Friday, May 30, 2008

We got one!

fujisawahappy After looking at a boat load of apartments I finally found one that fit all three of my criteria. The apartment I finally decided upon was the last and cheapest apartment of the bunch. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be to find another apartment that was cost effectively worth while moving to.
The moving date is officially set on June 28th and I can't wait! I can't believe its almost been a year since I moved into my boring apartment out in the countryside. When I look back at all the stuff I did there, I am really glad I finally got enough guts to move out and try something new. I haven't done anything memorable in my current area and I am happy I am moving to a more alive and interesting area.
The new apartment I will be moving to is just about as big as my current one, as far as dimensions go but there are a few differences that make it better in my opinion. The first difference is that it is on the last apartment in the row of apartments I live in, so I won't have a neighbor's bedroom/living room on either side of me because of how the place is laid out. I also get a huge loft which feels almost like a second room when I climb up into it. Hopefully I can bring a power cord up there or something to use my laptop or other portable devices up there. The final cool thing about the apartment besides the insanely cheap rent ($290 a month) is that it has a little private back yard just for me.
Location is another big difference between apartments. The new apartment is in the city this time and is about 2.5Km from Kofu station. I am within a short bike ride from two major grocery stores, restaurants, and a couple of electronics stores. I am also within walking distance from the city art museum/park which I plan to jog around in the evenings. Now that I will be living so close to many things, I will try to ride my bike more for shopping and to get to other forms of entertainment.
The only downside for the new apartment is that it doesn't have a parking lot adjacent to it, so I will have to walk down the road about a minute or so to get to my car. Second, I have to drive to work daily now which means I have to leave home earlier. The last downer is that I will need to buy a washing machine or find a nearby laundromat to do my laundry since my place doesn't have one. I do have to pay one month's worth of rent to shikikin and to the realtor, plus one month's rent in advance, bringing the move in cost to almost $1,000 but its a ton less than the other places I was considering. These things don't seem so bad for the price and layout of the place though, and won't change my lifestyle at all. 
Now that I found my apartment, I have to prepare for my Japanese driver's licence test. I am really not looking forward to it because it costs a lot of money and many people fail the driving test a couple of times because its overly strict and complicated. Hopefully I will have good luck and get my licence within the first try. I really pray that I do!

Monday, May 26, 2008

The first choice isn't necessarily the best

TXIILVZJQ3MOFAZNS4Q3V6247NF2EB2X Last time in my ever growing blog story; I went on a long rant about the cost of moving and renting in Japan. After sitting down and thinking it over for a little while, Yuko and I came to the conclusion that although Leo Palace apartments are modern and well set-up, they are also the most over-priced places to live in Japan.
After deciding that moving to another Leo Palace wasn't the right solution, we bought a really thick monthly renters guide with all the apartment listings of my area. We ended up finding about eight buildings that met our criteria (in order of highest importance) price, location, and interior. On Sunday we set aside the whole day for apartment shopping. Just about all of the apartments we looked at were either too old and decrepit or didn't seem to give much reason to move to another home. 
We visited about four separate realtors and came up with nothing decent until the last try of the day. The last apartment we looked at was the best of all the apartments we looked at and it filled all of my criteria for a new apartment. Although it is about 20 years old, it is in pretty good shape and is insanely cheap. The apartment is about the same size as my current one except that it has a high ceiling with a large loft space for either bedding or storage. The apartment is also the last apartment in the block of apartments so I don't have any neighbors to my left or right of my bedroom due to the layout of the building. Another highlight about the apartment is its price of 29,000 yen ($290) a month compared to what I pay now for a similarly sized room in the middle of nowhere 51,000 yen ($510.) The final and best detail about the apartment is that it won't bankrupt me to move into it, reikin and shikikin were waived and I only have to pay for two years of insurance (about 1 month's rent) and the realtor fee (one month's rent.)
On Tuesday Yuko and me will make preparations to cancel my current apartment's contract so we can sign a new one with the better apartment owner. I'm praying that there won't be any more move out fees besides cleaning for my current Leo Palace apartment. I know they will also try to charge me for the days I am not living in the apartment if I move out in the middle of the month, so I am going to figure out the most economical day to move out. It looks like things are going to work out and I'll be able to save even more money, which will help me get closer to my original money saving goals. I look forward to moving into another apartment in a more populated area!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The nightmares of renting in Japan

