- Edmund Taylor
Tokyo has so much to offer and InterNations made it much easier to become acclimated to life in this bustling city.
Finding housing in Japan as a foreigner is fairly simple. Expats should not face many restrictions when looking to rent an apartment or buy a house. One of the most difficult hurdles expats will face is the requirement of a guarantor. In Japan, a guarantor, also called a co-signer in other countries, is someone who takes on the legal responsibility to pay a tenant’s rent or penalty fees should the tenant not be able to pay for some reason. Because the guarantor must be a Japanese citizen, many Japanese nationals get a family member to be their guarantor. As this is not possible for many expats, they instead must enlist the services of a guarantor company.
For expats who want to give themselves time to look through the different types of houses available to them, there are many short-term rentals available throughout the country. In 2018, a law was enacted limiting the number of days certain short-term rentals can be leased, so it is best to ask the landlord or realtor about this before putting down a deposit.
Whether you are looking to buy a house or an apartment to rent, you can use this guide as a useful tool to help you during your search. We discuss the documents foreigners need when renting an apartment, as well as the overall price range for both buying and renting throughout the island nation.
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Renting a House or Apartment
Knowing how to rent a house or apartment in Japan is not difficult as long as you are prepared. Depending on the landlord and where you choose to live, foreign nationals and Japanese citizens are not treated too differently when renting a place. However, if you are looking for a place in the countryside, or if you are dealing with older, more traditional landlords, you may find yourself held to a different set of expectations. This is especially true if the landlord or surrounding tenants have had bad experiences with foreign renters in the past.
Rent in Japan
How much is the rent in Japan? That will depend on where you live. Japan is a small country with limited space. The total population is just below Mexico’s, which narrowly slides the Asian nation out of the Top 10 most populous countries in the world. Therefore, Japan’s rent prices reflect the high demand for accommodation and yet not a lot of space to fill it.
Average Rent in Japan
The average rent in Japan varies by city, but the overall national average falls somewhere between 50 to 70,000 JPY (470–650 USD). Tokyo is the most expensive city in which to rent. Prices in the capital range from a single room in shared housing for about 20,000 JPY (190 USD) per month to over 150,000 JPY (1,400 USD) for a private apartment. The average amount for a two-bedroom unit is a little over 200,000 JPY (1,870 USD) monthly.
The minimum house rent you will find in Japan is in Yamagata prefecture near the mid-northwestern coast of the country. Rent here for a standard one- or two-bedroom apartment will be around 50,000 JPY (470 USD). However, keep in mind that the further you are from a major train station, the more likely it is you will need a car. Cars in Japan are expensive to maintain, so you will want to keep this in mind when choosing a place to live. As far as affordable cities go, expats who find Tokyo too rich for their tastes should look to Kyoto or Osaka. These cities are just as vibrant and thriving as Japan’s capital, but slightly less expensive and comprising of a more ‘small town’ feel by comparison.
Average Monthly Rent Examples in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka
City Apartment Type JPY USD Tokyo One-bedroom 130,000 1,200 Tokyo Three-bedroom 300,000 2,800 Kyoto One-bedroom 68,000 640 Kyoto Three-bedroom 150,000 1,400 Osaka One-bedroom 75,000 700 Osaka Three-bedroom 140,000 1,300
Renting in Japan as a Foreigner
There are a few things you should be aware of when renting in Japan as a foreigner. The first is that the terms for rental properties are different than what you may be used to in your home country. Terms like “studio” and “two-bedroom apartment” are not common in the Land of the Rising Sun. Instead, you will see a number in front of a combination of the letters L, D, K, R, or S. The number refers to the number of bedrooms, and the letters represent living and cooking areas:
- L—living room
- D—dining room
- S—storage or a free space room
- R—this letter refers to a whole apartment that is just a single room (typically called a “studio” elsewhere)
If you see a property listed as 1LDK, this refers to a space that has one bedroom and a larger area that comprises a kitchen, dining room, and living room. Although the kitchen, dining, and living rooms may stand alone as their own separate rooms dependent on the layout of the home, there will not be any doors separating these spaces.
