What to check for when doing an apartment room viewing in Japan

In the stress of looking for an apartment, it’s really tempting to rush through the actual room viewing.

However, it’s a good idea to be thorough once you’ve found a place that is worth viewing. Since you’ll be spending the next few years living there, it’s worth taking the time to maximize the chances that you’ll be comfortable in your new home.

Below is a checklist of the things that you should bring to the room viewing and what you should look for in the apartment, the building, and the neighborhood.

What to bring to a room view

In addition to your smartphone, it’s a good idea to bring the following to a room view:

  • Printed copy of the floor plan
    • The real estate agent will almost always bring a copy for you, but just in case they don’t!
  • Measurements of any furniture you plan to move to your new apartment
  • Tape measure

What to check inside the apartment

1. Amount of sunlight

The amount of sunlight your apartment gets in the main room(s) you’ll be using will affect how bright the room is and also how well you’ll be able to dry laundry in the winter, since most apartments in Japan do not come equipped with driers.

Of course, if good natural light in your home is not high on your list, then it’s ok to skip this!

How do you check for sunlight?

Because of Japan’s geographic latitude, south-facing buildings and rooms will get more natural light, especially in the winter. For this reason, “south-facing” is a search criteria that many people use when looking for a property. Many agents on Real Estate Japan will also put this in the property description to let you know that the property is “south-facing”.

Before you even go to do the room view, you can check the listing and floor plan provided by your real estate agent to see whether the apartment is south-facing.

Once at the room viewing, you can use your smartphone’s compass app to figure out which direction is south when you’re actually standing in the living room, for example. This will allow you to estimate where sunlight will enter your room on sunny days; or let you know that you may not be getting very little sunlight at all!

2. How much living space will you have after furniture is in place?

When you’re looking at an empty room, it can be difficult to imagine how much space will be left over after you’ve put in a couch, desk, or bed.

If you will be moving your current furniture into your new apartment, it’s a good idea to take measurements of the big pieces before you go to the room viewing.

Once at the viewing, use a tape measure to figure out whether your existing furniture will fit into your new apartment and where. This includes measuring the height of rooms where you expect to place tall pieces, such as vertical bookcases, for example.

3. Does all the equipment work properly? How is the water pressure?

Check the equipment that comes with the apartment to make sure that everything works property. This includes things like the video intercom for the auto lock, ceiling lights, and the bathroom ventilation fan. Because gas service is usually turned off when a tenant vacates an apartment, however, you may not be able to check the functioning of the kitchen stove, if it runs on gas.

The room view is also the time to check on the apartment’s water pressure. Turn on the shower head and water in the kitchen and bathroom sink to make sure that the water flows at an acceptable pressure.

4. Where are the electrical outlets?

Make a note of where the electrical outlets are and how many there are so that you can plan ahead for where you’ll be plugging in your TV, game console, computer and so on.

In older apartments, you may find that you will need to buy one or more power strips in order to have enough outlets.

5. How noisy is it?

It is almost impossible to do a complete “noise check” of a place before you move in, since you will only be at the room view for an hour or less; and surrounding noise can come in many forms, at almost any hour of the day. For more on this, please see this article: How I dealt with my noisy neighbors in Japan (kind of)

But you may want to stand still and be quiet for a few minutes to see what you can hear coming from above, below, and outside.

A friend of mine went on a room view where he heard a cell phone ringing, and thought that it was the agent’s. The ringing was actually coming from another apartment. This was a good clue that the walls in the building were really thin.

Another way to check for potential noise is to pound lightly once or twice on the walls. If it makes a hollow sound, it means that there is not much insulation between you and the neighboring apartment.

For noise insulation, it’s also good to know that reinforced concrete (RC) and steel-reinforced concrete (SRC) constructed buildings provide much better noise insulation than wooden buildings.

If low ambient noise is important to you, you should tell your agent so that he or she knows; they will help guide you towards newer buildings with higher quality construction.

6. Any strange smells? Any mold?

Trust your nose to tell you if there are any strange smells, such as odor from sewage or septic tanks, or lingering tobacco smells left over from the previous tenant.