CBLIHFEKWD2EU7XMNHHOQKXHANZAZWMH  Prepare yourselves for a long post, there is a lot of junk I have to explain and cover in today's entry...
In my last entry, I mentioned I was in the process of searching for a new apartment in the city. Well, I'm sort of at an impasse now. For the past eight months I have been living in the foot hills of the Minami-Alps of Japan and have kept my peace about it for better or worse. I guess its time to review my options and see where to go from there. Well, here goes nothing!
The apartment I currently live in gets quite a few good marks from me, for example, the neighborhood is relatively quiet... almost dead, my neighbors are quiet, its clean, and the scenery is truly beautiful when the weather is good. Unfortunately, this is where the good ends and the bad begins...
There is a price to be paid for having too much of a good thing and that price happens to be that I am at least 12 kilometers from any form of entertainment and about eight kilometers from any decent restaurant or grocery store! Up till now my entertainment has been limited to what I can do in the solitude of my tiny shoe box apartment, which consists of random Internet surfing, video games, and sleep (fairly anti-social if you ask me but not by choice.) If it weren't for Yuko, my girl friend, I think I would have went nuts already from the isolation.
I may have added the following complaint about my apartment to the list of positive attributes but ever since I gained a couple new schools out in the mountains, living near my school is no longer a benefit since my car is now required for work. Another negative to add to the list is that my apartment is over priced for the area it is in. So how does it work out that I am paying the same amount of rent for the same model of apartment deep in the city? Blows the mind...
I love the area I live in for its scenery but other than that, but scenery isn't enough to justify the self-inflicted isolation and wasted gas money and time that is associated with grocery shopping and going to restaurants with Yuko. To illustrate what it takes just to get to somewhere worth while, it can me at least 20 minutes to get to any where interesting from my apartment by car and if you read my earliest posts, you would know it takes hours round trip by bike. I haven't used my bike much since the summer because I've seen every thing around my town and there really isn't any thing worth riding to unlike my first experience living in Japan where having a bike was the ideal mode of transportation. My first experience in Japan wasn't very rosy but I was just as deep in the countryside as I am this time around, yet there was more stuff for me to do in my other place.
Now for the other part of the story! Yesterday was my birthday (happy 27th birthday to me) and I decided to go out and look at some apartments with Yuko. The first place we went to ended up being a flop, the apartment wasn't as nice as I imagined and fairly trashy looking on the outside and inside. I just didn't see any reason to move into a dive to save 100 bucks a month if it is missing a fridge, light fixtures, and felt more cramped than my current place. So we decided to go my current rental company, Leo Palace 21 since their apartments are fairly new and comfortable enough for a guy like me.
72JBELV5RCPIKPQTAUYUV52VFXS5AJIVMan, was I in for a shock at Leo Palace. Before I moved to Japan, I was led to believe that once you rented a Leo Palace 21 apartment, you would be able to move easily between apartments if the need came. I couldn't have been any more wrong about this. Leo Palace 21 proudly advertises (boasts) that it stands apart from the common apartment realtor because they waive a couple big fees that come along with renting home in Japan. The fees I am referring to are Reikin and Shikikin. Reikin is basically a month's or two worth of rent that goes to the land owner with no chance of getting any of it back and Shikikin is at least two to three month's worth of rent and literally translates to deposit money, but doesn't serve any other purpose than to line the pockets of the land owner and real estate agency. Most renters can expect to get next to nothing back on the shikikin which is rediculous, since it is a security deposit after all right? These fees are highly notorious and in many ways unfair as they can, and usually do, bankrupt people who do need to move, hence the term (hikoshi-binbou) moving-poor. When you move, you better have a small fortune sitting in your bank account or you'll be eating boiled cabbage and water for the next few months!
1171827848857 I really am straying from the topic here, so time to bring it back to the point. Leo Palace advertises that they waive the fees of Shikikin an Reikin but in fact, they just reword a couple of the additional fees in your contract in order to get that money anyway. One of the additional fees was a moving fee of 31,500 yen (310 dollars), A system fee of 29,000 yen, and an additional disinfecting fee for the new apartment of another 15,750 yen! I am also expected to pay a cleaning fee of 29,920 yen (round it up to 300 bucks) for my old apartment and won't let me clean it myself to avoid fees. But this is just the beginning of the long running list of fees and charges, I also have to pay some other fees I forgot about but after calculating the additional moving fees and including the first and second month's rent I am REQUIRED to pay in cash up front (Japan is a cash only society, this has nothing to do with Leo Palace 21's policy), it all adds up to roughly 200,000 yen (2,000 dollars) to move! That's absolutely insane and would kill my meager savings. I know that half of that goes towards my first two months worth of rent but the other 1,000 dollars? Give me a break here!
F3A77E7MJU34OK6CADDUG6EQUJ34QO4B Leo Palace 21 doesn't even give loyal customers a break on moving into other Leo Palace 21 run apartments. They double dip into cleaning fees and give new move-ins better treatment in the form of the first two months being free. I never got that offer, but I kind of have the feeling my employer wasn't pushing for discounts or anything on my behalf, so live and learn on that one. Heck the first t ime I moved in here bankrupted me, I don't know if I can handle starting from zero again. The real scary thing about all of this is that I wouldn't get much of a better offer from another realtor for a comparable apartment. Sure, I can move into a dive and save a ton of money but I really don't want to fight giant cockroaches and live in a dumpy, dreary, old hole. I value natural sunlight, bright rooms, and cleanliness.
I plan to return to Leo Palace later this afternoon with Yuko to see if we can work out something to save a couple hundred bucks on the move. If I can get Leo Palace to cut out about 500 dollars worth of BS hidden fees, I'll gladly suck up the bill and move. The places they are offering right now are in an awesome location which is close to every thing I ever wanted like shopping, dining, and game arcades, not to mention a train station within biking distance.
1183680539698 So I am at a fork in the road here. Do I grin and bear the monotony and isolation of an unhealthy countryside life and stay in my current apartment, or do I suck it up and look at the bigger picture and move out to something I know will be much better. Either way I am starting to think coming back to America this summer isn't in the cards for me. I do want to see my new nephew Elijah but I want to save more money and I don't want to make my homesickness worse by getting a sample of what life may be back in my hometown. It doesn't mean I don't want to go back to America any time soon but I want to make my time in Japan count for something and not come back home with less money than I came with. I plan to come home in a few years with at least $10,000 to start my real life back in San Diego. Here's hoping for the best!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Gotta keep movin' along

