Japan’s deep history and rich culture have been a subject of fascination for foreigners for centuries. Today’s Japan serves up plenty of culture, an incredibly safe society, excellent food and the right infrastructure for successfully running a business. As such, it’s no wonder that so many expats choose to move to the Asian island.
Unfortunately, Japan isn’t always the most cost-effective place to live, especially in popular expat cities like Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka. Rent for a one bedroom apartment in central Tokyo averages around 130,428.57 ¥, a rate that will require a pretty decent salary to support. If you’re willing to try life outside of the major cities in Japan’s beautiful suburbs and countryside, you’ll find your rent is much more manageable, and you’ll love the quiet way of life outside of the bustling business hubs.
Whether you’re moving to Japan for work or just to enjoy Japanese culture, one of the biggest hurdles can be finding a place to live. This guide will talk you through everything you need to know as you begin your rental search.
If you’re renting in Japan, you’ll probably end up paying a broker’s fee, even if you find your new home online. It’s fairly uncommon for apartment owners or holding companies to rent their places directly, so setting out with an agent up front can save you time trying to find the right space for your needs. That being said, not all brokers will speak English, but you can reach out to the Bilingual Brokerage Assistance Service to ensure both you and your agent are on the same page.
If you’re trying to find an apartment on your own, it’s a good idea to learn some basic terms in Japanese. Some good ones to keep in mind include:
- アパートの貸室: Apartment for rent
- 不動産業者: Real estate agent
- ワンルームアパート: Studio apartment
- 賃貸契約: Rental contract
- アメニティ: Amenities
- ユーティリティー: Utilities
- 家賃: Rent
Most long term rental apartments in Japan will come unfurnished, with a couple of notable exceptions. Gaijin houses, for example, tend to come with furnished rooms. Gaijin houses are like co-living spaces; a series of smaller studio apartments with shared facilities, like kitchens and common spaces. Gaijin houses are popular among expats and students.
Additionally, some buildings are geared towards corporate rentals. As such, if your company is providing your accommodation you’ll probably find yourself in a pre-furnished apartment.
Yes. Most landlords will expect you to negotiate the rent and you may find there’s some wiggle room. You may also be able to negotiate with your broker for a lower fee; make sure you’re asking directly for what you want, and you could land a sweet deal on your new apartment.
The simple answer is yes, but it will certainly be difficult. Most landlords in long-term rentals will require proof of income before allowing you to move in. More importantly, you’ll need to prove you have the right to live in Japan, and the most common forms of visas are work visas and working holiday visas. So, while it’s technically possible to get an apartment without a job, you’re sure to have a pretty hard time.
Tenants will have various rights depending on their exact rental agreement, but for the most part they’re fairly well protected under Japanese law. Tenants can’t be removed without reason and can’t break the lease without notice. Landlords don’t have the right to enter the apartment and technically can’t hike the rent unfairly.
Despite those protections, many landlords do try to take advantage of their tenants if they’re not familiar with the law. It’s possible to hire a lawyer or go to an organization, like the Shinagawa Tenant-Lessee's Cooperative Association, to help if you find yourself having trouble or in the midst of a dispute.
As is the case anywhere, tenants are generally expected to respect the space. No loud parties, no redecorating and no breaking anything in the apartment are all givens, but there are some other cultural things to keep in mind as well. For instance, walking around your apartment with shoes on may raise your landlord’s eyebrow if they catch you doing it. It’s also a good idea to adhere to Japanese custom in general when dealing with your landlord. For example, don’t forget to offer them tea when they come over, even if it’s to yell at you or raise your rent. It’s smart to get familiar with the expected Japanese customs.
In order to seal the deal, you’ll need to sign a rental agreement. These vary widely, but should include (at a minimum)
- The landlord’s full name and address
- The agreed upon rent amount and any planned changes to that sum
- The agreed upon deposit amount
- The terms for the landlord terminating the lease
- The terms for you to terminate the lease
- Rules around subletting
- Any regulations around making changes to the apartment
You’ll also need to submit a deposit. It’s a good idea to walk through the apartment with your landlord, take lots of pictures and know exactly what condition each room was in when you got there. If you don’t, you could find yourself out of your deposit money when the lease is over.
You may also need to pay “key money,” or reikin. In popular neighborhoods where landlords can be selective of who they rent to, reikin is a “gift,” typically of one to two months’ rent, that’s given to the landlord and is non refundable. About 50% of Japanese landlords still charge a reikin, despite the fact that it’s steadily turning into a renters market. If you see one of these in an ad, don’t worry; it’s not a scam, just annoying.
In almost all cases, renters are required to take care of all of their own utilities. That being said, some landlords may arrange them for you and wrap the price into your rent, so it’s important to read your contract thoroughly before setting up water, gas, electric, cable and wifi on your own.
Some good things to look out for before you sign your rental contract include:
- Whether there are cable and internet hookups in your apartment
- Whether it comes with curtains - they can be expensive in Japan!
- What condition the floors, carpets, wallpaper, paint, cabinets, etc. are in
- Whether you have heating and air conditioning
- That all the appliances are in working order
- Whether there’s any noisy construction happening in the area
- What kind of parking you get
- Whether there's space for bicycles
- Whether the building has a security system, and who pays for it
Depending on your exact rental situation, you may need to move your money into a local Japanese bank account or even have cash in hand to pay your rent. If you want to save some money doing so, check out TransferWise to get the real exchange rate and cut down on international transfer fees.
If you’re living in a more modern building or are renting from a bigger leasing company, you may be able to pay your rent through an online portal or via direct international bank transfer instead. This information should all be listed in your rental agreement.
If you’re planning to start your search online, some of the best sites are:
- Tokyo Apartments
- Japan Home Search
- Housing Japan
- Gaijin Pot (specifically for foreigners)
- Realestate.co.jp (specifically for foreigners)
Scams change constantly, but it’s a good idea to take some general precautions to make sure you don’t lose your money. Be wary of landlords who ask you to pay in cash, request unreasonably large deposits or reikins (more than two months rent), who you never meet in person, or offer to mail you the keys to the apartment instead of handing them off to you directly.
With that, you’re ready to start finding your new home. Good luck!