Changing Apartments: The Life and Times of Key Money

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Pierrot le Fou

Diabloii.Net Member
Changing Apartments: The Life and Times of Key Money

As many of you know, I have been living in Japan for a year and some odd months now. As most of you don't know (I think), I have been living in a hole in the wall the entire time.

My apartment was a one-room palace, filled with junk accumulated over my stay, and my 187cm (6'2) frame was finding difficulty fitting in such cramped surroundings. I would say that it had its upsides, but it didn't.

It was small, tiny, 6 tatami-mat sized. That's small. Really small. The unit bathroom had a toilet so low that my legs would fall asleep after a few minutes, yet it was the most comfortable seat in the house due to the lack of space for a real chair.

The view, well, it wasn't really a view. From my tiny veranda I was entitled to see the next building, 3 meters away, preventing any sunlight from entering my humble abode. As if that weren't bad enough, it was a factory of some sort meaning that I got to hear wonderful grinding noises all through the day if I wasn't out and about.

So I made the (intelligent?) decision to move.

My girlfriend and I decided that since her lease was up, and I wanted to move, that we should try this 'cohabitation' thing that we had been discussing at length for a while. Now this is a tricky thing to do, considering that I am not Japanese, that Japanese folk don't generally live away from home until they get married, and her father is quite old-fashioned having grown up in the Japanese equivalent of rural Kansas.

So the first step was telling the parents that we wanted to move in together, and to get their permission.

We went over for dinner with the parents, and were going to bring it up then, but unfortunately the dinner got cancelled due to a death in their family...Strike One.

The rescheduled dinner, when it took place, was interrupted by a customer of the mother's store coming over after hours to buy a lot of stuff. Opportunity was lost almost immediately...Strike Two.

Finally, we got to have a nice lunch with them. I was drinking like a fiend due to nerves (and the fact that they enjoy filling me with free booze -- no complaints), and wondering how we were going to initiate this discussion.

My girlfriend, with no warning, just blurts it out (in Japanese). "Dad, we want to move in together."

Now the discussion that followed was rapid-fire family talk in Japanese, which isn't easy for me to follow, but can be done. After the shock of the speed of the initial exchange, I started to follow the conversation. The father was saying that it was very strange for this to happen in Japan, and that we are from two different cultures, and that we don't have plans to get married immediately, and I'm sitting there sweating bullets and wondering if they have any hard liquor around.

The conversation goes on and I start to tune out, because it was REALLY fast, as the father was having one of those "Oh crap, my daughter is growing up" moments he didn't want to cope with, and was speaking quick to alleviate his own tension.

My girlfriend is starting to have tears well up in her eyes, and I'm just staring blank-faced wondering what is being said to make her so upset. Eventually the Japanese speech-train stops, and I have a cigarette. My girlfriend comes up to me and asks if I'm okay. I look at her and say, "What the Hell did they say?"

She looks at me like I'm an idiot and says, "The first thing he said was that it was okay."

What a wonderful start to this experience.

We went to a rental agency to investigate the variety of options open to us in our price range. Because she was planning on shooting off with her mother to Europe, and would have to quit her job to get the weeks off she'd need, she wanted cheap rent. Now I had been previously paying 48,000 yen/month for my one room palace (that's about $450 US), and figured I could swing that on a new place as half of it. She wanted a place priced below 70 or 80,000 yen a month that we could both fit in comfortably.

Now my girlfriend, bless her soul, is picky. Incredibly picky. Her last apartment was absolutely INCREDIBLE, which made her even more picky about the next one she lived in.

No first floor apartments (preferrably 3rd or above in this earthquake land).
No outdoor washing machines.
Close enough to walk to the train station.
Separate bathroom and toilet.
Separate sink and bathroom.
Separate sink and toilet.
Accepts foreigners (many don't)

And the clincher: cheap key money.

Now for those of you unenlightened about the wonders of Japan and their renting system, 'key money' is this huge amount of cash you pay for the privelege to pay rent in a building. It comes in several varieties -- none of which you really ever get back even if you move out -- and all are horribly expensive.

So we set our key money budget to 200,000 yen (about $2,000 US), and found strikingly few apartments in our price range. We finally found one that at least I enjoyed incredibly, and she seemed to think was passable, which was cheap (67,000 yen/month), and new (built in 1995), and fit all her criteria but the station one (a 15 minute walk, dear God no!).

