For the first six months of living in my new apartment in Tokyo, I didn’t have curtains. Every day my neighbours were subjected to the glorious view of me waking up in the morning, cruelly illuminated by the naked glow of a 100 watt light bulb (I didn’t even have a lampshade) as I struggled up from my bed (which was actually four cushions crudely taped together) to find the bathroom (unfortunately, there was no shower head).
Clearly, when moving in Japan it’s important to know that most apartments and houses will come unfurnished. And in Japan unfurnished probably means that there won’t be the teeniest speck of furniture in the whole place, not even a light bulb, unless you’re very lucky.
Thankfully, there are lots of places to find furniture in Japan that won’t break the bank. Check out our guide to the best places to find furniture, from budget to higher-priced, for your new Japanese home.
1. Recycle shops
Japanese second-hand stores are known as ‘Recycle shops’ and can be found pretty much everywhere. Most will have a sign saying ‘リサイクル’ (Recycle) and you can also recognise them by the product displays outside the front of the store.
There are franchise recycle shops too like the hilariously named ‘Hard-off’ (primarily electronics and musical instruments) and its sister branch, ‘Book-off’ (books).
Good for: Appliances. Recycle shops are the best place to buy hefty appliances like fridges, washing machines and microwave ovens. A second-hand washing machine will set you back around 10,000 yen, which is half the price of what you’d pay for a new one, and usually they’ll deliver too.
2. Sayonara sales and Classifieds
Look no further than your fellow ex-pat for a cheap, or sometimes free, deal on second-hand furniture. Since many foreigners are living in Japan only temporarily, there’s a constant flow of ‘Sayonara’ (goodbye) sales as people look to sell stuff they don’t want before they leave the country.
Sites like Craigslist (which has local sites for major cities), Freecycle (where you trade stuff for free), and our very own GaijinPot Classifieds are a great resource for finding one-off bargains.
Good for: Everything, as long as you can pick it up or find some way to deliver.
3. The 100 yen store/Daiso
The most magical place in Japan provides all the small household items that you’ll need, as well as having an array of ergonomic storage solutions – things you only really see in Japan like magnetic hooks for your kitchen and bathroom, portable shelves and foldable chopping boards.
Good for: Cutlery and utensils, dishware, and cleaning supplies.
4. Furniture Chain Stores
The two biggest furniture retailers are Swedish IKEA and the Japanese equivalent Nitori (ニトリ). Both sell cheap, quality furniture that you have to assemble yourself as well as bed sheets, pillows, curtains and more.
IKEA is generally further away from the city and busier (shopping there is like going to a furniture theme park with meatballs at the end), whereas Nitori are smaller and better located.
A good tip is to look online for specific pieces before you go to the store (the choice can be overwhelming) and make sure to measure windows, rooms and doorways so you know it will all fit.
Good for: larger furniture like sofas, bed frames, futons, tables and chairs, as well as bedding and curtains.
5. Lifestyle Stores
If you’re not looking to turn your home into a Swedish sauna, it can be good to source a few unique pieces of furniture from Japanese lifestyle stores like LOFT, Tokyo Hands and MUJI which all have a furniture section.
You can pick up cool, decorative pieces for a reasonable price that could also make a good souvenir should you ever leave Japan.
Good for: cushions, clocks, storage (MUJI has some great plastic boxes), decorative pieces.
Furnishing your apartment can be stressful and time-consuming – sometimes choosing between the plain curtains and the ones with the swirly bits can feel like the hardest decision you’ve ever had to make – so it can also be a good idea to shop online from the comfort of the bare floor of your new home.
Amazon Japan and Rakuten both sell furniture and you can spend days browsing the different categories to find what you need.
Good for: Specific furniture pieces that are hard to find. And indecisive people.
How did you furnish your place when you moved to Japan? Comment below!