As part of the process of turning over an apartment to a new tenant, the owner or property manager will hire a cleaning company to clean and de-odorize the apartment, but some smells may be an indication of a bigger problem, such as mold infestation.

Another way to check for mold is to look in the corner of the bathroom, back of closets and in the corners of north-facing rooms.

7. Smudges on wallpaper and scratches in the floor

Most owners and property managers will have wallpaper replaced before a new tenant moves in; but this is not always the case, so you should ask your real estate agent confirm this for you.

When you do a room view, make a note of any stains, scratches, or other surface damage. If the damage is big enough to be of concern, tell your agent so that they can communicate this to the owner. In some cases, the owner will agree to repair the damage before you move in.

Once you’ve moved in, walk around the apartment with your phone and take photos of any smudges or scratches. Send these to the property management company soon after you move in. This will document that you did not cause the damage, so that you can get your security deposit back when you move out.

For more on the definition of normal “wear and tear“, please see this article: How to avoid getting into a dispute with your landlord over your rental deposit

8. Cell phone dead zones

Cell phone reception dead zones in buildings are usually caused by large steel plates or brick walls. It is not a common problem, but does come up occasionally.

Not being able to use your cell phone in some rooms in your home could be annoying, so if your apartment has multiple rooms, during the room view, you may want to make sure that the phone gets reception throughout the apartment.

9. Height of doorways

If you are tall, the room viewing is also the time to walk through all the rooms in the apartment to do a height check. I had a friend who spent a year ducking every time he walked into the tatami room in his apartment because he was taller than the height of the sliding door. I think this is something you can get used to; but if it’s something you don’t want to get used to, then the room viewing is the time to find out.

10. Do windows and doors close properly?

Especially in older properties, inspect the fittings around doors and windows to make sure that they open and close properly. Cracks around windows, where they attach to the wall, or improperly closing windows will cause the room to lose heat in the winter and cool air in the summer.

It’s also a good idea to see if the apartment is equipped with double-pane windows. This is a great feature to have because it will help block outside noise. If the property is located near a train station, double-pane windows may make a huge difference to whether you can get a good night’s sleep.

What to check around the apartment and in the neighborhood

1. How long will it take to do your door-to-door commute?

Even though more and more of us are working from home, it’s still a good idea to get a realistic estimate of your total commute time.

After you do the room view, make a note of the time it takes for you to walk back to the station. Then use an online tool, such as Google maps, to estimate the commute time from your station to the location of your office or school.

Then do a little multiplication and figure out how many hours you will likely be spending on the train or bus in a month.

You may find that you don’t want to spend two hours a day commuting; or, actually, that it’s perfectly ok to spend two hours a day on the train because you’re saving ¥15,000 a month. This is a very personal decision.

But it’s a good idea to think about it beforehand, and the room view gives you a chance to actually imagine yourself living there.

2. Condition of the building, lobby, bicycle parking

The majority of apartment buildings in Japan are immaculately maintained.

But checking the condition of the hallways, stairs, and lobby in a building can give you an idea of how tidy your neighbors are; and how well the building manager does their job. Other common areas to check would be the bicycle parking area (if there is one) and the garbage room (if there is one).

In the last building where I lived, the garbage room was extremely clean and well organized, which meant that we never had a problem recycling or depositing garbage. The building manager even took care of breaking down cardboard boxes to the right size for recycling.

3. Shopping, banking, post office, parks, and other amenities

After the room view, walk around the neighborhood to get a feel for the neighborhood and note where the nearest conbini (convenience store), supermarket, post office, and other services are.

If you like to exercise outdoors, you may also to see if there is a park or jogging or bicycling path nearby.

4. Neighborhood construction

If you’ve lived in Japan long enough, you’ll notice that there always seems to be construction going on, everywhere and at almost all hours of the day.

But if you are very sensitive to noise, you may want to make sure that there are no long-term construction projects (such as a high-rise apartment building) just about to start near where you plan to move. You can check for this after the room view by walking around the neighborhood and making a note of where the construction sites are.


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Lead photo: iStock 939579518