Unfortunately, someone rented the only second floor apartment, and we were stuck with a dilemma.

We could move in to another second floor apartment, but we'd have to wait a month. That was fine with me, as I would have had to pay an extra month's rent to move out of my current place a month early (how much sense does THAT make?), but she was getting booted out of her place, and would have to move home with the folks for a month.

Stress and bickering ensued, as neither of us liked the agent (he was slimier than slimy), but we agreed to take the apartment.

So she would have to move out of her apartment, move into her parents' house for a month, and then move into the new apartment. What a pain in the arse.

I had my own problems to deal with. My apartment was 'given' to me by my employer, and my coworker was the landlord. The people with my job for the past 7 years or so had all lived in that room, so it was absolutely filthy and filled with junk. I was not allowed to take any of the furniture with me, because it belonged to the town.

My last day at the apartment was 4/25. I had to be out on that day OR ELSE. And the city had to remove the stuff that was theirs before that, as 4/25 was a monday, and they weren't going to do it on a weekend.

My girlfriend, without telling me, decided we should move in on 4/20 (a Weds.) because it is cheaper to move in late in the month. Thanks! So I had to get my stuff to the new apartment in 2 days so that they could clear out the stuff on Thursday. That was so nice of them.

Now I have a lot of junk for a tiny apartment, as my life was in there. I spent a sleepless night, followed by a BUSY day of school, and another sleepless night, trying to get everything that was mine into boxes and ready to move. The city office came in, and they kept calling asking what was theirs. I had no idea what they were supposed to take, and the people who had furnished the apartment had long since moved on to other jobs.

So I was working, fielding phone calls, on no sleep, and was getting yelled at for not having packed the city's stuff all nicely.

Gee, thanks guys.

We had an office drink-up on Friday, and I was told that I should have cleaned behind the refridgerator, because there was 'stuff' back there. What stuff? I figured a few letters or something, as I put my mail up there sometimes, and it may have fallen.

I return home to find a t-shirt (class of '99, I was class of '98 for High School, '02 for college), and several bottles from the Body Shop. While I value good skin, this was not my stuff, and had been there for at least 2-3 years, which was before I moved in.

Thanks for cleaning my apartment before I came guys.

So all weekend I was moving my stuff, moving my girlfriend's stuff, and cleaning the old apartment for inspection on Monday, turning off my gas, and electricity, etc.

There is only one thing more Hellish than moving -- moving in a foreign language.

First of all, you don't get help by yelling in your own language, and don't instantly understand help being asked for because it isn't English. My body and brain were exhausted, but everything was FINALLY moved in on Saturday other than odds and ends, and we were planning dinner. I recommended warm, fatty, delicious pizza. Instead her mother and aunt went to the supermarket to get half-priced chicken, fish, and pork products that couldn't be heated up in the new apartment.


So we're sitting around drinking beer and eating cold meat, and I was getting lectured on not being grateful enough by my girlfriend because I wasn't speaking. They were all speaking fast drunk Japanese, and my body and brain were exhausted.

Today is day 5 of living together. I have finally paid off all the money I owe for the new apartment and moving and whatnot. Remember how I said that extortionary key money was 200,000 yen on this apartment?

Well, apparently that 200,000 that was written is really 350,000 when you add in all the fees, rent, insurance, etc. bringing the total up almost 100%. Then there were new furnishings for the apartment, which my half of came to 65,000 yen. So I ended up shelling out 240,000 yen for this new apartment (my half) or about $2300 US.


This is not all negative. The new apartment has a WONDERFUL view, an easier commute for me, cheaper rent, a double bed, SPACE, and a real kitchen. I am enjoying the whole thing, but the moving experience was Hell on earth. I think that I will be forced to commit seppuku if I have to do it again.

