Making the Big Move: Apartment Hunting (Part 2)

Have an idea of the kind of property you’d like to rent?  If not, check out Part 1!  If so, you’re ready to start tackling some of the hurdles you might encounter when you visit a real estate agency.  These places are called fudōya or fudōya-san in Japanese.


In my home country, we usually only deal with real estate agencies when buying or selling property.  Leases, rent collection, and any problems/repair claims are generally handed on the phone or in person with the landlord.

In Japan, a real estate agency is the go to place for any kind of property.  They serve as a buffer between you and the landlord/owner, and when you move in you’ll pay in agency fee to them for this service.  Based on what you’re looking for and your budget, an agent will introduce a number of listings to you.  If you’re interested in a particular property, with the landlord’s permission, they’ll arrange a showing.  Occasionally the landlord will come out and greet you, but often everything is done anonymously.  Even after moving in, you may never meet your landlord.

© Recruit Sumai Company Ltd.

A real estate agency serves as the middleman between you an a landlord, and will take care of the whole process from listing search until move-in.
© Recruit Sumai Company Ltd.

Since Japanese as a whole are non-confrontational, this system is quite fitting.  It’s beneficial when you need something fixed around the apartment; you can just contact the real estate agency, who will get in contact with the landlord to arrange a repair.  On the other hand, this makes it a lot easier for landlords to discriminate against what kind of tenants they’re willing to lease to.

As a single foreigner, you might find it difficult to rent an apartment outside of temporary housing companies like Leopalace 21 or MiniMini, or properties specifically geared towards foreigners (due to low Japanese market value), or guesthouses.  Most Japanese people have only a very basic understanding of English, almost zero of other foreign languages, and tend to fill this gap with wild stereotypes about foreigners.  In the real estate world, these stereotypes might include:

  • foreigners are dangerous
  • foreigners are messy
  • foreigners are loud
  • foreigners won’t pay rent on time, or cause other problems to their neighbors/the landlord
  • foreigners don’t know how to sort their trash (more on this in a later post)
  • foreigners won’t be able to communicate with the real estate agency or the landlord

There are some funny, harmless stereotypes about foreigners out there as well, but these aren’t it.  You might find some landlords have specified “no foreigners”, so the real estate agency tells you every apartment on display is “taken”, tells you they have nothing that would interest you, or all together refuses you service.  Times are slowly changing, but Japan’s still got a long way to go.

So how do most foreigners find a place?  Many live in company-provided housing.  This either means they live in a property owned or leased by their employer, or they live in a place their employer serves as the guarantor for.  A number of others live in temporary housing or properties marketed to foreigners mentioned above.  Some are lucky enough to find roomshares.  If your spouse is Japanese, perhaps you might live with his or her family in their house.

But say that none of that appeals to you.  It’s not impossible to find a regular set-up, just difficult.  On top of the possibility of being refused solely for being non-Japanese, there are a lot of fees to pay that can feel like hidden costs you may not have bargained for in the beginning.  Here are some of the fees you may encounter and should consider when looking at properties:

  • rent, called yachin – You pay this every month, and most properties require rent for the following month paid at the end of the current month.  It may be automatically withheld from your paycheck if you live in company provided housing, automatically deducted from your bank account by the real estate agency, or require you send the payment via bank wire transfer to your landlord’s bank account.
  • deposit, called shikikin – This is measured in increments of monthly rent, and as long as you don’t have a crooked landlord you can usually get most of it back as long as your place stays clean and there’s no damage.
  • key money, called reikin – This is measured in increments of monthly rent, and it’s money you are required to give as a gift to your landlord that you will not get back.
  • up-keeping fees, called kanrihi or kyōekihi – This is usually a few thousand yen a month added to your monthly rent for someone to tend to the outside of the property, but is not always required.  A property listing should have it written in when applicable.  Really fancy places might have high up-keeping fees.
  • agency fee, called chūkaitesūryō– This is one time fee paid at the beginning of your move to the real estate agency who introduced you to the property, often several tens of thousands of yen (several hundred USD).
  • initial set-up costs, called shokihi – This could include any additional, one-time moving in costs.
  • exterior maintenance fee, called kankyōijihi – This is added to your rent, but I’ve only seen this with some of the temporary housing properties.
  • neighborhood association fee, called chōnaikaihi – This is common fee for those living in residential neighborhoods, and is usually under 1,000 yen ($10 USD) extra a month.  Our first apartment didn’t have it, our second was 800 yen ($8 USD) a month, and our current apartment is 450 yen ($4.50 USD) a month.  If required, you usually pay it separately to someone designated as the fee collector. My husband and I got roped into being fee collectors for a year at our second apartment.  Not fun!
  • lease renewal fee, called kōshintesūryō You pay this every time you renew your lease.  A standard lease is usually two years, but in Tokyo one year leases are common.

