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Journey to Japan 3: A Place to Call Home

Finding a new home can be daunting at the best of times, and attempting to do so in a country you've just arrived in can present its own set of challenges. Here's how I found accommodation during my first year in Japan.

By 5 min read

When you arrive in Japan for your working holiday, you will of course need to find yourself some mid-to-long term accommodation – hotel-hopping can be fun if you have the budget, but this won’t really cut it when the time comes to find work and settle into your new life here. So, where should you start your search for somewhere more permanent?

So, where should you start your search for more permanent accomodation?

My first port of call was Sakura House – a company which provides dormitory, share house and private accommodation exclusively for foreigners. I was staying at the Sakura Hotel in Ikebukuro when I first arrived back in Tokyo and, seeing their promotional materials for their share houses and apartments, decided to check out their website.

Once I found a place that seemed suitable for my needs, I was able to complete the whole reservation procedure online and at very short notice. They do offer viewings if you’d like to check out a place first, and you can even make a reservation from your home country up to two months in advance. But with my savings quickly diminishing I had to act fast, and threw caution to the wind – it would only be a temporary place, after all.

I spent my first month in a private, one-room apartment in Komagome. The rent was 100,000 yen per month, including all utilities, which was pretty high for this kind of apartment. The room had basic furnishings such as a bed and desk, as well as some kitchen appliances (fridge, microwave, toaster oven) and cooking utensils, and there were a coin laundry downstairs for exclusive use by residents.

Overall my short stay there was a positive experience, although somewhat worryingly the front door didn’t lock and my repeated requests to fix the lock went unanswered. If you’re looking for a quick fix while you search for somewhere more permanent, Sakura House might be a good option for you in the short to mid-term.

Share houses are pretty popular in Tokyo among both foreigners (foreigner-only share houses are sometimes referred to as “gaijin houses”) and young Japanese, and are a good accommodation option for new arrivals in the city; move-in costs are relatively low (generally just the first month’s rent plus a deposit, usually non-refundable), you don’t need a guarantor, and utilities are taken care of by the landlord so you won’t have to contact electricity/gas/internet providers to set-up such things yourself. Naturally, rents are also generally lower than they would be in private apartments.

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Of course communal living is not for everyone, but if you can bear to sacrifice a little personal space and share kitchen/bathing facilities, such arrangements can potentially be a good way to meet new Japanese – and international – friends. There are even certain share houses specifically marketed as “language exchange” share houses, where interaction between Japanese and foreign residents is encouraged through regular social events. And so, a share house is what I decided on for my first real home in Tokyo.

After viewing a few different options, I settled on a nice, furnished room in an 8-room, all-female share house in Suginami-ku managed by Tohto, who manage 17 share houses of various sizes around the Tokyo area. The rent was 57,000 yen per month and covered all utilities. As somebody unused to communal living I was apprehensive about the lack of privacy, but I needn’t have worried – each room had a lock, and the four-storey layout meant that it never felt too crowded.

My housemates changed several times throughout my stay, but the general ratio of Japanese to foreign residents was around 6:2. Due to our different working and studying schedules we didn’t really spend a lot of time together or get to know each other – usually the common areas were empty when I got home in the evenings, and surprisingly I very rarely had to wait to use the shower.

On one hand it as a shame as it would have been nice to make some new friends, but on the other hand it made for a quiet and peaceful atmosphere and at times felt like I had the whole house to myself! The common areas were also cleaned weekly by professional cleaners, so it was always very clean and tidy. Overall my experience of living in a Tohto share house was very positive and I’d definitely recommend their services to anybody interested in share house living.

Other popular shared accommodation companies worth checking out include Oakhouse, Borderless House, Share Style and Social Apartment (although the latter is definitely geared towards the higher end of the market and may be out of the price range of the average working holiday maker).

One very important point to bear in mind is that you will have to register your address at your local city office within two weeks of moving-in – they will print this onto your residence card. When you move out, you will have to report back to the city office to notify them and obtain a moving-out certificate, which you must submit when you register your next address.

As I enter my second year in Japan, I find myself wanting to find a place that feels more like “mine”, and so I have recently started searching for private apartments. A popular choice for foreigners seems to be Leopalace, due to the relatively low move-in costs, but the monthly rent can be quite expensive for the quality of rooms on offer.

GaijinPot’s apartment search page is a very convenient way to compare the various other options available, allowing you to search by area, rent price and many other variables. It’s very easy to send an inquiry directly to the real estate company through the listings pages, too. I’ve already found a few promising options this way, so I’m crossing my fingers that one of them will end-up being my new home.

Of course, to keep a roof over your head for the duration of your stay in Japan, you’re going to need to find yourself a source of income – in next month’s article I’ll talk about how I found work in Japan and how you can too.

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  • Yoshiyuki Tezuka says:

    The article was really interesting for me. As a Japanese, I have never heard of Sakura House” and I was surprised at communal livings in which professional cleaner existed…

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