Local Japan : Kawaguchi, ideal for a foreign family
Have you been wanting to escape from the hustle and bustle of the congested metropolitan area? You are not alone. I was a single mom when I met my Japanese husband in the Philippines where he worked for more than half a decade. We used to live in the heart of Metro Manila with floods, worsening air quality, horrendous traffic condition, inconvenient and unreliable public transportation. Moving out isn’t a bad idea at all. Dealing with cockroaches every day, leaked water pipe, clogged drainage, smelly lobby and broken elevator leave me nothing but a most terrible and unforgettable experience in my life. Considering our growing family, my husband decided to go back to Japan for good. Not long time ago when he received a cheering news, an excellent job offer from one the reputable companies in Tokyo giving us a month to prepare for migration. I was kind of excited but at the same time ambivalent of what our future would be. Both my husband and I have no idea about living in Tokyo and the truth was, we’re already at the end of the rope to find an apartment to live. It’s totally risky but as luck would have it, the company offered a house in Kawaguchi, Saitama. The city is separate from Tokyo only by Arakawa River, thus making it convenient location for those who commute to big Tokyo. With this big step, it is all too common to be skeptical as soon as you sign on the dotted line.
It’s been month now since we live in Comfort Higashi Hatogaya, a medium-rise mansion in sprawling low-density community, composed of 7 towers in clusters. It is located in Sakuracho, Kawaguchi City, Saitama Prefecture. Surrounded with 1.5 hectare of fragrant lush trees, almost half of the entire complex is taken up with a living and breathing green and organic environment, providing residents and their visitors with the perfect antidote for escaping city life and reinvigorating themselves emotionally as well as physically. Not mentioning the mystical sunset view in the late afternoon. The area is enclosed by a perimeter fence that secures well the occupants and their precious belongings.
Up until now, I am still if the process of adjusting myself from unstable weather condition, dry hair, cracked lips and fingers due to dry air. It may sound regretful but there are more perks to count than paying attention to my oh so dramatic complaint. Moving to a new house is a tough row to hoe which I didn’t expect from the beginning. My husband had to make a contract with gas and electric company. He also called the internet provider to activate the internet connection in our unit. And thank goodness, every transaction was smooth and efficient with just one call away. Unlike Manila where you can choose a fully furnished room ready to move-in, here it was totally bare. We have to buy everything from small towel to big appliances. How did we get ours?
Skimming various brochures from different shops could be helpful. Checking items online could also save your time and effort. While this feeling make you excited, it is important to be careful not to rush every decision you’ll make during the process. Most of our white appliances were purchased at the nearby electronic and furniture shop. As a newbie in this town, we need to find one that is closest. Then we found Kojima x Bic Camera which is less than 2 kilometers away. The shop carry every kind of electronic products, from PCs, cameras to home appliances. Some branches offer English assistance. Luckily, this branch has. For foreigners, they provide NO TAX discount or they called it “tax-free item”. Yeah, you heard me right. Japan imposed 8% consumption tax on top of the original price of each item. Excluding tax in the bill is a huge help for a starting family like us. It is also smart to use your point card if you have one or apply for it so you can get some points depending on the price of the item. If I am not mistaken, maybe between 5%-10% on your purchase that you can use on your next purchase. I highly recommend this to those who are planning to buy appliances for their apartment or new house. I don’t suggest to get point cards unless you live in Japan. Another option is using a visa card. You can get 5% visa discount and 5% tax refund, a total of 10%, the most you can get. This is only based in our experienced and remember, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
If you are up to affordable furniture and interior goods, I would suggest this Nitori. We bought ours here. You can actually do it online and have it shipped to save time and effort, but I am an old school type. I prefer going and draining my energy in choosing which curtain it good but end up buying the wrong one. Lesson learned!!!
