5 Tips for finding an apartment in Japan that could save you 10% to 20% on rent

Apartment rents in Tokyo and other large cities in Japan are relatively inexpensive compared to most other cities in the world. Even so, no one wants to pay more than they have to for housing.

In other articles, we’ve introduced a lot of ways to save money on your monthly rent.

In this article, we focus on ways you can save on rent by looking at demand and supply and by shopping for comparable properties. Some of these tips could save you 10% to 20% on rent if you are willing to give up a little convenience.

  1. Move in the off-season, when there’s lower demand
  2. Look for older properties
  3. Look for properties further away from the station
  4. Look for properties with unit baths
  5. Be flexible with your desired floor plan

#1 Move in the off-season, when there’s lower demand

In Japan, the annual peak season for both renters and landlords is January to March. This is because the majority of companies and schools start their fiscal or academic year on April 1st. People need to move into their new homes in time to start their jobs or schooling.

For a landlord, all other things being equal, the same property is worth more in the peak season when demand is high. If they can lock in a tenant, they will have secured a stable stream of rental income for the next two years, since the standard apartment lease is for a two-year period.

However, some properties (even good ones!) fall through the cracks during the peak season. June to August is considered the off-season for moving. Most people have already moved. In most of Japan, except perhaps for Hokkaido and the northern prefectures, it’s very hot and humid in the summer months, so fewer people want to move. If a landlord can’t lease out their property during the peak season, they’re faced with trying to find a tenant when there is much lower demand. They are also losing income every month the property is vacant.

Landlords who have vacant properties in the off-season have an incentive to lower the rent slightly, give one month’s free rent, or to waive key money or another fee in order to lease up the property.

This is where you, as a renter, can take advantage of lower demand to get a better deal on an apartment.

How?

The best way is to find an agent that you trust and ask them to negotiate on your behalf. When you meet with your agent, they will ask you a lot of questions to determine your rental needs. At this point, you can ask them if they know of any properties that

  • Have been sitting vacant for several months or
  • Where the rent is high compared to comparable properties in the neighborhood

These are the types of properties where rent or some initial costs may be negotiable. There is no guarantee that you can get a great deal even during the off-season, but it is much more likely for the reasons discussed above.

#2 Look for older properties

Rent levels are highly dependent on the age of the property. Everything else being equal, such as distance from the station or size of the property, there are many more older apartments available for rent. They are considered less desirable, but you will have more properties to choose from. The difference in supply and demand also means that monthly rent for these types of properties is lower.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many older properties have been renovated. So the “year built” is not always the best indicator of how the apartment actually looks or the amenities available.

Here’s a good example:

This is a renovated 15-sqm 1K apartment for currently available for rent, about a 20-min bus ride from Ayase Station on the JR Joban line. Total monthly cost is ¥44,608 ($350 USD). This property was built in 1958, but was completely renovated in January 2021. They landlord is offering one month’s free rent. There is also a common area room with a washing machine, TV, and computer that all tenants can use. This apartment also does not charge key money. For more info, please click on the image and fill in the inquiry form on the property details page. This apartment is offered through the GaijinPot Housing Service, which means you can apply from overseas, do not need a guarantor, and can pay for everything with a credit card. Image: Nakagawa Fudosan

When you are considering older properties, however, it is also important to know about earthquake building codes in Japan. Many older buildings have been earthquake retrofitted, but the important year to keep in mind is 1981, when earthquake codes were significantly revised.

#3 Look for properties further away from the station

People generally want as short a commute time as possible, so the closer a property is to the station the higher the rent level, everything else being equal.

This holds true for the reverse as well: the further a property is from the station, the lower the rent tends to be. Depending on the station, you will see average rent levels decreasing for properties that are more than a 15-minute walk from the station.

Here’s an example:

Here is a furnished 26-sqm 1K apartment for rent 6-min walk to Takao Station on the Keio Takao line. Total monthly cost is ¥56,000 ($440 USD), no deposit, no key money, no guarantor fee. Takao is in the western Tokyo suburbs, close to nature and the hiking trails of Mt. Takao! For the full listing and to contact the agent, please click the image. Image: Leo Palace

Now let’s take look at a very similar property that is further from the station:

Here is another 1K apartment for rent in the city of Hachioji. It is similar to the first one in that it is about the same size (23-sqm). But the total monthly cost is ¥47,000 ($369 USD), no deposit, no agency fee, no key money, no guarantor required. This property is further from the station: it’s a 2 min. walk to the nearest bus stop, then 12 min. by bus to Takao Station. However, the rent is ¥90,000 less a month (or about 16% less). The main factor accounting for the difference in rent is the distance to the station. It is less convenient and the rent level reflects that. For more info on this property please click the image and fill in the inquiry form on the property details page. Image: Leo Palace

Another tip related to distance from station is that stations with access to multiple train or subway lines also tend to be more expensive because they offer more options for accessibility. If you look for properties that are on local stations, rent levels will also be lower than for large stations with access to multiple lines.

