One of the most intimidating about coming to Japan to live is the idea of finding and renting a Japanese apartment. Everything is in a foreign language, and there are so many weird rules and customs you might not understand. Not to mention that there’s a good chance you will experience some discrimination when trying to rent an apartment just because you are a foreigner. Grrr. No fear! This post will help you understand all about getting a Japanese apartment. It looks at the beginning steps and struggles that foreigners face, outlines the costs, and tells you what is involved in living in a Japanese apartment.
Securing a Japanese apartment with work or school
If you are coming to Japan with an English language school, either a private school or a dispatch company, they will most likely set you up with an apartment of their own. This is great because it’s one huge burden you don’t have to worry about. This is what I did when I lived in Shizuoka for one year. If you end up staying in Japan after your contract runs out, you will need to find your own place .
If you are coming to Japan as a student in a university or vocational school, they usually have an option to let you stay in a student dorm. However, this offer is usually for about 6 months. After that, you may be able to extend it, but it’s expected that you move out to make room for other new students. I’ve heard that student dorms are on the small side.
Finding your own apartment in Japan
If you have finished a work contract, graduated, or just want to to find an apartment on your own, it can be a bit of work. Especially if you can’t speak Japanese and don’t have any Japanese friends in Japan.
There are a few Japanese apartment rental companies. My husband and I found our apartment on Mini Mini. It’s all in Japanese though. If you can read Japanese, it lets you search for apartments narrowed down by city, walking distance from your train station of choice, price, pets allowed, etc. And since it acts as a middleman between you and the landlord, you don’t have to worry about anything sketchy.
I have not used any of these before, but there are a few English websites: Gaijinpot Apartments is one, and Daitou Kentaku is another. There’s probably not as much selection as there are in the all Japanese rental websites.
Can a foreigner rent an apartment in Japan?
This is something a lot of people complain about – many apartments don’t rent to foreigners. At all. There are two reasons for this.
One reason is that for anyone (Japanese people included) to rent an apartment in Japan, you must have a guarantor. I’m not sure, but I think the guarantor must be Japanese. Or at least, it’s preferred that they are Japanese. The purpose of a guarantor is if the tenant cannot pay rent too often, causes trouble or damage and cannot pay, then the guarantor promises to pay for the missed rent or damages. Japanese people often use their parents as a guarantor. If you are a foreigner in Japan and you don’t have enough friends who are willing to take on this responsibility for you, you can with a guarantor company.
The second reason around 60 percent of Japanese landlords don’t rent foreigners is out of fear, language concerns, rumors, misunderstandings, or downright racism. Thankfully, I have not experienced this, but I know people who have.
Cost to rent an apartment in Japan
If you manage to make it past all the hurdles and do find yourself a Japanese apartment, next comes the money. Many apartments in Japan still require you to pay a shikikin and reikin – a deposit and key money. Key money is basically a gift to your landlord. Doesn’t make sense to me. They already get the gift of monthly rent. These are each 1-3 times the cost of the monthly rent, and they must be paid upfront. So if your rent is ¥50,000 a month, deposit might be 100,000 and key money might another 150,000. You can see, the initial cost of renting an apartment could be 300,000 or more. Fortunately, the practice of accepting key money is disappearing little by little. Our apartment had neither because we can’t afford all those extra costs.
>> Staying safe in Japan: Earthquake and tsunami safety in Japan
Utilities in Japan consist of water, electricity, gas, and internet, though you will have to set internet up yourself. It depends on your usage, but let me give you an example of costs. My water bill comes every two months is around 4,000. Electricity varies a lot and per month and is around 10,000 in the summer, 20,000 in the winter, and 4,000 in the spring and fall. Gas is around 6,000 a month. And internet is around 3,000 a month. As a yearly average, it’s around 20,000 a month.
When you finish all the contract stuff, you will probably arrange to have rent taken out of your bank account every month, so make sure you have enough at the end of the month. As for utilities, you can put some of them on your credit card or bank account, or you can easily pay them each month at the convenience store. Just show your bill, they’ll scan some things and stamp some things, you pay then leave.
Understanding the floor plan of a Japanese apartment
When you look for an apartment in Japan, you will come across a few numbers and acronyms – 1R, 1K, 2DK, 3LDK, for example. 1R means one room, and it means there is one room that serves as a kitchen, living room, dining room, and bedroom. These are small. 1K means there is one room plus a kitchen, where the one room is a bedroom/living/dining room. 2DK means there are two (bed)rooms, a dining room, and a kitchen. 3LDK means there are three bedrooms, a separate living room and dining room, and a kitchen. My apartment is a 1LKD, so that means there is one bedroom, and a combined living/dining/kitchen.
It’s still common to measure the floor size of rooms in tatami mats, and a room will say it is 6 tatami mats or 10 tatami mats. One tatami mat is a rectangle of 179 cm long and 85.5 cm wide. Standard size is 6 tatami mats. Some rooms still have the actual tatami mats in them, so think about this if you are interested in renting. They’re kind of cool and nice to walk on, but I’ve heard tatami mats are hard to take care of.
>> Worried about earthquakes? Building an emergency earthquake kit in Japan
Amenities in Japanese apartments
I don’t know of any apartments in Japan that come with their own appliances. If you are given an apartment from your work or school, then yeah it probably has a refrigerator and washing machine provided by the company. But if you are renting on your own, I think you usually need to have your own things.
This was a bummer for me because when my husband and I moved, we each had absolutely nothing. We each had two suitcases full of clothes, and that was it – not a single piece of furniture. Our first couple days were very busy (and expensive) running around buying a bed, refrigerator, second hand washing machine, and the basic ingredients to start a life. We scooped up a used toaster oven, that we finally got rid of five years later when we bought a real oven/microwave!
>> New appliances: Rice Cooker Carrot Cake – This is Japan 9
>> More cake! Rice Cooker Lemon Cake – This is Japan 15
This is a personal preference, but you don’t need to be shy about talking to your neighbours. One day, I was coming home, and my neighbour was outside watering her flowers. She gave me some, and ever since she occasionally brings me flowers or pieces of fruit. Another neighbour also sometimes brings us little souvenir snacks when they come back from a long weekend. Gift-giving is a thing in Japan, so if your neighbours bring you little gifts it is very nice if you return the favour. If you are so inclined, you can also make the first move.
Japanese apartments don’t always have a car parking lot. If you have a car, you may need to rent out a parking space nearby each month. There’s usually space for bicycles though. And as in most of Japan, your apartment is probably not far from a convenience store. And hopefully a real supermarket too. Convenience stores, or konibi, are open 24 hours, so you can easily get midnight snacks. Ideally, you want to live close to a train station if you don’t have a car. This means less walking time in the hot summer and cold winter. The area around the train station is also the most convenient in terms of shopping, medical clinics, and restaurants.
>> Going on a road trip? A Beginner’s Guide to Fuji Rock Festival in Japan
Complete lowdown on living in a Japanese apartment
And there you have it. I hope you have a better understanding of what it is like to find, rent, and live in an apartment in Japan. It can be a bit of trouble to find a place, but I hope you won’t experience discrimination for not being Japanese. You should now have a good idea of what to expect if you are ever in the market to rent your first apartment in Japan.
Happy apartment hunting!