[Poll to Follow]

Ash Housewares

Diabloii.Net Member
I read the whole thing

you told us the lovely lunch story before, but a recap didn't hurt
are you allowed to complain about not understanding the language when you move to a foreign country? are they all supposed to learn english? dirty american!

it sounds like it must've been a lot of fun, but if you can survive cleaning then you're indestructible, I can think of little worse than venturing into the unknown and finding the property of previous tenants, and this key money sounds nasty, I don't much care for it being poor as I am

um.. congratulations on getting a better place, I voted for everything but asian girls are hot, yay


Diabloii.Net Member
My wife's mom was the one who told us to cohabitate before marriage because "it's unusual for two Japanese people to get along perfectly, and you two are from totally different cultures, so you'll need to try this out first." Cool woman. Sounds like your girl's dad is the same way. :)

Mmmm, key money and the gaijin apartment hunt. I had a great realtor who called about 50 places for me; 5 of them would let me come see the place. When I moved in (with an American friend who was in Japan to work and have an adventure) we dropped probably 850,000 yen . . . First month's rent, last month's rent, deposit, and key money. The monthly rent on the place has come down since then, and they've never charged me for the contract renewal thing (which legally they can't do anyway), so that's a bonus.

Hey, it's only money. Laugh at your bank account's balance as you sip wine and cook food in your kitchen and prepare to sleep in a bed instead of a pile of shampoo containers from two ALTs ago. And send me your new address at some point; I'll send you down a housewarming gift of some kind. :D


Diabloii.Net Member
1. You should have let her father drink all the liquor before dropping the bomb news on him instead of hogging it for yourself. Being drunk would have soften the fact that his daughter is living in sin.

2. Pickiness. A universal trait. Women around the world are picky. They just don't show it until they move in and take over your life. Wait till the nagging starts. Accept it.

Other than that, congratulations on your new life together.


Diabloii.Net Member
I read it all too. Like Ash said, the lunch story was familiar, but funny on the second time as well.
All in all it sounds like your new apartment is really cool, so I'd say it was worth it.
Around here, in the Tel Aviv area, young people rent apartments for a year, two, maximum. So movings like this are very common. (and sometimes the landlord acts as if he speaks a foriegn language). Ive seen my family and friends struggle with similar projects :)
But once youve settled down in your new apartment, it'll be a part of the past.

Lots of luck with living with your girlfriend as well. :thumbsup:


Diabloii.Net Member
Heh, I've moved in a foreign language as well. Of course my experience was a bit different, but we had the rooms numbered, and my room was room 4. Try telling the movers it goes in room 4 in Spanish a bunch of times in a row. (Hint: it's "cuarto quatro"). Talk about a tongue twister.


Diabloii.Net Member
I envy you living in Japan, you should send me some of those nice sony phones. Forget about the language the advanced technology is what its all about..

Oops did I mention Naruto and Bleach?

Pierrot le Fou

Diabloii.Net Member
I didn't realize I'd posted the lunch story before.

So far it's working out well, as I sip my 308 yen bottle of Mon Frere and otherwise enjoy the marvels of a giant apartment. The girlfriend does nag me about doing chores, as I haven't had the chance to entirely unpack yet, and she is a clean freak. S'pose it's good motivation. The apartment is always clean (a plus), and it's going dandy.

Aw yeah.


Diabloii.Net Member
Read your whole story. I just moved from my parents to live together with my girlfriend. I thought we had troubles but after reading your story, i'm glad it went as smooth as it did. Because looking at what you had to go through,...

Before we got this appartment we went to see 16-20 appartments. Some of which we liked very much, but due to late reaction (read : buy it when you see it) we didn't get any of the appartments. This is mainly because of me, i'm quite a picky person too. No need to tell my girl and I have had many arguments. But eventually we found this nice cave :)

You sure seem to have spend quite some cash. But ask yourself whether it's really necessary to buy all the furniture at once?...


Diabloii.Net Member
My mother and my brother and my father in law are moving on the same day.


and i have "promised" to help them all..

(well i did promise my brother.)

and to top it off.

me, the wife (not really wife..she just ***** and moans like one.) and son + our 4 cats are moving in a month or two (depending on how long it´ll take to clean the apartment first, I've rented a extra month just to do that.) and ill might even just post something about it =)

Pierrot le Fou

Diabloii.Net Member
MortIIs said:
You sure seem to have spend quite some cash. But ask yourself whether it's really necessary to buy all the furniture at once?...
Ask my girlfriend.

She is (semi?) OCD when it comes to setting up the apartment. This morning I got yelled at, "Josh! Why aren't all your clothes put away in the drawers I bought for you?!" I told her it'd get done eventually. Her response?

"Josh! It's already been ONE WEEK."

Needless to say I was unconvinced of the dire emergency stemming from this situation.

I love her dearly, but there are those quirks, and this is one of them.