Accommodation in Japan is expensive, and follows a distinct trend: the larger the city, the fiercer the competition, and the smaller the living quarters. Finding appropriate accommodation in Japan can therefore be a bit of a challenge for newly arrived expats.
Types of accommodation in Japan
Apartments are common in Japanese cities and are where the majority of expats living in Japan reside. Older buildings with small apartments are known as apato. The buildings are normally not higher than two storeys and are made of wood or light steel, so the walls tend to be thin. Newer buildings with larger apartments are called mansions. These usually have more than two storeys and are made of more hardy materials such as concrete.
A popular option with expats in Japan is the gaijin house – shared accommodation in large houses. The set-up at these houses varies from house to house. Usually, they are inhabited by young expats looking to save money over the course of a short-term stay or while searching for something more permanent. In some gaijin houses, the rooms are mini flatlets with their own bathrooms, while in most others residents will have their own room but will share a kitchen, bathroom and living areas with the other inhabitants.
Finding accommodation in Japan
Finding accommodation in Japan can be a challenge for expats. Japan is a small, densely populated country. This has made the housing market competitive. Expats should do proper research before they arrive in the country. Knowing which city one will live in and which neighbourhoods or areas are appealing will make the search less overwhelming. Expats can use online property portals to get a feel for the housing market and set up a budget.
We recommend that expats looking for accommodation in Japan go through a real-estate agent. Many landlords are reluctant to rent to foreigners, so it's best to go this route rather than attempting to rent directly from a landlord. Agents also have the advantage of understanding the local language and knowing the local areas.
Available accommodation is also usually advertised in the local media. If viewing an apartment, it’s a good idea to take a trusted friend or colleague along who's able to speak Japanese, as most landlords are unlikely to speak English.
Generally, the closer housing is to the city centre and public transport, the more expensive it's likely to be. Newer housing is also normally pricier.
Renting accommodation in Japan
Furnished vs unfurnished
Most rental properties in Japan are unfurnished. Unfurnished apartments rarely include appliances such as washing machines or fridges. Furnished accommodation varies widely and is more expensive than unfurnished.
Since rental contracts in Japan are usually signed for two years and demand high fees, short-term lets are a good alternative for expats who are only in the country for a few months. Short-term rentals in Japan are typically furnished. There’s a wide market catering to expats with options ranging from shared houses to high-end serviced apartments.
The rental process
Most expats will research properties online and contact some local estate agents in Japan who will set up some viewings. Once a suitable property has been found, and an agreement has been made with the landlord, the estate agent will draw up the contact. Deposits and fees need to be paid before the start of the tenancy.
In order to rent accommodation in Japan, expats will require a guarantor, usually an employer. This person needs to vouch for the expat and take liability for any outstanding rent or fees.
A typical lease in Japan is signed for one or two years. A renewal fee may apply at the time of an agreement renewal. Rental contracts are normally prepared in Japanese. An English translation may be available, depending on the landlord, but expats should ask a Japanese friend or colleague to go over the contract with them.
The upfront costs for renting in Japan are extremely high. Expats may need the equivalent of six months’ rent to get set up with an apartment. It’s standard practice to pay a real estate agent fee which is non-refundable and equal to one month’s rent. A security deposit (shikikin) is the equivalent of two or three months’ rent. Expats may also be expected to provide the landlord with a gift referred to as a reikin or key money, though this practice is becoming less widespread. Key money is non-refundable and typically equivalent one to two month’s rent, though it can be up to six months.
In most cases, renters need to take care of their own utilities in Japan. However, there are cases where the landlord will arrange utilities and include it in the rental price. It’s therefore important to carefully read the rental contract to see what is included or not.