Accommodation in Japan

Accommodation in Japan is very expensive, and follows a distinct trend: the larger the city, the fiercer the competition, the smaller the living quarters. Therefore, finding appropriate accommodation in Japan can be a challenge for newly arrived expats.

Types of accommodation in Japan

Apartments are common in Japanese cities and where the majority of expats living in Japan will likely reside. Older buildings with small apartments are known as apato. The buildings are not normally higher than two storeys and are made of wood or light steel, so the walls tend to be thin. Newer buildings with larger apartments are called mansions. These usually have more than two storeys and are made of more hardy materials such as concrete.

Both serviced and unfurnished apartments are available. Serviced apartments are usually furnished and offer regular cleaning and concierge services. Unfurnished apartments sometimes have basic appliances such as a fridge and washer, but many don’t even have lighting. 

A popular option with expats in Japan is the gaijin house – shared accommodation in large houses. The set up at these houses varies from house to house, but usually it is inhabited by young expats and Japanese people who are looking to save money over the course of a short-term stay. In some gaijin houses the rooms are mini flatlets with their own bathrooms, while in most others residents will have their own room but will share a kitchen, bathroom and living areas with the other inhabitants.

Finding accommodation in Japan

It is recommended that expats looking for accommodation in Japan go through a real estate agent as they will understand the local language and be able to provide a list of suitable accommodation to meet an expat’s needs. Many landlords are reluctant to rent to foreigners, so it is best to go through an agent, rather than attempting to rent directly from the landlord.

Available accommodation is also usually advertised in the local media. If viewing an apartment, it’s a good idea to take a trusted friend or colleague along who is able to speak Japanese, as most landlords are unlikely to speak English.

Generally, the closer housing is to the city centre and public transport, the more expensive it is likely to be. Newer housing is also normally pricier. 

Renting property in Japan

A typical lease in Japan is signed for one or two years. It is standard practice to pay a damages deposit (around one month’s rent, refundable, although hardly ever in full), a 'key money' gift to the landlord (usually about two months’ rent), in addition to two months’ rent in advance.

Rent is usually paid in advance for the following month. In some apartment buildings, a maintenance fee may also be required on a monthly basis. Utilities are also not normally included in the monthly rental and will be for the tenant’s own account.

In order to rent accommodation in Japan, expats will generally require a guarantor, usually an employer, to assist them in the process.