A 1K is a place with a single private bedroom, but no living area. Instead, there will be a small kitchenette, which will typically consist of a fridge, microwave, and maybe a stovetop. Ovens are rare in Japan, especially in big cities.
All accommodations come with a bathroom. Common bathroom types in Japan are small, compact rooms where the toilet is directly in the shower. Bathtubs are not common except in large, old properties. The bathroom sink may also be in the hallway outside the room.
Many apartments and houses in Japan will include a balcony. These are usually small and used for drying clothes rather than sitting and enjoying the view.
Common Property Types and Terms in Japan
- 1LDK: One bedroom and a combined living/dining/kitchen.
- 1K: One bedroom plus a separate kitchen.
- 1KD: One bedroom plus a combined kitchen and dining area.
- 1SLDK: One bedroom plus a combined living/dining/kitchen and separate storage room.
- 1R: Just a bedroom. This may have a small kitchenette.
- Mansion: A concrete apartment complex with three or more floors. Apartment types will vary and, if there are four or more floors, the building should have an elevator.
- Apāto: A two-storey apartment building made of wood and iron. Units are typically small and may be loft-style.
- House: Standard standalone home. Most common in the suburbs, countryside, and smaller cities. These units lean more towards traditional Japanese-style housing with tatami floors (read more about these below).
Furnished or Unfurnished Apartments?
If you are looking for a long-term rental in Japan, chances are it will come unfurnished. If you find yourself needing to furnish your new Japanese home, there are plenty of stores throughout the country or online sites such as Craigslist or “sayonara sales” via Facebook groups.
If you plan to bring your own furniture, keep note of the type of flooring in the Japanese rentals that you view. Western-style housing will typically come with wood flooring, which is fine for all types of furniture. However, more traditional Japanese places will have tatami floors, which are traditional woven mats. These cannot withstand heavy items, nor are they ideal for furniture that requires constant movement such as chairs. These mats are hard to remove and difficult to replace, so you should have as little furniture as possible in rooms with tatami flooring.
Also keep in mind that in some unfurnished households, you may be expected to provide light coverings and fixtures.
Unfurnished apartments and housing are available throughout Japan, but they are limited. Gaijin houses are co-living spaces and similar to a series of studio apartments. These will often come furnished. Expats being transferred within their own company are also likely to be provided company housing, which should come fully furnished.
Things to Know: Stigmatized Property
If you want to move to Japan, but are worried about the cost of rent, one slightly cheaper option is called jiko bukken, or “stigmatized property.” This refers to a property where an unfortunate incident occurred such as an accidental death, suicide, or other serious incidents. Most Asian cultures have very strong beliefs and superstitions tied to the spiritual world, and therefore properties such as these are notoriously hard to rent.
In order to push these properties, landlords will lower the rent by 20 to 30%. If a stigmatized property does not bother you, they may be the way to go if you are looking to save some money. You can search for these properties through a site called Oshima Teru or Oshima Land.
Rental Process and Rules in Japan
Get a Realtor
Nearly 100% of properties in Japan are rented through a realtor and realty company. You will find many offices that accommodate foreigners, although the greatest concentration can be found within Tokyo and the other major cities.
…And a Guarantor
One of the hardest aspects of the rental process in Japan for foreigners is the need of a guarantor. This guarantor also called a co-signer in some countries, is a person who is legally required to cover your apartment fees should you stop paying rent for any reason. For most Japanese nationals, this guarantor is typically a family member; however, even this can prove tricky if the proposed guarantor cannot prove adequate enough funds should they suddenly be expected to pay the rent.
As a new expat in Japan, what do you do if you do not have a guarantor? Luckily, roughly only half of Japanese landlords require a guarantor; the other half will allow a hosyo gaisha instead (be advised that some landlords may require both a guarantor and a hosyo gaisha).
