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5 Answers to Common Problems When Moving to Japan

  |   By: Aaron Baggett

Moving to Japan for work can be an exciting and life changing experience, but it also comes with its fair share of challenges. From opening a bank account to apartment hunting, from the language barrier to cultural differences, there are several hurdles you might encounter along the way. It’s easy to see that for newcomers: navigating the complexities of living in a foreign country can oftentimes be overwhelming.

In this article, we’ll explore some common questions people face when moving to Japan or working here and provide some useful tips on how to overcome them.

1. Can I reserve an apartment in advance?

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Don’t rush into any big decisions!

In Japan, people usually begin the search for apartments just one month before moving. Indeed, apartments usually aren’t listed more than a month before they are available. Applications from overseas are also very difficult for property managers to process and verify.

If you need accommodation in advance, you might have to consider short-term housing or a share house. An advantage of short-term accommodation is that, unlike regular apartments, you can make a reservation up to six months in advance and get a good starting point in Japan.

You can also rent a short-term apartment or room in a share house for as short as a one-month stay. Then, after you arrive in Japan, you can look for a longer-term apartment.

2. Can I get short-term housing instead of long-term?

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A share house will often have a shared kitchen.

Absolutely. Many rental properties are designed specifically for that purpose. For example, you will find numerous listings on Real Estate Japan and GaijinPot Apartments that allow short-term stays. You can also use GaijinPot’s Japan Room Finder to find a short-term room in Japan.

Using a short-term apartment or share-house for a long time is also completely fine—if available. You can also register the address of your short-term room at your city office and use it to open a bank account. More on that below.

3. How do I get a phone, bank account or apartment without an address?

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A popular bank with foreigners is JP Post—also the post office!

To complete a rental application and lease, you will almost always need to have two things: a local phone number and a Japanese bank account. However, to get a local phone number and open a bank account, you must provide your address in Japan. The paradox is that you can’t apply for an apartment without a local phone number and bank account.

The simple solution is to open a bank account in your home country with a Japanese branch. However, since that isn’t always possible, you can start the process by registering a short-term address. For example, your room at a share house. The process would look something like this:

  1. Find short-term accommodation at a share house, short-term apartment, dorm, etc.
  2. Register the address at your local city office
  3. Get a Japanese phone number
  4. Open a Japanese bank account
  5. Start the application process with a real estate agent for a long-term apartment
  6. Visit your city office again and change your address

For a more detailed answer, read our article for setting up an address, phone number and bank account when moving to Japan.

4. What is a ‘hanko’ and do I need one?

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Good to have, just in case.

A hanko (stamp) is a traditional personal seal used for signing official documents, opening bank accounts, registering for a cellphone and many other purposes. It is, essentially, a personal signature. There are three types of hanko:

  • Jitsu-in: Meaning “true seal,” it is your seal registered at your city office.
  • Ginko-in: A seal registered with your bank account.
  • Mitome-in: A seal not officially registered anywhere, used for everyday things.

Usually, foreigners can use a written signature instead of a hanko. However, you still might need one for big commitments like getting a loan or buying a house. In addition, some banks and landlords also require it. Thus, it’s good to have a hanko even if you only use it a handful of times during your stay in Japan.

Your seal must have your first name, last name or a part of your name. Most foreigners make one (or find one, if they’re lucky) with their name in katakana. You’d be surprised how many characters you can fit onto a hanko!

A hanko can be custom-made online (such as at or purchased at a hankoya (hanko shop). You might be able to find one at a souvenir shop or Don Quijote, but keep in mind that if it’s not your name or doesn’t include your name, it might not be accepted on a contract.

5. What do I do if I don’t have an emergency contact?

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Don’t be afraid to ask your boss.

You’ll be asked for an emergency contact living in Japan when signing for an apartment—ideally, someone who speaks Japanese. However, when you first move to Japan, you might not know anyone, much less a Japanese speaker, to be your emergency contact.

While you can always ask your school or company, sometimes they’ll refuse to be put as an emergency contact. An acquaintance might turn you down as well. It may seem like not a big deal because an emergency contact has no legal obligation, but no one wants a phone call from someone else’s property manager if you’re unreachable.

Sometimes, the real estate agency can negotiate so that you can sign this document later, but eventually, you will need to have someone be an emergency contact. Otherwise, you can expect to be frequently contacted until you have someone or even threatened with having your contract become void.

Many people ask:

  • Friends
  • Coworkers
  • Company human resources department
  • Boss (especially if they see themselves as responsible for you)

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