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How to Rent an Apartment in Japan

Finding an apartment in Japan made easy!

By 5 min read

One of the first major challenges that many foreigners face when moving to Japan is finding a place to live. Renting an apartment in Japan is a complicated process filled with all sorts of regulations and procedures, strange acronyms, and more fees than you can possibly imagine.

To help you understand this process, here is a guide for everything you need to know to find your new home in Japan.

How Much Does It Cost?

Have you prepared for the upfront move-in costs?

The first thing that you should do is set a realistic budget.

Most estate agents will set your rental payment at no more than 30% of your monthly income. For example, if you want an apartment listed at ¥100,000/month, you have to prove you make at least ¥300,000/month.

And for anyone who earns their income from outside the country, many rental agencies will only consider the income you earn from within Japan.

Another cost to consider when renting an apartment in Japan is the large number of fees that you will be required to pay when you move in. This amount varies between agents, but you should have up to six months of monthly rent prepared for the total cost of move-in fees.

Some of the more common fees are:

  • Deposit: 2 x rent
  • Key Money: 1 ~ 2 x rent
  • Agent Fee: 1 x rent
  • Guarantor Fee: 1 x rent
  • Contract Renewal Fee: 1 x rent
  • Miscellaneous: ¥50,000 (insurance, cleaning, lock change, etc.)

Get All Your Paperwork Ready

Japan is a country that loves paperwork. The continued use of the fax machine is evidence of that. So the better you are prepared with your paperwork, the faster the application process will go.

Some of the documents that you will need are:

  • Copies of your passport
  • Copies of your residence card (住民票 – Juminhyo)
  • Letter of employment with salary information (在籍証明書 – zaisekishomeisho)
  • Your Japanese tax documents (源泉徴収表 – gensenchoshuhyo)

Do You Have A Guarantor?

Hope you’re on good terms with your father-in-law!

Having a guarantor is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll have during your apartment search, but it’s an essential part of renting in Japan. Most Japanese who need a guarantor will turn to their parents as the guarantor must be Japanese and living in Japan.

If you do not have a guarantor, then you can use a guarantor company. A guarantor company is a third-party insurance company that agrees to act as a guarantor. The property manager of the apartment you wish to apply for will most likely be able to introduce their preferred guarantor company.

If you do not have a guarantor, then you can use a guarantor company.

If you do happen to have a Japanese guarantor, they will have to prepare the following documents:

  • Proof of residence (住民票 – jyuminhyo)
  • Income statement (源泉徴収表 – gensenchuhyo)
  • Name stamp (印鑑証明書 – inkanshomeisho)

Be sure to give your guarantor plenty of time to get these documents ready as they will have to go to their local government office to obtain them.

Please note that your guarantor will be evaluated the same way you will be. They must also show that the apartment you want to rent does not exceed 30% of their monthly income.

Learn The Lingo

Your average 2k apartment in Japan.

Now that you have your budget and guarantor sorted out, it’s time to decide what kind of apartment you want.

LDK is a common abbreviation used to describe the size of the apartment. It stands for Living, Dining and Kitchen, and is preceded by the number of rooms.

Other examples include:

  • 1K = a one-room apartment with a kitchen
  • 1DK = a one-room apartment with a dining and kitchen area
  • 2LDK = two-room apartment with a living, dining and kitchen area

It is also important to note that a living or dining room in Japan might not be the same thing it is back home. Typically, the living, dining and kitchen area is one big room. Thus, a 1DK is just a smaller room compared to a 1LDK.

For most people living in the city, be prepared to downsize dramatically.

Apartments in Japan are also notoriously small. Indeed, if you have the budget, you can rent any number of sizes, but for most people living in the city, be prepared to downsize dramatically.

If you are used to measuring a room in inches or centimeters, you will need to learn another unit of measurement called jo (畳). Jo is a unit of measurement based on how many tatami mats can fit in a single room.

