If you’re going to be living in Japan long-term, and living in a sharehouse long-term just isn’t your style, don’t fret. There are plenty of options available to you (and you can always rent a sharehouse for just your first month(s) to give you the time to find an apartment in person). In any case, here are a few things to keep in mind when looking for an apartment in Japan:
Foreign National-Friendly Housing
While landlords are technically not allowed to discriminate based on nationality, many deny applications if they feel that the tenant is not able to communicate well enough in Japanese. There's a lot we could unpack about this issue, but for the time being, here are some of the growing number of real estate agencies that are able to help:
(Links to third-party websites. JCP and SJIP are not responsible for the information on these sites.)
And don’t forget, Oakhouse and Interwhao (our recommended sharehouse providers) also have single apartments available!
When finding an apartment in Japan, there are various deposits and key money that often must be paid upon signing a contract, and real estate agents sometimes also take agency fees. These typically amount to 1~2 months of rent each, so in many cases, you may be asked for as much as 5x the first month of rent. Not all deposits will be returned, and if they are, they're usually only returned in part. That said, many agencies (such as those mentioned above) actually allow you to filter out options based on whether they require these up-front charges, showing only the vacancies with low up-front costs.
In order to protect themselves from a tenant’s inability to pay rent, some landlords require the use of a guarantor; essentially a backup that they can rely on to pay your rent in case you aren’t able to. Many agencies have relationships with guarantor companies with which you may register. (Alternatively, if you have a parent or close relative in Japan earning more than 300% of your expected rent per month, you can sometimes use them instead.) Guarantor companies usually charge 50%+ of rent up-front, plus a ¥10,000 per year fee. Depending on the landlord, you may also be required to purchase the equivalent of renter’s insurance in addition to this.
On top of all the above fees, you’ll usually have to also pay a monthly fee for regular upkeep and maintenance of the building. These, along with all the other fees, are typically included in the postings for each vacancy to help you plan your budget.
Of course, if you rent your own apartment, don’t forget to budget for your electricity, gas, water, and other utility bills. Your agent can help you find which particular company you will need to contact to set up utilities at your address.
When looking through postings online, you’ll see combinations of numbers and letters, such as 1K, 3LDK, 2DK, etc., used to describe each particular unit. These combinations refer to:
The number of bedrooms
So, for example, a 2DK is a 2-bedroom apartment with a dining space and kitchen. Sometimes these spaces are combined in a room, but the descriptor will still account for the requisite space for the furniture you would typically find in each area.
Apartment sizes will be listed in either meters squared, or 帖 (the size of one tatami mat, even if tatami mats aren't actually used for flooring in the apartment). One tatami mat is roughly 1.62 m², so with some simple math you can determine that a room 5 帖 in size would be approximately 8.1 m² (i.e., 5 x 1.62 = 8.1).
As you’ve figured out by now, renting an apartment in Japan can be expensive up-front. However, by being prepared with the right information, using the right tools to find the better-priced options, and by having some savings ready, you should hopefully be able to find a housing situation that will work for you!