1. Put bubble wrap over the windows for insulation to save money.
Japanese apartments and housing typically have large, spacious windows. The problem with this is the fact that windows do not provide adequate insulation, they are too thin. Invest in bubble-wrap. It can cut your heating bill by at least one fourth (check out this article for more information about how to pay your utility bills in Japan).
2. Buy extra guest slippers at the 100 yen store.
When people come to visit, the polite thing to do is offer them slippers (since people take their shoes off at the entrance of a Japanese home). Some people like to buy 1,000 yen, comfortable slippers. I don’t think there is much of a gap in quality between cheaper, 100 yen slippers.
It is fun to draw cute pictures on the top of the slipper – or at least write your name. You should also probably buy an extra pair of bathroom slippers – if you don’t want people to judge you.
It is also worth it to have a pair of fuzzy slippers for the winter. They will keep your feet off the cold ground.
3. Set an “off day” to get mail.
Mailboxes in Japan are tiny. Mine is only about the size of a small shoe-box. When anyone sends me a package, the mail-man will ring my doorbell. If no one answers, he will fill out a slip of paper that shows when he tried to deliver the package. The slip has a phone number; I need to call that number and re-schedule a time to deliver the package (usually a 2 hour window). Then I have to wait at home until the package arrives. If a package had a failed delivery on Monday, for example, I can easily arrange for a re-deliver on Friday afternoon.
When you select a delivery window, it is usually something like “between 1pm and 3pm” or “between 8am and 10am.”
If you work from 8am to 8pm, six days a week – you won’t be able to pick up important packages. Also, be careful, if you don’t call the number on the package by a certain day (if it had a failed delivery on the 3rd, you might have until the 9th to call and re-schedule), they will just return it to the sender. This especially sucks if it was an international package.
4. Set reminders for trash.
As I mentioned before, living in a Japanese apartment is difficult. One of the most difficult aspects of living in Japan is using the trash system. Trash works on a weekly system, where everything must be sorted and disposed of on the correct day.
You also must purchase your cities specific garbage bag in advance; your city will charge you for trashed based on the number of bags you use (to buy ten “small” bags costs about 200 yen) rather than actually trash pick-up. There are two types of bags: burnable garbage and non-burnable/plastic.
In any case, you have to put your trash out at the correct time. Mondays and Thursdays are usually for burnable, Tuesdays are for plastic, and Wednesday is for cans (but it depends on the city you live in). Set reminders for trash, especially for the types that aren’t taken every week (cans, non-burnable garbage). If you forget to put your trash out, you might be stuck with an apartment of several 2-week old bags of garbage.
Always set reminders to take out trash.
5. Set your futon out to air on sunny days.
You will be able to smell the difference.
But on a more serious note, futons “sweat.” Every night, a small amount of moisture will collect at the bottom of your futon, touching the floor. If you go too many days without airing out your futon, or even just picking it up off the ground so that the futon and floor can dry, the constant moisture will stain you floor, cause mold, and in rare cased (like 6 month or more) permanently ruin your futon. I was sick for a week and a half and forgot to air my futon – it bled out onto my floor, staining it. My landlady is going to have a fit.
Even if it’s not sunny, you should pick up your futon at least a couple times a week and let it dry.
6. Get a toilet cover.
Most 100 yen stores sell toilet covers, these thick, fuzzy felt-like coverings that you can put over the seat of the toilet.
Aside from just sanitary issues (do you know how many other naked butts have been sitting there?), this is very helpful in the winter. Why? Because cold toilet seats are the worst. Unless you have one of those new, fancy toilets with a heated toilet seat (they run hot water through the hollow part of the toilet seat), your butt is going to freeze every time it touches that frozen plastic seat.
The fuzzy felt cover protects you. Rather than sitting on the equivalent of a frozen pole, it is more like sitting on a blanket. It vastly improves your winter toilet experience.
7. Get a kotasu for the winter.
Winter in Japan is brutal. The walls to most apartments are thin and heating is expensive. Thankfully, Japan doesn’t operate on the centralized heating system, so it is easy to just heat one room.
However, that is expensive.
A much better option is not heating all the air, but allowing yourself a simple way to retain heat – using a kotatsu. A Kotasu is basically a small desk with a heat source on the underside of the table. While you’re studying, reading, eating food, or watching tv at the kotatsu desk, a steady stream of warmth is engulfing your legs. Each kotasu also has long drapes of fabric that surround your legs, trapping the heat in.
A kotasu is a cheap, efficient way to stay warm in the winter.
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