Photo by Takayuki Miki

Living in Japan

9-Step Checklist for Renting an Apartment in Japan

Apartment hunting in Japan can be a hassle, but if you’re prepared you can find an apartment that is right for you. We’ve prepared this simple 9-step checklist for renting an apartment in Japan.

1. Calculate what you can afford

Make sure you meet the rent-to-income ratio

Property managers and landlords generally want to see that the monthly rent does not exceed about 30% of your gross monthly income, which is the standard in many countries. However, in Tokyo, where cost-of-living expenses are much higher than the rest of Japan, some property managers and landlords are open to considering rent-to-income ratios of as much as 50%.

2. Estimate your upfront move-in and monthly running costs

How to estimate your upfront move-in costs

The upfront costs of moving into an apartment in Japan can be much higher than you may be used to at home.

For an apartment with an advertised monthly rent of ¥50,000 ($449), you should budget approximately the following as an upfront payment:

How to Calculate Upfront Move-in Costs

for an Apartment in Japan

Estimate for an apartment with advertised monthly rent of ¥50,000
Item Amount JPY Notes
First month’s rent 50,000 The first “month’s” is usually pro-rated based on your move-in date. If you move in on the first, then you would pay the full month’s rent.
Deposit 50,000 Usually equal to one month’s rent but could be several months for more expensive and newer apartments.
Key money 50,000 There is a trend away from landlords charging key money, but it is not unusual to see desirable apartments being advertised with key money. Key money is usually equal to one month’s rent, when it is charged.
Agent’s commission 54,000 Agents usually charge one month’s rent commission plus consumption tax (currently 8%).
Guarantor company fee 54,000 If you do not have a guarantor, you can apply with a guarantor company to sponsor you. The usual fee is one month’s rent + consumption tax.
Property maintenance fee 3,000 Not all properties charge a monthly maintenance fee, and the fee can vary widely depending on the building. Maintenance fees for newer and more expensive apartments tend to be higher. In this case, we put in a hypothetical 3,000JPY, which  is in line with an older budget apartment. This fee pays for upkeep of the common areas.
Renters/Fire Insurance 22,000 You can not opt-out of renters and fire insurance. 22,000JPY is the average for a two-year policy.
Lock exchange fee 12,000 This is the average fee for changing the key cylinder. The tenant almost always pays this fee. In rare cases, property managers waive this fee as part of a special campaign.
Total 295,000
Monthly Rent Multiple 5.9

In this case, you should have about six months’ rent ready to move into the apartment. You can lower move-in costs by looking for apartments that do not require key money or if you can provide your own guarantor.

Other Move-in Costs

As a rule, apartments in Japan do not come furnished, so you should also set aside money to buy furniture and appliances, including curtains, a refrigerator, washing machine, and lighting fixtures, in some cases. For a detailed explanation of this, please see: The other hidden costs of living in a Japanese apartment.

Monthly running costs

The stated monthly rent is only one of the costs you need to consider to estimate your monthly living costs. Remember to also include these costs:

  • Monthly property maintenance fee: As discussed above, this is an additional fee that is sometimes charged to pay for the upkeep of the common areas.
  • Bicycle or car parking fee: This is usually not included in the stated monthly rent.
  • Utilities and Internet: Please see this article (What is the cost of living for a single person in Tokyo?) for details.

3. Narrow down where you want to live

Obviously, this is a decision that will affect your comfort, convenience, and overall quality of life until you leave the apartment. Here are some things to consider:

