Finding An Apartment in Japan
Finding a place to live in Japan
Finding a good place to live in Japan can be a challenge. There is a certain amount of red tape and expense involved just as in moving house or apartment.
Some landlords may be unwilling to rent to foreigners on the basis of race and it is not yet illegal for them to do so, though on the whole in urban areas of Japan such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto this is rarely a problem.
Some employers such as English language schools, the British Council and the government-sponsored JET scheme may provide accommodation for new arrivals. This may well be a house that has been rented out to foreign tenants for a number of years. The advantages are that the moving in process should run smoothly; the disadvantages are that the apartment may well be a bit shabby by the time you get to move in. Higher up the economic food chain employees with banks, financial institutions, automobile and IT companies are often found accommodation through specialized letting agencies that deal with foreign hires.
If you arrive in Japan without a place to live and your employer does not provide accommodation you will need to search for either a budget guesthouse or a gaijin (foreigner) house, while you find something more permanent. Gaijin houses are advertised in the classified section of English-language magazines and newspapers and rent single rooms, dormitory rooms or rooms in a shared apartment. The landlords are used to dealing with foreigners and the rooms can be rented by the month, week or sometimes even the day!
Apartments & Houses
To rent an apartment (apaato) or house in Japan you must usually contact a real estate agent. There are many competing real estate agencies in each locality which offer very similar services at for similar fees.
Each real estate agency will show you a floor-plan of the various apartments on its books classified by the amount of living space available, the age of the place and the rental price.
Thus a 1LDK (living/dining/kitchen) apartment is a one room apartment with a dining and kitchen area. A 2 LDK is a two room apartment with a dining and kitchen area and so on. Japanese apartments may well have a balcony but it is usually very small and designed for hanging out the washing rather than relaxing in an easy chair. Bathrooms tend to be of the "unit-bath" variety - that is a plastic bath and WC combination.
Japanese room sizes are measured in jo (畳) - the size of a traditional Japanese tatami mat (roughly 180x90cm). Thus a 4.5 jo room is 261 x 261cm (approx. 102 x 102 inches); a 6-jo room is 261 x 352cm (approx. 102 x 137 inches) and an 8-jo room is 352 x 352cm (approx. 137 x 137 inches) and so on.
Japanese-style rooms with tatami mats are known as washitsu (和室), rooms with wooden or lino flooring are known as yoshitsu (洋室). The rooms will probably include some closets behind sliding doors for storing your clothes and futon. The kitchen may well be supplied with a two-ring gas cooker and possibly a fridge, though this is not guaranteed and the apartment could well be completely unfurnished.
After you have chosen a few places to see based on living space and price, the real estate agency will arrange to take you by car to see the accommodations.
Once you agree on a place the real estate agency will help you sign the contract with your landlord, which is usually for a term of two years. The contract does not bind you to stay the full two years (or whatever the term of your contract may be); you can leave at any time you like. However, you must give your landlord notice of your intention to move. If you are not sure how many days that the landlord has to be notified in advance, contact the real estate agent for your dwelling to find out. (It's at least 30 days, usually more.)
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Rent is charged by the calendar month, so you should aim to move out by the end of the month. If you notify your landlord too late and end up officially moving out on, or anytime after, the first day of a new month, you'll have to pay rent for that whole new month.
Once you have settled on a place, the land agent will take you through the procedures. They take one month's rent as their commission. Traditionally you are required to front up with another four-months-worth of rent on top of that: 2 months' worth as a deposit (shikikin), and 2 months' worth of reikin, or "thanks money," to your landlord.
However, with the declining population, and the economy not like it used to be, these can often be negotiated - so be tactfully tenacious, politely pushy, pleasantly persistent. The payment of reikin has been successfully challenged in some local courts and the practice of paying "gift money" is thankfully in decline. So too is koshinryo - a renewal fee usually of one month's rent repayable at the end of the contract.
If you have a trusted Japanese person in tow, all the better - ideally your guarantor. His or her presence will put the estate agent more at ease and lessen any problems with communication. Just having a local witness to the proceedings is also a plus in itself.
The agent should carry out a joint inspection of the dwelling with you, noting any prior damage, nicks, stains, etc. Be sure that it is all properly noted. Be as nit-picking at this beginning stage as you are averse to being nit-picked at moving out time. If the apartment or house has tatami rooms, you would expect these to be changed for new ones when you move in, unless they are still in good condition.
After you have moved in, contact your local telephone, electricity, gas, water, and internet providers in plenty of time and let them know when you will be moving in. Installation procedures for some utilities may involve a representative coming around, so you may have to arrange a date and time to be at home for that.
Getting a telephone line used to be a big deal, and expensive. With the universality of the cell phone, getting a landline is now cheaper - but you're still looking at over 5,000 yen per month. Ask yourself if it is worth it.
Finally, once you're settled in, go down to the town, city, or ward office with your alien registration card and register your new address. If you have changed jurisdictions, there is no need to notify the previous town, city, or ward office of your departure. There will, of course, be other things that will require a change of address registration, like driver's license, bank accounts, credit cards, etc., but your alien registration card is the most important.
Useful Japanese Words & Phrases
yachin (家賃) - monthly rent
reikin (礼金) - gift/key money
keiyaku (契約) - contract
shikikin (敷金) - damage deposit
tetsukekin (手付金) - down payment
chukai asenryo (仲介斡旋料) - realtor's fee
kenrikin (権利金) - maintenance fee
fudosanya (不動産屋) - real estate agency
bukken-harigami (物件張り紙) - cards advertising rentals in realtor's windows
manshon (マンション) - apartment block
shujin (主人) - landlord
koshinryo (更新料) - renewal fee
shakuchiken - (借地権) owning a property on rented land; leasehold
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