This is the first in a series of posts about life in Japan and life as a member of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). Please write any questions you would like me to address in the comments section below.
If accepted into the JET Program, your Contracting Organization (CO) or Board of Education (BOE) will determine your housing situation. Rent, size and money deposits will be different for every JET. More often than not, you will live in the same apartment as your predecessor. Homes are usually located near your main workplace, close enough so that most JETs I knew could walk or ride their bicycle to work. Apartments in Japan are often called “1K,” “1DK,” or “1LDK” based on the number of rooms. A “1DK,” which most single JETs seem to live in, means you will have a kitchen and separate bedroom. If you are married and/or have a family, your CO will likely organize a larger apartment for you and your loved one(s) to live in. You are technically obliged to live in your apartment for at least one year, so it is unwise to say you want to find your own housing, especially given how stringent some Japanese renting companies can be when it comes to dealing with non-Japanese people. However, if after one year you really want to move to another place, definitely talk in advance with your CO to make arrangements. This situation isn’t ideal — and it’s not guaranteed your CO will help you move to another place — but it’s worth expressing your opinion if you feel like a move is necessary for your well-being.
My BOE helped cover some of the cost of my apartment and I did not have to pay any key deposit money. As a result of the subsidy, I paid 20,000 yen per month (about $200/month). Electricity and water were not included, so total costs were around 30,000 yen per month ($300/month). Given my JET salary, I considered this a good deal. As you can see from the photos, my apartment was fairly narrow, but it suited my needs just fine for two years. Other JETs in the neighboring town lived in spacious houses and paid no rent, so it really depends case by case. I lived about 15 minutes by bicycle to my base school (i.e., the school I visited most often among my five). I also lived in the same apartment building as two other ALTs who worked at my town’s other junior high school and high school, in addition to a Coordinator for International Relations (CIR). This made my situation feel much more comfortable, especially at first when I was just starting out and noticed that my Japanese neighbors never spoke to me. Although you are not 100 percent guaranteed to live in the same apartment as other JETs, it is likely you will be fairly close to other JETs, especially if they live in the same town as you.
My BOE supplied me with basic furnishings (refrigerator, rice cooker, washing machine) and I bought all other major necessities from my predecessor, including a bed, bike and couch. You will likely not have a dryer in your apartment per Japanese tradition, so you will have to hang your clothes outside to dry when the weather allows it and/or visit a coin laundry to dry your clothes. If you need something that isn’t in your new home, check 100 yen stores first before looking at other more expensive stores or online (this is a trick I learned from my neighbor, Jenson, who helped me transition into my new home).
I hope this answers your basic questions about apartment life. Again, please post any comments or questions below.