Starting a New Life in a Strange Land

While our arrival in Tokyo has felt much less daunting than our arrival in Moscow 10 months previously, it is none the less equally as challenging establishing our new lives here.   Our apartment was an unfurnished one so it has been our responsibility to fit it out and make it a home (right down to providing some of the light fittings even….), so we really found ourselves even a few steps backwards from where we were in Moscow.   Maybe it was the fact that we had already been through the establishment process in Moscow in such a foreign environment with so little guidance, that the slight familiarity of Tokyo along with a more employee friendly company makes it easier to get by in an unfurnished apartment.  Luckily the school put us up in a hotel for the first 4 days of our stay here to allow us time to find the bits and pieces that we needed to make our apartment livable.

Expats = $$$$$

If there is one thing we have noticed in our travels over the last year is that any company with “International” in the name or set up primarily to service ex-pats generally means you pay considerably more to use them than if you were to use an equivalent local company, the problem is finding alternatives.   Needing to furnish our apartment as quickly and cheaply as possible we set to and endeavoured to find the best deals we could without resorting to using the type of companies who charge a fortune because you are an expat.   The companies I share with you below have all been used by us and we have received no payment, commission or any other reward for sharing their details with you.   They have all been excellent to deal with and very good value for money so we have no hesitation in recommending them to you.  If you do use them and save yourself some money, feel free to show your gratitude by making a donation through the Paypal link in the side bar.
For us bedding was the most important aspect in the short term, we could live without sofas, TV, lights, etc, but you can’t survive without a bed, however to get enough beds cheaply and in a short space of time was always going to be difficult.  Our first stop was to visit The Freecycle Network, something I had read about somewhere but never really had the need to use, now we did… and Craigslist.   Here we managed to find an American family who were leaving Tokyo during that week and had a house full of stuff to give away or sell cheaply to a new home.    One thing we have discovered here in Tokyo is that there is no real second hand culture among the Japanese, who see owning a new item as more prestigious than making do with someone else’s cast offs, and it is also expensive to dispose of unwanted large items, so if you don’t want to pay to ship everything home you are better off giving it away.   By about our 3rd day in the hotel we had managed to build up the energy (remember we were still getting over our run in with food poisoning at this stage…) to risk a half hour each way trip to visit these people and see what they had, that we could use.  Luckily they had 3 futon sets going cheap along with a table and office chair going free, so we booked those, and picked them up the following day with a large taxi.
Our next find was also on the Freecycle website, where we made contact with a nice Japanese man who was clearing out his mother’s apartment as she had recently passed away.   We visited him one evening and went through the apartment sorting out what we needed, luckily we were able to get a large amount of stuff and more that we needed to make our apartment a home.  From here we got a kitchen table and chairs, Fridge, Washing machine, various grillers, drawers, shelves, lamp, TV, everything we needed in the kitchen including some food.   We set a date to pick everything up and just had to arrange transport.   Not knowing where to start I contacted a friend who lives in Japan who put me on to one of his friends who was part of a large international removal company, so I got a quote from him.   In the meantime I did some searching on the internet for local companies and came across a gem called Tokyo Helping Hands, who I contacted via email and soon had a quote for under half of the price of the other company, so quickly secured their services.
On the day of the move, I went around to the other house and packed up the remaining goods into boxes, at 1:00pm as agreed Ota-san and his offsider arrive to pick everything up, they do an excellent job of picking everything up and loading onto their truck, and then delivering to our apartment, I cannot recommend them highly enough to anyone wanting to move anything around Tokyo.   On the drive between the pick up point and our apartment, Ota-san was able to tell me the best places to shop etc across Tokyo if we wanted to avoid paying any more than we needed to, so 10 out of 10 to Tokyo Helping Hands.
That only leaves us with a bed to find for us and some furniture for the lounge.  Due to the cost of buying these items we decided that the best way was to lease so checked around and settled on Toyko Lease Corporation, we visited them one afternoon and went through their showroom discussing what they had available, and then they took us over to their 2nd hand warehouse where we chose the bulk of our furniture from.  They sent through their quote which looked good, so we placed the order, a week later they arrive and install all the furniture, fit the drapes and lights and finally our apartment is our home.   We made a late change to what we wanted while they were delivering it which wasn’t a problem they just popped back to the warehouse, swapped the item and were back in no time.
After living in the now furnished apartment for a week, there were a few other minor bits of furniture we needed, so made the trip to IKEA to join thousands of other shoppers to finish off furnishing our home.
With just some minor bits and pieces left to obtain we continue to scour Freecycle, Craigslist and Gaijinpot to pick up either free or cheap stuff and to offload any of the excess bits we have picked up.
It takes a few weeks to get yourself settled in here, but it does happen and it can be done affordably.
If you are looking to resettle into Tokyo, below is a list of the companies we recommend to ensure you get a good deal.
Furniture Leasing (New and Second Hand)    –   Toyko Lease Corporation
Furniture and household stuff                       –   IKEA
Household stuff, cleaners, storage systems    –   Don Quijote
Transport, freight, relocations                      –   Tokyo Helping Hands
Free, cheap and 2nd hand items                    –  The Freecycle NetworkCraigslistGaijinpot
Cheap meat (Wholesale spermarket)              –  Hanamasa
Also we are eternally grateful to Aki-san for his extreme generosity in providing us with so much with which to furnish our apartment, we now have the best authentically Japanese stocked cupboards of any ex-pats in Japan I think.

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Tony Fitzpatrick
Architect, Dad, Traveller & Head Rover at Around Rock 3
After a brief flirtation with Japan in the early '90's, and some occasional trips to Australia since, I have had an unrequited love affair with Japan and general desire to explore the world for the next 20 years while reality prevailed and I found myself pretty much stuck in my home country of New Zealand (not that is an entirely bad thing...).After a chance opportunity arose in mid 2012 to relocate our family to Moscow, Russian Federation I finally set off on my OE with my family in tow. It has been an amazing journey that has seen us experience life in Russia, Japan and now Finland, as well as visiting around a dozen countries so far in our adventure to date.While my family situation has changed along the way, I am continuing to explore the world with my tri-lingual son and enjoy sharing the adventures we have had with my followers.


  1. Hi Tony, this is such a helpful post! I'll be relocating to Tokyo from London with my husband in two months and just trying to find anything I can to make it easier for when we move. Thanks for posting this.

  2. One thing that may be a minor annoyance is Tokyo seems to have a really limited selection in terms of furniture and home decor (unless you like contemporary or mid-century). A semi commercial reply here (since furniture and antiques are my business), but at the same time really valid (at least as far as I have seen and from what others have told me). I was poking around on the furniture street recently and in some of the major malls and everything was the same style. Anyways, our goal is to at least offer something different from the same old clean brown veneer stuff that you seem to see everywhere here. Feel free to poke around on our catalog

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