The small community inside the villa is pretty much active. Residents in each building get information about the upcoming events through door to door mail delivery. It foster camaraderie and fellowship among residents through its monthly activity. The spring gathering was held early this month inside the vicinity of Comfort Higashi Hatogaya. Another one awaits this coming Golden Week, in which they encourage every resident, especially those with children to participate in the game. Daily expenses is quite reasonable around here. You can surely save most of your salary. For us, it is an advantage to live in a place where there is limited fancy restaurants and luxurious shopping malls. Undoubtedly, here is not a money burner place to live. Accessibility is a win for this place. Never fear of going to different places, the mansion has direct access to Hatogaya Bus Terminal, which we usually take to roam around the city. Araikuju station is the closest train station. It is less than 10 minutes on foot and my husband uses this station to commute to Tokyo everyday. It’s easy to get around. You can get just about anything you want as long as you are not picky.
Around here, Seiyu (an affordable grocery shop that opens 24/7) is just 650m away making the whole grocery shopping experience faster and convenient for dwellers. The closest convenient store is Lawson, about 500 meters away. Government Medical Hospital is just one station away by bus or less than 20 minutes on foot. I was really surprised with the populous number of dental clinics nearby. The closest one where we had ours done is just next to the bus terminal. I wouldn’t be so worried of finding a nursing facility and elementary school for my two boys, there are many options around here. It’s but natural to get shocked of the numerous parks around. With many kids in their bicycles, parks nearby are kid-friendly, ideal zone for playing and hanging out. The one inside our villa is my sons’ favorite. The sandpit gives them stimulation to create all sorts of things. In warm dry sunny days, Green Center is best for everyone. It’s the most popular park in the city located just next to the Medical Hospital. Accessible on foot but we usually go there by bus. There is so much green inside with manicured landscaped garden. Pretty spacious with variety of outdoor playground equipment. People of all ages will certainly enjoy and love this park. Many families bring tent and some bring picnic mats and foods. The place is also ideal for holidaymakers to spend fun time with their little ones. This absolutely deserves a half day.
Green Center Now, let’s go deeply to what perks we can get here as local settlers in Kawaguchi. To know more about this, we went to the nearest government facility, the Hatogaya Government Office which is formerly known as Hatogaya City Hall. It took us 7 minutes by bus to come here. Sounds close isn’t it? Since my husband is from Niigata Prefecture, we first had to apply for a transfer of residence. Being an alien, I had to submit my spouse visa to apply for a residence card. There’s no trouble when it comes to our two boys. In fact, the city provides tons of assistance to families with children, single parents, pregnant women, senior citizens and people with disability regardless of nationality. As for now, I will only highlight the benefits of raising kids in Kawaguchi. Several types of childcare financial assistance are available for households with young children. Parents with children aging 0-3 years old can receive a monthly allowance of ¥15,000 and ¥10,000 for children aging 4-15 years old. This financial aid is certainly a huge help for a growing family like us. In addition, the city provides top-notch health care services to residents of Kawaguchi. Apart from free-immunization, medical and dental check are free for young children depending on the case. In our experience, we brought our son to the dentist for fluoride treatment and cost us nothing. Don’t be alarmed with the 4 or 5 figure of your hospital bill because most health insurance companies could cover up to 80% of the hospital cost. Non-Japanese speakers will shine here.
The community center building is open on Saturdays 9am to 11am for foreigners who wish to learn Japanese. Classes are offered free by a group of local pensioners in the city. I come here on Saturdays to practice my Japanese and it is always fun to talk with local people. The officials’ effort to make Kawaguchi City a core in Saitama Prefecture boost the economic and tourism in the area. With the rising number of expats, the city is now a popular place for overseas family to live.
On the other hand, like other cities, Kawaguchi has plenty records of car accidents too. I can see several riders of motorcycles at night who go beyond speed limit. In addition, it’s surprising to know that free Wi-Fi for tourists is a real pain to find, it’s limited around this area. The most irritating thing I dislike is the fact that there is no cheap hair salon around this ward. It may be better to practice to do your own hair cut, if you happen to live here. After all, quality of life is hard to define as it is different depending on the person. Limit your expectation and embrace imperfection. Sakuracho is not only a perch for us, it became our home. Not a haven-like environment to live but an ideal place to live a normal life as a foreign family could have overseas, it would seem. Next time, I will share how to find an elementary school for non-Japanese speaker children and nursing facility for babies. Of course, more leisure and entertainment places to share once we’ve experienced it !