Making the Big Move: Furnishing Your New Home

So you’ve settled on your new pad, moved in, and now there’s empty or mostly empty walls staring back at you.  What to do?  Thankfully, you’ve got a lot of options.  Japan is home to some of the smallest living spaces in the modern world, and every year furniture and interior design companies come out with new and creative ways to make the most of your space.

If you’ve got the budget, anything is possible.  Even if you don’t, you’re not out of luck.  Here are some ways to maximize your budget when furnishing your new home:

© Hitorigurashi Interior no Zipang.com

There’s a ton of ways to work with your space no matter the size. Here’s a stylish, one room apartment set up.
© Hitorigurashi Interior no Zipang.com

Sayonara Sales

Most foreigners in Japan don’t stay here permanently, or even long term.  That, combined with the fact that most apartments come unfurnished and large trash can only be disposed of for a fee, means that there’s a lot of cheap, barely used stuff to go around.  These listings are called sayonara sales and they’re just one quick click away.  Be sure to check out:

  • Craigslist – Yep, Japan has it too!  Not as big as back home, but still useful.  Just scroll down to Asia, Pacific, and Middle East > Japan and choose the area closest to you.
  • Gaijinpot Classifieds – You can also put a want-to-buy ad here.
  • SayonaraSale.com – Pretty much what the name says.
  • Metropolis Classifieds – Nice, easy to navigate layout.
  • Facebook – A lot of cities have their own community pages where foreigners make job listings, event news, and looking for people to hang with postings along with the occasional sayonara sale.  I’ve even seen someone give away a free car on my local group.
  • Google – A quick search of “sayonara sale” will usually bring up lots of hits.

“But,” you might say, “How can I get something to me when the owner lives on the other side of the country?”  You’re in luck!  Japan has this wonderful service called chakubarai offered by the Japan Post and pretty much every other delivery company out there.  The owner packs something up to send, fills out a label to mail it to your address, and voilà– you pay the shipping cost when it arrives on your doorstep.

Let’s say you haven’t paid for the item yet.   Japan is still largely a cash-only society.  Things are starting to change little by little, but there’s still a long way to go.   Paypal and other online remittance sites have Japanese versions, but haven’t taken off the way they have internationally.

Paying the owner for an item might seem tricky if they live far away and you can’t meet up with them in person, but there are two easy options.  One is by COD (cash-on-delivery), or daikin.  Another is by sending a wire transfer, furikomi, from your bank account to the owner’s bank account.  This can be done at any bank or convenience store (combini/conbini for short) with an ATM.

Unless the furniture is one solid unit, it should be shippable.  Most reasonably priced furniture is the build-it-yourself kind, which means it can also be taken apart, mailed, and re-assembled.  If you’re the seller, for large or oversized packages, you can arrange for the post office or delivery company to come to your house and receive the package.  They’ll weigh it and charge you for postage (to be paid in cash only) at your doorstep, unless of course, you’re opting to send the item by chakubarai.

Stores in Your Area

Most cities, even rural ones, will usually have at least one home or DIY center.  These places often sell build-it-yourself furniture or appliances at a reasonable price.  If you don’t know where the one in your city is, you can ask a Japanese person or someone at city hall when you go in to register yourself.

In addition to these, there are some big chain stores that have many locations throughout the country you may want to visit:

  • Nittori – One of the leading chain furniture stores.  Quality can vary, but they have many affordable, stylish offerings.  A lot of their prices can’t be beat.
  • Nafco – Similar to Nittori, also with stores all over.
  • IKEA – They have a few locations, mostly on the main island.  Price is on par with their overseas locations, so can be hit or miss if you’re on a budget.  Unfortunately their Japanese site doesn’t offer online shopping so you’ll have to visit in person.  You can check item availability at individual locations online.
  • MUJI (Mujirushi Ryōhin) – Not as competitive price-wise as the other chains above, but their simple style and space saving items have gained them a steady following.  Europeans might already know this brand.
  • FrancFranc – Can be pricey on furniture itself, but pretty reasonable for smaller, everyday interior items.  A bit like Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie home but without the hefty price tag.  You can usually find one inside large shopping malls, and there are a few outlets scattered across the country.
  • Don Quixote – Called Donki for Short.  I’m not sure how to describe them… They’ve got that ghetto vibe some of the big, no-name discount drugstores from the 90’s had.  Not really geared towards furniture, but they have a small selection of shelves, tables, and other appliances/accessories.  Prices are reasonable and competitive, especially for everyday items.
  • SEIYU – This is what Wal-Mart calls itself in Japan.  Expect to pay more than back home, but save compared to the norm here.  They also added online shopping recently.
  • AEON/Jusco – Name depends on your region.  Some of the bigger stores have furniture, housewares, and appliances.
  • MegaMax – This store is only located in Kanagawa and Chiba prefectures, but is awesome!  Lots of discounts/deals to be had on brands or styles that would normally be over budget.
  • Secondhand/Used stores (called “recycle shops”) – Most areas have at least one.  Think of them like thrift stores back home, so quality and condition may vary by shop.  Usually they’ll deliver to your house for a nominal fee or for free.  They’re good if you’re looking for more traditional-style Japanese furniture.
  • Shrine sales or flea markets – These might be harder to spot on your own, so ask around or at city hall if all else fails.  Also good for traditional-style furniture.
©AP Photo / Chiaki Tsukumo