For example, a “roku-jo” room is one that has six tatami mats in it. The exact size of a single tatami mat (ichi-jo) can vary from city to city, so it’s best to ask your real estate agent for the exact size.

The No Fee UR Apartments

No guarantor, no key money and no renewal fees!

UR Housing, or ‘Urban Renaissance’ is a public company that offers affordable rental housing in Japan without many of the usual fees associated with a traditional Japanese real estate firm.

UR housing charges no key money, agent fee, renewal fee and doesn’t require a guarantor. Additionally, they will rent out their apartments to anyone regardless of nationality. The downside is these apartments tend to be older buildings and sometimes located in inconvenient areas.

However, UR apartments offer a substantial saving compared to a regular Japanese real estate company and it’s a great option for anyone on a budget. There are a number of real estate companies that specialize in UR apartments. Their official website can be found here.

Share House

A great way to make friends, but don’t expect a lot of personal space.

An alternative option that’s particularly suited to short-term renters could be a share house.

It’s sort of like a hotel room. they are typically very affordable and even conveniently located. Agents also offer furnished listings in locations all over Japan. However, you are typically only renting a single room in a building with many other people. You will have to share the kitchen and living space, showers and even toilets.

Jiko Bukken

For those of you who are not superstitious, then a ‘jiko bukken’ property might be perfect for you. A jiko bukken is a property where the former occupant died of unnatural causes, such as suicide, murder, fire or neglect.

By law, all real estate agents must tell you that you are viewing a jiko bukken property.

Due to many Japanese people’s superstitious nature, jiko bukken properties can usually be rented at a substantial discount. As long as you don’t get easily spooked, a jiko bukken might be a great way to save some money on the rent.

If you or someone you know is on the hunt for an apartment in Japan, be sure to visit GaijinPot Apartments!

  • Shirokuma says:

    Many of the UR apartments now allow friends to rent together, making it possible, for example, for two men to rent without having to document a relationship.

  • Thibault B. says:

    Hello Mister Gaijin 😉

    I’m looking for foreigner-friendly apartment rental in Tokyo, and here is a company that i know through Facebook : Oak House: http://www.oakhouse.jp/eng/

    I heard lots of good feedbacks about their tokyo apartments for foreigners but did someone try it before?

    Thanks

  • Ayako says:

    I work in real estate in Tokyo.
    Just in case there are any other LGBT people interested in this information; Anthony is absolutely right on this one. To add further explanation, if you are married/in a civil partnership overseas and you can prove it, you shouldn’t have any problems. (If you do, I strongly suggest you look elsewhere) However, if you don’t have any documentation on your relationship, it might be difficult to convince the landlord to let you share an apartment, regardless of whether you are a hetero or homosexual couple.

    This is why foreign gay couples can find an apartment while Japanese couples cannot; we have no means of proving our relationship, at least outside of Shibuya and Setagaya-ku…

  • ParticularIndividual says:

    Useful information. As a 15-year resident though, I think it would be more accurate to call the 6-months-rent in fees the high end, not the average. Guarantor is usually only half month, and key money is often only one month and sometumes zero. I think three or four months is a more accurate average, and you can go as low as 1 or 2 months. 6 months happens not infrequently, but its not average.

  • Ricki says:

    Hi Anthony, What about for gay people living in Tokyo and renting an apartment ?

    • Anthony Joh says:

      Sorry I have no idea about this. My guess is it shouldn’t be a huge problem. I think landlords are more concerned that you’re a foreigner than if you’re gay or not.

  • BeastmanAIDS says:

    Another thing i’ve noticed: If you are shifting apartments then be prepared to pay quite a bit of rent overlap. Agencies generally require one month notice of vacating a property while new landlords will often want you to move in within 2 weeks of application or earlier.
    This means you may have to hand in your notice without having secured a new apartment – otherwise you may end up stuck paying 2 weeks rent on two apartments at once.

