Practical advice

Renting in Japan: Tips for getting the apartment you want

Real Estate Japan recently spoke with some local real estate agents and property managers to ask them for advice they would give to foreign nationals applying for an apartment in Japan.

Most of this is just common sense, but some of these tips are specific to the Japanese leasing market. Pay attention to these simple rules to make it easier on yourself the next time you are apartment hunting, and good luck with your search!

Look in the Off-Season

In Japan, the peak season for moving is between February and March. This is because most Japanese schools and companies start their academic or fiscal year in April.

The off-season is between April and August when agents are less busy and will have more time to show you apartments.

They are scrambling more in these months to drum up business, so they have an extra incentive to try to place you in an apartment to earn their commission.

One agent we spoke to also mentioned that some landlords may be willing to give slight discounts in rent or to waive key money during the off-season to lease up their properties. It doesn’t hurt to ask your agent to see if this is something he or she can propose to the agent or property manager representing the landlord.

Make sure you can afford your apartment

In general, landlords and property managers expect that your rent will equal about 30% to 40% of your income. Make sure you are looking in the appropriate price range to avoid having your application being rejected for this reason.

Give yourself one month to look

Start looking for your new place at least a month before you want to move. It usually takes about two weeks from the time you view an apartment to the time you’ll be able to sign the lease. You will also probably be looking at a number of places before you find one that is right for you. Allow plenty of time for back-and-forth communication between you, your agent, and landlord’s agent or property manager.

Dress appropriately

When you are going to view the room, the landlord’s agent will also be evaluating you as a potential tenant.

From a landlord’s perspective, a good tenant is someone: 1) who will pay their rent on time; basically, someone who has a secure job with sufficient income to easily pay their monthly rent, 2) who has a guarantor, to vouch for your rent in the event you can no longer make your rent payment  and 3) who will follow the building rules and display common-sense civilities to your neighbors.

The landlord’s agent will check on the first two conditions by verifying your employer, income and guarantor information, but like it or not, for the third, he or she will also be judging you by your appearance and behavior at the room view.

Even in the brutal summer heat, dress as if you are being interviewed for the position of “good tenant,” because that is how the landlord’s agent will be evaluating you.

Cover up tattoos for the room view

Historically and culturally, there is a stigma towards tattoos in Japan because Japanese gangsters (yakuza) have traditionally marked their bodies with tattoos. There are certainly more and more people in Japan, including celebrities who have body art, and among some people and younger generations it’s not a big deal.

Still, if you’re inked, it’s a good idea to cover up temporarily for the room view and whenever you meet the landlord’s agent or property manager. You’re being evaluated as a potential tenant, and you want to make the best impression you can.

Be on time

We’re not sure there’s much more that needs to be said about this one, but you may be surprised by the number of people who show up late for room views, according to the agents we spoke to.

If you keep the landlord’s agent waiting, he or she may come away with the idea that you are also lackadaisical about other things that you have to do on time —  like paying the rent!

Also, if you’ve been in Japan for any length of time, you already know that people are very punctual, especially for business meetings. The room view is basically a business meeting where you’ll be evaluating the property and the landlord’s agent will be evaluating you.

Fill out application forms properly

This is simply common sense advice. See this article for a cheat sheet with English translations of the key words. The information you have to provide is very basic (for example, your name, current address, your employment info, etc.).

One section of the application form that sometimes causes confusion is the information for your emergency contact. Here, you’ll want to provide the phone number of a friend or colleague in Japan, rather than someone from your home country.

Suffice it to say, don’t let an incorrectly filled out phone number keep you from getting the apartment you want.

Have your paperwork ready

You may not be the only person applying for the apartment, and you can give yourself an advantage by having your paperwork ready in advance so you can be the first to submit an application. Property managers process applications on a first-come-first-served basis.

In general, you will need to submit the following documents:

  • Application form
  • Photocopies of passport(s) and residence card(s) for all tenants who will be occupying the unit
  • Certificate of eligibility or visa
  • 3 months payslips or your employment contract (if you are working)
  • Student ID and admission letter (if you are a student)

You may also be asked to supply other documentation.

Japanese bank account

In almost all cases, when you lease an apartment in Japan, you will have to pay the next month’s rent before the last day of the current month. Once your application is approved, you will receive a form to supply your Japanese bank account info. The landlord or property manager will then set up (or ask you to set up) automatic monthly deductions from your account on the day that your rent is due.

It is almost impossible to rent an apartment in Japan, as an individual, without a Japanese bank account, so this is something you’ll want to do early on in the apartment hunting process.

Other articles you may be interested in: Upfront cost of renting an apartment in Japan, Japanese Residential Apartment Leases Explained (Part 1), What is the average rent in Tokyo?, What is the average rent in Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe?, What are you responsible for when a lease ends?