Finding a new home, part 1

Today marks the start of week three in Japan, and we spent the afternoon with a very kind, professional and service-oriented apartment rental agent named Yuusuke Komori of the Universal Estate Real Estate Agency. We were really lucky today and saw a very spacious, beautiful, bright and sunny apartment that we fell in love with instantly. It has just undergone a complete gutting and renovation and we will be the first tenants to move in. It still smells brand new, it's just gorgeous, and is right in the heart of the area we want to live in! A find like this in Tokyo is very unique and rare and I still can hardly believe our stroke of luck. Now that we've decided on our new place, however, we have a LOT to do before we can have the keys.

The first step is passing the rigourous screening process. In Japan, prospective tenants must provide detailed information about their work, work history, income and family relationships. The Real Estate Agency will contact both of our parents (yes, mine too!) as well as my employer to confirm that we've provided factual information.

Provided the owner of the building agrees to let us rent the apartment (which is not guaranteed, especially since I am not Japanese. Yes-- discrimination is perfectly legal in Japan), the next step is for me, as the primary income-earner, to find someone to be my co-signor (連帯保証人 / Rentai hoshounin). Having a co-signor is not a matter of credit worthiness like in the U.S., it is a mandatory formality that is taken very seriously in Japan, and no one is exempt from it. The person who agrees to be my co-signor is essentially accepting the financial responsibility of settling with the apartment owner if we decide to abandon the apartment without paying rent, or if something should happen to us whereby we are unable to pay. In my case, it is preferable the my co-signor be an office colleague. If it happened to be the case that my wife was the primary income-earner, a steadily-employed member of her immediate family would be preferred as a co-signor.

Readers, if this sounds intense, stay tuned for more because this is only the beginning! More to come soon!

Pictured above: The paperwork specific to Finding a new home, part 1.


Lucky Day for a Sumō fan like myself!

Today I went to have chanko-nabe for lunch with my co-worker and friend, Yuichi-san and I met former professional sumō wrestler Tokitsunada (時津洋)!! He rose to the highest rank in sumō from 1992-1995! This guy is totally kool and his food is delicious! Yuichi was nice enough to ask if we could take a photo, and Tokitsunada-san took a break from his busy work at the restaurant (which also bears his name) to come out and take a picture. What a lucky day!

ストークマンション新川 地下1階


How to sign your name in Japanese

With the exception of documents that are created specifically for foreigners, one does not "sign" official documents by using a ballpoint pen to write a signature. Instead, residents of Japan (foreign and citizens alike) use a "hanko" (判子) to sign their official name. Your hanko is basically a stamp with your name carved into it which is stamped onto documents in red ink. The use of hanko dates back over 1300 years, but did not become available for "common" use until 1870 as it was previously used only by the Samurai class. Japanese people can usually purchase a ready-made hanko since many Japanese names are common throughout the country (just like "Smith" or "Johnson" is in the US). Foreign residents, on the other hand, will need to have one custom order-made.

Hanko stamps are generally hand-made (or semi-hand-made) and all exhibit slight variation even for the same name. Additionally, each person has a slightly different style of stamping their impression (amount of pressure, tendency toward one side, etc). This makes a person's official stamp difficult to reproduce perfectly.

As a resident of Japan, my name may not be officially signed in Roman/Latin characters like in the US, but is instead signed in "katakana" (片仮名). Katakana are characters that were created to allow foreign words (like my name, for example) to fit into the language and to be phoneticized for simple pronunciation in Japanese. As such, my name is spelled and pronounced like this:

マ ("ma")
ウ ("ū")
ア ("ah")
ー (this character indicates a long-pronunciation of the previous vowel sound: "ah-h")

The photo above is a snapshot of my hanko. Mine is made of wood, but they can be made of various materials depending on personal taste and budget. When I went to the shop to order mine, I chose the simplest type of hanko available, and it cost roughly $110.00 USD. While browsing I saw some that were more ornamental and made of finer materials that cost upwards of $500.00. I went to a local hanko-shop in my Mom-and-Dad-in-law's neighborhood in far-suburban Sendai. It was their first order for a hanko with a non-Japanese name. (^_^)


A new life in the land of the Rising Sun

After spending a week with my Mom-and-Dad-in-law in Sendai, my wife and I arrived safely in Tokyo and started settling in to our temporary home. We're currently living in an apartment that my company set up for us in Ningyōchō (人形町), which is in Tokyo's Chūo ward (中央区), just a brisk walk away from my office. We'll be here for the next 2 months or so, or until we're able to find a permanent home of our own.

Tomorrow (Monday) is a public holiday in Japan - National Foundation Day (建国記念の日) which is essentially the equivalent of Independence Day in the US. Since I'm off tomorrow, Tuesday is my first day of work. Even though I've been to my company's Tokyo office on assignment before, and will basically be doing the same work I did in Chicago, I can't help but feel a bit nervous.

Here are some photos of where we're living right now.

Views from the balcony