Finding a place to live, much less finding a place to live in Tokyo, is not an easy task for a foreigner, and for someone like me, renting your first apartment in another language can be absolutely terrifying. Anyway as a foreigner, there are a couple things I learned about the renting process in Japan. I first started my apartment-hunting, where most people turn to for all their answers, Google.
After putting in a standard search for “Apartments in Tokyo”, I clicked on about a dozen sites and found a few I liked. Most of them were geared towards expats, students, and foreigners moving to Japan, which was great because they have bilingual realtors who are ready to help. The sites were relatively easy to use, and I was able to refine my search by area, price, how old the building was, size, whether it allowed pets, etc. I found a few apartments to my liking and contacted the realtors via e-mail to inquire more. While I did find out valuable information, in the end I went with the realtor my company suggested (which was a little hard at times because they operated completely in Japanese, but I did find a pretty nice apartment)!
These are just few things I learned along the way that I wanted to note:
1) The official rental process may start after you arrive. Unless you are being contracted through your company, you may not be able to begin the rental process without going to the real estate agency in person. Your residency card among other documents is necessary to begin. This may seem rather troublesome in the beginning, but there are some benefits to this, since most real estate websites do not post their entire listings online and will show you more in person. If your company does help you with housing, they may outsource you to a real estate agency they often work with and will show you a couple of listings for you to choose from. These listings will usually come fully furnished to make the move easier for you (i.e. washer, refrigerator, table, etc.). My apartment didn’t come with a bed though, so I will probably go and purchase one from Ikea out in Chiba.
2) It may be better to use a real estate agency aimed at foreigners. Unless your Japanese is extremely fluent and you are very familiar with Japanese customs, I would suggest using a real estate agency for foreigners. While I hate to admit this, xenophobia exists in Japan to some extent, and from what I heard, there are a few landlords out there that aren’t keen on renting to foreigners. This is because many foreigners are not completely familiar with Japanese customs and the landlords are afraid this may be bothersome to their potential future neighbors. There are also landlords only/prefer to rent to females, believing that girls make better tenants.
3) Don’t be afraid to ask questions and haggle. As with most apartments, prices may be negotiable and it doesn’t hurt to ask. One of my friends was able to lower his monthly rent by 10000yen!
4) The standard lease is for 2-years. If you rent through your company, while the lease may be for 2-years, there may not be a cancellation fee if you do decide to/have to move out before then. If 2-years seems like too much of a commitment, I would look around the web since many people also sublet their apartments for shorter periods.
5) The initial move-in expenses are quite high. You will probably have to account for other initial move-in expenses such as fire insurance, key money, key-exchange money, and the initial deposit.
Fire insurance or 火災保険 (Kasaihoken): Usually covers your 2-year rental contract and may be anywhere from 10000 to 25000yen.
Key money or 礼金 (Reikin): Depends completely on the landlord. This is similar to a deposit; however, you do not get this money back (the landlord pockets this). If you’re lucky, some landlords won’t charge this fee, but most normally charge around 1-2 months rent.
Key-exchange money or 鍵交換費 (Kagi-koukanhi): This is the fee for them to change the lock and key to the apartment from the previous renter.
Initial deposit or 敷金 (Shikikin): The initial deposit is usually around 1-2 months rent (this is refundable).
6) Factor in utility costs and maintenance fees into the monthly budget. It’s up to you to set up a plan to the utility companies (electricity, gas, and water) after you’ve decided on a place to live. As with most utility companies they are structured as oligopolies/monopolies. In Tokyo, it’s Tokyo Gas, Bureau of Waterworks Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and the Tokyo Electric Power Company. When you sign up for utilities, you can either choose to receive a bill every month where you can pay it at any convenience store, post office or even at your bank. You can also choose to have it automatically deducted from your bank account. Electricity is usually billed every month while gas and water may be billed every two months. I would estimate the average utilities bill for one person living in a studio is anywhere from 10000-14000yen per month.
7) Learn the trash routine of your area! The trash routine differs from area to area along with the types of appropriate bags to use (some cities require special plastic bags for burnable trash while others do not. These can usually be picked up at any grocery or convenience store in bulk). Usually you will sort most of your trash to burnable, non-burnable, cardboard, plastic bottles, paper, glass bottles, metal, and oversized trash (which usually comes once a month and you may need to pay a fee). Stricter places will require you to further separate your trash but it really depends on your city. Most cities have handouts for when you move in, so it’s relatively easy to learn the system. Furthermore, most things you purchase in Japan will have a little symbol to help you sort your trash (it may say プラ (Pura) for plastic, 紙 (Kami) for paper, etc). Lucky for us! Foreigners are known for making mistakes on the trash pickup, which can be annoying for the local residents, so be sure to follow the schedule!
8) Recommended places to live in Tokyo (These are just my personal preference!):
1. Minato-ku (港区) is probably the most expensive area in Tokyo. Many foreign expats, politicians, and celebrities live here; includes areas such as:
Azabujuban 麻布十番– boutique-y area with restaurants and shops, lots of foreign embassies, within walking distance to Roppongi, very upscale place. My personal favorite!
