How to find an apartment in Japan
Settling down in a foreign country has never been easy for anyone, especially when you are unfamiliar with that country’s customs. You might not believe how troublesome this process can be in Japan, because you can’t just pay the rent and start moving in. In this post you’ll find all information you need to know, which I hope will help you save a lot of time and effort in finding a place to settle down in this beautiful country.
Where can you find information about apartments for rent in Japan? The best place is the internet of course! Just type “アパート探し” in Google and you’ll find websites that list hundreds of thousands of apartments for rent. The most popular site is probably Suumo.jp (http://suumo.jp/chintai/). When you enter this site, you’ll see a page that lists all cities around Japan like this:
You need to click on the name of the city you are in. If you are looking for a place in Tokyo, click on 東京 in 関東-Kantou area (bottom right). Other areas in Kantou beside Tokyo like Saitama (埼玉) or Chiba (千葉) have much cheaper rent, so you might want to start looking there if you have a tight budget. Keep in mind that if you live there and work or study in the central of Tokyo, it will take a long time to commute (normally around an hour to two by train). The site will requires you to check some options which will help it determine which apartment suits you best.
Choosing the train line and station
JR and Tokyo Metro (東京メトロ): These are two main transit systems in Japan. You need to click on the name of the line which you’ll ride from home to school. For example, if your school is near Shinjuku station, then you can use the JR Yamanote line (山手線) or JR Saikyo Line (埼京線) or Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line (丸の内線). This site will give you information of the apartments available near stations along the line of your choice. For example, if you choose JR Yamanote Line, it will show you apartments available near Meguro station, Ebisu station, Shibuya station, etc. Note that the closer the station is to Shinjuku area, the higher the rent. So the apartments near Yoyogi station or Shinoukubo station have much higher rent than those near Ueno station or Akihabara station. If you want to save money commuting, you should choose a place nearer to Shinjuku to live. If you want to save money on the rent, you should choose a place farther. Most stations along the Yamanote line are in busy shopping areas so the rent is relatively high. If you are on a tight budget, choose a place near stations along the JR Saikyo Line. While both are extremely busy lines during rush hours, you’ll need to wait for at least 15 minutes for Saikyo Line’s trains, while you only have to wait for 5 minutes for Yamanote Line’s trains. One thing you need to keep in mind is that Saikyo Line’s trains are delayed a lot due to traffic accidents or other reasons, so don’t choose this line if you don’t want to be late for work or school all the time.
Deciding your budget
If you can only afford to pay 50.000 Yen / month or lower, choose 5万円以下 in the 賃料 (rent) section. The rental prices vary depending on areas. If you want to live in busy business and shopping areas like Shinjuku, Shibuya or Toshima, expect to pay at least 60.000 Yen monthly for a clean, well-equipped and small one-room (ワンルーム) apartment. With less than 50.000 Yen, you should expect either a very small room, or and old and dirty one. Try not to rent apartments that cost less than 30.000 Yen in these busy and expensive areas, because there must be some kind of problems with them. Most Japanese people don’t want to live in an apartment where someone committed suicide, so the rent for it can be extremely low. You should be informed if there is such a problem with the room before you sign the contract.
Choosing apartment type and size
Japanese people use the term [number]+[LDK] to describe an apartment. L means living room, D means dining room and K means kitchen. The number that comes before LDK indicates the number of bedrooms. So 1DK means an apartment with a bedroom, a dining room and a kitchen. To find out how big an apartment is, look at 専有面積. The ideal size would be 15 to 25m2. You might want to save some money and choose an extremely small apartment, but you will soon regret it when you realize that you don’t even have enough space to put your stuff.
Check the distance from your apartment to the station
ＪＲ中央線/高円寺駅歩7分 means it takes 7 minutes to walk from the apartment to Takadanobaba station – which is on Chuo Line. Most apartments are within 2 to 20-minute walking distance from the nearest station. Many people prefer the shortest walking distance, but the nearer the apartment is to the station, especially big station, the higher the rent, so you should consider this very carefully. Sometimes when you are extremely tired after getting off work, it can be a torture walking 20 minutes from the station to your house. Sometimes when you wake up late, you’ll wish the station is only 2 minutes away. I myself prefer living in a place within the shortest walking distance to the nearest station while some friends of mine don’t mind riding a bike from their houses to the station. Don’t ever choose a place that you need to ride a bus to get from your house to the nearest station, you’ll be wasting too much time and even money commuting.
