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It’s a bad time to run out of toilet paper and tissues. March is a month of big life changes in Japan such as 入学 (nyūgaku, entering university), 入社 (nyūsha, entering a company) and 転勤 (tenkin, company transfers), and those will often require your moving to a new apartment. A 空っぽな (karappona, empty) toilet paper dispenser is the last thing you’ll need.

The recent shortage in household paper products also poses a problem in that they are traditionally 粗品 (soshina, small gifts) that you give your neighbors when you move into a new place. 粗品 can be tissues, sweets or even soba noodles. Given the times we’re in, small towels may be the most appreciated — thanks to the 新型コロナウイルス (shingata koronauirusu, novel coronavirus), it seems you can never wash your hands too many times in one day.

Pandemic aside, there are a lot of other things to worry about when moving. You have to: 引っ越し業者を呼ぶ (hikkoshi gyōsha o yobu, call a moving company), 荷物を詰める (nimotsu o tsumeru, pack all your things in boxes), いらない物は捨てる (iranai mono wa suteru, toss out things you don’t need) and then start the process of 荷ほどき (nihodoki, unpacking everything) when you get to the new place.

I’ve seen more than a few people turn into 引っ越し難民  (hikkoshi nanmin, moving refugees), too. My friend Nami, who 東京から名古屋へ転勤した (Tokyo kara Nagoya e tenkin shita, relocated from Tokyo to Nagoya), is temporarily living in a Nagoya hotel because the movers told her the fastest they can get to work on her place would be the last day of March, and that plan could be scrapped due to the コロナウイルスの感染拡大 (koronauirusu no kansen kakudai, spread of coronavirus contagion).

“引っ越しは嫌だ (Hikkoshi wa iya da, I hate moving),” Nami says. “もう転勤にならないといいな… (Mō tenkin ni naranai to ii na, It’d be great if I’m never transferred again).”

移転 (iten) and 引っ越し (hikkoshi) both mean “moving” but they have different connotations. You may also hear 移動 (idō, migration), 異動 (idō, move/change divisions at work) and 赴任 (funin, leave for a new post) when someone tells you they’re moving because of work, but your safest bet is to stick with 移転 and 引っ越し. Those words also have slightly different nuances, with 移転 implying a move from one building to another (office, hospital, etc.) and 引っ越し is used in reference to yourself and more often for when you move homes.

The term “引っ越し” dates back centuries. Notice the kanji characters it uses: 引く (hiku, to pull) and 越す (kosu, to cross over). There are several theories as to how these two words came to mean “moving,” and the popular version is that in the old days people piled their belongings onto a cart and pulled it when crossing over to new places.

Moving was definitely a hassle back then, but after World War II 就職のための上京 (shūshoku no tame no jōkyō, moving to Tokyo in order to find work) became more common. The average Japanese now moves around three times in their life, which is a lot compared to the old days but still little compared to the reported 11 times that the average American moves.

Most older people agree that as much as they dislike 引っ越し, it’s one way to 生前整理 (seizen seiri), which means to sort your belongings while you still have the energy to do so. Those お土産 (omiyage, souvenirs) can really pile up in a home.

On the other hand, there are people like my brother, who has moved an astounding 18 times since high school. My parents have lectured him on the folly of moving too often, as this inevitably leads to becoming 引っ越し貧乏 (hikkoshi binbō, a person who’s poor from moving too much). Their warnings have largely fallen on deaf ears — the man is a regular 転がる石 (korogaru ishi, rolling stone).

Renting a new place can be quite expensive, too. Renters will often have to pay 敷金 (shikikin, deposit fee), 礼金 (reikin, gratuity fee sometimes known as “key money”) and 前家賃 (maeyachin, a month’s rent up front) in addition to the 手数料 (tesūryō, real estate agent fees), all of which burn through your wallet at lightning speed.

My 引っ越し-addicted brother knows how to cut corners, though. He knows the cheapest movers on the market and can cajole them into offering discounts. He has friends in the 不動産業界 (fudōsan gyōkai, real estate industry) who will alert him to the best deals. Perhaps most importantly of all, my brother never moves in March.

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