4 Problems I Faced Renting in Japan (And What You Can Do Instead)

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When I first came to Japan, finding an apartment I liked wasn’t the issue, actually renting it was. There were lots of obstacles in my way that I never encountered as a renter in the US and that many foreigners don’t anticipate before moving here.

1. It’s almost impossible to organize a place when you’re not in Japan

First of all, I wanted to be able to secure a place before I got here, so, you know, I wouldn’t have to stay in a hotel for a month while house-hunting. But the few companies that would even respond to my emails (Japanese real estate companies are notoriously wary of foreigners and some refuse to work with them at all) said they’d set up a meeting only once I was in Japan. This meant I ended up staying in a share house with a) no windows b) smelly Australian boys who partied all night and c) a shared shower reminiscent of my college days for a whole month. A month doesn’t seem like a long time, but trust me, it was.

2. My Japanese wasn’t good enough

Once I found a company who would work with me, there was the language barrier. I’d never studied Japanese before (my fault, I know…) and I had slacked off on my pre-Japan self-study (also my fault…). Basically, I knew a few words, mainly centered around ordering food. Real estate language was definitely not high on my list of words to learn, and the real estate agents I worked with knew about as little English as I knew Japanese.

3. I didn’t have a guarantor

After I’d somehow, somewhat, successfully communicated my needs to the agent and found a place I liked, they asked me to find a guarantor, someone who would basically pay my rent if I dropped the ball. I understand the need for a guarantor as I’m sure real estate companies have been burned more than once by flaky foreigners. However, I’d just gotten to Japan a month before and didn’t have any Japanese contacts yet – no friends, no family, certainly no one who would trust me enough to pay my rent if I suddenly disappeared.

4. I didn’t have a Japanese bank account

I finally enlisted the help of my new boss’ wife after an awkward and overly apologetic conversation. But then, the problem of payment arose. I had to have a Japanese bank account to pay my rent. Guess what? I didn’t have one yet. I had tried to get one through my new job but, for reasons that remain mysterious to me to this day, they wouldn’t accept my application. I had an American bank account and a credit card, but neither were any good to my new landlord.

Gah! This sounds like me…

Is there a solution to all of these issues, you ask?

Finally, there is, and it comes in the form of a new foreigner-friendly housing assistance program called GPM Housing Service.

GPM Housing Service

I wish GPM Housing Service had been around in my early days in Japan. They’ll let you apply from abroad, set you up with bilingual support, don’t require a guarantor, and accept credit card payments.

GPM makes the process transparent and simple. You can use a foreign credit card to cover rent, or arranging a bank transfer in Japan is easy to do. Other sites I looked at that were foreigner-friendly for rentals also had separate guarantor fees and other hidden costs; plus, many of the units they advertised were older and not convenient for where I would be living. GPM had properties all over the Tokyo area and the price ranges were reasonable. Many of the properties are newer, which make me feel secure and safe with earthquakes, for example. Additionally, the bilingual support feature is a lifesaver for foreign residents, like me, with limited Japanese proficiency.

Jamie (recently moved to Tokyo from the US)

4 key features of the GPM Housing Service

Increased housing options

I know what you’re thinking – this is all too good to be true. However, as sub-letters, GPM Housing Service has found a way to make all your rental headaches disappear. They will actually increase your housing options, as they offer apartments previously not available to foreigners so no more worrying that you’re missing out on all the good stuff.

A guarantor

They’ll also save you money and stress by not requiring a guarantor. Most real estate companies not only require one but charge you a guarantor fee, which can be as much as 80-100% of your monthly rent.

Payments by credit card

By allowing you the option of paying by credit card, you avoid the difficult task of immediately opening a Japanese bank account, and they make paying rent hassle-free with monthly automatic withdrawals.

Comprehensive language assistance

With their Bilingual Billy concierge service, GPM Housing Service offers Japanese support during the apartment search process as well as for the entirety of your lease. That means English support while viewing the apartment, an apartment contract entirely in English, and phone and email-based support for any issues that may arise in your apartment. Faucet leaking? AC broken? They will set up appointments with the handyman in Japanese so you don’t have to. Comprehensive renters insurance is included in the package to ensure that your stay in Japan is worry-free.

How to apply

The process is pretty simple and user-friendly. Anyone can apply, provided you speak English, have a long-term visa, and plan to stay for at least 6 months. You can put in an application for any property 4-5 weeks before your planned move-in date.

Once you know this date, you can visit their listings page and choose an apartment you like. Just fill out the short inquiry form and let them know of any specific moving needs.

If you like it, you can apply through a simple online application form. A background check will be conducted and if all looks good, you can submit your first payment, also online. You can then send the signed lease via emailed PDF, through old-fashioned snail mail, or sign in person once you arrive in Japan.

Plus, if you apply for an apartment with GPM Housing Service with a contract start date of March 31st or earlier, you’ll get your first month’s rent free.

They’re also running a refer-a-friend program that can earn you ¥10,000 for each friend you refer who signs a lease which means cash in your pocket and avoidance of all of Japan’s rental woes. Sounds like a win-win to me!

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Apply for an eligible apartment through the GPM Housing Service before March 31, 2017 and you'll get a month’s rent back, in cash, the day after you move in.
  • Pasa Tsheri says:

    Looking for a apartment near Tokyo University from April 2017

  • Peter Wood says:

    What Japanese bank offers internet banking in English and other online options that mirror those normally expected in other parts of the world?

    • Saihken says:

      My strongest advice would be open up a Shinsei Bank account at the start, and move banks once you become more comfortable.

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