“Oh my god, that’s a lot of money!” you say? Yep, it really can be!  Let’s take another look at those properties I showed you last post, and their move-in costs.  If you click on an image and the link to the full listing is dead, here are some .pdf files to view/download:  Apartment #1Apartment #2 – Apartment #3

© Home's / NEXT Co.,Ltd.

This apartment is old and undesirable- it doesn’t even have a bath! The price reflects this and because it has no deposits, key money, etc. you can tell the landlord is looking for any tenant ASAP.
© Home’s / NEXT Co.,Ltd.

  1. Rent: 25,000 yen ($250 USD)
  2. Deposit:  None/0 yen
  3. Key money: None/0 yen
  4. Insurance fee: None/0 yen
  5. Parking:  ???  (not pictured, but mentions bicycle/car parking in the full listing)
  6. Agency fee: ???

Total move-in cost (excluding agency fee): 25,000 yen ($250 USD)

© Home's / NEXT Co.,Ltd.

This is a reasonably priced, average apartment for a couple.
© Home’s / NEXT Co.,Ltd.

Apartment #2

  1. Rent: 110,000 yen ($1,100 USD) a month with an extra 4,000 yen ($40 USD) a month for up-keeping.  Equals 114,000 yen/mo. ($1,140 USD)
  2. Deposit:  1 months worth, or 110,000 yen ($1,100 USD)
  3. Key money: 1 months worth, or 110,000 yen ($1,100 USD)
  4. Insurance fee: None/0 yen
  5. Lock Changing Fee: 18,900 yen ($189 USD- not pictured, but in the full listing)
  6. Parking: None/0 yen (this property has none according to the full listing)
  7. Agency fee: ???

Total move-in cost (excluding agency fee): 352,900 yen ($3,529 USD)

© Home's / NEXT Co.,Ltd.

A high-end, middle class apartment. The rent alone is equal to my monthly paycheck! Unless you or your spouse have a really good job, this place is going to be out of your league.
© Home’s / NEXT Co.,Ltd.

Apartment #3

  1. Rent: 295,000 yen ($2,950 USD) a month with an extra 12,000 yen ($120 USD) a month for up-keeping.  Equals 307,000 yen/mo. ($3,070 USD)  No, you’re not reading that wrong!  Just for some perspective, the cost of rent alone for this place is basically the equivalent of my whole monthly salary.
  2. Deposit:  2 months worth, or 590,000 yen ($5,900 USD)
  3. Key money: None/0 yen
  4. Insurance fee: None/0 yen
  5. Parking:  39,000 yen ($390 USD) a month (not pictured, but in the full listing)
  6. Agency fee: ???

Total move-in cost (excluding agency fee): 936,000 yen ($9,360 USD)

The general move-in season is on par with the Japanese fiscal year, which begins in April and ends in March.  School grades, taxes, insurance, and employment seasons all fall into sync with this.  Therefore, most people who move out will do so in March and the months leading up to April will generally offer you a wider selection for your budget/preferences.  If you’re apartment hunting during the off season, you might find real estate companies or landlords to be a slightly more lax because they don’t want to wait until April to fill vacancies.

Let’s say you found a nice place in your budget, saw it, thought it looked great, and now you’re interested in sealing the deal.  Here’s the last step and it’s a big one!  Around 99% of the properties you’ll find in Japan require a guarantor.  A guarantor is someone who promises to pay should you skip out on rent or take off with your apartment in shambles.  Because your guarantor will be held legally and financially responsible for a tenant, it’s not a responsibility that most people outside of family are willing to take on.  The guarantor also has to be Japanese (with rare exception) and considered a good standing citizen, so anyone with a dodgy employment or criminal record isn’t eligible.

  • For temporary housing or housing aimed at foreigners, you might be exempt or be able to pay a one-time system fee in return for guarantor ship
  • An agency might allow your company to serve as guarantor.  The can be a double edged sword; it means if you quit or lose your job you’ll usually also lose your guarantor, and with it, housing.
  • If you have a Japanese spouse, it is possible a member of his or her family will help you out.  That said, unless you have a really good relationship with the family, I’d leave it to your spouse to do the asking.
  • It might be possible to hire a guarantor company, yachin saimu hoshō gaisha, to act as your guarantor for a one-time fee.   Many of these companies seem to be outside of the government’s watch, so any claim like late rent could get you the boot before you have any chance for recourse.  Proceed with caution.

If a real estate company or a landlord can’t agree to any of these options, you’re pretty much out of luck and you’ll have to start the hunt all over again.  Be sure to give yourself around a month (or longer for brand new properties) to search so you’re not scrambling to find housing should you run into any issues.

I hope you’re not too discouraged, and your hunt for the perfect place is successful!  I’ll be taking a break from this series for awhile, but I’ve already got the next installment in the works about furnishing your place on the cheap.

– J

2 thoughts on “Making the Big Move: Apartment Hunting (Part 2)

  1. Pingback: Living in Japan Part 3: Apartment Hunting Basics | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

  2. Pingback: Living in Japan Part 4: How to Read Apartment Listings | What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies?

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