Japan has a variety of visas that allow people to reside in the country. However, depending on your status you may have one or another set of accommodation options. Students and interns might be lucky to get dormitory rooms; some companies might provide apartments for their full-time employees. However, it is more common that foreign residents have to figure out their accommodation on their own.
Staying in a hotel or changing Airbnb hosts (which is not that easy) might be a temporary solution. Yet, and it is especially true for the long-term residents and business owners, you need to have a permanent address of residency (jushou) that is a prerequisite to getting a lot of daily services in Japan as well as getting enrolled to healthcare insurance system and pension fund, etc.
If you know that you are moving to Japan for a long time and for that reason considering owning a house or an apartment then you might want to take a look at this list of things to consider when buying a property in Japan. However, if you are staying for a shorter time or have a fixed-term contract, then the most typical way to get a permanent address is to rent an apartment.
In this article, you will find a list of things that one should know when looking for and renting an apartment in Japan.
The language barrier
The first filter that will set the boundaries to what kind of accommodation you can get is your Japanese language skills. There are, of course, plenty of well-established English language databases and services like Gaijin Pot. However, if you can manage listings in Japanese or have someone to help you out, your list of available options does not even closely compare to the amount of information that you can get in Japanese.
Unlike the deposit, reikin – gift money for the property owner – will not be returned.
Moreover, talking in Japanese to the agencies, property owners and neighbors is always a plus. Many of them will be concerned if you can keep up with the rules and regulations (trash sorting, parking, silent hours, etc.) that are mainly written in Japanese only.
Finally, understanding the listings and talking to agents in Japanese is the best way to protect oneself from scammers and unnecessary costs (more about them in the last section of this article).
What is included in my rent?
Generally speaking, all the apartments can be sorted into furnished and unfurnished ones. Thus, depending on what your contract says you are getting either an empty floor area or a ready-to-live place. Utilities are rarely included in the rent. However, sometimes it may happen, so make sure to check if you need to pay those separately.
You can also get a parking lot for your car or bicycle or some kind of storage space. Still, there is no common practice about that, and you need to pay attention to what services you will get with the rent and what will cost you extra.
What are the accompanying costs?
You will need to pay brokerage fees. There are so-called fudousanya companies that can assist you in finding an apartment. Most probably, you will never even meet the property owner and all the business will be done through the agent or a company, who charges fees for their services.
As in many other countries, you will have to pay a deposit. Usually, it is 1 or 2 months’ worth of your rent. This money may be used to cover up for any damage you might have done to the apartment if that is the case, or returned to you if everything is fine. However, in case something really serious happened and your deposit is not enough, you will have to pay extra to fully repay the incurred losses.
That is why it is important to know what modifications you can or cannot do in the apartment. For example, if can you drill a hole in a wall to put a poster you paint the walls (almost always, it is a no). Be sure to also check the condition of your room and mark down any issues you have found, such as malfunctioning appliances, cracked tiles, stains on the tatami floors, etc. Once you move out, there will be an inspection in your room, and all that is not up to the standard will become your responsibility, even if it was the previous tenant who made a hole in shoji sliding doors or ruined the rice cooker.
Sometime you will come across reikin. This is something that might be peculiar to Japan only: key money, thank-you money, or gift money – there are many ways to translate it. This is a sum that is approximately the same as your deposit, however, you will not get it back. Because, as the name suggests, you are showing gratitude to the owner who let you in. If the area is popular and apartments are scarce you might end up paying reikin. Some people might find it annoying or even appalling. Yet, you will come across it a lot, so it is good to set some money apart for reikin as well.
If it happens so that you need to move out sooner than your contract ends, you will most definitely run into cancellation fees. Those are paid before you get your deposit back. As a rule of thumb, you will not be able to use your deposit to pay for the last months of rent or re-negotiate payment deadlines. Thus, if you feel that you might need to terminate the contract, count the cancellation fees in as well as early as you can.
What should I pay attention to?
It is hard to generalize, but besides traveling times and the neighborhood, you might want to check the following.
How old is the building?
The older the building, the older the pipelines, all the structures, earthquake protection techniques used during the construction, etc. There might be mold, termites, thin walls, no air conditioner or even a place to put it and plug it, etc.
How much natural daylight will you get?
That is usually a problem if there is little space between buildings or your windows face the shadow side. You might get a cheap apartment and then find out that you have to have the artificial lights on all the time.
Are there any construction sites in the vicinity?
Beside the noise, you might end up in the above-mentioned situation. A new building may block the sunlight or you may find your window facing your neighbor’s window.
Can you have kids or pets in the building and what are the silent hours?
It is important not to disturb anyone around you in any apartment. However, some building are meant for people who need complete silence for whatever reason. It is not rare that the rules of the building do not allow to have pets or kids in the apartments. Some building are women-only. Thus, be sure that you choose the right living conditions.
What kind of appliances do you get?
Is there a bathtub? Is there a heater? If not, can you install one? If not, how do you get around not having them when you need them, and so on.
How to sort trash in the building and when to throw it?
The chances are high there will no trash bins. Or there will be a bin for the most common types of trash like plastic, but no bin for glass. You will get a schedule of when the special truck will come to pick up a certain type of garbage. Usually, people leave sorted trash of a specific type near the house entrance to be picked up.
Remember, that is it is not correctly sorted or packed, no one will pick it up and you will need to take it back, store for another week, re-pack correctly to be picked up next time the truck comes. So if you are not good at keeping up with such rules, maybe it is better to concentrate on options that have designated trash bins that do not require you to wait for a certain day.
How to spot scammers?
Japan is strict about its laws and rentals are no exception. There must be a contract concluded between the owner the agency, and the tenant listing all the rules and procedures for all the parties regarding various situations. These are usually quite detailed to make sure all possible scenarios were taken into account. No payments happen before all the details of the deal are settled.
There must be a list of items in the apartment if you get a furnished one. No one can go into your apartment without asking your permission or informing you beforehand, no one can force you to leave or terminate your contract without a reason, etc.
So, if you feel like brokers or anyone else try to push you into paying any fees before you have signed up the contract, obstructs you inspecting the apartment before you move in, insists on coming up with checkups every now and then, and so on, try to get an alternative opinion from another broker, company or a friend about the situation. Scammers may target foreigners hoping that without knowing the language they will not be able to understand the rules or stand their ground.
If you do not feel comfortable or sure about your current service provider, try to work with others.
"Otsumami" - a bite size snack:
It might look difficult at first, but in Japan, it is easy to find the perfect apartment because there are so many options to choose from.