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Tips and Advice for Foreigners Renting Apartment/House in Japan

In a 2016 Japanese Ministry of Justice survey, 40 percent of foreign respondents had experienced housing discrimination. The number might have changed in recent years, but expatriates still have difficulty renting a house in Japan.

Housing Discrimination in Japan

Unfortunately, not all landlords in Japan want to rent their properties to international residents, even in big cities such as Tokyo and Osaka. In fact, the number of landlords who don’t accept foreign tenants is far more than those who do. It is possible because lack of laws in Japan that protect foreigners from housing discrimination.

The reason behind this behavior was initially thought to be due to the language barrier. It is understandable that landlords want to have smooth communication with their tenants. However, more than 90% of respondents in the 2016 survey that experienced housing discrimination were Japanese speakers. Around 24% were able to speak at the native level, 36% at the professional level, and 31% at the conversational level.

The survey results showed that housing discrimination is tied to the landlords’ views and experience with foreigners. For many, renting to international residents is riskier than for local tenants. There is a possibility of them going back to their country without paying the rent. Foreign tenants may also not comply with Japanese customs, such as sorting garbage, being mindful of noises, walking barefoot or using house sandals inside, and many more.

Tips to Avoid Housing Discrimination

Japanese people, in general, are not risk-takers. So, what you can do is appear like a promising tenant and remove their doubts. Here are some things you can do:

  • Show that you are part of Japan’s harmonious society. It means look the part and behave as a polite Japanese person would.

  • Highlight your job security and stable income.

  • Prepare all the required documents beforehand.

  • Bring a Japanese friend or coworker when reviewing a place and signing a contract.

  • Emphasize your experience living in Japanese neighborhoods if it’s not your first time.

  • Speak Japanese with the landlord if you can.

  • Work with agencies that are well-experienced in handling foreigners. It will save you a lot of time searching, applying, and getting rejected because they know which properties are foreigner-friendly and other stuff.

After all, you just have to make them believe you can afford the rent, won’t cause any trouble, and won’t make them do more work. Any foreigners in Japan can rent an apartment or house in Japan as long as they can convince the landlord.

Common Mistakes Foreigners Do When Renting a Place

Renting a place in Japan is a long and expensive process. You must be careful to avoid making mistakes and regret the place you chose. Read these top 5 common mistakes foreigners make during apartment hunting.

Working with only one real estate agency

There are tons of real estate agencies in Japan. Working with only one of them will put you at a disadvantage. Even the same apartment can have different prices based on which agent you use. Moreover, some bad agencies may push you to sign a lease even though the apartment is not quite what you want.

A lot of real estate agencies in Japan offer foreigner assistance services

Working with multiple agents will also help you avoid uncertain waiting times. Some landlords may take their time to decide whether to sign a contract with you. If you only consult one agency, you must wait and can’t look at other apartments during this period.

Moving during the busy season

Companies and schools in Japan start their fiscal year in April. New employees, new students, rotated employees, graduated students, all moving in and out from January to March. This period is called the busy season. Finding a great place on a budget will be hard because everyone is looking for it.

The best time to move to a new place is between June and August. It is summer in Japan, so many people don’t want to move around during the heat. However, you can get discounted prices, and the apartment-hunting competition is not as high.

Choosing an apartment more than 30 minutes away from the workplace

If you think commuting more than an hour every working day is not bad due to Japan’s efficient and famous public transportation, please think again. Renting a cheaper and bigger, but quite far apartment is not worth the physical and mental toll on yourself.

Crowded train during rush hour

Spending too much time going to work will make you tired even before the day starts. You have to wake up early and rush if you are late. The trip back home will drain your energy even more, so you barely function after reaching home. It would be much better to use those long commute times for yourself or your family and get an excellent work-life balance.

Didn’t check the room’s soundproof quality

If you have a few room options, make sure to see it’s soundproof and natural light (more explanation on next point).

Soundproofing is crucial to ensure a comfortable stay and peaceful sleep. A soundproof apartment will filter noise from next door, upstairs neighbors, and the street. It will also allow you to talk or sing loudly or watch movies with speakers. Most Japanese neighborhoods expect you to be quiet. You must be careful not to get noise complaints, especially with police involvement.

Housing websites like Suumo provide soundproof feature selection, so you can tick it when searching. If the soundproof quality is not stated in the description, you can check the building structures. Apartments built with reinforced concrete and steel reinforced concrete have better noise insulation.

If you are sensitive to noise, we advise you to review the room you want at different times of the day. Some people only visit during the day, so they don’t find out how loud the street is at night until they move in. You can also check out the Dorozoku Map to see if any users complain about annoying noise in the area. Doro (道路) means road, and zoku (族) means people or tribe, referring to people who spend time on the street and cause loud sounds around the neighborhood.

Didn’t care about sunlight

You may be tempted to rent a room with poor natural lighting because sunny rooms are more expensive in Japan. However, there are reasons for that. Japan has high humidity, even more during summer. Dark, low-circulated rooms are more prone to germs. Your electricity bill can be much higher with all the lamps, humidifiers, drying machines (because you can’t dry your clothes with sunlight), and other necessary appliances.

A room with natural light

Renting a dark room is slightly better if you often commute and only use the room for sleep. But it would be terrible if you work or take classes online and spend a long time inside. Lack of sunlight is harmful to your physical and mental health.

While checking the windows in the room, you may also want to check where they are facing. You may end up not using the window if it’s too close to the neighbors or the street (especially if you’re on the first floor). In this case, the room won’t get natural sunlight despite the windows for privacy reasons.

The journey of finding a home in Japan is different for everyone. Some people can easily find a place, while others face multiple renting application rejections first. The Japanese housing system is indeed quite complicated, but hundreds of thousands of foreigners before you have found their dream place. So don’t worry. You will soon find one too!


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