One important thing you should note about the walking distance listed on Suumo.jp or any other place is that it might not be correct. It’s just an estimated number and you know how fast Japanese people walk. So when you see 新宿駅歩23分, which means a 23-minute walking distance from Shinjuku station, you should consider that it might take you 30 minutes or more if you are a slow walker. Another thing to take into consideration is the time it takes to walk out of the station after getting off the train. Some big stations like Shinjuku or Ikebukuro have different entrances (South Entrance, East Entrance, North Entrance, South East Entrance, etc.) and it might take as little as one minute or as much as 10 minutes to walk to the nearest entrance. A big station does look like a maze and you might get lost easily.
Check the fees
There are many types of fee you have to pay when you rent an apartment in Japan, and it might cost you a lot of money. The fees are mandatory, unnegotiable and you must pay them when you sign the contract.
- The rent: You must pay the first month’s rent before moving in. The rent is usually paid monthly through your bank account. Some landlords might ask you to pay them directly in cash. You’ll be asked to move out if you fail to pay your rent before the deadline.
- The key money (礼金): Just as the word 礼-rei (gratitude) indicates, this is the money you give the owner as a thank-you gift for allowing you to live in his or her apartment. The 礼金 is usually one month of your rental fee, which means if your rent is 60.000 Yen, you’ll need to pay 60.000 Yen of 礼金. Some owners might not require you to pay this fee, but most do.
- The deposit (敷金): The deposit is used to repair any damage you may cause to the apartment while you live in it. The damage might be as little as a scratch on the wall or closets, children graffiti on the walls or as big as a broken glass. The fee is refundable so if there’s no damage at all, you might be able to get your money back. Some landlords may find excuses not to return it to you, or you might have to pay for extra damage which is not caused by you. So before moving in, check for any noticeable damage and inform your landlords about it. The 敷金 is one month rent, but keep in mind that if you cause a huge damage to the apartment which the 敷金 you originally paid wouldn’t cover the cost, you might be asked to pay extra money to repair that damage.
- The brokerage fee (仲介手数料): This is the fee you need to pay the real estate agent (不動産屋) who helps you find your apartment. Most landlords in Japan don’t work directly with tenants so you must go through a realtor. Many realtors don’t require you to pay brokerage fee since they already received it from the owners. So in order to save money you should go to different realtors and choose one that doesn’t require you to pay them any fee. If they do require you to, it usually costs one-month rent.
- The fee for 保証人代行会社 (guarantor company): In order to rent an apartment in Japan, you must have a guarantor (must be of Japanese nationality) who will pay your rent in case you fail to do so. So if you are a foreigner, you must have a very close and kind Japanese friend who is willing to vouch for you. You will find that most people are reluctant to become a guarantor to someone they don’t know really well because it might affect their reputation. This rule makes it impossible for a foreigner who has no close Japanese friends to find a place to live in Japan, and that’s when a guarantor company comes in. You need to pay them a certain fee, and they’ll act as your guarantor and make sure that the monthly rental fee is paid even when you fail to do so for some reason. Of course they will contact you afterwards, request a proper answer as for why you fail to pay your rent and ask you to send them the money that they paid on your behalf. You need to prove to them that you are an honest person or they might not want to be your guarantor anymore.
- Other fees: Some extra fees you need to pay include the management fee, the key changing fee (the landlord has to change the lock after the previous tenant leaves to avoid any future intrusion), the insurance (in case a fire or earthquake occurs).
To sum it up, you’ll have to pay a lot of money in order to rent an apartment in Japan. There are landlords that require you to pay only the rent with no extra fees, but they are very rare. You might find a place that’s expensive yet inconvenient, or you might be lucky enough to find an apartment that is cheap, big, clean, well-equipped and near the station in a busy area. So it does depend on your luck. One advice I can give you is be patient. Don’t try to find an apartment hastily. Ask the realtor to show you as many places as possible, take as many factors into consideration as possible, and only sign the contract when you’re absolutely sure about your decision. You don’t want to pay about 300.000 yen to rent a place only to get fed up with it a few months later. It takes a lot of money to rent an apartment and it takes a lot more money to move.
The internet is not the only place to find a place to live. Ask for help from your friends, especially Chinese or Korean friends because the Chinese and Korean communities in Japan are big. With Chinese or Korean landlords, you don’t need to pay the extra fees that Japanese people usually require you to. They work with you directly without going through a realtor and many are kind enough to help you with your daily problems as well.
I totally fell in love with my apartment and had a wonderful time living there with my amazing roommate. It made me feel like home even though I was living in a foreign country. I hope you’ll find your dream apartment soon and have the most wonderful time in Japan!