Foreigner’s Guide to Renting an Apartment in Japan

Have you ever dreamed of living in Japan? By living in Japan, you can discover so many new things that you wouldn’t find by just traveling for a short time. If you plan to stay longer than one month, you may want to consider renting an apartment as opposed to staying at a hotel or hostel, as it’s much more reasonable and practical. But do you know how to find and rent an apartment in Japan?

The rental process is time consuming and requires a lot of paperwork, so it can be a bit tricky for foreigners – not to mention the fact that foreigners are required to have a Japanese co-signer called a “guarantor”. This blog explains the general process of renting an apartment in Japan, including the paperwork and fees required, and introduces a way to shortcut this tedious process and save both time and money.

Step 1: Decide Your Needs/Preferences

If you’re currently living in Japan, generally the first step of Japanese apartment rental is to look for a real estate agency, or fudosan-ya (不動産屋) in Japanese. A real estate agency acts as an intermediary between you and the property owner when looking for a rental. They will tell you about available properties that meet your budget and needs, and serves as the contact point when entering into a rental contract. In countries like Japan, where English is not the national language, real estate agents can be essential to making this process go as smoothly as possible! There is not necessarily one top real estate agency in Japan, but rather a large selection in almost every major city, so you can find the one that suits your needs. If you are not comfortable speaking Japanese, then you can search for real estate agencies that offer foreigner friendly apartment rental in Japan.

As for how to choose an apartment in Japan, here are some typical Japanese apartment layouts for single and 2-3 people.

Apartment Japan
Apartment Japan
Apartment Japan
  • バルコニー: balcony
  • K: kitchen
  • UB: unit bath
  • SB: shoes box
  • CL or 押入: closet
  • DK: dining kitchen
  • 洋室: Western style room (flooring floor)
  • 和室: Japanese style room with Tatami mat)
    帖: counter for Tatami mat. 1帖≒1.65㎡
  • 収納: storage
  • 洗面室: washroom
  • 玄関: entrance hall

There are many options to consider when finding an apartment in Japan. When you visit a real estate agency, you’ll be asked about your budget, location, and your room preferences, such as:

  • Type of room (Western or Japanese), room size and room layout (1K, 1DK, 2LDK, etc.) A typical single room ranges from 6帖 ~ 10帖 (9.9㎡~ 16.5㎡) excluding kitchen, toilet, bath and entrance.
  • Utility source: Choose to have both gas & electricity or just electricity-only. オール電化 (all-electric) is considered to be safer, but the electric costs will be higher.
  • Toilet & Bath (either Unit or separate). Japanese people typically prefer separate toilet and bath, but the Unit type can save both space and the renting fee.
  • Toilet type (Japanese or Western style). If Western style, specify with or without washlet.
  • Pets allowed or not
  • Auto-lock entrance gate or not
  • Washing-machine space availability
  • Tatami mat floor or wooden flooring
  • With or without air-con … etc.

After specifying your preferred conditions, the real estate agency staff will find available apartments and print out the property details, along with the room layout. 

These days, there are a number of online resources listing apartments for rent in Japan, thus allowing you to get a general idea of the kinds of apartments available in the area you are looking to live in. But, do note that many properties online may not still be available once you get to a real estate agency – especially in big cities, where apartments tend to get snatched up very quickly!

And, sometimes you’ll find some appealing sample properties that are deceptively attractive, just to draw attention for the potential customers. To avoid these kinds of potential problems, you may want to use this website. This site only shows currently available apartments, so you won’t need to worry about whether or not the room is still available when you want it. Moreover, you can reserve the apartment and made a lease contract online before even coming to Japan.

Step 2: Paperwork!

Once you’ve made your choice, the agent will prepare the application for you.

chintai keiyakusho

                                                                  chintai keiyakusho (Lease Agreement)

To apply for an apartment and make a lease contract in Japan, a non-Japanese person usually needs to provide two forms of official identification:

  1. A Passport
  2. Either a visa or residence card.

You will need to provide color copies of the photo page of your passport and the visa page, or both the front and back sides of your resident card.
Also you will be asked to provide any papers that demonstrate your activities in Japan such as:

  • Certificate of eligibility = zairyushikaku nintei shomeisho (在留資格認定証明書)
  • Letter of employment (with salary information) = zaishoku shōmeisho (在職証明書)
  • Past months’ pay slips (usually 3 months) = kyūyo meisai (給与明細)
  • A copy of your latest bank statement = (or copy of your bank book if you’re unemployed.) = zandaka shōmei (残高証明)
  • Pay slip/Tax withholding slip = gensenchōshūhyō (源泉徴収票)

All of these documents may seem a bit intimidating. However, there is a way to skip all of the tedious paperwork! If you apply for an apartment on Apartment Japan, all you need is a passport, a visa (if you already have one), and a credit card.

After your application has been accepted, you are then ready to sign a contract. 
In the majority of cases, you will need a Japanese guarantor, a.k.a. hoshōnin (保証人) to co-sign when signing the contract. A guarantor, or co-signer, acts as insurance to your rental contract, as they agree to pay the rent or any damage costs if you are unable to, or suddenly leave the country. When the guarantor is co-signing your contract, they will need to provide the following:

  • Guarantor’s signature and their seal = Rentai hoshōnin no sain to inkan (連帯保証人のサインと印鑑)
  • Certificate of the guarantor’s seal = Rentai hoshōnin no inkan shōmei (連帯保証人の印鑑証明)

Japan’s guarantor system is possibly the biggest obstacle for foreigners applying for apartments in Japan. However, not all apartments require a Japanese guarantor to co-sign for foreigners. You can search for apartments that don’t require a guarantor on Apartment Japan. This website is highly recommended for those who want to shortcut the tedious paperwork and save a lot of money for initial payment. 

