April marks the start of the new business year in Japan, everything and everyone must be in place and ready to work by then, which means March is moving month. All over Japan people are packing up bags and getting ready to take on new city or town and start their lives afresh. Sometimes this means the whole family, sometimes it means just the main breadwinner. That’s right, in Japan it is not uncommon for the main breadwinner (which is mostly dear ol’Dad in this country) to move off to a new locale and leave the spouse and kids behind for a year or two so that the kids can maintain stability. The practice of Tanshin-Funin and how families navigate it, could easily take up a whole post of its own, so watch out for that in the future. For this month’s post let’s just focus on the act of moving itself.
Our family is no stranger to moving, having done it 4 times in the last 11 years so I would like to share some of my tips and advice for those of you out there navigating a household move this March. This is not meant to be all encompassing, just a few tidbits that I have learned along the way.
First off, moving is stressful so try to pace yourself and try not to kill your partner or file for divorce. Seriously, moving can be a huge strain on a relationship. Both you and your spouse will have a lot to do in order to get ready for the move and this can put a lot of pressure on a marriage and lead to some amazing fights. So breathe, chill out and check-in. My husband and I had some clear divisions of labour in our moves - he was in charge of the bureaucracy and I was in charge of packing. My husband handled the hiring of the movers and general management of the move, making sure all the necessary paperwork and arrangements were made. There is a fair amount of paperwork to do when you move in Japan - you need to get a document from your current city, bring that paper to your new city to transfer your resident status, notify schools if you have kids, change addresses at various institutions, forward your mail, cancel utilities in your old place, set them up in your new place. Plus you have to arrange apartment inspections and moving dates - and probably more! This doesn’t mean my husband did all the running around, I would pick up documents here and deposit them there, but he was the person carrying the mental load of the move. I just packed.
Packing can seem like a daunting task, so I recommend breaking it down into bite-sized pieces as much as possible so that it is less overwhelming. When we receive the boxes from the moving company, I like to start with the closets that contain things we don’t use frequently or things that are seasonal items. This way, you can start to make inroads early in packing, without it impacting your living conditions. I cannot stand living in a cluttered mess for a month or two around moving - I need to have my daily life running smoothly and unaffected as much as possible. It is a good idea to go through your food pantry at this point, the more you eat the less you have to pack and you can go through it and throw out any forgotten items that are long expired (which hopefully isn’t very much, food waste sucks). Don’t forget to try and eat all the sauces and condiments in your fridge, as well as the stuff hiding in your freezer leading up to the move. There is always more hiding in your closets and pantry than you think and somehow I always end up disposing of things that haven’t been touched since our last move.
That brings me to my next point - start disposing of any items you don’t want to bring to your new place as soon as you have a hint that you might move. Get rid of books, DVDs, furniture, clothes etc, that have been dwelling unused and unwanted in your living space. In our last move we took books and video games to Book Off, clothes to second hand stores, furniture to recycle shops and junked a couple things via “sodai-gomi” (large garbage). Disposing of things in Japan isn’t always easy, but there usually is a way to do, check with your city office on how to dispose of items you’re not sure of.
Once you’ve packed up all the seasonal items and things used infrequently from your closet, and disposed of things not worth moving, it’s time for to start moving-triage - what do you need up until the last minute, what do you want to use until it’s almost time to move, and what can you live without until you’re in your new place. You’re going to need clothes, dishes and other basic daily necessities right up to the last minute so leave the things you need to live until the last few days. Pack books, decorations, ornaments, outdoor items and anything else you don’t need for day to day life in the month leading up to the move - try to have all of those items packed by the one-week cut off before the big moving day. In the final week gradally pack items that you can live without for a few days and most of your clothes.
Our last move required a long-weekend of transition and a climate change so I had to pack suitcases of seasonally appropriate clothes for our current and new location, toiletries, important papers needed for the move, and things I didn’t want going with the movers. That’s one last thing to keep in mind when packing, there may be stuff you’d rather not go with the movers “just in case” so make sure you have room in your suitcase or car for those items so that there is no last minute panicking about where they will fit. Movers in Japan are super efficient, they will arrive and load your life into their truck in no time flat, you can’t afford to be worrying about that thing you didn’t pack because you thought it’d fit in the backseat of the car but doesn’t!
Above all else, don’t forget to take care of your emotional needs and the emotional needs of your family. Transitions are stressful for everyone, adults, children and pets. Everyone will have their own worries, fears and things that they are excited about. Try and leave time for enjoying a few things and favourite places in your current city before you go; talk about how you will miss them and how you’re looking forward to exploring your new town and finding new favourite places. Once you move, even though there will be a million things to do in order to set up your new place and unpack, try and set aside some time to go somewhere exciting and explore what your new locale has to offer. These little family adventures can go a long way in smoothing the transition and make it a bit more fun too!
To share another perspective on moving this month, here is a first hand experience of moving house by one of our members:
Moving: The Good and the Bad
By: AFWJ Member, A.R.
Before my children entered Primary School I thought of moving as some kind of long term sightseeing. Once they started school and making friends, I became to hate moving! It isn't only expensive with all the gift giving for greeting and leaving, but every time you have to start from zero, again, and again, and again. It is very tiring! Our moving notice usually comes in secret in early March, with vague information, followed by the public announcements with all the details around mid-march. And then the stress begins. If you are lucky, the housing will be provided. Most of the time however, you will have to find your own housing, at a time when half of Japan (or so it seems!) is moving. Your husband has to go to work as well, and finish every unfinished business, which leaves you with all things to prepare for the move. Packing! I try to keep our belongings to a minimum, and every year come February, I start decluttering and eating up what's in the freezer and pantry. With the children getting older things are getting easier too, because now you have actually help for packing and unpacking!
I used to go out and buy a map of the city we are moving to, but the current city does NOT have a map! So Google maps and street view have become my best buddies. When moving here, about 2 years ago, I signed up for the 転勤奥様講座 (a course for wives who have just relocated, literally: Relocation Wife Course) which was very helpful. The very first time the topic was rubbish disposal, which varies in every city, and can be a huge cause of stress! There I met some like-minded ladies, and we got on really well, and still keep going out for lunch every other month. In September it was my turn to organize, but I didn't know any fancy places to eat out, so started searching the internet, and went to plenty of places to check them out! Sometimes alone, sometimes with children. It was fun, and something I would not have done, if it wasn`t for the ladies from the 転勤奥様講座.
Over the years, some things have gotten a lot easier. You can now make many changes of address online, like for JAF or your credit card company. A change of address for your bank or postal account can be made at the local ATM, anytime. You can even do the forwarding service for all your Postal mail online, by simply filling out the form online (https://welcometown.post.japanpost.jp/etn/).
When we moved to our current place, the very first thing I did was sign up at a sports club. It is essential for my mental health, plus you get to meet people - which is very important when you move to a place where you don't know a single soul! You need to find places you enjoy going to, where you can meet people or just simply get (free) information for your area. While moving sucks big time, and makes you feel like a nomad, it has made me stronger and more outgoing, it is the only way for me to move forward.
Thanks for sharing your experience A.R.!
If you are undertaking a move this month, we wish you the best of luck in getting things sorted and starting life in your new place.