So, you just moved into your new Japanese apartment. We’ve previously written about some essential items you’ll need to outfit yourself to make adjusting to your new life in Japan a little easier — everything from train and subway IC cards to mobile phones to personal items such as packable umbrellas, utilitarian bicycles and even slip-on footwear (trust us… ).
Japan is a tiny country with a massive population — so it makes sense that the apartments generally run smaller than foreigners might be used to. But it isn’t just the size of the apartment that can cause difficulty for newbies here. There are a number of things to consider when looking for an apartment in Japan. When I first moved here, it took me a lot of trial and error to organize my belongings efficiently in a small space, to figure out what cleaning products work the best for my new environs (tatami, wood, molded plastic and metal) and to identify little essential items to start living in Japan that just make life easier.
With all of the different everyday products you’ll need to find and a language barrier to overcome, moving into a new place in a foreign country isn’t easy. Luckily, Japanese apartments all share some similarities in their layout and some products are ubiquitous when it comes to taking care of any home or apartment. From DIY fruit fly repellant to investing in sturdy drying racks for clothes and dishes, here are 10 more essentials for your new Japanese home, listed in order of affordability from least to most expensive.
1. Fruit fly repellent
One inevitable thing you’ll probably find in your apartment at some point in time are… bugs. Especially if you live in the south, the countryside or on a ground floor, you may be subject to monsters like mukade (giant Japanese centipedes) or cockroaches. With summer just around the corner, check our handy guide to some of the nasty summer creepy-crawlies you may encounter in Japan and some tips on keeping them out of your apartment.
Most likely, you will be subject to harmless but irritating fruit flies. To combat them, make your own DIY remedy by mixing together a few drops of dishwasher soap with a bit of Mitsuya Cider (bottles available at any convenience store for less than ¥200) and leave a clear cup in the vicinity of the gnats (likely around your trash cans). The flies will be attracted to the sugar, but the dish washing soap should kill them.
2. Sink strainer
Most sinks in Japan don’t have garbage disposals. Rather, they usually have a small metal or plastic basket with tiny holes (acting as a strainer) and a floppy black rubber cover that sits on top of it. For kitchen sink nerds, Japanese folks might call it a ゴミ受け (haisuikou gomiuke) 排水口ストレーナー (haisuikou suturena), or drain strainer.
In Japan, clean water is regarded highly, so they make every effort not to contaminate it with leftover food. Without a garbage disposal, it’s up to you to empty and clean the accumulated bits of food that get into the sink basket unless you want to deal with some horrendous smells. If you’d rather avoid getting down and dirty with ingredients of your last couple meals, disposable nets are a godsend because they can be put over your strainer, tossed and replaced with every wash.
Packs of 70 disposable sink basket nets can be found at 100 Yen shops along with replacement covers.
3. Cleaning products
If your Japanese is limited when you first arrive, buying cleaning products can be difficult.
Although Google Translate’s picture-scanner can help with a lot of things from food ingredients to reading signs, it’s more difficult when you attempt to scan strange or fancy fonts. A few essentials to get you started include the カビとりスプレー (kabitori supure), or mold remover spray. Use this spray, available at 100 Yen shops like Daiso or on Amazon, to keep your shower or bath squeaky clean (they also have products for wood and tatami mats).
As for laundry detergent, beware of accidentally using fabric softener alone (as I did for nearly four months), as the two look quite similar. Look for the kanji 柔軟剤 (nyuunanzai), which means fabric softener, and 液体洗剤 (ekitai senzai) which means liquid detergent. The ボールド (Bold) brand detergent works well for me.
Finally, you may want to get an all-purpose マジク (magic) spray (far right) that tackles bacteria, germs and dirt. It’s widely available in grocery stores and konbini.
All products can be purchased for less than ¥500.