In many cases, especially for English teachers and expats, your company can assist you with this before you make the move to Japan. However, if your company isn’t able to provide assistance with accommodation, and if there is no one you can ask to co-sign, then be sure to mention that to the real estate agency. There are external companies that can act as your guarantor hoshōgaisha 保証会社 in Japanese, but they charge a fee that is usually half a month’s rent.

Step 3: Initial Payment

Once you find an apartment and you’re ready to sign the contract, the initial payment (shoki-hiyō, 初期費用) is typically going to be the largest. Of course it all depends on the situation, but you may have to pay an amount equal to five or six times your monthly rent as an initial payment. And Japan is still a cash-based society, so don’t forget your cash!
Here are the costs you’ll have to take care of for your initial payment:

  • Appreciation money (Reikin, 礼金)  – non-refundable
    This is a custom unique to Japan that requires paying the landlord a “payment of gratitude”, which is generally equal to 1–2 months of rent. However, in recent days there are some properties that don’t require this appreciation money, and you can easily find these kinds of properties on  Apartment Japan when you are searching for listings. 
  • Security deposit (Shikikin, 敷金)  – refundable
    This one-time fee is paid to the property owner as a kind of security deposit and in many cases is equivalent to 1–2 months of rent. Unlike appreciation money, this deposit is returned when you move out of the apartment, but keep in mind that if any damages are found when move out, the repairing cost will be deducted from the deposit and only the remaining will be returned to the lessee.
  • Brokerage fee (Chūkai tesūryō, 仲介手数料)  -non-refundable
    This fee is commission that’s paid to the real estate agency that served as an intermediary for the contract agreement. This fee is restricted by Japanese law to being no more than 1 month’s rent. In some cases, it is half a month’s rent or not charged at all. When finding and renting an apartment through Apartment Japan, however, many of them do not require this kind of brokerage fee. 
  • Fire insurance (Kasai hoken, 火災保険)  -non-refundable
    This property insurance fee is paid to cover emergencies, such as fire. In most cases, it is 10,000–20,000 yen. Purchasing this insurance is required for most properties.
  • First month’s rent (Maeyachin, 前家賃)  
    This number is typically averaged from the number of days left in the month you move in + the following month’s rent. Therefore, the amount differs depending on when the contract is signed (beginning of the month vs end of the month).

  • Guarantor company usage fee (保証会社利用料)
    As explained above, if you don’t have a guarantor in Japan, you need to use a guarantor company and pay for its usage fee. However, Apartment Japan handles many properties which actually don’t require a guarantor or a guarantor company usage fee. 

SAMPLE: Initial Cost Invoice

Let’s say, for example, you move into an apartment on June 21st, and the monthly rent of your new place is 65,000/month and common service expense is 3,000/month.  Your invoice will include the fees listed above, as well as costs for services such as a new key and cleaning fee when you move in. Here is an example of what the first payment might look like:

  • Appreciation fee (one month’s rent + common service expense) = 68,000
  • Security Deposit (one month’s rent + common service expense) = 68,000
  • Real estate agency fee (one month’s rent) = 68,000
  • June’s rent (7 days of June’s rent) = 15,867
  • First month’s rent (July) + common service expense = 68,000
  • Fire insurance = 20,000
  • Key exchange fee = 20,000
  • Cleaning fee = 30,000
  • Total: 357,867 yen!

Be sure to look over your invoice and ask any questions if you have them. And finally, carefully review the contract with the agency staff when signing. You should be aware of all restrictions placed on each property, such as rules against pets, more than 2 people residing in a property, smoking, garbage disposal, recycling, etc. If you are not too comfortable with speaking Japanese, then it is best to have a Japanese friend or acquaintance accompany you to your contract signing if possible, to prevent any future problems or miscommunications.

After the Move

After settling that first payment and signing the contract, you will receive the keys to your new home. Get in touch with a moving company and prepare to move in.

Generally, services such as electricity, gas, water, and telephone are initially disconnected in properties. When moving in, the first priority is to call the utility companies to get them connected and establish your method of paying the bills for them every month.

And, unlike using accommodation-sharing websites, renting an apartment is a formal lease agreement. This means you can use your new Japanese address to issue a visa, or open a bank account. Right after moving in, however, don’t forget to register your new address at your local ward office (kuyakusho, 区役所). It could be a city hall (shiyakusho, 市役所) or a town office (machiyakuba 町役場), depending on the size of the city. This step is mandatory for all residents, and it will affect your annual residency tax. Don’t forget to bring your zairyu card (在留カード), or residence card, when you go!

Apartment Japan (Shortcut the tedious renting apartment process!)

The whole process seems quite overwhelming, right? Even Japanese nationals find it to be pretty tedious! Fortunately, there is an innovative website called Apartment Japan that makes renting an apartment just as easy as booking a hotel!

You can use the site to search for apartments in English and actually make a lease agreement online; thus allowing you to obtain a Japanese address that you can use to issue a visa and open a bank account in Japan.

After signing a rental contract online with a digital signature, you can book a date and meeting point in Japan to receive your apartment keys and get verbal instructions of the rules and regulations of the apartment before you move in. From start to finish, the staff of Apartment Japan do their best to help make the apartment rental process simpler for you.

Video Guide: How to Rent an Apartment in Japan

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