  1. How long do you want to spend commuting to work or school a day? You can save on rent by living outside the city center but you will have to pay for it in terms of time spent on the train or bus.
  2. Is it important for you to live near where you will be spending time having fun? We know many people in Tokyo who choose an apartment based on how close it is to Roppongi, Shibuya or their favorite hangout. If it’s important to you to be able to take an affordable cab ride home after a night out (because you’ve very much missed the last train), then you already know which neighborhoods to look in!
  3. What train line do you want to live on? In many cases, this will already be decided for you because you are primarily looking to be as close to work as possible, but if you have a choice between different lines, then you can do a little research to find the best line for you. For example,
    1. As one of Tokyo’s newer lines, the Toei Oedo Line is notoriously deep, meaning extra time getting to the platform.
    2. The Keikyu Main line is well known for being extremely crowded during rush hour, especially for trains going into Tokyo. This line runs between Sengakuji Station in Minato Ward and Uraga Station in Yokosuka, Kanagawa with major stops in Yokohama, Kanagawa, and Shinagawa.
    3. The Seibu-Shinjuku line is generally an inexpensive and convenient line to live on if you are commuting between Shinjuku and Tokyo’s western suburbs and Saitama, but remember that Seibu Shinjuku Station is not the same as JR Shinjuku station. Remember to plan for the 10-minute or so walk between the two “Shinjuku” stations.
    4. Ask your friends and colleagues to get other good tips for the train lines in your area.
  4. Are you ok with living on a local versus express stop? In general, rent levels are a little lower for properties located near local stations, but because fewer trains stop at local stations, your commute will be a little longer.
  5. How close do you want to be to the station? In general, rent levels are higher the closer the property is to the station, but you will also be giving up time and convenience if you live further away.

4. Decide how much space and how many rooms you want

In general, budget apartments in Japan are about 20-sqm (215-sqft) or less in size.

Apartment layouts in Japan are expressed in terms of the availability of a living room, kitchen/dining area plus the additional number of rooms.

Japanese Apartment Layout Abbreviations

Abbreviation Meaning Notes
1R 1-Room One room studio apartment usually with a compact kitchen.
1K 1-Kitchen One room studio apartment with a compact kitchen.
1DK 1-Dining/Kitchen Apartment with a dining/kitchen area plus another room.
1LDK Living-Dining/Kitchen-
Plus 1 Room
This is equivalent to a one-bedroom apartment with a living room
separate from the kitchen/dining area.
2K Kitchen – Plus 2 Rooms Kitchen area plus two separate rooms.
2DK Kitchen/dining Area –
Plus 2 rooms
Kitchen/dining area plus two rooms.
2LDK Living- Kitchen/dining Area –
Plus Two rooms
This is equivalent to a two-bedroom apartment with a living room separate from the kitchen/dining area.
3LDK Living- Kitchen/dining Area –
Plus 3 rooms
This is equivalent to a three-bedroom apartment with a living room separate from the kitchen/dining area.
4LDK Living- Kitchen/dining Area –
Plus 4 rooms
This is equivalent to a four-bedroom apartment with a living room
separate from the kitchen/dining area.
S Special This abbreviation is used to designate a bonus room. For example,
1SLDK means a 1LDK plus a bonus room.

 5. Decide what is important to you in the apartment itself

  1. Are you looking for a pet-friendly apartment? If you have a dog or cat, your apartment choices will be much narrower. It is not impossible to find a pet-friendly apartment, but you will have to look a lot harder and find an agent who is willing to go the extra mile for you. In general, when apartments are advertised as being “pet friendly” it means that the property manager or landlord will consider allowing a pet with the payment of an extra month’s rent as a pet deposit.
  2. Do you have a musical instrument? Almost all rental apartments do not allow musical instruments (such as a piano or guitar) to be played on the premises. On Real Estate Japan’s listing pages, the agent will will indicate whether musical instruments are allowed. If you are going to a bricks-and-mortar agent, remember to mention it as one of your criteria.
  3. Are you ok with a Japanese-style tatami room? Apartment floor plans will indicate whether any of the rooms are tatami rooms.
  4. What kind of flooring do you want? Japanese apartments usually come with wood laminate or carpeting in western-style rooms and of course, rush mat (tatami) flooring in Japanese-style rooms.
  5. What kind of kitchen do you want? If you a serious home cook, you may want to look for an apartment with a full kitchen or system kitchen (explained here: Guide to Japanese Apartments). Are you ok with one burner? Do you prefer cooking with gas or electric?
  6. Would you like the toilet to be separate from the shower/bath tub? You can check for this in the floor plan. In very old budget apartments you may also see squat-style toilets (rather than raised toilets with a seat).
  7. Do you want a balcony? It’s common in Japan to air dry clothing on the balcony. As a rule rental apartments have private balconies, but this is not always the case.
  8. Is ceiling height important to you? When you do the room view remember to check the height of the ceiling or you may find yourself having to duck every time you go into the bedroom or bathroom. This is especially true in older apartments.
  9. Are you ok with oddly shaped (non-right angle) rooms? With building space being very precious in Japan’s big cities, you will see many creatively shaped rooms.