A hosyo gaisha is a company that serves as a guarantor. Your realtor or landlord may be able to recommend one for you, or they may have a company that they typically use.
One of the most shocking things for anyone renting housing in Japan are the initial costs. These are a series of fees and deposits, some of which may refundable, but most of which are not. These fees are often not listed in the original listing of the property and therefore can feel like “hidden fees.” When totaled, these fees can often equate to five times the monthly rent.
These are some common fee types you will see listed in rental adds. However, be aware that there may be other fees not listed depending on each individual landlord.
- Guarantor fee: 50–100% of the rent.
- Insurance fee: Covers water or fire damage; starts at 20,000 JPY (190 USD) and goes up depending on the apartment.
- Realtor fee: Usually 100% of the rent.
- Cleaning fee: Typically starts at 20,000 JPY and goes up depending on the apartment, but it can also be 100% of the rent.
- Key money: Usually costs 100% of the rent. Originally started in the 1920s housing shortage as a “present” to the landlord. While no longer seen as a “present,” it is still required by many landlords.
- Changing lock fee: Starts at 12,000 JPY (100 USD) and goes up depending on the property.
- Other deposits: Required if you have pets or if a landlord has particularly nice furniture they want to insure.
For an example of an initial cost, this is the average deal you would receive for an apartment being rented at 60,000 JPY (560 USD) per month:
Fee Type JPY USD First month’s rent 60,000 560 Property maintenance fee 3,000 30 Realtor fee 60,000 560 Key money 60,000 560 Guarantor fee 30,000 280 Insurance fee 20,000 190 Cleaning fee 30,000 280 Changing lock fee 18,000 170 TOTAL 281,000 2,630
Requirements and Documents for Renting
Before you sign your rental contract and pay your deposit, you will be asked to provide the following documents:
- visa and/or residence card
- Japanese phone number
- proof of income or sufficient savings
- emergency contact
- Japanese bank account
- Japanese stamp (hanko or inkan)
A Japanese stamp serves as your official signature while in Japan. If you will only be in Japan a few months, you may not need one, but they are useful to have and required for doing things such as signing a rental contract or opening a bank account. You can get your personalized stamp at a Hankoya shop, local kiosks, or online. They typically take three days to receive and cost between 2—6,000 JPY (18—55 USD) depending on size and quality of the wood.
Utility bill payments are typically not included in the rent unless you are staying in a gaijin house or monthly rental. Prices vary depending on where you live in Japan, but on average expats should expect to spend around 20,000 JPY (190 USD) per month on electricity, gas, and water.
Short-Term Rentals: Things to Know
For some expats, making the leap straight into a one-year lease can feel intimidating. Maybe you need some time to get your bearings and figure out where you want to live in your new Japanese home. Or maybe you have yet to secure a job and are still on a tourist visa. Whatever your situation, for some expats, short-term rentals are the best option. They are typically more economical than nightly rates at hotels and can give a homey, settled vibe, which is perfect when adapting to a new country.
Regarding temporary rentals, it is important to keep in mind that in 2018, Japan passed a law that now limits the days-per-year that owners can rent short-term rentals through specific online platforms. Called the minpaku law, this decree limits the number of days some properties can be rented to just 180 out of every year. It also restricts the areas where short-term rentals are allowed (for example, non-residential areas) and requires owners to report guest details to the government every two months.
Short-Term Rentals: Average Price
Although the overall costs of short-term rentals can be less than the daily costs of staying in a hotel, the price will still be fairly high, especially for those who want their own, private place. As the majority of these places will be monthly furnished rentals, average prices throughout the country range between 100,000 to 200,000 JPY (1,000 to 2,000 USD) per month. Prices will be less if you rent in the countryside but keep in mind the commuting costs that will come along with that.
