• Use local real estate agents or websites to find apartments
  • You need a guarantor to rent an apartment
  • It costs a lot when you start renting an apartment

Step 1: talk to agents or search online

First of all, find potential residences by seeking out real estate agents or using housing websites. Many agents usually work locally, and you can easily find them near train stations. There are some agents that cover all over Japan, and you can visit their offices or use their websites to see what kind of apartments are available. Below are some of the agents that work nationwide:

Step 2: choose the best apartment for you

In order to find the best apartment, you will need to be familiar with terminology. Depending on what kind of rooms they have, Japanese residences are referred to with different terms using a number and three alphabet letters: L, D, and/or K. L stands for a living area, D for a dining area, and K for a kitchen.

L = Living Area

D = Dinning Area

K = Kitchen

For example, a one-room apartment with a kitchen is called a 1K; a one-room apartment with a dining area and a kitchen is a 1DK; and a two-room apartment with a living area, dining area, and kitchen is called a 2LDK. Unlike Western residences, usually in Japan, a living area and a dining area are not separated from each other; instead, they are in one big room. So, a 1LDK apartment does not always have one more room than a 1DK apartment. It might just be a little more spacious.

Also, the size of Japanese residences are often described with jou (畳). Jou means tatami mattress, and 1 jou is the size of a standard tatami mattress, which is about 1.66 square meters (17.87 square feet). 

Step 3: get your documents ready

Once you find an ideal place to live, it is time to make a contract. You will need some documents to show you are legally staying in Japan and have ability to pay rent and utilities. 

  • A copy of your passport
  • A copy of your residence card
  • Your hanko (Japanese seal): You may be allowed to write your signature.
  • A document from a company or an organization that proves you have a job there: If you are an employee.
  • Your student card: If you are a student.
  • A document that proves your income: your paycheck, income statement, etc.

Step 4: find a guarantor

In Japan, you almost always need to have a hoshounin (保証人), or guarantor in order to rent an apartment. A guarantor needs to be a Japanese national, and is responsible to pay your rent in case you fail to do so. Most Japanese people will ask their parents or relatives to be their guarantor. 

Finding a guarantor is the most difficult part of renting an apartment for many foreign people, especially newcomers because many of them do not know any Japanese Nationals well. If you do not have anyone to ask, you can ask your employer to be a guarantor. You can also use a guarantor company. They will charge you a certain fee and act as your guarantor so that you can make a contract. 

What you need to pay

You need to pay a lot of money in order to rent an apartment in Japan. Here is what you need to pay before you move in:

  • Yachin (家賃) or rent for the first month
  • Reikin (礼金): Money money paid to your landlord. The amount varies from ¥0 to your two-month rent.
  • Shikikin (敷金): Deposit. This money usually comes back when you leave the apartment without causing any great damage to your apartment.
  • Chuukai tesuuryou (仲介手数料): Agent fee. This money is thank-you money (a tip) for the agent that helped you find and rent an apartment.
  • Key fee: some landlords charge you money to exchange the door key of your room.

There are more and more apartments you can rent without getting charged reikin or shikikin, and some agents do not charge you chuukai tesuuryou. Also, UR, or Urban Renaissance Agency, is a public company that provides housing that does not require reikin, chuukai tesuuryou, or a guarantor.

Settling in

When you move into a Japanese apartment, there are some things you should know. One thing is the strict garbage disposal rules. The rules of rubbish disposal vary from one city to another. The day and time of collection depends on the type of garbage. Also, there are other rules such as what kind of garbage bags you are allowed to put garbage in, which items are considered recyclable, and so on. For details, please check your local garbage disposal rules. 

Another thing is to be a nice, respectful neighbor. In Japan, how well you get along with your landlord and other people living in your building can affect your peaceful life there. Also, almost every city has its own neighborhood associations called chounai-kai (町内会) or jichi-kai (自治会). There are activities in each association throughout the year where members of the association get to socialize with each other, which is a great opportunity to get to know your neighbors.

Your efforts count

“I wish this place was closer to the station.” “Only if the rent was ¥5,000 cheaper.” Finding the best apartment can be very difficult. It is often said that your luck matters when it comes to finding an ideal apartment in Japan. Even though it is true to some degree, it is also true that your efforts matter. The more time you spend researching, the more likely you can find somewhere ideal for you. It is your luck AND efforts that count.