Finding a new apartment in Japan isn’t easy. You might already feel lost between the language barrier and the unfamiliar apartment terms. Key money? 1SLDK? Renewal fees? It’s a lot to consider.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. You might also face housing discrimination (utterly legal in Japan), steep agency fees, and pushy guarantor companies. Like most things in the country, you’ll need to keep a lot of bureaucracy in mind.
Here are a few tips for finding an apartment in Japan that will minimize stress and make things easier.
Do cast a wide net, but prepare for rejection
You’re hunting online for a new home and found the perfect apartment with a gorgeous view, an ideal location and plenty of space? Well, don’t celebrate just yet. The landlord might not even want you there.
Housing discrimination against foreigners is an issue in Japan. Surveys report that 40% of foreign tenants are rejected for their nationality. This is legal under Japanese law. Even if that isn’t what you’re rejected for, landlords and guarantor companies often reject applicants on arbitrary grounds—I’ve been rejected for “not being married.”
With that in mind, it’s important to keep your options open. Apply for multiple apartments. Don’t settle on just one, even if you think it’s your dream home. You might get lucky on your first try, but if you’re against the clock, it’s worth expanding your chances of a successful application.
Don’t make a bad first impression
This is a universal tip, but it’s also worth remembering for Japan. Landlords (and agents) are looking for specific kinds of tenants. Ideally, someone who is dependable (i,e., not breaking their contract) and will not cause problems with neighbors. In that regard, the rental process is more like an interview than you might expect, so it’s worth making a good impression.
Viewings, in particular, can make or break your rental application. It’s not uncommon for landlords to attend viewings themselves to accompany you, especially in more rural areas. The impression you make on them will determine the outcome of your application.
With that in mind, being polite, well-dressed, and considerate will go a long way to getting your approval. Consider it an interview—the landlord decides if you’re a good fit for the position.
Do expect a lot of upfront fees
If you’ve never experienced the Japanese rental market, you’re in for a shock. Two months’ rent and deposit are standard, but you should expect to pay five to six times the rent upfront. First, reikin, or key money, is an amount (usually a month’s rent) paid as a display of gratitude to the landlord. After WWII, the housing market was small. Key money was, essentially, a bribe to win a landlord’s favor. These days, landlords are starting to phase it out, but it’s still common and something you should expect.
Then there is the agency fee, another month’s rent upfront. This fee is meant to cover the time and work your housing agent spent listing the apartment, showing the apartment to you, preparing documents and negotiating details between you and the landlord.
In Japan, students graduate in January and start working
Beyond that, various moving-in procedures, such as changing the locks, fire maintenance, guarantor fees (for the event you skip town), and monthly maintenance fees for things like your apartment’s elevator or cleaning services, will add small increments to your monthly rent and total move-in fees (around ¥10–20,000 each).
Then, when your contract is up (usually in two years). You get to pay an extra month’s rent to renew your contract. This is called a renewal fee; you must pay it or start finding a new apartment again.
If you are on a tight budget, consider Urban Renaissance Agency (UR housing), which is almost government housing. These apartments are snatched up fast but come without agency, guarantor or key money fees.
Don’t be afraid to change your mind
If all this sounds daunting, using an agent to handle things for you might be a good idea. There are plenty of agents with English speakers throughout Japan, and they can handle most of the legwork for you. For example, they’ll usually arrange viewings, speak to the landlord and guarantor companies on your behalf and manage the paperwork needed to get you a place.
Housing agents also have access to a more extensive database than you can access, so you might snag a hidden gem. However, they all share the same database and are fighting to fill the apartment quickly. This is basically why they are so adamant about you visiting their office. If you don’t like an agent’s vibes or think they aren’t doing enough, ask another agent about the same apartment.
If you do get accepted and start the process and then change your mind, expect to pay a cancellation fee of about ¥20,000.
Do give yourself plenty of time
Start your search as early as possible. While this is good advice for all property hunting, the Japanese market has a few things that add even more delays. This is especially true if you are searching in Spring.
In Japan, students graduate in January and start working. This means they prepare to leave their parents’ home and start apartment hunting. So there is a big rush, and apartments are snatched up quickly. The other advantage of being proactive in Spring is being ahead of the curve on moving-in needs. Transport companies are also the busiest in Spring. So the sooner you can set up your new apartment, the more competitive your rate will be.
The best thing you can do to keep this make this happen is to be responsive. Return requested documents as soon as possible, and try to book viewings immediately. This will save wasted time, and the swiftest respondents are likeliest to snag the property in the rush of filling properties.
So those are some tips for the rental process—what to expect and watch out for. Have you had an experience with any of them? Let us know in the comments!