- One of the first major challenges that many foreigners will face when moving to Japan is renting an apartment. Finding a place according to one’s preferences, handing over the payment and getting the keys cannot be done that swiftly. Instead, renting an apartment in Tokyo is a complicated process filled with all sorts of archaic procedures, strange acronyms, and more fees than one can imagine.
- To understand this process, joining the show is Adam German from Real Estate Japan. He guides the listeners through the necessary steps of securing a new home away from home.
Apartment Hunting – the Japanese Way
Getting an apartment and a job in Japan can either be very easy or very challenging. If one gets an opportunity from outside either through a school or company, it might just be easy. They would probably arrange an apartment beforehand. On the other hand, coming to Japan with no job or apartment will require newcomers to figure out everything by themselves. Giving a walkthrough of the process is Adam German from Real Estate Japan, the largest listing of Japanese properties both for rent and for sale. Their website also includes articles on the Japanese housing market.
Before going through the housing rental process, foreigners are advised to come prepared. Figure out one’s budget for a place based on salary – a good estimate would be no more than 1/3 of the monthly income. Prepare documents such as a letter of employment from the company indicating the salary, alien registration card, visa, and its copies. Approval of housing applications tends to also depend on one’s visa.
The first big challenge would be traditional Japanese laws. The tenant law is in place to protect tenants from landlords who historically abused their power given the shortage of housing facilities after the war. It forbids tenants from being kicked out of their apartments immediately, thus landlords and the law are very careful in ensuring who stays in the apartments.
Another challenge may be the language. While rumors circulate that there are apartments which do not accept gaijins, this is probably due to misinterpreting what landlords mean when they say “no gaijins.” They cannot negotiate like agents and communicate important information such as safety measures because they do not speak English. Even installing utilities may require the help of a native Japanese speaker to explain important emergency procedures. Thus, it would be a great relief if foreign tenants can speak at least conversational Japanese.
The strange acronyms simply describe the apartments. LDK stands for living, dining, and kitchen area. Apartment sizes are described using the size of a tatami, a traditional floor mat used as a unit of measure. A tatami is equivalent to 1.5 square meters. A bedroom in a communal apartment may be equivalent to 5-6 tatami mats. Smaller studio rooms or 1 separate room may take around 10-15 mats.
A guarantor or hoshonin is also required before signing a lease. This hoshonin is legally responsible for paying the rent in case something happens to the tenant. He is also responsible for putting back the unit in its original condition. The hoshonin must usually be a Japanese or another foreigner with a permanent resident visa. Others can also opt to have a guarantor company instead of a human guarantor. This requires half a month’s rent for every 2-year contract.
Aside from this and the rent itself, people will be surprised by the many fees ahead. Tenants must pay a reservation fee and make a deposit good for 2 months. If a tenant has unpaid rent, damaged the property or the place needs to be cleaned, this deposit may never be refunded. Thus, it is important to know what gets penalized before signing a contract.
There is also the key money that can be traced in Japanese history as bribe money. During World War II, this was used to get ahead of others lining up the landlord’s door in search of a place. Because key money is frowned upon by foreigners, some would add it to the rent instead. The real estate agent fee also amounts to a month’s rent, depending on how the agent helped the tenant.
With this, Adam advised getting a good agent who listens efficiently to his clients’ needs and can get places for an agreeable fee. Determining how much to pay will depend on how long one plans to stay in Japan. Short rentals and communal living spaces may be more appropriate for those who will stay for less than a year or two.
Apartments are also completely unfurnished. To get appliances at a lower cost, Anthony and Adam agree that shopping around recycle shops and online Sayonara sales can lower your expenses. Japanese people take very good care of their stuff and many foreigners do not want to pay the disposal fee for appliances. Furniture shops such as Nitori and Ikea also offer brand new items with affordable delivery fees.
Need further assistance and information looking for an apartment in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, and beyond? Real Estate Japan has over 80 agents nationwide and their staff can speak English. Aside from the major cities, they are also expanding their services in offering great places to live across the whole country.