  • Calcifer says:

    How about some rental agencies? I only know Able エイブル and Mini Mini…

    • BeastmanAIDS says:

      I’ve dealt with TokyoRent and AghartA in Tokyo – both have gaijin friendly services.
      Agharta also has access to the apartment database that all companies use however be prepared for 70% of landlords to deny your application if you aren’t Japanese. 90% if you’re also in an unmarried relationship.

  • Literally No-One says:

    As far as the costs go, if you speak some Japanese and depending on the area you’re looking at (Nakano and Sugamo for ex.) it doesn’t have to be crazy expensive. I’ve been living in Nakano-ku for over 3 years and only payed 3 months rent up front (current, 1 deposit and 1 for the realtor company), plus my place is pretty big in Tokyo standards and also considered cheap. AND I was a picky customer with specific room sizes and building age in mind that I wouldn’t budge from.

  • karize says:

    about the proof of employment , cant it be just sponsorship?

  • Sam says:

    Hi Anthony – Thanks for sharing this information. I am coming to Tokyo for a month spanning across New Years to work in a restaurant, roughly 12/20-1/20. Do you have any tips as to how to find a place to rent? Many thanks!

    • Gracey-oh says:

      If it’s going to be a month’s stay, you might want to stay in one of the share houses. The popular ones are the Sakura House and OakHouse(I haven’t tried living here though). The Sakura House seems pretty decent. Their rates are inclusive of rent, utilities, internet and cleaning service.

      • expathousingShanghai says:

        Stayed in a Share house in Sakura a few years ago on an ill fated bid to take over Tokyo was great and met the nicest people, oh the Tokyo memories and salarymen 😀

  • PH says:

    I have a couple of questions about bringing things to Tokyo. Seeing how I am likely to get a 250-300 sq ft apartment, is there any point in bringing my guitar and snowboard there? I figure the noise of an acoustic guitar and me singing my heart out won’t please the neighbours. Also, for the snowboard, it will likely take up a precious 2% of my apartment square footage. And on that note, what’s the average price to rent the gear at a nearby hill? Is there a nearby hill to Tokyo? I have pretty much answered my own questions here but it would help to get the word from boots on the ground.

  • Gerald says:

    Loving the podcast Anthony! Thank you.
    Was wondering what your opinion is with Sakura House? They offer private apartments and require no guarantor, key money or agent fees. Sounds like a easier alternative to me. Or is there a catch? Thanks!

    • Anthony Joh says:

      I like Sakura House. If this is your first time living in Japan they are a great resource for help and information. Also you will save a lot not having to pay all the fees that other real estate companies require.

      I know they have some big renovation plans for this year which we plan to highlight so stay tuned to GaijinPot for that.

  • Jonny says:

    Thanks for all the advice in the podcast! I found a site off of Adams site called ABhousing Osaka. Like Barry I have a WHV so I will have no proof of a salary so I’m going to email these guys and see if they can accept a foreign bank account initially.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      I asked Adam about this and he suggested a shared house which offers short term accommodation. Then once you have a job you can look at renting your own apartment.

  • Barry says:

    So is it impossible to rent an apartment without proving that you have a salary? I’m planning on coming over on a working holiday visa and living off my savings while I find a job, but if anyone asks what my salary is, all I have to show for myself is a large pile of money.

    • Anthony Joh says:

      Hi Barry I was in the same situation as you when I first came here. I was surprised at how many real estate agencies wouldn’t rent to me because I didn’t have a job, even though I had enough in savings.

      The real estate agencies are very by-the-book type of businesses and so any deviation from their regular procedures is looked at as a huge risk.

      I did find a one real estate company that was willing to show me properties after I showed them copies of my bank statements. Even then they grumbled that my money wasn’t in a Japanese bank. I had been in Japan a whole 3 days at that point.

      In the end I ended up renting from a company called Tokyo Rent. They are a foreigner friendly agency that doesn’t require as much paperwork as the typical Japanese real estate company.

      You may also want to consider a short term rental until you can get yourself set up here. Check out the sponsor of this week’s show, Ichii corp. They are pretty good with being flexible when working with foreigners.

      Good luck!

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