Moving can be stressful even for adults, with all of the packing and administrative tasks piled on top of a regular workload. When that is combined with negotiating with the wants and whims of children as well, things can feel especially hectic.
Disclaimer: I’m a big fan of moving. I find it exciting to use potential homes, waiting in anticipation to hear if the owner accepts our application and plans the layout of the new space. But, of course, moving in Japan has been more challenging than moving in Canada for us in terms of price, amount of necessary paperwork and, of course, using our non-native language which makes everything we have to do move at a slower pace. Perhaps the biggest change, though, was not geographic, but rather that we now have two little people to move alongside us.
Kids thrive on structure and consistency and moving can throw a wrench in both of those things. So, we expected (and dealt with) the uptick in stress that came along with the move. Depending on your children’s age and personality, this can come out differently. Below, I chronicle the hurdles we faced and some solutions which helped us get to the other side all in one piece.
Getting the kids involved
One of the most important things for us to get little ones on board with the move was to include them as much as possible in what we were doing (while somehow simultaneously not boring them which was quite difficult!).
For my elder daughter, we started by walking her to the new building and letting her see the area for herself while explaining its merits to her. Then, showing her pictures and a floor plan and drew together where different furniture could go.
The packing process is hard to make fun and accessible to kids in my opinion. But, my girls were happy to help me wrap items in paper and box them if there was an element of play involved—we were a moving company, a [insert name of item being packed] stores, etc. I also sometimes let them throw their own toys into boxes which they enjoyed but was frustrating for me as I unpacked them later.
Perhaps their greatest joy from the moving process was a very simple one: drawing and decorating. The packed boxes made an ever-growing and interestingly shaped canvas for their markers to decorate and their stickers to enliven. Almost every box that we filled then got covered in hearts, scribbles, mazes and flowers. I cannot recommend arming your kids with enough pens, stickers and sparkles during a move.
Packing the kids’ toys proved to be more of a hassle than expected. We had perhaps naively believed that we could easily pack up and unpack the toys without much disturbance. But, our kids had a lot of feelings about where the toys were going, why they couldn’t find a specific toy and why they couldn’t keep playing with it. One strategy was to give them control of some of the packing, as I mentioned above. However, I had to do some secret toy packing while my children were sleeping to accelerate the process.
We left packing our kitchen until the last couple of days before we moved in hopes that we could continue to make home-cooked meals for our kids until the very end. This was a tiring task and I wouldn’t recommend doing the kitchen last minute since it is time-consuming to carefully wrap dishes and glassware.
We tried our best to eat healthy in the weeks before and after we moved, but it wasn’t easy! With (a little) foresight, we prepared frozen sauces weeks before to make a few quick pasta meals when strapped for time and we purchased pre-packaged fruits and veggies plates for snacks. In the end, we also ordered pizza, picked up bentos and ate out at restaurants for a couple of days when the post-burn of moving started to set in. The kids were excited at first, but even their interest in takeout waned and everyone was a lot less grumpy after we could all sit down to a homemade supper.
Don’t forget admin tasks
Moving in Japan requires more administrative and bureaucratic steps than in my home country of Canada. With little ones, of course, it could take time to accomplish all of it. Here is a quick list to get you started.
Set aside cash: Aside from the often bemoaned shikikin (security deposit money) and reikin (key money), you will also need to pay the real estate agent and lots for the moving company, especially during the high season in spring.
Turning off and on water, electricity and gas: It may require several forms for each of these. Many can be found online. Make sure to confirm whether or not you’re staying with the same utility provider. For example, we had to change our gas company because the new building supplied propane from a different provider. The activation of some utilities may require you to be in your new home to fill out additional forms or pay a fee while others do not require either. In my experience, all the utilities were able to be changed online, but the websites were in Japanese only.
Internet: In some cases, you can continue using the same company and just let them know about the change of address. However, other buildings come with built-in internet or a provider that you are forced to use. In that case, there is usually a termination fee for the previous internet company to pay as well.
The ward office: The ward itself, as well as the health insurance and pension departments, if you are on the national (kokumin) plans, need to know about your change of address. I’ve heard of some that allow you to change your address in the weeks before you move while others (like mine) only allow it afterwards. But, don’t wait too long after moving because there may be a fine!
Mail forwarding: This can be done either online via the Japan Post website or in person. Online requires you to sign up for their online app which was a bit much given the rest of the moving process, so I opted for the in-person approach. All you have to do is fill out a simple form indicating your old address, your new one, and when you’d like to start forwarding. The first year is free and you must pay to continue the service after that. Be aware that the forwarding process can take up to a week to complete, so do it with plenty of time to spare so that you don’t miss any important mail.
Happy house hunting!