Housing Types in Japan
First, let’s have a look at the most common housing types. Private homes and condominiums have been excluded here. Because of the considerable costs attached to them, they’re not an option for most foreigners moving to Japan.
Rental apartments are called apāto (アパート) or manshon (マンション) in Japan. The latter comes from the English word “mansion,” but make no mistake – both describe perfectly normal, regular apartments. There is a tendency to call lightweight, wood-frame buildings apāto while more sturdy apartment complexes with three or more floors are called manshon.
Depending on where you come from, Japanese apartments may feel a bit small to you. One-room apartments with a closet, a small kitchen (1-2 stovetops), bathroom, toilet and an indoor place for a washing machine are around 25m2 on average.
The average rent for a one-room apartment in Tokyo’s 23 central wards is around 80,000 JPY (with Minato being most expensive at over 100,000 JPY and Edogawa the cheapest at around 58,000 JPY per month).
Outside of Tokyo and in the neighboring prefectures, there are many options for apartments under 50,000 JPY. Many of these places are still well-connected to the city’s central areas (with commutes between 30 minutes to one hour) and are not as inconvenient as they first seem.
Most rental apartments in Japan are leased in 2-year intervals. After the 2 years end, the contract can be extended by paying a renewal fee. Because of this system, it can be hard (or quite expensive) to find an apartment for a short-time stay.
The typical Japanese rental apartment is unfurnished and allows no pets or room share. If you want to bring a pet or want to live with a friend, you have to filter for those options specifically. Sadly, some landlords are also reluctant to rent to non-Japanese nationals.
Searching for an apartment on your own can be quite a lengthy process that also requires you to have a Japanese phone number, bank account, etc. Because of this, renting an apartment from outside Japan, before you come here, is not an easy task. For more info on how to search for apartments in Japan, see below.
Share houses are a popular option with foreigners who are staying in Japan short-term. In contrast to apartments, share house rooms can be rented on a monthly basis, come equipped with basic furniture and are easy to rent from overseas.
Most share houses feature small single-person bedrooms with a bed, desk, closet, and sometimes a refrigerator. The kitchen, showers, bathrooms, and toilets are shared between residents. Some share houses also have additional community rooms, gym and other activity rooms, etc.
There are multiple share house companies active in Japan that market their services to foreign visitors. To find a room, simply visit their websites and look for openings. Here’s a short list of share house companies:
- Sakura House
- Tokyo Share House
- Borderless House
- Social Apartment
Just like regular apartments, the rent of share house rooms changes depending on the location, the size of the room and other factors. Overall, prices between 50,000 and 80,000 yen seem to be common.
Contrary to regular apartments, renting a share house room is fairly straightforward. You contact the company about the room you’re interested in, pay the fees (usually a reservation fee and rent for 1-2 months in advance), and then move into the room upon arriving in Japan.
Some companies provide accommodation for their employees. There are mostly two types: Apartments or dormitories that are owned by the company and rented out exclusively to employees, and regular apartments managed by a third party that the company has strong ties to. In both cases, actual costs for the employee (rent etc.) tend to be a lot lower than usual.
The downside to company housing is that location options are often quite limited. There also might be a number of restrictions, e.g. separate floors for men and women and rules regarding having friends or partners come over.
How to Search for and Rent an Apartment
Below is a guide on how to search and rent a personal apartment in Japan. Depending on how rigid your requirements are, you should schedule about 2-5 months for the full search and moving process.
To sign an apartment lease contract, you need the following:
- Identification documents (Residence card, passport)
- Japanese phone number
- Japanese bank account
- Proof of stable income in the last 3-4 months (e.g. pay slips)
- Telephone numbers and addresses of persons to be contacted in the case of an emergency (usually 1-2)
- A guarantor
Guarantors are people that vouch for the tenant and pay for any damages that they might not be able to pay themselves. Guarantors are usually family members and have to reside in Japan.
For foreigners without relatives in Japan, many housing agencies offer the option of using a guarantor company that becomes the guarantor for the tenant in exchange for a fee. The guarantor fee tends to come in the form of a one-time payment around 50% of one month’s rent at the start of the contract, and around 10,000 JPY for each subsequent year.
Searching for an Apartment
The first step is finding a place that suits your requirements. There is an abundance of online services that allow you to filter listings by area, train access, rent, and other factors. Here’s a short list:
Real Estate Japan
Many people in Japan move in February and March, before the start of the new fiscal year in April. When looking for apartments, it’s best to avoid searching or choosing apartment with move-in dates in those months. Outside of the “main season,” it’s much easier to find discounts and openings.
Paperwork, Viewings and Initial Payments
After finding a few apartments you’re interested in, head to the physical office of the real estate agency managing the property to handle the necessary paperwork. During the initial visit, you’ll just be asked to provide basic information like your phone number, current address, etc. You’ll also have the chance to let the clerk search for other listings that might also fit your requirements.
Once you narrow down your options, you’ll get the chance to do a viewing (内見 naiken). If your planned moved-in date is more than a few months in the future, the apartment you’re interested in might still be occupied. This is quite common in high-density areas like central Tokyo. In this case, you won’t have the chance to see it in advance.
After the visit, you fill out the rest of the paperwork, sign the contract and make the initial payments. Common initial fees include:
- First Month’s Rent
- Key Money
- Agent’s Commission
- Guarantor Company Fee
- Renter’s Insurance Fee
- Property Maintenance Fee
- Lock Exchange Fee
“Key Money” (礼金 reikin) is a one-time monetary gift of the tenant to the landlord upon move-in. It’s an old custom in the Japanese housing market, but the number of landlords that don’t ask for key money has been growing. Agent’s commissions are also often discounted in campaigns, and lock exchange fees can be optional.
Initial costs can easily exceed 400,000 JPY. If you consider that you’ll also need to buy furniture, home appliances and pay for utilities, it’s advisable to take your time when searching for an apartment and save as many costs as possible.
Once the paperwork is handled and costs are paid, you take the keys and move in. Upon moving into your first apartment (e.g. after living in a share house for the first few months), costs related to moving the things you already own likely won’t be too high. With the help of a friend, you might even be able to transport all your belongings without relying on a professional service.
If you have bigger furniture items or don’t have any acquaintances that can help you with your move, you can consider the following services:
- Yamato Transport
- Sakai Moving Service
- Nippon Express
- Best Moving Service
- Tokyo Move
- Tokyo Happy Move
- Akabou (Japanese-Language Only)
Common go-tos for cheap, new furniture are IKEA, its Japanese equivalent NITORi and (at a somewhat higher price point) Muji, in addition to some other local retailers.
As an alternative to the big furniture stores, buying used furniture is another option. You can search for items on auction and online marketplace sites like Mercari, Yahoo!Auctions and eBay, and second-hand stores (called “recycle shops” リサイクルショップ in Japan).
For smaller household items like clothes hangers, tableware and other kitchen and cleaning equipment, you can also consider shopping at 100 yen stores or local home appliances stores in your neighbourhood to save some extra money.