Tokyo Blond Is Not Porn

Tokyo Blond is not a porn blog, about hair or even, as one pithy friend remarked, a micro beer or late 1980s glam metal band ("Dude, I just saw Skid Row and Tokyo Blond opened and played a killer set").

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my experiences in Tokyo - poignantly, visually, irreverently - for fun.

Anybody can tag along...that is if I like you. This blog will endeavor to be entertaining and honest and frequent enough to keep those following interested including me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

House Hunting - I mean Hovel Hunting

House - I mean Hovel Hunting

So Russell was in Tokyo to attend a global meeting.  I was in Tokyo to find a place to live.  We were in Tokyo for eleven days.  Each morning a driver would pick Russell and his co-workers up and a real estate agent would pick me up.

I worked with two agents.  One recommended by Russell's company and one recommended by one of Russell's associates who lives in Tokyo.  He suggested we work with another company so we could negotiate.  Great recommendation.  He was right.  All in all I must have seen almost thirty apartments.
I won't bore you with all the pictures except of the two apartments we decided to put offers on.  It's a good time from a renters perspective to move to Tokyo right now.  Because of the recession, about 30% of the expat community has left Tokyo leaving several western style apartments vacant and a lot of landlords more agreeable.

So while I was expecting to have to squeeze ourselves into some shoe box apartment, I was pleasantly surprised at what we could afford.  Most of the apartments I looked at, and there were a lot, were dark, old and had no yard for Ranger.  If we didn't have the dog, we'd definitely have opted for one of the high rises with a view of Tokyo.  But I don't feel comfortable taking Ranger up 40 floors in an elevator.  Most of the elevators fit about five Japanese (according to the elevator sign) or loosely translated one and a half fat Americans and no apprehensive 60 pound dog.

Our choices were limited by the weight of our dog.  Most dogs in Tokyo and there are a lot of dogs now,  fit into your purse.  Yeah, those kind of dogs.  The general rule of most high rises that allow dogs is, if you can carry it while you're on the elevator, you can have a dog.  Um, I can't carry Ranger the wonder dog.  However, because there is such a high vacancy rate right now, landlords were making exceptions.  There was one high rise in particular I really loved.  It was brand new and reminded me of the Conrad hotel.  Very new, high tech, high style - sleek black hallways with mood lighting - that kind of thing.  The apartments themselves were state of the art, floor to ceiling windows, hardwood floors, every electronic gadget imaginable and fabulous views.

Most high rises have a fitness room, since this one didn't every renter receives a wii-fit with their apartment.   I was sorely tempted, not because of the wii-fit, but because the building was so horribly hip and situated in Roppongi Hills, which is like Sunset Blvd in LA.  Very cool.  But ultimately I didn't think it would be fair to Ranger or to the neighbors.

At the end of the first week Russell went out with me and the different agents.  There were three neighborhoods I liked:

  • Hiroo/Azabu which has the highest percentage of expats in Tokyo, an international supermarket and a park that actually allows dogs.  Most of the places I looked at had a park nearby but usually they didn't allow dogs
  • Roppongi Hills - The closest thing to Sunset Boulevard in Tokyo.  Lots of new high rise apartments, restaurants, theaters.  Very cool and vibrant.  Or as one expat said, cool at night, passed out drunks in the morning.
  • Denenchofu - The Connecticut of Tokyo, beautiful affluent neighborhood with tree lined streets and almost American size houses with yards.  Mansions by Tokyo standards.  According to Pat Wada, a Japanese American friend of mine, this is where all the Tokyo executives live.  There's also a huge riverside park I could see letting Ranger off the leash at.  But it is on the outskirts of Central Tokyo.
Together we agreed Hiroo/Azabu was the area we liked best.  So we had that going for us.  Unfortunately we we did not agree on the apartment.  The first apartment, and at first my favorite, was a five bedroom, wood paneled apartment with an authentic tea room and a Japanese garden.  It was elegant.  At first I could see us in it.   But then as I thought about it, I realized the majority of the house was really dark because of the wood paneled walls.  I could see myself going postal here. The whole house was carpeted, except for the tea room, with white carpet.   White carpet and dogs do not get along well.  Plus I had the impression the landlord was making an exception for the dog because he was anxious to lease the place.  The backyard, while beautiful, exactly what you would think a Japanese garden would look like, was covered by motion detection cameras that could not be turned off.   We would just have to keep Ranger away from the perimeter.  Uh huh.  Yeah, no.

