How to rent an apartment in Japan

If you’re looking into what the apartment hunting process in Japan entails, here’s our quick rundown of what to expect. Knowledge is half the battle, and you’ll want to be prepared since the battlefield of apartment hunting takes no prisoners.

It can take a minimum of three days for all the paperwork to be put in order, but it can take upwards of 7-10 days. So it’s a good idea to start sooner rather than later if you can help it!

Steps for Renting an Apartment in Japan

  1. Know the quirks of apartment hunting in Japan
  2. Before setting up an appointment with a real estate agent
  3. Set up an appointment with a real estate agent
  4. Meet your agent
  5. Have your paperwork and documents

Apartment hunting quirks in Japan

Apartment hunting can be an agonizing process no matter where you are in the world, and Japan has its own fair share of unique (possibly headache inducing) quirks that you should be aware of.

  1. You will need a real estate agent.
    1. Due to how land ownership and renting is handled in Japan, it’s extremely difficult to rent directly from the property owner. In almost all cases, you will have to go through a real estate agency to rent an apartment.
  2. You will need a guarantor.
    1. This is slightly similar to having references on an apartment application. But it’s more serious and places a little responsibility on the shoulders of the guarantor. Basically, this is a person who will assume responsibility of payments in the case that the renter fails to make payments. It can be difficult for those moving to Japan (with no contacts in the country) to find a guarantor. Property managers and landlords require all tenants (not just foreign tenants) to provide a guarantor. Until a few years ago, you would ask someone at work or a family member to be your guarantor. Nowadays, it is very common to use a guarantor company to act as your guarantor. The fee to use a guarantor service is on average equal to one month’s rent to guarantee a standard two-year lease.
  3. Key money (礼金, reikin)
    1. This concept even baffles Japanese at times. It’s essentially a “finder’s fee” that is paid to the property owner. Unlike the deposit, key money will not be returned to you when your lease is up. Usually this is equal to one month’s worth of rent, but it varies on the property. Recently, there has been an increase in apartments that do not require a key money payment.

Before setting up an appointment with a real estate agent

  1. It’s in your best interest to do a little research on different neighborhoods that you are considering. Our Area Guides are a great tool for getting an idea of what to expect around different neighborhoods in Tokyo.
  2. Consider your commute. A short commute is great, but usually, you can find cheaper rent away from downtown areas. Data from a recent study of Tokyo residents (2,007 respondents) showed that the average commute was approximately 49 minutes one-way and that daily stress and commute time are correlated.
  3. Know how much money you can afford to spend on initial costs. Moving into an apartment can cost a lot more than the listed monthly rent cost. Once all the fees are added up, you might be paying around 6 to 7 times the monthly rent as the initial cost! Looking for apartments with no key money or no deposit can help keep initial costs low.
  4. Keep in mind the busy season for real estate agents. You might be able to negotiate lower initial costs during the off-season (typically around April – July). Conversely, an agent might not be able to give you their full attention during the busy season (January – March).
  5. You’ll most likely need a phone with a Japanese phone number for the agent to contact you. If you don’t have a Japanese phone number, there are services like the GaijinPot Housing Service which can help you find an apartment without requiring a Japanese phone number.

Setting up an appointment with a real estate agent

  1. Find an apartment you’re interested in (either online or in-person at a real estate agency).
    1. The agents with apartments listed on our website will have English support (some will have Chinese, Korean, and Spanish speaking staff as well). Otherwise, you’ll need a conversational level of Japanese or a Japanese speaking friend to help you with the process.
    2. Read listings carefully to avoid hidden fees.
  2. Schedule an appointment with the agent.
    1. Treat the meeting with professionalism. The agent is evaluating how reliable of a tenant you will be. Showing up late could give them a reason to think you might be late with rent. You don’t want your apartment application to be rejected for something as simple as that!

Meeting your real estate agent

  1. Your agent will ask you about what kind of apartments you’re looking for (area, price, etc.).
    1. Be prepared with an idea of what you’re looking for. If you’re familiar with commonly used real estate terms you’ll make your agent’s job much easier (and have a better chance of finding an apartment you like). Understanding building materials (wood vs concrete), unit bathrooms (studio apartments in Japan will have unit bathrooms where the shower, sink, and toilet are located in the same waterproof room), and gas (city gas vs LP gas) can make your apartment hunt a lot smoother.
  2. Your agent will choose a few properties that meet your requirements and share them with you.
    1. Most likely the listings will be in Japanese, so it can be helpful to learn your way around Japanese apartment terminology. Be honest with your reasons why you like/dislike the apartments they show you! This is how they can get a better idea of what kinds of apartments you might be interested in!
  3. You can choose to set up a room viewing for any of the apartments you looked through.
  4. Your agent will call the owner to schedule a room viewing for the apartments you chose.
    1. In my case, my agent also always had to ask “Is it possible for a foreigner to rent this apartment?” and in what seems like 50% of the time, the owner would say “Nope,” and we’d have to move on to the next place.
  5. If a room viewing is possible right away, your agent might drive you to the apartment (or take a train depending on the distance from the agency).
    1. Or you might schedule to meet your agent at the apartment at a later date.
  6. When you arrive at the apartment, it’s a good idea to take pictures and ask questions.
    1. Also, be aware of the neighborhood the apartment is in. Note the distance to the nearest supermarket or convenience store. Some neighborhoods might have a lack of streetlights, for example.
  7. If you decide on a place, you can go back to the agency and draw up contracts. You have a little time to think over deciding on an apartment, but in general, apartments are first-come-first-served so you might miss out if you wait too long.
  8. Your agent will calculate move-in costs and you will have to provide all the necessary documentation and money.
    1. If you are late with paperwork, or if the paperwork is incorrect, you might miss out on landing your apartment.
  9. After the paperwork is signed and fees have been paid, you can move in on the scheduled move-in date.
    1. It’s a good idea to call the power company, water company, gas company, and internet service provider ahead of time so everything can get connected when you move-in.
    2. Also remember to notify other institutions of your move (city/ward office, bank, employer, etc.)

Necessary paperwork and documents

In general, you will need to have these items prepared to complete an apartment application (in addition to the apartment application itself). If you have these documents ready in advance you can make your application go much smoother. If an agent has to wait for you to put together these items they might move forward with another applicant.

  1. Copy of your passport
  2. Copy of the front and back of your residence card
  3. Proof of employment (if you are on a work visa)
    • The agent may ask for one or all of the following. Copies of your:
      • Health insurance card
      • Three months of pay stubs
      • Tax withholding slip
      • Employment contract
  4. Proof of enrollment (if you are on a student visa)
  5. Contact details for an emergency contact in Japan

Phew! It is a lot to take in, but if you have a solid idea of the type of apartment you’re looking for your process should be relatively painless. Take a look through our resources on getting the apartment you want for more information on the rental process in Japan.

Services like the GaijinPot Housing Service can help you with the apartment renting process (bilingual support, utilities can be set up for you, and no need for a guarantor). This can make finding an apartment in Japan a much simpler ordeal! 

Lead photo: iStock stock photography


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