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How to Rent a House or Apartment in Japan: A Guide for Foreigners


Finding places to rent in Japan can be tricky, especially if it's your first time. Therefore, you should know some things to avoid making (expensive) mistakes. Before diving into apartment/house hunting, let's learn the types of housing and fees or costs you must be aware of when renting a place. This information will help you navigate your search like a local in Japan.


Types of Housing in Japan

You can rent multiple types of space in Japan depending on your financial situation and preferences. The basic rules for all classes are the same. The bigger, the newer the building, the closer to the station, and the sunnier, the more expensive it is.

  • Apartment

The apartment is a popular choice among foreigners in Japan. There are many choices, so people can easily choose a place that suits their preferences. Most apartments have a bathroom (complete toilet, shower, and bathtub), kitchen, and an entrance area (genkan) where the shoes are taken off. They are also usually rented out with no furniture.

Apartments in Japan are differentiated into two types, apato (アパート) and mansion (マンション). Apato, an easy Japanese word for 'apartment', refers to rented rooms in old, one or two-story buildings made of wood. The mansion is the more modern version in three or more stories and is usually constructed of steel, reinforced concrete, or steel-reinforced concrete. The mansion is also called a condominium apartment (bunjou mansion). In general, a mansion is more expensive than apato.

The next thing people should consider when renting an apartment is the room type. You will find R, S, L, D, and K used by Japanese real estate agents or websites to describe the properties. R stands for room, L for living room, D for dining, and K for kitchen. S refers to a storage room or a free space room smaller than the other room that can also be used as a walk-in closet and such. The number in front of those letters indicates how many rooms the apartment has.

Here are some examples:

1R = one room or studio apartment.

1K = one-room apartment with separate kitchen

1DK = one-room apartment with dining and kitchen space

1LDK = one-room apartment with a living, dining, and kitchen space

2LDK = two-room apartment with a living, dining, and kitchen space

3SLDK = three-room apartment with one small, extra storage room, living, dining, and kitchen space. If the storage room is quite big, it can be considered as 4LDK

  • Share House

A shared house is a brilliant choice if you're short-term student or working holiday visa holder looking for a temporary place. Renting a shared house allows you to have a cheaper and shorter lease. It is usually fully furnished, so you don't need to waste money on household items only to use it for a few months.

If your stay in Japan is quite long, but you don't want to sign a lease before coming to Japan, you can stay in a shared house while looking for another living place. Let's say it takes a month from searching to signing the lease to actually moving in. It is undoubtedly cheaper to stay in a shared house for a month than a hotel or Airbnb.

  • House

Renting a house is popular among foreign nationals who bring their family to Japan. It's spacious and private. Living with children in an apartment or shared house can be difficult because most neighbors expect a quiet environment. However, you will likely find many reasonably priced houses in the suburbs or countryside. So it's crucial to consider the commute time and access to important places.

A neighborhood in Japan

Additional Renting Fees

Speaking of the cost, moving to a new place in Japan is expensive. It is not solely because of high rent costs but due to additional fees in Japanese real estate practice. You must prepare 3-7 times the monthly rent to cover all fees. Therefore it's crucial to know what additional fees you have to pay to minimize your expenses.

Maintenance fee (管理費 kanrihi or 共益費 kyoekihi)

The maintenance fee is the expense of maintaining the building or common facilities. It's shared among all tenants and should be paid every month. When looking at an apartment's monthly rent, make sure to check if they have a maintenance fee too.

Key money (礼金 reikin)

Reikin means gratitude money in Japanese. Back then, there weren't many houses left in Tokyo after the Kanto Earthquake. Therefore, people used to 'bribe' or thank the landlord for letting them stay on their property. This practice still exists across Japan, even though it is steadily decreasing.

Reikin typically costs 1-3 months of monthly rent, depending on the landlord. There's no limit to reikin, so it can be over 6 months' rent. It should be paid when you first rent the place and renew the lease. It won't be returned after your contract ends.

Guarantor fee (保証人費用 hoshonin hiyo)

A guarantor is legally required to pay rent or damage fines if you can't do so. Japanese people usually have their parents or close relatives as their guarantors. For foreigners with no family in Japan, it's common to have their company be the guarantor.

However, the trend among landlords nowadays is to ask their tenants to pay guarantor companies. Guarantor companies work like personal guarantors in exchange for a fee. One-time guarantor fee ranges from 50% to 100% of the monthly rent. It depends on the company, but keep in mind that some landlords will push you to use the company of their choice.

Security Deposit (敷金 shikikin)

The security deposit costs one month's rent and will be returned at the end of the contract. You can receive 50-100% depending on the property's condition when you leave.

Key change fee (鍵交換費用 kagi kokan hiyo)

To ensure your safety, the landlord has to install a new lock before you move in. However, the fee will be charged to you. It usually costs 10,000 to 20,000 yen.

Fire insurance (火災保険 kasai hoken)

If you move to an old building that is prone to fire damage, you have to pay fire insurance. It costs about 20,000 yen per two years.

Other fees you must consider are real estate and moving companies if you plan to use their service. Real estate agent and moving company fees range from half to one of your monthly rent.

At last, there are two fees that you don't need to pay upfront, but you should consider them too during the contract signing. They are rental renewal fee (更新料 koshinryo) and brokerage fee (仲介料 chukairyo).

Let's try to calculate how much money you will spend.

Rent = 78,000 yen

Maintenance fee = 2,000 yen

Key money = 78,000 yen (one month's rent)

Security deposit = 78,000 yen (one month's rent)

Fire insurance = 20,000 yen

Lock change = 20,000 yen

Guarantor company = 40,000 yen

Real estate agent = 78,000 yen

Total = 394,000 yen

You must pay approximately 5 times your monthly rent before moving in. This excludes moving company fees and expenses to buy furniture and pay bills.

Websites to Rent Housing in Japan

The easiest way to do apartment/house hunting is through housing websites. Here's our recommendation:

If you speak Japanese, we definitely recommend Suumo. Although if you don't, you can use web translation to navigate through it. It has hundreds of thousands of listings across Japan. Other than renting an apartment or house, you can also use the website for selling, buying, building, and renovating properties.

Filters in Suumo to help you finding suitable place (Translated by Google Translate)

The main benefit of Suumo is its extensive filters. You can search properties by price, maps, distance from public transportation, facilities, and other specific features. Searching by keyword is also possible.

This website is helpful for English speakers because of its user-friendly English interface. It offers low-cost apartments with no key money and no renewal fees. Most of their listings are foreigner and elderly-friendly. However, it has more listings outside of Tokyo.

Listings in Able are only available in Japanese, but they offer assistance for foreigners to find housing. You can browse available properties using web translation or directly contact them and let them find places that suit your preferences. The best part is that Able can help even before you come to Japan. So, the overall process takes less time, and you can move in shortly after your arrival.

After finding places that suit you, you can schedule a visit through the website or real estate agent of your choice. Don't worry if you don't speak fluent Japanese, as many agencies specialize in dealing with foreigners. Take your time to sign a lease because that's the start of building a home sweet home in Japan.


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