fujisawahappy Quite a few things happened over the past couple of weeks between blog entries. I set up a new fish tank, started a drinking diet, and started looking for a new apartment among a few other things I will share with you all later. 
About a week ago the balance of life in my fish tank went to all heck. I had a severe ick outbreak that managed to wipe out almost all the life in my fish tank. It’s the first time I ever had to deal with an ick epidemic, so I didn’t realize what was going on until it was way to late to do anything but watch my poor fish suffer and die. For those who don’t know what ick is, ick is a parasite that latches on to fish and sucks the life out of them till they can’t swim any more, causing them to die. Ick looks like tiny grains of salt on the skin of fish and if not checked for on a regular basis can turn into a full blown disaster.
DSC00002 I spent about 10 bucks on a ick remedy for the water in my tank but only managed to save all but three fish in my once flourishing tank. All of my tiger barbs died, and most of the neon tetra died but my Corey catfish were still as healthy as the first day I got them. My Corey cats seem to be immune to this recent wave of ick, which is cool because they are the most expensive fish in my tank. I plan to add more fish to my tank this weekend now that the ick has subsided and my water has been treated to prevent future outbreaks.
yebisu[1] In other news, I have been alcohol free for two weeks and it actually feels kind of good to not drink so much. The main reason for deciding not to drink so much is not just due to it being unhealthy but rather that drinking alone is really retarded and I realized I don’t get anything out of it. I also made a resolution to completely stop drinking Japanese happoshu (cheap fake bears made of soy or other substitutes for hops and barley). Happoshu is nasty stuff and gives me some gnarly hangovers compared to a tasty stout or a good smooth malt beer. I still will be able enjoy a cold one every once in a while but now the urge to have a beer with every dinner isn’t as strong as it was and my spare tire is glad to hear that. Hopefully my reduced intake of beer and fatty foods will help me loose a few pounds in strategic places… I really want to wear a muscle tee one day and look good in it like I did five years ago.
DSC00001 I got fed up with the inconsistent audio levels between my TV and my game systems that I went out and bought an AV system. I am a fairly tech savvy guy and can fix a few things on DVD drives, PCs, and audio equipment, so I decided to take a chance on a Sony 5.1 DVD combo AV system I found at Hard-Off (a recycle shop) for 4,000 yen. The system was missing the center speaker but for 40 bucks it was a steal even though the DVD drive was supposedly bad. I mainly bought it for its audio features and getting the DVD player to work was just a little project for me that I really didn't care if I got working or not. Well, to my surprise it was really easy to fix the DVD-ROM on my AV set. All I had to do was search online for how to access the service menu to re-calibrate the drive and presto, a perfectly working system! I also cleaned the laser with a special laser cleaner for 800 yen!
DSC00004I am very pleased with my AV system purchase, I ended up getting a lot more than I paid for. I mean, I got a 5.1 stereo system with a subwoofer for under 50 dollars, that's just insane. I am really surprised hard-off didn't try cleaning the laser at least, oh well its their loss and my gain! I just know what kind of 'junk' to take chances on.
Because of my 'new' AV system, I decided to re-arrange my room again. Now my room has surround sound between 8am and 10pm daily (my walls are too thin for my subwoofer.) I am pretty sure this is the final layout of my room because moving wires is a pain in the butt. I think the new set up looks pretty good and it is much easier to play games without straining my neck looking up at the screen.
1185384548759 The last thing that’s happened recently is that I finally am tired of living in my shoe box apartment. I have been trying to justify living out in the middle of nowhere for almost a year now, but I realized that I haven’t really benefited from living so far away from anything interesting. Thanks to the Internet and my girlfriend, I’ve managed to find a couple of better and cheaper places to live. My current apartment is about a 15-minute walk from my primary junior high school which was kind of convenient till another two schools were added to my work load this semester. Now that I have to go to the mountains once a week, driving a car has become a work necessity. This has got me to really think about just sucking it up and moving to a better neighbor hood and home. The most interesting thing near me is a department store called J-Mart and the closest grocery store is about five miles away, making life fairly inconvenient. So before summer hits, I plan to move into the city. This weekend I am supposed to check out a couple of places that are about 100 dollars less a month and near a lot of restaurants and interesting places that have a NIGHT LIFE!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Golden Week

