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 usually 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 manshon. These typically have more than two storeys and are made of more sturdy materials, such as concrete. These often come with amenities like security systems, elevators and car parking.
A popular option with expats in Japan is shared accommodation in large houses, sometimes called gaikokujin housing for its popularity with foreigners. The setup 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 shared-housing setups, 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.
Furnished or unfurnished
Most rental properties in Japan are unfurnished and tenants should note that unfurnished apartments often don't even include appliances such as washing machines or fridges. Furnished accommodation is usually more suitable for foreign residents, as it reduces the initial outlay, and saves time. Furnished property is normally more expensive to rent, and there is limited availability.
Short lets and serviced apartments
Since rental contracts in Japan are usually signed for two years and demand high fees, short-term lets are a choice 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.
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.
There are some companies and services specialising in helping foreigners find rental housing in Japan. These services are generally English-friendly and could be particularly helpful for those with language barriers.
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 can speak Japanese, as most landlords are unlikely to speak English.
- For a wide range of rental options catering for expats, check out GaijinPot Apartments.
- For serviced and furnished apartments, consider Oakhouse.
- For properties throughout Japan, visit Real Estate Japan.
Renting accommodation in Japan
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 contract. Deposits and fees must be paid before the start of the tenancy.
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 usually prepared in Japanese. Depending on the landlord, an English translation may be available, but expats should ask a Japanese friend or colleague to review the contract with them.
When it comes to pets, it's essential to bear in mind that many landlords in Japan don't permit them on their properties. Those who do often request an additional 'pet deposit' as part of the contract. This deposit covers potential damage caused by the pet and is usually non-refundable. For expats planning to bring a pet to Japan, make sure to clarify the pet policy with the estate agent or landlord early on in your search for accommodation. Ask for the arrangement to be noted in the rental contract.
While not always mandatory, having references can greatly facilitate the rental process in Japan. This could be a reference from a previous landlord or an employer. It helps expats to reassure their potential new landlord that they are reliable and can maintain a rental property. A positive reference can sometimes make a difference in competitive housing markets like Tokyo or Osaka.
It's also worth noting that landlords may perform background checks, typically checking the prospective tenant's employment status, financial situation and sometimes even personal character. This helps them gauge the reliability of potential tenants and is a fairly standard procedure.
Deposits and costs
The upfront costs for renting in Japan are incredibly high. Expats may need the equivalent of six months' rent to get set up with an apartment. It's standard practice to pay a non-refundable real-estate agent fee equal to one month's rent. Although it's becoming less prevalent and not all landlords require it, expats may also be expected to provide the landlord with a gift referred to as reikin or key money. This is non-refundable and typically equivalent to one to two months' rent, although it can be up to six months.
A security deposit (shikikin) is the equivalent of two or three months' rent. Expats should look out for mention of a renewal fee (kōshinryō), which is typically equivalent to one month's rent and payable every two years.
Terminating the lease
Should the tenant wish to terminate their lease before the agreed end date, it's customary to provide at least one month's notice, though the exact notice period may vary depending on the contract. Early termination often incurs a penalty fee, which is typically equivalent to one or two months' rent. This can vary, and it's important to check the contract's terms.
Just as in other countries, it's critical for the tenant to put their notice in writing. Additionally, upon leaving, the property must be cleaned and returned to the condition it was in at the start of the lease, taking into account normal wear and tear.
Utilities in Japan
As tenants in Japan, expats will typically find themselves responsible for the cost of utilities. These include electricity, gas, water and waste collection. The costs can vary greatly depending on location, type of accommodation, and personal consumption habits. However, there are instances where utilities might be included in the rental cost, so it's always worth it for expats to check the rental contract for clarification.
Electricity in Japan is supplied by regional monopolies, with Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) being the most well-known. Expats will need to sign a contract with an electricity company and this can be done online, in person or by phone. They will need to select an amperage, which will affect the cost of their monthly payments. Japan uses Type A and B electrical outlets, so expats might need to invest in suitable adaptors for their devices.
Similarly, gas providers vary by region, with Tokyo Gas and Osaka Gas among the main providers. The gas supply in Japan primarily consists of either piped city gas or propane gas. Apartments will be fitted for one type, and this cannot be changed.
Water services in Japan are usually handled by municipal governments. Expats can expect to receive a bill for their water usage every two months. As with gas, some apartments might include water costs within the rental fee, so they should be sure to clarify this with their landlord or rental agency.
Waste disposal in Japan is heavily regulated and varies by city – and even by ward within a city. Waste is typically separated into burnable, non-burnable and recyclable items. Each category has a specific collection day, and it's important to follow these guidelines to avoid penalties. Large items often require a disposal fee and a special collection arrangement.
Internet and telephone
Internet and phone services are additional utilities to consider, with many providers available. Providers like NTT, KDDI and SoftBank offer a range of packages to cater for individual needs. For more about internet and phone services, read Keeping in Touch in Japan.
►Check out the Areas and Suburbs in Tokyo page for an overview of the capital city's neighbourhoods.
"Rent is quite high where we live, but that changes from area to area. In general, apartments and houses are tiny, but that also depends on whether you are in the city centre or in the suburbs. We live around 20 minutes by car from Osaka, and our apartment is quite spacious and similar to Western apartments." Check out our interview with North Macedonian expat Sania to learn more about moving to Japan.
Are you an expat living in Japan?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Japan. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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