Reader W.T. is interested in coming to Japan as a house sitter.
He writes: “I will be coming over later in the year do some research and I thought maybe house sitting would be a good way to see some of the country, as well as an economical source of accommodation. I am not picky about the location. However, I don’t speak any Japanese and don’t know much about the culture. How feasible is my idea?”
House sitting is arranging for someone to live in your home while you are away. In exchange for free accommodation, the house sitter takes care of the house and property. Having a house sitter can be an especially good option when there are pets that need looking after in the owner’s absence. House sits can vary from a few days to many months.
Japan-based Aussie Sarah Nishina has a place of her own but enjoys house sitting when the chance arises. She notes that almost all of the gigs available within Japan are for homes occupied by non-Japanese.
“House sitting is still a relatively mysterious concept many Japanese simply do not comprehend,” she says. “Whenever it comes up in conversation, they are extremely interested but cannot fathom the idea of letting a stranger in their house. House sitting is booming now, with many websites popping up all over the world, but I have yet to see a listing by a Japanese owner.”
Nishina acknowledges that Japanese-based house-sits may be a bit more complicated due to language or culture barriers, but things vary according to the location and the length of the house-sit.
“If one doesn’t speak Japanese, it may be problematic in the case of an emergency. A contingency plan needs to be in place with contacts and backup plans,” Nishina explains. “If in a rural area, there are the neighborhood associations and attendant obligations. The occupier of the home will need to introduce you to all the neighbors.
“City areas, especially Tokyo, are relatively easy as many of the available house-sits that I have seen are from expats who already have a good list of English connections to pass on to house sitters.”
This was the experience of Heather Hope (www.heatherhope2.weebly.com). Along with her husband, Hope recently did a downtown house-sitting stint in a luxurious condominium in the middle of Roppongi.
“There was a trash room on each floor and they were kept immaculately clean. One morning I found that a neighbor had ‘thrown out’ two huge pots of flourishing white orchids. They were tall and healthy and I knew that they would flourish under the care of our homeowner, so I discreetly carried them back to our apartment,” she recalls.
In complete contrast, Nishina is currently house sitting at a 350-year-old home in the heart of the Japanese countryside. This entailed gaining a thorough understanding of the duties that went along with the house-sit.
“We had to be formally introduced to the neighborhood and take note of all the responsibilities, such as weeding and temple cleaning. O-Bon (the summer holiday) is a busy time for a country home and we need to ensure the home’s family temple has flowers and is cleaned,” she says.
W.T. doesn’t indicate if he has prior experience house sitting in other places, but Nishina recommends that would-be house sitters first set up a professional profile online, with photos, experience and references.
“In the first instance, mails or messages will be exchanged. Then perhaps a video call or telephone call or two,” Nishina says. “This is the time when both the house sitter and homeowner can ask questions, get a feel for what is requested and if they think it will work. Honesty, open communication and timely responses are essential for the relationship to form. Some house-sits can be up to a year, so a strong foundation is required.”
There are a number of house-sitting websites out there. One major site is The Trusted House Sitters (www.trustedhousesitters.com). A Facebook group dedicated specifically to opportunities in Japan has also recently been set up (Housesitting and Petsitting Japan).
Help with mental health care
A few months ago Lifelines dealt with a query from someone caring for a family member with mental health issues (bit.ly/llschizophrenia).
Susan contacted me to share information about a private Facebook support group in English catering to people in exactly this situation. Interested readers can contact her via email@example.com.
Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for the NHK “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send all your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.