Living in Japan

The Other Hidden Costs of Living in a Japanese Apartment

When you’re trying to decide whether you can afford to move into a particular apartment in Japan, you should also remember the other hidden costs involved, not just things like the deposit or key money.

In a previous article, we explain in detail the upfront costs of moving into an apartment in Japan, which explains things like the deposit, key money, and agency fee. We also talk about other required “hidden fees” that you may not be aware of, such as guarantor company fees, renters insurance, and lock exchange fees.

In this article, we talk about the kind of hidden costs that aren’t explained in property listings but that you should know about so that you can set up as comfortable a living situation as possible.

Lighting Fixtures

Depending on the apartment, one hidden cost you’ll face may be the purchase of lightning fixtures for your new home.

When you are doing a room view, remember to look up in every room to see if you will need to buy a light fixture! The blue oval shows where you would attach the light.

This is because ceiling lights are not always standard equipment in Japanese apartments. Built-in ceiling lights in the entryway (genkan, 玄関), hallways, and toilet and bathroom are the rule, rather than the exception, but you may have to buy your own lighting for your living room and bedroom.

You can buy inexpensive ceiling lights for about ¥2,000 (20 USD) a piece. This is not terribly expensive, but it can add up if you have to buy lights for multiple rooms.

Lighting equipment is called shōmei kigu (照明器具) in Japanese.

When you are doing a room view, remember to look up in every room to see if you will need to buy a light fixture for the room.

Fridge and Washing Machine

Refrigerators and washing machines are not usually standard equipment in budget and mid-range Japanese rental apartments.

If you are planning on being in the country for a short period of time, it may make sense to look for a guesthouse or furnished apartment that comes with a fridge, washing machine (or shared washing facilities) and microwave or shared kitchen.

This is also because when you move out, you will have to pay to dispose of oversized garbage (please see below).

A 46-L cube fridge costs about ¥10,000 new, but you can save money by shopping at recycle shops, sayonara sales or Craigslist.

A new budget washing machine costs about ¥10,000, but you could choose to go the minimalist route and not even buy one. In many neighborhoods, students and working people opt to use the local coin laundromat.

If you don’t want to buy a washing machine, use your local coin laundromat (コインランドリー). Pictured are coin driers (not washing machines) which are also very handy because it is the usual practice in Japan to hang dry your laundry on the balcony. If you have to do laundry on a rainy day, a coin laundry can be a life saver.

Storage and Closets

Most rental apartments (especially studio apartments) in Japan come with very little built-in storage and closets. If you find an apartment with sufficient storage space, it’s definitely something to add to the plus side of the column when considering your rental options.

Let’s just say it’s rare to find an apartment with this much storage in Japan.

You will likely spend some money buying some shelving or racks so your things do not end up all over the floor (though this is also a perfectly acceptable option!).

An inexpensive shelving option is the “color box” (カラーボックス).

Color boxes are widely available online (Amazon, Rakuten) and at discount chains. A standard color box is about 87-cm high x 41-cm wide x 29-cm deep and is made from laminated pressboard. They are usually sold flat-packed but are easily assembled. A new standard-sized color box costs ¥2,000 ($19) or less. They are also available in many different dimensions and with different interior dividers.

Please see this article for: 7 DIY Ideas for a Japanese Apartment

Standard “color boxes” are an inexpensive and quick way to add storage space to a Japanese apartment, many of which do not come with built-in storage. They usually come flat-packed and are easily assembled.

 

Metal clothing racks, which cost about ¥2,000, are also an inexpensive storage option.

Cooking Unit or Stove

Many budget studio apartments do not come with a cooking unit or stove. This is one way the landlord is able to charge lower rent!

 

Some budget apartments in Japan do not come equipped with a cooking unit or stove. The blue oval shows the gas hook-up for your stove.

If you must have a stove (and we are not saying you do), then you will have to go shopping for a konro (コンロ) at your home appliance store or online. Here is the link to a search for コンロ on Amazon.co.jp. You can buy a one-burner electric stove for about ¥4,000 and a gas one for about ¥2,000.

Example of a gas stove with a fish griller (in the center). Yours for about ¥16,000.

Heating and Cooling Costs

Japanese houses and apartments do not have central heating and cooling, and some older homes are very poorly insulated.

This means that one of the hidden costs you may be facing is higher utility bills in the winter and summer.

Wall-mounted air conditioning and heating units are common in rental apartments in Japan.

We’ve posted an article here about: How to stay warm in the winter in Japan

According to government statistics, in the Kanto region (which includes Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Saitama, Tokyo, Chiba, and Kanagawa) the average household electricity bill peaks in February, at about 13,977 yen (about $116). This may be lower if you are a single person household.

From our personal experience, the same (or more) goes for your summer cooling bill.

Lease Renewal Fee

When you sign your lease contract (which in most cases will be for a two-year term), the agent should clearly explain to you whether you have to pay a lease renewal fee in case you want to extend your lease.

In almost all cases in Japan, you will have to pay a lease renewal fee usually equal to one month’s rent.

We explain this in detail here: Upfront cost of renting an apartment in Japan

If you think that you might want to stay in your apartment for longer than two years, try to negotiate with the landlord before you sign the contract to have the lease renewal fee removed. Once you sign a contract requiring you to pay a renewal fee, you are legally bound by it.

Your lease renewal fee will end up being a hidden cost if you aren’t aware of it upfront!

Oversized Garbage (Sodai Gomi) Disposal Fees

Once you’ve been in your place for a while, you may accumulate some things; and after a while longer, you may want to buy new things to replace the things you previously accumulated. Or if you are leaving Japan permanently, you will have to deal with your larger possessions outside the usual garbage days.

If these things happen to be larger than about 30 centimeters, you will have to pay to dispose of them, unless you can sell or give them away.

Examples of oversized garbarge (sodai gomi, 粗大ゴミ) include: tables, chairs, book shelves, vacuum cleaners, couches, futon, space heaters, kitchen appliances, bicycles and even large cushions.

Some items that are considered oversized garbage (sodai gomi) in Japan. TVs, refrigerators and washing machines are in a special category, which requires you to call your local recycling center (not sodai gomi center) to dispose of. Detailed information can be found on your ward office’s website.

To get rid of large-sized items:

  • Look up the sodai gomi center for your ward.
  • Make an appointment (either by phone or internet) for a pick-up date.
  • Buy the appropriate sodai gomi seal(s) at a convenience store.
  • Your local sodai gomi center will tell you the exact number and type (A or B) of seals you need to buy. In general, “A” seals cost ¥200 and “B” seals ¥300. In most wards, a smaller item like a microwave oven will cost ¥300 to dispose of and a bigger item like a book shelf will cost anywhere from ¥600 to ¥1800 yen depending on the dimensions.

  • Write your name on the seals and attach them to your garbage.
  • Place your items in the designated pick-up location before 8am of the pick-up date.

A lesson here, we suppose, is to try to accumulate as few things as possible!

  • When I came to Fukuoka to go to school in Yoshizuka I wanted to get my own apartment but the problem was we couldn’t send a futon over until we got there, and it’s a bit rough sleeping on the floor with nothing for a couple days after flying for 20 hours. I went through Go! Go! Nihon and they kind of didn’t help us at all figure our living situation out, even though we paid a good amount for them to help us, they didn’t and they were wrong on the information they did give us in the last months. http://nihonscope.com/category/etiquette-in-japan/ <- weird stuff with rent and travel for sure.