Moving to Tokyo?
Accommodation in Tokyo
Looking for an Apartment
Once you have chosen the city, ward, and even neighborhood where you’d like to live, it’s time to go house hunting. Although there is no restriction on foreigners buying property in Tokyo, most expatriates rent rather than buy, often with a rental agreement of two years’ duration.
In order to find a rental, you can make use of a realtor or real estate agent. Do keep in mind, though, that there are no multiple-listings services in Japan. Therefore, you need to get in touch with several commercial agencies, such as realestate.co.jp or Tokyo Apartments, to have a better overview of the local market. A relocation services provider may help you with your apartment search too.
Finding a Place on Your Own
If you’d like to save money or prefer an individualistic approach, word-of-mouth recommendations in expat circles are a good way to start. Ask your company’s HR department, your international colleagues, the PTA representatives at your kid’s school, or new friends from expat events for advice on accommodation.
In case finding the flat of your dreams should take some time, it’s good to know that temporary accommodations or “monthly mansions”, while rare in Japan, are indeed available in the Tokyo area. This is, for example, the case in wards like Minato-ku or Shinjuku-ku. However, for standard flats, it is common to rent an unfurnished dwelling.
Older and cheaper housing in Tokyo may lack some amenities you will be used to from home. Apartments do not necessarily have central heating, but living rooms and bedrooms come furnished with a kotatsu, a low table with an electric heater attached to its underside.
Some apartments do not feature a complete kitchen, and a few might not even have a bathtub or shower. The number of Japanese communal bathhouses (sentō) has been on a steady decline since the 1970s as more and more homes are coming equipped with their own private bathroom. However, the public bathhouses have reinvented themselves in recent years and still attract many visitors, acting more like a spa or hot spring in modern-day Tokyo.
Of course, there are plenty of modern, comfortable, and Western-style rentals available in Tokyo, although these are more coveted and thus more expensive than older housing. However, even in these apartments, you should take note that rooms are smallish, usually anything but soundproof, and often inadequately insulated.
Therefore, do as your Japanese neighbors do: buy an electric heater for the winter months and an electric fan for summer, and try to behave according to the unwritten rules of otagaisama. Literally, this Japanese expression means “we are all of equal status in this respect”. Colloquially, it could be translated as “we’re all in this together”, describing an attitude of good neighborliness and mutual consideration.
Once you have moved to Tokyo, you should finalize your resident registration. All foreign residents older than 16 years of age are required by law to carry a Resident Card if they are staying in Japan for more than 90 days. If you enter Japan through one of the big international airports, you’ll be handed the Resident Card at the immigration counter. Within 14 days of your arrival in Tokyo, go to the nearest local government office to complete the rest of your registration. Also, don’t forget to inform the authorities whenever you change your visa status or registration details.
Link lists for all official ward websites for Tokyo and Yokohama can be found online. Most of them have an English-language version (often automatically translated) which features the address of the local government office (sometimes also called city hall) and its local branch offices in various neighborhoods.
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