7 things you should know before Renting an Apartment in Japan

1. If you don’t use an English website, all of the document, nearly all communication, and contracts will be in Japanese. If you don’t speak technical Japanese well enough, you will need a Japanese friend or translator to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

For a step-by-step guide to renting an apartment in Japan, click here. Or look at this other guide, from a different foreigner.

Basically, I recommend using any of the English websites I mentioned in that other post. It’s not worth it trying to work in Japanese; there is no guarantee you will even get a cheaper price.

2. You need to find a realtor; Apartments in Japan only rent through a realtor. It is impossible to “skip a step” and directly contact the landlord. They won’t do it. There might be exceptions for this rule, but in the 2 months that I did apartment hunting, I had yet to find a loop-hole.

Typical Japanese neighborhood

Thankfully, there are large directories online that list realtor companies – specializing on specific areas.

3. You will probably need a Japanese national to co-sign with you. Some apartments, especially the ones close to or affiliated with International universities in Japan (or have high concentration of foreigners) will make an exception – but those apartments are few and in between. They also tend to cost a little bit more.

They do this for three reasons:

A. Foreigners are wild cards. Some are wonderful tenants, but some are loud, break things, don’t understand the complicated trash schedule, or cause problems for the other tenants. A bad foreigner can inadvertently pressure other residents to move.

B. If you have a Japanese friend who is willing to co-sign with you, you’re probably not a bad person or tenant. If you were, your Japanese friend wouldn’t want to co-sign with you.

C. This proves you have a Japanese friend who is willing to help you – so that when the breaker magically flicks off while you’re making popcorn at 3am, you’re going to call your friend in tears, not the landlord.

Look at that face! Does this look like the face of someone that would (purposefully) destroy an apartment?

Look at that face! Does this look like the face of someone that would (purposefully) destroy an apartment?

I’m not saying this is fair, I’m only saying I understand why landlords operate like this. I’ve met a surprisingly high percentage of foreigners that are really awful tenants.

If you don’t have a guarantor, you can pay an different company about 10,000 yen (sometimes more) for a one-time signing fee (so they will act as your guarantor), as well as a yearly fee to keep the status. Most English sites understand you won’t have a guarantor if you are new to Japan – so they will only show you the apartments that do not require someone to co-sign.

4. If you don’t have a Japanese friend who can co-sign the lease with you, they might charge a higher monthly rent (to compensate) or flat out refuse to rent to you. In fact, even if you do have a Japanese national who will co-sign with you, some apartments still won’t rent to foreigners.

One of the first things my realtor asked was “are you foreign?” and “do you have a Japanese national to co-sign with you?” She only looked for apartment complexes that either currently or recently had foreign tenants that were not evicted. She was very nice about it.

5. You will have to pay the equivalent of 4 months of rent up-front. This covers:

  • Key money (one month of rent, non-refundable). Otherwise known as reikin (礼金), it is supposed to be a “gift” to your new landlord – to make up for the trouble you’ve caused by moving in. It is a set amount, somewhere between 1 – 3 months of rent.
  • Security deposit (one month of rent, technically refundable). Otherwise known as shikiken, it is your security deposit that will be used to clean the apartment when you move out. It is typically between 1 – 4 months of rent. You will never get the entire thing back, but if you were a great tenant, there is a (small) chance that you might get a portion of your shikiken back when you move out.
    Don’t count on it, though.
    In the rare instances when you trash your apartment so bad (hole in the wall, stains on the floor), the landlord will charge you an additional fee for cleaning.
  • Realtor fee (at least one month of rent, maybe more). Otherwise known as tesuuryou (手数料) this covers the fee for the realtor showing you the apartment, submitting your official request to rent the apartment, compiling paperwork, and basically just helping you get an apartment. It typically costs between 1 – 5 months of rent.
  • First month’s rent. This covers the first month of rent when you get your first apartment. I started renting my apartment half-way through the month, on the 15th. Rather than change for the whole month, they only charged me for half a month. Then, before the next month started, I had to make my first rent bank transfer.
For that price, I might as well build my own apartment

For that price, I might as well build my own apartment

6. You will need a Japanese bank account. This is for convenience sake. Apartments that have high concentration of foreigners (near international schools) will occasionally let you pay in cash, but that is incredibly rare.

Instead, you need to pay the landlord by a monthly wire transfer to their bank. The problems with this are:

  • Most landlords will not let you pay multiple months of rent at a time, even if you ask/beg.
  • If you have a foreign bank account, you have to pay at least $50 in fees each time you make an international wire transfer (so, an extra $50 a month).
  • If you DO have a Japanese bank account, but it is a different bank than theirs, you still have to pay a roughly $20 wire transfer fee each month.
  • Wire transfers within banks are free, but a lot of banks won’t let foreigners open bank accounts. My landlord has a bank account with Mizuho bank. If I opened a bank account at Mizuho bank, I could do an unlimited amount of wire transfers to other Mizuho bank accounts. However, when I went to the Mizuho office to make a bank account, they told me I couldn’t open a bank account because
    • I hadn’t lived in Japan for at least 6 months
    • I didn’t have a name stamp
    • I couldn’t prove that I could read the paperwork (they make you read the contract out loud, to prove you can understand what you’re signing).
If they had funny captions like this on all documents in Japan, I would totally be able to read it.

If they had funny captions like this on all documents in Japan, I would totally be able to read it.

Each bank is different; some rent to foreigners, some don’t. My fiancé had an account with Mizuho bank, and since we technically own the apartment together (since he and his father both co-signed with me), he is authorized to pay my rent each month.

I just pay him in cash for each month’s rent; he deposits and then sends my monthly rent to my landlord.

7. Japanese apartments are confusing. I cannot stress this enough. I’ve lived in mine for 8 months and I am still discovering new things about it.

For a comprehensive guide to understanding your Japanese apartment, check out this guide.

Good luck getting your apartment in Japan! If you have any additional questions or comments, please leave your thoughts in the section below.

Add me on Google Plus: +Grace Buchele

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