Azabudai 麻布台– lots of foreign embassies, apartments here usually have a beautiful view of Tokyo tower! Very upscale area
Akasaka 赤坂– upscale neighborhood, lots of foreign embassies
Shirokanedai 白金台– on the border of Minato ward and Meguro ward, upscale neighborhood, residential area
Hiroo 広尾– upscale neighborhood, residential area
Roppongi 六本木– Roppongi Hills (upscale shopping center), great night life, lots of clubs, bars, restaurants, shops. Note: some areas of Roppongi can be quite dangerous at night
2. Meguro-ku (目黒区)Meguro-ku is also a great choice and has a trendy upscale vibe; includes area such as:
Meguro 目黒– Trendy upscale older neighborhood, convenient since it’s on the JR Yamanote Line
Nakameguro 中目黒– Trendy upscale neighborhood, there’s a river lined with cherry blossoms that’s beautiful in the spring, great for boutique shopping
Ebisu 恵比寿 & Gotanda 五反田– Trendy upscale neighborhoods, convenient since they’re on the JR Yamanote Line
Jiyugaoka 自由が丘– Trendy upscale neighborhood, lots of shopping boutiques
3. Shinagawa-ku (品川区)– Notable areas are Shinagawa (品川) and Gotanda (五反田), which are both upscale areas
4. Shibuya-ku (渋谷区)
Omotesando (表参道)– full of designer apartments, Omotesando Hills (upscale outdoor shopping area filled with foreign designer brands), near Harajuku (原宿) which is famous for being a major shopping district, close to Yoyogi park
Shibuya (渋谷)– mixture of upscale and rundown apartments, it’s in shibuya (which can be good and bad), great for young people, lots of shopping, clubs, bars, bustling night life.
Yoyogi (代々木)– Rather quaint area, near Yoyogi park
5. Chuo-ku (中央区)– notable areas include Ginza (銀座) and Nihonbashi (日本橋), which are known for having many upscale department stores and being the headquarters for many companies
6. Setagaya-ku (世田谷区)– upscale residential area (mostly houses)
7. Nakano-ku (中野区), Suginami-ku (杉並区)– both are close to central Tokyo, many nice neighborhoods, perfect for those who do not want the hustle and bustle of the city but still want its convenience. Nakano is known for its shopping and Anime related stores. Also Meiji college is within walking distance from Nakano Station
8. Shinjuku-ku新宿区, Chiyoda-ku千代田区– perfect for those who want to be in the heart of Tokyo. Chiyoda-ku is home to many businesses as well as Sophia University.
Shinjuku (新宿)– great for night-life and shopping, Shinjuku station is also one of the most convenient as well as the busiest station in Tokyo
Takadanobaba (高田馬場)- perfect for those who want to live in the city for cheaper prices, college town, a lot of Waseda University students
Okubo (大久保)- great price for central Tokyo, lots of foreigners (Koreans, Chinese, etc.), can be on the dangerous side at night, but in a very convenient location
Kagurazaka (神楽坂)- great boutique-y area, lots of shops and such
9. Toshima-ku (豊島区), Koto-ku (江東区)– notables areas are Ikebukuro (池袋) and Sugamo (巣鴨)(both on the Yamanote Line), these wards are perfect for those on budget who still want to be in the city, close to Ikebukuro which has Sunshine60 (huge shopping mall). Ikebukuro also has many shops, bars, and restaurants. Lots of young people hang out here
9) Share houses are a great option for those on a budget! Share houses are also a great option for those who are either on a tight budget or are staying in Tokyo for less than a year (I stayed in these while I studied abroad here!). The monthly rent is usually around 50000-70000yen. You can also stay for a daily rate of 2000-8000yen per night (which is also a great deal!). There are a couple of share houses that cater specifically to foreigners as well as ones that pride themselves on being international (including both Japanese and foreigners).
It’s a great way to meet new people especially if you are new to the city. I would often spend time with the other residents watching TV, playing billiards, cooking, and eating together. Overall, most share houses have a very communal feel and the international share houses work to bring its residents closer together with parties and special events held throughout the year. There is usually a communal kitchen/eating area, recreational rooms, showers, bathroom, and laundry room. The rooms come equipped with desks, lamp, trashcan, internet, refrigerator, and bedding (usually costs a little more though).
One drawback, however, is that these share houses usually are quite strict with their rules. The one I stayed at didn’t have a curfew, but some do. Most of the time you cannot bring anyone of the opposite gender to your room much less your floor (there may be a co-ed floor, but some floors are strictly men-only or women-only floors. Visitors are required to sign in and usually cannot stay past a certain time. Furthermore, you may have to pay 2000yen or so per night for any overnight guests you may have.
In any case, share houses are quite fun for the amount you’re paying!
10) Important things to know: These are just based on my own experiences and preferences (I’m still learning too)! If there is any you’d like to add to this list or correct me on feel free to comment or message me.
Considering I lived in a dorm all throughout college, renting my first apartment on my own has definitely been an invaluable experience. I feel like once you can rent an apartment in a foreign country (in a foreign language to boot), you can definitely rent an apartment in your home country. This has been a real world learning experience for me (haha! college did not prepare me for this), but overall I’m quite happy with the apartment I got and while this has been stressful, it had it’s own upsides! I can definitely use this knowledge I’ve gained for the future ♥︎.