3 Rules for Living in a Japanese Apartment That You Should Know

There are a lot of rules that come with living in Japan. When it comes to apartments, things can get even more complicated. Signing a two year contract in a language you may or may not be able to fully grasp can be scary, so in this article I wanted to discuss a few rules that you could potentially encounter on your next contract.

1. Don’t let other people stay in your apartment

I’d like to preface this with this: it’s probably fine to have a friend spend the night every once in a while. No need to panic about that!

However, you should most definitely be very careful about having someone stay for multiple days or even longer. The reason for this is that a standard Japanese apartment lease will usually very explicitly state who is a tenant in the apartment. These “tenants” are technically the only people contractually allowed to use and stay in the apartment. 

Under normal circumstances, you’ll need to speak with your property management company to get paperwork to add or remove someone from the lease. The amount of paperwork can vary. In the past when I moved in with someone I just had to mail a copy of my residence card and fill out a form, so luckily it wasn’t too bad. You also need to make sure that your property can actually accommodate more people. 1R and 1K properties for example usually only allow one tenant. 

How the property management company might find out

Now you may be thinking, even if someone else was living in the apartment, how would the property management company know?

In particular in those cases when only one tenant is allowed, there’s usually two potential ways this happens. The first is that another tenant notices multiple people going in and out of a room and reports it to the property management company. Second is that with multiple people in a smaller room, the chances of a noise complaint are much higher. Then when the property management company contacts you about the noise, they’ll be asking you if there are other people there. If someone was just there for the night you might get away with a warning. But if you’ve been allowing someone unauthorized to live there, there could be major issues, and you may even be asked to move out.

If you’re in a larger apartment where multiple tenants are allowed, there shouldn’t be as much of a problem, but still if someone is going to be actually living at the apartment, make sure to get them registered. Just to be on the safe side, it’s always best to take the time and make everything official! And if someone will be staying for more than just a day or two, it’s a good idea to check with your property management company first, especially if you have a small apartment.

2. Don’t bring musical instruments into your apartment

I think most people know that you aren’t allowed to play instruments in a lot of Japanese apartments, due to the thin walls and amount of people in close proximity. Did you know that many apartment contracts don’t even allow you to BRING an instrument into the unit though? 

Now obviously, there isn’t really a way for the property management company to know if you have an instrument in your apartment. Really this rule is just a preventative measure to minimize the chance of anyone playing instruments and causing a disturbance. “If no one brings an instrument into the apartment, then there’s no way one can be played,” is their logic here. In reality the only way this rule can be applied is if you’re clearly playing an instrument inside of the apartment and someone complains. 

If you are a musician, as long as you play an electric instrument that can be played with headphones, you should most likely be fine. Luckily, the property management company certainly doesn’t do inspections for instruments or anything like that! Just make sure that you or none of your guests play instruments (or anything else for that matter) at a volume that may disturb the other tenants. And if you are bringing any form of instrument into the apartment but don’t plan on playing it, make sure to be inconspicuous. You don’t want to have a neighbor waiting for a chance to submit a noise complaint about you!

3. Don’t leave anything in the apartment when you move out

While this is mostly related to moving out, it’s really important to consider throughout your entire time in the apartment. In many other countries it’s common and even welcome to leave items in the room for the next tenant. Here however, even if you have good intentions, you will be charged for disposal of ANYTHING you leave in the room.

For garbage, you’re going to want to pay really close attention to the garbage calendar for the last few weeks. Any garbage that you have leftover will need to be brought with you unless you want to be charged. Depending on how much stuff you leave in the room, you could be charged tens of thousands of yen! This can be particularly bad if you leave furniture or other larger items in the room.

When you’re throwing away large items (called sodai gomi), you need to call the city and ask for a pick up time, then go to a convenience store and buy a revenue sticker. You’ll only be allowed to put the item out at your exact specified time. If you’re in Tokyo, you can get more details and general garbage information on this article (on how to sort garbage in Japan and official guidelines on garbage disposal). A lot of people don’t realize how busy the schedule for large garbage pick up can be and end up with a bunch of items they’re unable to throw away. As soon as you know you’re moving, plan your garbage schedule and contact the city right away! 

You definitely want to keep this in mind even before you move in though, because I know first-hand how easy it is to accumulate stuff without thinking. Everything that goes into your apartment is eventually something that’s going to have to come out, whether it’s as garbage, something you sell or give to a friend, or something you bring home if and when you leave Japan. If you’re going to be leaving Japan in a few months for example, do you really want to buy a new chair or table? Even new clothes can be quite a pain to pack up and bring home! You don’t want to be caught off guard with a bunch of garbage and be charged like ¥40,000 yen for it.

These are just three rules that could be relevant to your contract, but luckily I don’t think any of them are things that will ruin any lives. If your contract is all in Japanese it’s always a good idea to ask a friend or colleague to see if there’s any you need to know. At the very least, don’t be hesitant to ask questions to your agent! You wouldn’t want to break any rules you don’t even know about.

By Nathan

Nathan works for the Japan Room Finder, helping foreigners find their home in Japan. He’s American and has lived in Japan for about three years. Read Nathan’s self-intro to find out what brought him here!

Lead photo: Residia apartment in Mejiro

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