Short-Term Rentals: What Documents Do I Need?
The documents you need to rent a short-term rental will vary depending on the landlord and how long you intend to stay in the accommodation. In general, you will need your original passport and Japanese visa. For apartments that require you to sign a short-term lease, you may also be asked to sign with a Japanese stamp and provide a contact number.
For stays of a few months or more, you may be asked to pay a deposit of first and last month’s rent. In some instances, you may also be asked for the key money and brokerage fee that is applicable to long-term rentals. Fees are refundable or not depending on the landlord.
Buying Property as a Foreigner
How do you buy a house in Japan as a foreigner? Expats will be happy to learn that the process is fairly standard when compared to most other countries, although complications with the language and observance of cultural nuances may make the process feel more complicated and confusing at times. Just like with renting a place, expats will need to work with a realtor in order to buy a home.
In general, there are no legal restrictions on owning a home in Japan as a foreigner. You do not need to have citizenship in order to buy a house. Buying a home also does not guarantee expats a path to permanent residency in Japan either. However, expats without citizenship or a permanent residency visa in Japan, nor married to a Japanese citizen, should note that the process to buy a home will be slightly more difficult. This is because banks are less likely to give loans to people who they do not think will stay in Japan for long.
Process and Steps for Buying a House in Japan
Step One: What do You Want?
The first step to home buying in any country is deciding what type of property you want. Because there are no restrictions for foreigners owning homes in Japan, your choices are limitless. Foreigners are able to purchase condominiums, detached houses, and, unlike some Asian countries, even parcels of land upon which to build a new home.
Step Two: How Much Can You Afford?
Just like renting a space, buying a home in Japan requires a good deal of money and savings. Japan’s house prices start around 25,000,000 JPY (230,000 USD) and go up from there. The overall national average for buying a house is 35,760,000 JPY (337,000 USD). You will also need to calculate the various taxes that will be included, which will add on nearly 7% extra. Japanese banks will lend to foreigners, but you will be looked upon more favorably if you have citizenship, permanent resident status, are married to a Japanese citizen, or have proof of long-term work in Japan.
Step Three: Search
While it is possible to search for property to buy online, expats will also need to work through a realtor.
During your search, you will also want to ensure that all legal requirements are being met. For example, you will want to check the property’s status, relationship rights, and legal regulations to ensure that everything is following the law. The realtor you hire should be able to help you with these matters.
Step Four: Apply
More often than not, you will need to fill out an application before buying a home. Especially popular properties will require you to place a bid. Keep in mind that just as with renting, an application for buying a home will incur various fees for the broker, application, etc. In general, application fees range between 20,000 to 100,000 JPY (190 to 930 USD).
Japan House Prices
The most expensive city in which to buy is also the most expensive in which to rent: Tokyo. In the capital city, a 70 square meter apartment will cost about 46 million JPY (430,000 USD). The cheapest place to buy a home is in Niigata prefecture, which has an average home buying price of 6 million (56,000 USD).
Requirements to Buy a Property in Japan
As a foreigner, the main requirements you will need relate to applying for a bank loan. The primary requirements for this are one of the following:
- hold Japanese permanent residency or be married to a Japanese citizen
- be employed in Japan and pay Japanese taxes
- reside in Japan and hold a residency permit
How to Apply for a Mortgage in Japan
Securing a mortgage or loan in Japan as a non-resident can be difficult, but not impossible. This is because Japanese banks are hesitant to give loans to foreigners who they do not think will remain in Japan for long.
The type of visa you hold will influence whether or not you will be approved for a loan. If you have a work visa, permanent residence visa, or spouse of a Japanese national visa, this will sway Japanese banks in your favor. Likewise, the longer you have lived in Japan the better as this demonstrates your intention remain in the country.
To apply for a mortgage in Japan, you will need to fill out a home loan pre-application (jizenshinsa/事前審査). You should do this once you are interested in a specific property because listing these details will help to strengthen your application.
