Moving in Japan is never easy or fun, but moving in Japan with pets is a challenge, even for the Japanese. We recently moved with two cats from Tokyo to Kanagawa and I hope our experiences will help anyone else in a similar situation.
1. Don’t rely on the apartment hunting websites
The first place we go when looking for a new apartment in Japan is the rental websites. My husband and I did a search and got our hopes up – 1,578 hits for the type of apartment we want –all “pet soudan” ペット相談- pet-negotiable!! Then, we visited the local real estate agent and learned that by “pet-negotiable”, it might actually mean:
1) Triple key money, triple deposit (which has the special clause of being non-refundable, so that’s key money, really), or a large increase in the monthly rent.
2) One small dog only.
3) Only non-dog or non-cat pets (which our real estate agent couldn’t figure out, because they also refused ferrets, birds, and fish. Cockroaches, anyone?)
So, we discovered that the best source for pet-okay apartments is a local real estate agent in the area you want to move to.
2. No landlord really wants pets
Why do landlords allow pets? I assure you that it is not (in nearly all cases) out of the goodness of their hearts. While many landlords may be animal lovers, they don’t necessarily love your animals. What we were told by every real estate agent we visited is that landlords only allow pets when they have to.
Old apartments far from the station are often pet-friendly. If an apartment is new and near the station, you should do a lot of research. Like our last apartment, it could be that the insulation is terrible and your electricity bill will be insane. It could be really bad neighbors or a bad neighborhood. It could be a cockroach infestation or lots of ongoing construction. Or you could just be extremely fortunate and have found a landlord who really does love all animals!
But also realize that the close-knit landlord community passes around many urban legends about pets. You might get asked questions that seem a little strange – like if your cat likes to scratch walls or if your pet stays in a cage all day when you’re not at home.
3. Know what you are willing to negotiate on
Sure, everyone wants to live as close to the station as possible – to have a great view, to have good sun and access to restaurants, grocery stores, and hospitals. But with pets, you will have to compromise. I knew I did NOT want tatami and being near grocery stores was extremely important for me. But distance to the station and age of the apartment were not important.
Also, we initially planned on only going so far away from Tokyo, but we realized after two and a half months of not being able to find a single decent apartment that we would have to look further out. And when you do find an apartment that accepts pets, make several trips to the apartment at different times of the day to make sure it isn’t too loud or bright.
4. Make sure you have a good vet within walking distance
This is only applicable if you don’t have a car. One thing I have discovered to my chagrin is that it is really not okay to take your cats to the vet by bus or train.
My cats, at least, hate being in the cage of terror anyway and they are very vocal. After we moved, we had to take our older cat to the new vet, who suggested we bring her by bus. So, we got onto the bus and sat down. There are always screaming children on the bus, so what’s the harm of a screaming cat, right? WRONG! The hateful glares and shushing noises we got quickly let us know that cats are not children and that we should get off the bus as soon as possible – like NOW! Fortunately, our new vet is just within walking distance, so we’re still able to get veterinary care for our cats.
5. Don’t get discouraged
We were really discouraged before we finally found a real estate agent who was willing to help us. Actually, the realtor who “helped” us just before we found our guy told us not to bother moving as no one would rent to someone with two cats. But we decided to try one more realtor that day and hit the jackpot. He sat down and called every single pet-negotiable listing he had. He negotiated and wheedled until he found us about 10 places that were okay with two cats, then we chose the ones that we found acceptable. So, keep looking for a realtor until you find one who is on your side.
6. Don’t lie
If you have two or more pets, be honest about that fact. You may believe that your landlord will never find out, but if a disaster happens like the Great Tohoku Earthquake, your landlord has the right to enter your apartment even if you are not there, as long as they give you notification. If your landlord finds out you are harboring an illegal pet, you can be kicked out. The best you can hope for is not getting your deposit returned.
7. Make arrangements for moving your pets
Some moving companies will offer to move your pets for you, but it is an additional fee. You can also opt to move them yourself using public transportation, but I don’t recommend that because most pets will already be extremely stressed by the move. We had a friend who was kind enough to drive our cats to our new apartment, so that is a great idea if that’s an option for you.
And in the end… relax and enjoy your new home with your pets!
Have you moved in Japan with a pet or two? Do you have any additional advice to share?
Stephanie lives in Kanagawa with her two cats and blogs at Tokyo Veggie Blog.