    This is an extreme example of a strangely-shaped apartment. The bottom triangle shows the kitchen area (K4 means 4-tatami-mat-sized kitchen) and bathtub. The toilet is wedged next to the stairs. The upper floor is a 6-mat Japanese-style tatami room.

  10. Is natural light in the apartment important? When you do the room view, check to see that the main room in your apartment gets sufficient natural light.

6. Decide what amenities you want in the building

Here we will cover the main things to think about in a budget to mid-range apartment. Amenities available in high-end apartments can be spectacular but will not be covered here.

  1. Do you want a garbage disposal room in the building or a designated garbage disposal area nearby? In this article (5 things I wish I knew before I rented my first apartment in Japan), we explain in depth why it’s a good thing to have a garbage room in the building, but basically, garbage rules are strict in Japan and it’s easy to miss the window in which you can dispose of garbage. A garbage room is a great amenity to have!
  2. Do you need a bicycle or car parking space? If you need a parking space for your bicycle or car, remember to tell your agent. There is sometimes a small fee to “rent” a bicycle parking space (even if it is located on the building’s premises). Monthly parking fees for cars can be expensive (in the range of ¥10,000 a month) and are usually not included in the monthly rent. On Real Estate Japan, if there is a car parking fee, it will be indicated in the listing.
  3. Do you want auto lock entry in the building? This is an intercom-buzzer system that allows you to screen visitors. In buildings with auto-lock, you have to first buzz your visitor past the lobby door before they can go up the elevator to your apartment. In some auto-lock systems, there is also a video camera so you can see who are buzzing in.

    Example of an auto lock (オートロック) system. This is a nice security feature to consider when you are looking for an apartment.

    4. Do you want a delivery storage locker in the building? This is a nice amenity to have if you often order things to be delivered or if you work late and can’t always take delivery of your packages.

    Package delivery storage boxes are a great amenity to have in the building. If you aren’t home, the delivery person will leave your package in a locker and put a slip of paper with the access code in your mail box.

    5. Do you want to have an on-site building manager (kanri, 管理者)? Some buildings have on-site building managers during daylight hours or even 24-7. They maintain the property, take the garbage (that has been left in the garbage room) out on designated days, and ensure the general safety of the building.

7. Find an agent you trust and can communicate well with

A good agent is someone you trust, can communicate well with, and who will work honestly and diligently on your behalf. They can be the difference in whether you get the apartment you want, because they are the ones who will be communicating with the property manger or landlord on your behalf.

Before you go to an agent (or if you are using Real Estate Japan, before you click over to Real Estate Japan’s listing pages), make sure have a good idea of what you can afford and what you want in an apartment (Steps 1 to 6), so that you can narrow down your search criteria accordingly. We also have a list of all our partner agents, here: Real Estate Agents in Japan. All agents who list properties on REJ are able to communicate in Japanese, English and/or Chinese.

8. Check the neighborhood, not just the building and the room

Often in the rush of doing the room view, people forget to check that the neighborhood is right for them.

After you do the room view, take the time to walk around the neighborhood to see where the closest supermarket, conbini, shopping arcade (shotengai), and post office are located.

See if there are any construction projects going on, check the general noise level, and what kind of businesses are located near where you will be living.

9. Don’t forget to ask your friends and colleagues for advice

Nothing beats local knowledge when you are talking about real estate! You can learn a lot from other people’s positive and negative experiences, and maybe even find out about the perfect neighborhood that you never knew existed.

Photo Credit: Takayuki Miki via Flickr