The apartment I wanted was the last apartment I looked at.  It was perfect.  On the ground floor with an actual yard, not beautifully cultivated Japanese garden easily destroyed by paws.  A yard with 12 foot  walls that he can't jump over, look through or intimidate passersby. The whole building had been completely remodeled two years prior and it had the most modern finishes and appliances.  Sure it was only 1,200 sq feet compared to 2,400 sq feet but it wasn't broken up into tiny rooms like the other.  By Japanese standards it had an open floor plan.  Two bedrooms and three bathrooms and the best part of all it has Toto electronic toilets. They're like bidets with skills.  I'm going to dedicate an entire post to these coveted objects. 

Russell's Choice

 This is the view looking into the dining/living room from the entry way.  It's very elegant. 
Yes, that white carpet is throughout!

 Beautiful Japanese gardens with 24 hour video surveillance, motion activated.
I already have the RSS - Ranger Security System

Authentic tea room.  It actually has a hot plate under the mat you use to heat up the tea water.
Beautiful - not practical.

Kitchen with state of the art appliances - from the 70s.
And yes those are rust colored floors.

Dawn's Choice

Did I mention it has a pond? With turtles - I love turtles!
This is in the entry way.  Our apartment door is right in front of this window

Looking into the entry way from the living/dining room.  
The wine refrigerator did not come with the apartment. That's another post to come.

Ranger's domain
12 foot fences - yeah!

Modern kitchen with self closing doors

Did I mention the toilets?  Do you hear the angels singing too?
Oh you will if you come visit.
The box above the unnecessary toilet paper controls all the wonderful functions the toilet performs
And did I mention I have three of these bad boys? Three!!!!

I did forget to mention the rooftop garden
Just one more reason.....

Both apartments are within one quarter mile of another so they were in the area we preferred.
One of the major draws is this park.  It's gorgeous.  Check it out.

And there are lots of turtles.  Did I mention I love turtles!

This place is supposed to be spectacular in Fall and Spring.

Negotiations Ensued

I worked on convincing Russell why my choice was right, (get used to it) while our agents worked on convincing the landlords our offers were sound.  It was a highly charged process.  Note: the figures negotiated have been changed to "Xs" to protect the guilty.

The Japanese negotiations went something like this:

Agent:  I have an offer from an American couple for your apartment.  
Landlord:  Really, what?
Agent:  They're very ignorant Americans but they think they can have the apartment for X yen.
Landlord:  That's ridiculous.  They are ignorant Americans.  Why would anyone offer X yen for my beautiful apartment.  I say X yen.
(By the way the landlord suggested more yen than the listing price in his counter offer.)
Agent: I know, I know, I keep trying to tell them this.  And they have a dog.  25 kilos.
(Um, he's actually about 30 kilos)
Landlord: No, no, no, their offer is not enough for an apartment as beautiful as mine.  Tell them I already have an offer.  I'll take nothing less than X yen.  (Dramatic pause here then...) What kind of dog is it?
Agent:  It's an Australian Cattle dog.  Here's some information I looked up on the internet.
(In the meantime our agent conveyed the landlord's remarks).
Us:  Ok, tell the landlord to accept the other off than, we're not paying more.
Landlord:  Ok, I'll take their offer but that's it.

This is not a dramatization.  Ultimately our offers on both apartment were accepted, which meant it was now down to the American negotiation:

Me:  I know I told you I liked the first apartment but that was before I realized I would get suicidal if had to be there all the time.  It's too dark.
RW: Yes but it has a real tea room and an authentic japanese garden and it's larger
Me: But my choice is more modern, brighter and has Toto toilets.  In fact three Toto toilets.
RW: So.
Me: Hello?! Have your tried them?
RW: No.
Me: Exactly.
RW: We're not choosing a place for toilets.
Me:  But your place gives me a bad vibe.
RW: What do you mean, bad vibe?
Me: Well, I just think something will happen with Ranger. The landlord seems unforgiving and we would have to walk Ranger through the lobby in front of the 24 hour surveillance cameras and the nosey guard.  White carpets,  motion cameras on the perimeter....
RW: But....
Me: No.

Long story short, I got the apartment I wanted.

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