How to Rent an Apartment in Japan

So you are thinking about renting an apartment in Tokyo. Before we guide you through all the steps and things you will need, the first thing you have to do is lower your expectations of the size of the apartment and raise you expectations of how much you will be paying for said apartment.

Unless you have a great job paying for you apartment or just have plenty of money laying around to spend on rent, you’re going to have to get used to basically living in a studio apartment. Good-bye to those extra rooms (like the living room that no one ever goes into or guest rooms), and hello multipurpose storage units.

This isn’t to say that all apartments are small or all are expensive, but you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. You have to sacrifice something. You can live a little further from the city and pay less for more space, or live at the heart of where it’s all happening for a lovely price.

Step 1:

Decide what is more important to you: space and saving money on rent (although you’d have to consider how much you’re spending on transportation, too) or convenience and living in a nice area.

Step 2:

Once that is decided, there are various routes to go by. You can go through a real estate agent or rent from other sites and agents geared towards helping foreigners.

-Option A- With regular Japanese real estate agents, there are times that you can get turned down for simply being a foreigner. If there is a language barrier, things may get complicated as well. If you job will be helping you, then it will make the process a lot smoother, but be prepared for all the fees that will follow. I’ll explain all of those in the next step.

-Option B- If you search on the Internet, you will find different companies that rent out apartments or rooms especially to foreigners with a fraction of the fees. In fact, the first place I lived in was a guesthouse in Meguro. It was simply a house with three rooms and we shared all the other spaces, although the house was always dead quiet and everyone pretty much kept to their rooms. With these places, the rent per month maybe just a liiiiitle bit higher than if you were to get your own place (if you consider some of the sizes of those places), but they are usually furnished and you are only required to pay 1 or 2 months worth of rent before moving in.  Some great sites are listed below.


Step 3:

Whichever route you choose, you still need some money up front before you get your keys. With a Japanese real estate, be prepared to pay about four or five months’ worth of rent up front. Let’s break it down. First we have the “shikikin” which is the security deposit. This can be up to three months’ worth of rent. Then there’s the “reikin”, or key money, which is also about one or two months’ rent. Guess what, you don’t get to see that come back when you move out. You also don’t get back the fee for the real estate agent who also gets a cut. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the first month’s rent. Now that you have probably dropped four or five grand for your ~30 square meter apartment, just remember that when your contract ends (perhaps in two years) you will have to drop a couple months’ rent again to renew it. So take your time with step one and two. Decide wisely, cause you do not want to be doing this again if you realize that your apartment has roaches that you just can’t get rid of (and they are huge in Japan) or whatever might make you want to pack up and leave.

If you go with the option B and go through monthly apartments or those other companies I mentioned earlier, you get a little more flexibility with moving out (just one month’s notice and you can be outta there any time!) and finding what place works for you. I’m not very proud of this, but I mentioned before I lived in Meguro. I later moved three more times before I found my current apartment. And since this apartment was found through a regular Japanese realtor, you better believe I’m not moving anywhere anytime soon.

Step 4:

Find a guarantor. This will most likely be your employer, but you can also use “hosho-gaisha” which are companies that will be your guarantor for a fee. By the way, if you are using option B, a guarantor is usually not needed.


Step 5:

Pick an apartment after going over the different apartments that fit your needs and preferences. When you go to see the apartments, check to see how much sunlight you are getting because chances are you will be hanging your clothes to dry. Double check that the toilets are western (unless you don’t mind squatting) and make sure you are comfortable with the closets.

Also, there are a few tips that could save you some money if you don’t care too much about some Japanese superstitions.

Also, there are a few tips that could save you some money if you don’t care too much about some Japanese superstitions. For one, if someone had previously died in the apartment, the rent is usually cheaper. The first floor apartments (for fear or robberies) are also usually cheaper. Having graves and train tracks near by will also lower the prices. Look out for apartment buildings with stores in the first floor, because those can be cheaper too. In Japan, having a separate room for the toilet and bath/shower is desirable, so apartments with a bathroom with both of those are also cheaper.


Happy hunting everyone! 

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