What your average SEIYU (Wal-Mart) looks like.
©AP Photo / Chiaki Tsukumo

Online Stores

I admit that most of my furniture shopping has been done online.  There’s a bigger selection right at your fingertips and browsing takes less time than visiting a physical store.  Some of my favorite places to visit are:

  • Rakuten – They sell everything and the kitchen sink.  You an search by color, price range, keyword, etc.  A good portion of their site is available in English; scroll to the bottom and you’ll see this option.  You can earn cash back points the more you shop, especially if you sign up for their credit card.  I’ve saved quite a bit using their point system- probably at least 50,000 yen ($500 USD) over the past odd years. 🙂
  • Amazon.co.jp – Everything you love about Amazon, but in Japanese.  They have English language search support, too.  One difference is that you often have the choice of paying by COD or paying for/having your items delivered at your local convenience store.
  • Nissen – Cheap furniture and reasonably priced clothing.  Low to mid quality depending on the item. Quite popular with young women.
  • Belle Maison – For when you want something really stylish, but aren’t quite willing to spend what the average furniture store charges.  If only I were rich and could buy it all!  Ordering can also be done by catalogue.
  • Seikatsu Zakka – In the same vein as Belle Maison.
  • Bella Luna – Good store with some Japanese brand-name collaboration furniture/housewares as well.
  • Cecile – Also nice with stylish offerings.

Overall, if you don’t plan on being here for more than a few years I suggest sticking to sayonara sales or the cheaper chains.  Used items don’t have very high re-sale values here even if they look new or almost new, so you’ll get very little (if anything) from a secondhand shop trying to sell items back before going back home.  With Japan’s lack of space, anything you can’t sell or give away will cost you an arm and a leg to have removed and disposed of.  I remember when we had our analog TV tossed back during the switch to digital cable.  We had to fork over 5,000 yen ($50 USD) to get rid of it. Ouch!

One more thing to consider is that even if you plan on staying here permanently or semi-permanently, do you plan on remaining in the same area?  Moving expenses can be killer, since cost is mostly determined how big of a truck you’ll need over how far you’ll actually be moving.  Remember when I talked about our first apartment?  We only had three pieces of furniture and a bunch of boxes and we were still quoted 80,000 yen ($800 USD) to use what amounted to having driver in a mid-size U-Haul truck take us to our second apartment  just 15 minutes away.  Eventually we got the quote knocked down to 45,000 yen ($450 USD) with some mad bargaining skills, but in my opinion that’s still a hefty price tag for such a small move.

© Someecards

This about sums up using a moving company in Japan.
© Someecards

With that in mind, don’t be afraid to wait a little on furnishing your place.  Unless it comes fully furnished, your must-have purchases are probably going to be a washing machine and a refrigerator.  We got a used washer and a large mini-fridge from the secondhand store up the street from our first place for about 17,000 yen ($170 USD).  Later on, we bought a vacuum cleaner, iron, and air conditioner from a few sayonara sales.  (As for air conditioners, don’t buy one used unless the owner has had it properly disconnected or it will leak and you’ll spend about the same as what you saved repairing it during installation. Believe me!)  Somebody was kind of enough to give us their old microwave, and so we were pretty much set despite not having made many large purchases.  Some properties may include an air conditioner or gas burners, but some don’t and you’ll have to buy one.  Be sure to confirm with the real estate agency while you’re on the hunt.

How did you furnish your place?  Any recommendations to add to the list?  If you can’t find anything online browsing the stores above, a quick search of “netto tsūhan” in Japanese should bring up many more.

– J

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