a new thing to get used to. And I did. It took a while, but I had finally established the ideal work-from-home routine. I could elaborate on this in a different post. But I felt good. I would go on long walks every morning and evening, discovered many new places and shops, and most of all I appreciated how calming my neighborhood actually was. There were many walking paths and nature scenes at less than two minutes from my home. I started running again, at 7:50am on the dot every morning, and recognized fellow joggers around me. We sometimes exchanged hello’s and nods. Whenever I’m stressed, I could go sit by the river. I finally felt home. I never thought I’d be so happy to hear my company announce to officially adopt a flexible remote business model, to continue after the pandemic is over as well. Going to the office for two days a week is absolutely perfect. I could rework my routine around those two days, see my colleagues and eventually meet up with friends for coffee, lunch or dinner, and still have enough energy to do everything I want to do over the weekend.

So, when the real estate company asked us whether we would keep renting here, Dion and I gladly said: yes.

If anything, the pandemic has not only taught me how to love my apartment and my neighborhood, but also how to take care of myself, and find that ideal balance I have been striving towards for the past two years.

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