The pre-application will be submitted to the bank (or other financial institution) and used to determine whether you qualify for a loan or not. If this application is approved, the rest of the process should run smoothly. Keep in mind, not every bank in Japan provides this service. When looking for a home, it is also best to work with a professional to help you through the process.
Whether or not your chosen bank requires a pre-application form, they will want to check the following before approving you for a loan:
- credit history
- current debts
- duration of your current employment
- your income
Banks will also want to verify that you are in good health. Many mortgage lenders require applicants to take out Group Credit Life Insurance (dantai shinyo seimei hoken/団体信用生命保険) as conditions of the loan.
Once your pre-application for a home loan is approved, you can submit an application to purchase your desired home.
As stated earlier, basic utilities such as electricity, gas, and water are typically not included in Japanese rent, with the exception of gaijin houses, which are month-by-month rentals for foreigners. Everyone else will need to look into the recommended utility companies for their area.
Setting up your utilities in Japan is relatively easy. For most places, it only requires calling the utility provider and putting your name on the account associated with your address. Set-up takes only a matter of days, and in some areas, everything can be up and running the same day you move in.
Required documents and information include:
- your name;
- contact details such as email and phone number;
- service start date;
- meter power capacity/contract ampere;
- method of payment.
You will need to call your local gas company to have someone come to your home and turn on the gas. You must be at home for them to do this. Once they are there, the set-up should take no more than ten minutes.
Two major gas providers in the country are:
- Tokyo Gas;
- Osaka Gas.
Unless you move into a place that has been vacant for a long time, the water in your unit should still be on from the previous tenant. Like the electricity, the main task required of you should be to call the company and change your name and contact details.
Internet and Mobile Phones
One of the first things you should do before arriving in Japan is figure out how to get a Japanese phone number. In such a technologically advanced country, where free messaging apps and Wi-Fi abound, acquiring a phone number in Japan may feel archaic. However, in the Asian country, it is a requirement to have a Japanese phone number in order to open a bank account or sign a lease.
Internet and Cell Phone
There are three main phone providers in Japan: Softbank, Docomo, and Au (KDDI). Each provider will have a variety of different plans that will range from prepaid options to yearly contracts. If you do not speak sufficient Japanese, it is worth looking online at nearby branches to see if they have English-speaking staff.
Setting up a contract is easy, but it will take some time. You should allow two to three hours for the entire process. You will need to bring the following with you:
- Japanese stamp
- form of payment (most likely a credit card)
As an uber progressive country where robot cafes exist, there are plenty of options when it comes to installing internet and Wi-Fi in your home. Expats will have their choice whether they want a high-speed Fiber Optic/Fiber-to-the-Home connection, cable TV line, or ADSL.
Popular internet providers throughout Japan include:
- Asahi Net;
- Fusion Gol;
- NTT Communications Corp;
- SonixNet ISP;
- Softbank Corp.
Costs will average between 3,000 to 9,000 JPY (30 to 85 USD) per month. The installation time from when you make your appointment until you are online can range between one to two weeks depending on the provider and your location. If you are someone who needs to be connected right away, fear not—Japan has plenty of free Wi-Fi hotspots that are easy and quick to log on to.
Most contracts will be offered for one to two years. If you do not plan on being in Japan that long and want a less committed option, you can consider purchasing pocket Wi-Fi, which provides fast set-up, but slower connection speeds and limited data.
Information needed to set-up most internet connections:
- contact information
- lease agreement
- Japanese phone number
How to Watch your Home’s Country TV in Japan
While Japanese television is known for quirky and entertaining shows, there may be times when you want to watch something familiar from home. One way to get back into your regular shows is through online streaming services such as Netflix. Japan’s Nippon TV also has an agreement with the American company Hulu, creating Hulu Japan. You can also install satellite TV or SKY Perfect TV, which connects to online content and can be used to watch TV shows from different parts of the globe.
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