Japan at a Glance
The Japanese Housing Market
Unless your company provides you with accommodation or enlists a realtor’s services on your behalf, you will have to find your new place in Japan on your own. The best way to do so is by contacting a real estate agent (fudousan-ya) or a relocation service and by asking for recommendations in expat circles.
Two general tips for flat hunting in Japan:
- There are no multiple listings for rentals in Japan. Thus, if you get in touch with a real estate agent, you will get access to their own offers only. If you would like to have a wider selection of rental accommodation to choose from, you should contact other realtors as well.
- When looking at a flat or entering into a rental agreement, the importance of Japanese language skills should not be underestimated. Especially when it comes to negotiating a contract, you should bring along someone who can translate for you.
Most expats living in Japan rent rather than buy housing. Temporary accommodation in the form of furnished or serviced apartments is not widespread. However, rentals of this sort can be found in metropolitan districts with a high expatriate population, especially in Tokyo.
Japanese housing tends to be smaller than what you might be used to. However, Western-style apartments designed for foreign residents are bigger than the accommodation of many Japanese families. When you read an ad for an apartment, be aware that the size of a room may still be measured in the number of tatami floor-mats (90x 180 cm) it contains.
Also remember that Japanese flats are often insufficiently insulated. Buying fluffy blankets and electrical heaters for winter or a big fan in summer might come in handy.
When you have found the place of your dreams and have reached an understanding with the landlord, you usually need to bring the following documents for signing the rental agreement:
- your Alien Registration Card or Resident Card
- a proof of income from your employer
- a rentai houshounin or joint surety (with either a guarantor company or a local government office acting as your guarantor)
- a personal seal (jitsuin) officially registered at the local government office
Moreover, do make sure that you have a certified English translation of the rental contract, so you know exactly what it involves.
Paying the Rent
In Japan, a month’s rent usually includes the rental fee (yachin) itself, a maintenance charge (kanri-hi), and a building management charge (kyoueki-hi). Electricity costs may be included as well, but this is not necessarily a given.
You must apply for utilities such as electricity, gas, and water at local commercial companies (gas and electricity) or at the local government office (water) as soon as you move in. The fees involved in a rental agreement can amount to several months’ rent, even up to five or six months. This sum consists of:
- usually two months’ rent in advance
- security deposit (shikikin)
- key money (reikin), a non-refundable (!) gratuity paid to your landlord
- agent’s fee (chūkai tesū-ryo)
- insurance premium for furnishings (songai hoken-ryo)
So make sure you have enough money in your bank account. Once you have moved into a new flat and changed your address, don’t forget to report this to your local government office to update your Resident Card or Alien Registration Card.