4. Hooks and more hooks
Japanese homes generally have far less built-in storage space compared to Western ones. Plastic hooks with adhesive are a lifesaver, whether they’re put in the bathroom for your towels, near your front door for coats or around your bedroom for various accessories. These are widely available at 100 Yen shops such as Daiso, Can Do and Seria. If you have heavier coats, towels and other things, and don’t want your hooks falling uselessly to the floor, consider turning to Amazon for more heavy-duty hooks or a home goods store for more stylish ones — but if you’re renting, proceed with caution on anything that requires a hammer and a nail (or screw) to ensure you get your damage deposit back.
Perhaps you didn’t think twice about not taking your shoes off at the door in your home country. However, swapping your outdoor shoes for indoor shoes at the entrance is the norm in most Japanese houses as the room setup is often designed for eating meals or sleeping close to the floor. Even if you personally don’t mind wearing outdoor shoes inside your house, a Japanese guest may insist on taking theirs off, so it’s a courtesy to have some slippers available for them. Similarly, most apartments have separate shoes for the toilet room.
You can find indoor slippers nearly anywhere: from Nitori (¥1,000 or more) to Daiso (¥100 to ¥300).
6. Kitchen drying rack
Many apartments in Japan don’t have a dishwasher, so you’ll likely be hand-washing your dishes. Further, since most apartments generally lack more than a square foot or two of counter space, it’s not always ideal to get a resting drying rack for your counter. If your apartment doesn’t have it already, consider installing a hanging drying rack or one that stands vertically around your sink. This will save you space in the kitchen (or time from towel-drying your dishes) and leave you with counter space to actually make your food.
7. Storage racks
With limited space, a rack over your washing machine or toilet can help prevent your bathroom from looking cluttered. These impromptu shelves allow you to organize your detergents, toiletries and hang your towels easily. They’re a fool-proof way to maximize space you that you aren’t using already, and are widely available at most home improvement stores (though you’ll need to assemble it yourself).
These space saving racks can be found for anywhere between ¥1,900 and ¥5,000 depending on the size, material, quality and store.
8. Trash bins
In Japan, trash needs to be divided into several categories. While this varies from city to city, you’ll typically need to take out your: pura (plastics), 燃えるゴミ (moeru gomi, or burnables), (burnables), 燃えないゴミ (moenai gomi, or unburnables), PET bottles, cans and cardboard on different days. That’s a lot of separate bags to keep track of! Since the different categories of trash come on different days of the week, you can buy small, stackable bins for your garbage at Nitori, second-hand shops or on Amazon for around ¥3,600.
9. Toaster oven
Most homes don’t come with a full-size oven and there’s rarely space for one if you did want to equip your kitchen with your own. Investing in a small toaster oven, though, is actually far more energy-efficient, cheaper — and if you live alone — much faster for cooking your food. Since refrigerators for your small apartment here are roughly in between the size of a mini fridge and a taller-than-you Western one, it’s easy to stack a toaster oven and/or a microwave on top of it (just don’t have them all plugged in and running at the same time!).
Toaster ovens are available at home improvement stores such as Sekichu and Kohnan HC, Yodobashi Camera, Bic Camera and Amazon for around ¥4,500 to ¥9,000 (or rmore ) and can even be found in great condition at second-hand shops for half the price.
A kotatsu is a low-level coffee table that sits over an electric heater. You can lift the top and put a blanket under it so that the heat retains under the blanket. Kotatsu tables are fantastic for keeping warm in the winter. They aren’t just great in the winter, however — they’re also a great investment year-round. In warmer weather, it’s easy to remove the top and the blanket, and they just look like regular, stylish coffee tables. Since kotatsu are low-level, you only need cushions around them as opposed to chairs, which are easy to store and can give your apartment more space. They range in price, from around ¥6,500 to as high as ¥20,000.
Whether you manage to tick every item off the list or not, these 10 suggestions are just a start to getting you — and your new apartment — prepared for living in Japan. That is, until you have to move out. For that — check out these tips!
What Japanese home products do you swear by? What is essential to have in any Japanese home? Share with us in the comments below!