#4 Look for properties with unit baths

Apartments where the bathtub/shower, sink, and toilet are pre-fabricated into one unit (called a unit bath) tend to have lower rent than comparable properties.

Here is an example:

Here is a very nice 22-sqm 1R apartment for rent in a great location (1-min walk) from Yushima Station on the Chiyoda line in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo. This is a very desirable neighborhood with easy access to town business districts and within walking distance of Ueno Park. The total monthly cost for this property is ¥102,000 ($800 USD), no key money agency. Please click the image for the full listing and fill in the inquiry form on the property detail page to get in touch with the agent. Image: World Clover

And here’s what the bathtub and shower looks like for the apartment above. Image: World Clover

The toilet and vanity are quite nice in this property. The toilet is also equipped with a washlet/bidet. Image: World Clover

Now let’s take a look at a less expensive property, also relatively close to Yushima Station.

This is the exterior of a 4th-floor 22-sqm 1R apartment for rent, 7-min walk from Yushima Station. Total monthly cost is ¥89,313 ($700 USD), no deposit, no key money, no guarantor required. This apartment is available through the GaijinPot Housing Service, which means you can apply from overseas and can pay for everything with a credit card. Please click on the image for more details! Image: Japan Property Management Center

The property above was built in 1989, so it is seven years older than the first property we introduced. Another big difference between the two is the bathroom.

The second property has a unit bath, which looks like this:

This property has a unit bath, which means that the bathtub, sink and toilet are all in one room. Image: Japan Property Management Center

The unit bath in the second property is considered less desirable than a separated bathtub and toilet, and it’s another key reason that the rent is 13% lower for the second property.

#5 Be flexible with your desired floor plan

Think about how you will be using your apartment not a specific layout (1DK versus 1LDK) or room size . Do you need a separate room for working from home or is it ok for you to sleep, cook and work in a single very large space? How much stuff do you have and do you need a closet to store your things?

Let’s take a look at an example of a 1LDk (1-bedroom) apartment for rent near Sugamo Station. This is a very convenient neighborhood located on the JR Yamanote line in Tokyo.

This is a very bright and clean 1LDK (1-bedroom) apartment for rent in a great location near Sugamo Station. It is large by Tokyo standards (38-sqm or about 409-sqft) for a 1-bedroom. Built in 2007. Total monthly rent is ¥150,000 ($1,176 USD), no key money. Rent is negotiable. Please click on the image for the details on this property. Image: Tokyo Comfort

Approximate rent per square meter: ¥150,000 / 38-sqm = ¥3,948 per square meter.

The layout and amenities available in this property are also really nice!

This apartment features three (!) closets in the living room, a full kitchen, another closet in the bedroom, and a toilet separate from the bathtub. It’s rare for apartments in Japan to even have one closet and in most cases you would have to look at a 1LDK apartment to even have one closet in a property. Image: Tokyo Comfort

Now for comparison let’s take a look at 1DK (1 room + a dining/kitchen) apartment for rent, also near Sugamo Station.

This is a 1DK apartment for rent, 9-min walk from Sugamo Station on the line, 30-sqm floor size. Total monthly cost ¥90,000 ($706 USD), no key money. Image: Aonissin Co Ltd

Approximate rent per square meter: ¥90,000/30-sqm = ¥3,000 per square meter

In terms of actual Total Monthly Cost, the 1DK apartment is ¥90,000 versus ¥150,000 for the larger 38-sqm 1LDK. In terms of rent per square meter, 1DK is also less expensive: ¥3,000/sqm versus ¥3,948/sqm, or about 24% less.

Here’s the floor plan for the 1DK apartment. It doesn’t have any closets and the main room (a 9.5 tatami mat-sized) western-style room would also double as the bedroom. Also, note that the bath is a unit bath. So this apartment certainly offers fewer amenities than the 1LDK above, but looking at the price per sqm it is about 24% less than the 1LDK. Image: Aonissin


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