Moving to Japan & Finding a Place to Live !!!

July 2005

Of the many things that foreigners find difficult in Japan, finding a place to live that is comfortable and reasonably priced is maybe one of the toughest.

If possible, I do recommend that you ask your host researcher to try and secure a place for you at an international lodge or guest house. It will be so much easier and you will save money if you can move in to an already furnished place.

If that is not possible, there is still no need to despair.
If you spend some time and look carefully, you will be able to find a decent place to stay. I would advice you to ask a Japanese colleague to help you since most housing agencies don't have English speaking staff.

How To Find a Place

There are several companies to cater specially to foreigners and I have added a list of WebPages at the end. However, you may have to use an ordinary real estate agency to find something suitable to you in your area. I have tried to explain the procedure as simply as possible.

Real estate agents are often situated near the station, and floor plans are posted on the glass windows facing outside. If you go directly to the real estate agent in the area where you want to live and explain your requirements (rent, size, facilities, whether you have a pet, location, term, etc.) the staff will show you what's available. As I said before, bring a Japanese colleague to help you.
When you visit the real estate agent, they will show you the floor plan and explanations (see example below). You should check both the floor plan and the explanations.
Even if you find something you like at the real estate agent, do not just base your decision on the floor plan and conditions; be sure to ask the real agent to show you the place. There is no charge for visiting the apartment.

<Example of Floor Plan>

  • K = kitchen
  • D = dinning room
  • L = Living room

"K" means kitchen only and "DK" means a kitchen with space for dining. "LDK" is a room which has the function of a living room as well as dining and kitchen.
So the plan above, "3LDK" shows an apartment with 3 rooms and a kitchen that has dining and living space as well.


What To Consider when Choosing an Apartment


The price of apartments greatly depends on the location. Generally speaking, the big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto are much more expensive than the country side. Also within your city there are areas which are more attractive and therefore more expensive, like for example near the stations. For the most part, you are generally considered lucky if you find a place within 30 minutes to work. 45 minutes is decent but over 1 hour it starts to become a pain. Also using the train every day will cost you quite a bit if you are traveling from far and what you save in rent you will spend on travel……………

If you are planning to go to work by train you should look for an apartment that is near a station on the same train line as your work place or that at least has an easy transit between the lines.

The distance from the station is calculated by minutes. Living maximum 7 minutes from the station is not too bad. 10 minutes from the station is bearable and 15 minutes usually the limit for walking. Of course, if you enjoy a healthy walk to the station everyday, 15 minutes isn't so bad. Using a bicycle can make it easier too.

Apartments are generally advertised as "XX minutes to the station". According to real estate agents, 1 minute is considered 80 meters. An apartment 5 minutes from the station is 400 meters etc.

What Kind of Apartment

There are concrete apartments (called "mansions")and apartments which is generally made of wood, or light steel.(called "apato") Since the walls are very thin, the sound will go through in the "apato" and it is hard to keep the rooms comfortably heated. The "mansions" have thicker concrete walls that can maintain the room temperature for a longer period of time.

This doesn't mean that apartments are all terrible. Some apartments are just as nice as "mansions" or sometimes even better. You still need to see the place before you choose, but if you play loud music or is worried about neighbors making noise, go with the "mansion".

Ponts To Consider
  • Cockroaches and other insects do find their way in the 1st floor quicker than 2nd or above.
  • Women should avoid the 1st floor for safety reasons.
  • If you are planning to live on higher floors, remember to check to see if they have an elevator.
  • In Japan, apartments / houses facing south or east are preferred because of the sunlight they get during winter. Better stay away from apartments that don't get much sunlight since that means they will be freezing cold in the winter and moldy in the humid summer.
  • In Japan, most apartments are described with the term called "tatami". ("tatami" is a straw mat floor, 1 tatami mat is 1,55㎡ ) Even when there is flooring instead of tatami mats, the size of the room is often explained in tatami mats and not in square meters.
  • If you rent an apartment with tatami mats, it is very important that you before moving in discuss with the real estate agency the cost of renewing the mats when moving out. Very often you will be charged 5,000 yen -10,000yen for each mat.
  • Closets are primarily used to store futon, and apartments that are equipped with them do not include them in the room size.
  • The rent increases if the bathroom and toilet are separated. The washroom is usually very small, so it's generally more comfortable if the two rooms are separated.
  • Remember to check if the toilet is western or Japanese. Some older apartments still have Japanese style toilets where you need to crouch down. It can be quite difficult to get used to.
  • Japanese apartment are usually not furnished and often no appliances like fridge or heaters.
  • In urban areas, some apartments do not have parking. Even if there is space, a separate fee is necessary.