DSC00005 What's Golden Week you may ask? Well, Golden Week is a block of national holidays Japan has during the first week of May. To my luck, Golden Week was more like Golden Weekend because it started on Saturday and ended on Tuesday...
DSC00011 The cool thing about Golden Week besides the fact that I don't have to work is that lots of cool decorations get put outside. During the block of holidays that are celebrated in Golden Week, there is one particular one that I really think is cool. Children's Day, a day when kids get money gifts and families fly giant carp kites outside their homes and over mountain ravines and what not. The carp windsocks are flown for the boys in the family. Its a nice sign that spring is ending and summer is right around the corner.
DSC00001 Speaking of summer, its less than a couple months away now and I can't wait. I am seriously considering taking a two week break from Japan around the end of July-early August to escape the humid weather and to clear my head. I have been searching online with Japanese travel agencies and I think I might have found some reasonable prices for round-trip tickets in July. Reasonable prices to me mean no higher than 1000 dollars round trip. My girlfriend Yuko might want to come along with me so we are trying to plan stuff out. Maybe Yuko can help me find something even cheaper than I found...
DSC00002 In other news, I bought a new fish tank over the weekend. I couldn't resist the 30 percent off sale at the local pet store and grabbed five tiger barbs, two catfish, and five neon tetra. Yuko was against it at first but warmed up to it once she actually saw how cool the fish tank looked after I set it up in my room. Buying the fish tank kind of reinforced the understanding that I will be in Japan for at least a couple years. I don't plan to move out within the next year because I want to save up enough money to restart my life back in San Diego. At the rate I am saving, I think I can have a decent chunk of cash in another year or so along with paying off a good portion of my credit and student loans.

Uncle Scott

2008.04.30_EJH_B-Day_128As I was sleeping thousands of miles away in Japan, I became an Uncle. My sister gave birth to a healthy baby boy on April 30th.  My new nephew's name is Elijah and I look forward to seeing him up close hopefully this summer.

Life seems to be moving even faster now that I am out of college and doing my own thing in Japan. Becoming an uncle helps put my life into better perspective. The longer I am away from my home in America, the more I realize that life in Japan is temporary and just another step towards something better back in America. Now I just need to find a new goal to focus on and get on with my life. I want to become a manga (Japanese comic book) or Anime (Japanese animation) translator or work at an electronics company like Sony doing some kind of manual translation or online game support. Hopefully I can get my foot in the door within a few years from now, if not sooner. I want a career of my own so I can also hopefully have a family of my own.

Congratulations Faye and Matt!