How much money you will have to spend on housing depends on mainly 2 things, where in Japan you are and how comfortable you want to be. In Tokyo and other big cities, 100,000 yen will most likely get you a decent place. But, if you look around and don't mind traveling a bit 60,000yen may be enough. Just remember that if you have to travel far to work every day, it will not only be a loss of time but train fares add up too.

To rent an apartment, you will need to pay up front (on average).

  • 1 month of your monthly rent for key money (reikin)
  • 1-2 months of your monthly rent as deposit (shikikin)
  • 1/2-1 month of your monthly rent to the real estate agent (chukai tesuuryou)
  • 1st months rent and maintenance fee.
  • You also need to pay fire insurance, about 10,000-20,000 yen applicable for 2 years.

So if your apartment's monthly rent is 60,000 yen, at a minimum you need 240,000 yen to get started.

Explanation of various fees
Key money (reikin)
It's a gift to the owner so not refundable. To show your appreciation for allowing the owner to let you live in their building. A tradition which started after World War 2 when there was a lack of homes. Lately however, there are more and more apartment owners who have stopped insisting on this fee.
Deposit (shikikin)
When you leave the apartment, the deposit will be used to repair any damages and to clean the apartment and whatever is left you will receive back. It is therefore very important that you check the apartment carefully when moving in together with the real estate agency, noting down anything the condition of the apartment. If there is any damage, the real estate agent should confirm and document it before you move in. This helps you to avoid any trouble related to the deposit refund later.
Real Estate Commision (chukai tesuuryou)
The law specifies that it should not exceed one month's rent, plus 5% tax.
Maintenance Fee (kyoeki hi)
Expenses for the facilities to be used in common with other tenants, such as electricity for gate lamps and elevators, and cleaning expenses, should be paid every month in addition to rent.
Rent (yachin)
In principle, rent should be paid in advance. This means that the rent for May should be paid by the end of April. Generally the rent is automatically transferred from your bank account. To arrange this you need to go to the bank and fill out an application for "automatic withdrawal". Otherwise, you can go directly to the bank to transfer the money. In some rare cases, the rent is paid directly to the house owner, in such a case be careful to keep receipts of payment.
What documents do you need to prepare when renting an apartment

Please confirm in advance with the real estate agent what is necessary.
The following are standard necessary documents:

Alien registration (Gaikokujin toroku shomeisho)
If you haven't got your Alien Reg. Card yet a special document from the city office may be needed.(gaikokujin toroku genpyo kisai jiko shoumeisho).
Certificate of income (Shotoku shomeisho)
This is necessary in order to confirm that you can pay the monthly rent. JSPS fellows can give the "Certificate of Financial Support" instead.
Guarantor (Hoshounin)
When you rent a house, you need a guarantor. If you are not able to pay the rent or room repair expenses, the guarantor will take the responsibility. It is best to ask your Japanese host researcher to serve as guarantor. If you can not find anyone, there are special companies that will be guarantors for a fee. The fee is usually a one time payment of 30% of one month rent. However, not all owners will accept the use of such companies so if you plan to do this, please consult with the real estate agent first.



The real estate agency may offer to help you with contacting the electricity, gas and water companies to arrange for them to switch on everything and organize the bills.
If not, you probably need to ask a Japanese coworker to help you since it is kind of difficult if you don't understand Japanese.

You will receive electricity, gas, water, sewer and telephone bills separately in the mail (in Japanese) with about three weeks time to pay. Payments can be made at banks and post offices but probably the most convenient place is the designated convenience stores.
It is written on the back of your bill which convenience store you can use.
You can also arrange to have your bills paid directly from your bank account.

If you don't pay your bills the service will be disconnected but you will receive several reminders before they actually cut you off. If it should happen, you only need to go and pay your bill and you will be reconnected at once.


When you move out don't forget to contact all the companies again to tell them when you want them to cancel your service. If you ask, they will come to your home on the last day and you can pay the final bills then.

Also remember to inform the real estate agency one month in advance. Without any notification, you might be charged one month's rent.
A couple of days before you leave, the real estate agency will come and check the apartment and point out to you what they think needs to be done in regards to cleaning and repairs and give you an estimate to how much of you deposit will be returned to you (or in extreme cases, how much more they think you should pay). I do recommend you take a Japanese speaking friend or coworker with you to fully understand all the important details to avoid unnecessary trouble.

Useful links (mostly Tokyo area)