Accommodation in Tokyo comes at a premium, as does most housing in large, overpopulated cities. While the standard of accommodation is excellent, many an expat has found that the properties are far smaller than what they are accustomed to back home.
Naturally, due to the short-term nature of expat assignments, most people rent rather than buy property. However, rentals do move quickly in Tokyo, and expats should do some research on the processes involved in securing accommodation in the city before they make the move.
Areas and suburbs in Tokyo
From historical districts to urban sprawl, Tokyo's diverse neighbourhoods are as multifaceted as the city itself. Be it a love for the hustle and bustle of downtown, or a preference for quieter, more residential areas, there is a perfect spot for everyone.
The city's popular areas among expats often balance work and leisure amenities. Central districts like Minato, Shibuya and Chiyoda are renowned for their business hubs, entertainment centres and excellent connectivity. Minato, in particular, is a favourite for its upscale shopping, dining and cultural spots. Shibuya, home to the famous Shibuya crossing, offers a lively atmosphere teeming with restaurants, while Chiyoda, where the Imperial Palace resides, boasts a mix of modernity and tradition.
On the other hand, neighbourhoods like Setagaya and Meguro offer a more suburban feel, with plenty of green spaces, serene temples and a network of canals. These areas, though quieter, are still comfortably close to central Tokyo, making them an ideal choice for families and those seeking a tranquil respite from the city's fast pace.
For a slice of Tokyo's historical charm, areas like Taito and Sumida are perfect. Home to the famous Senso-ji temple and the Tokyo Skytree respectively, these districts offer an array of traditional shopping streets, food stalls and artisanal craft shops.
See Areas and Suburbs in Tokyo to learn more about the areas most popular with expats.
Types of accommodation in Tokyo
Due to the lack of space, most people live in apartments in Tokyo. Larger family homes with gardens are available but will be located further from the city centre.
In Tokyo, smaller and older apartments or apato are particularly common in densely populated districts like Toshima and Shinjuku. The more modern and spacious manshon are more prevalent in newer areas like Chiyoda and Minato.
Many single expats living in Tokyo for a year or two opt to live in shared housing, commonly called gaikokujin housing for its popularity with foreigners, in which all the residents share living areas, kitchens and bathrooms. This type of accommodation is cheaper than renting an apartment and also has the added benefits of shorter notice periods and lower initial costs.
Many apartments in central Tokyo districts like Shibuya, Shinjuku and Roppongi are rented entirely unfurnished. This includes no white goods, such as refrigerators or washing machines. However, in districts like Nakano and Koto, it's more common to find apartments partially furnished with essential white goods.
Finding accommodation in Tokyo
While it's possible to find a property in Tokyo using online resources and newspaper property listings, most expats don't make much progress through these channels because of the language barrier. In the more internationally oriented districts such as Roppongi, Akasaka or Hiroo, it's more common to find real estate agents who cater to English-speaking clients. In these areas, landlords are generally more open to renting to foreigners, easing the process for expats.
For this reason, most new arrivals prefer to enlist the services of a real estate agent. These professionals have a comprehensive knowledge of suitable properties in the area and are in a position to find accommodation that meets the needs and budget of their clients.
Furthermore, many landlords are reluctant to rent to foreigners without the security of using a reputable agent or at least a Japanese guarantor.
Renting accommodation in Tokyo
Making an application
Securing accommodation in Tokyo typically involves a series of steps. The process begins with a property viewing, which is often arranged by a real estate agent. If the property is suitable, the potential tenant fills out an application form which, along with a copy of their identification, is then submitted to the landlord or property management company for approval.
Many landlords in Tokyo prefer tenants with a stable income, so proof of employment, typically in the form of a contract or payslip, is often requested. Foreigners may also need to provide their Residence Card, a document issued upon arrival in Japan.
It's worth noting that not all landlords rent to foreigners due to language barriers or cultural differences. Therefore, expats may have to apply for multiple properties before their application is accepted.
Leases, deposits and fees
The cost of renting in Tokyo is not merely the monthly rent. A number of fees can accompany the rental process, significantly impacting the overall cost. Commonly, an initial deposit, typically equivalent to one or two months' rent, is required. This is refundable at the end of the lease, less any deductions for damages or unpaid bills.
Apart from the deposit, a key money or 'gratitude money' is often expected. This is a non-refundable payment to the landlord, usually equivalent to one or two months' rent. Additionally, there are agent fees, which are typically equivalent to one month's rent. This fee is paid to the real estate agent for their services in securing the property.
Lease agreements are usually for two years in Tokyo, and renewal fees (usually equivalent to one month's rent) are often requested upon renewal. Rent is typically paid monthly in advance, and some landlords may ask for the first and last month's rent up front.
See Accommodation in Japan for detailed information on the rental process in the country.
Utilities in Tokyo
In Tokyo, utilities are typically not included in the rent, adding to the list of considerations for expats. Services are often billed bi-monthly rather than monthly, which is an important detail to bear in mind during budgeting. Prompt set-up of these services upon moving in is essential for residents to avoid service interruption.
The cost of utilities can vary by district in Tokyo. For example, in older residential districts like Taito and Sumida, utilities may be slightly cheaper than in the modern, high-rise districts such as Minato and Chiyoda.
Electricity in Tokyo is supplied by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The company provides reliable service, but costs can be quite high, especially during the summer months when air conditioning units are heavily used. Expats need to contact TEPCO directly by phone or through their website and provide their address. Bimonthly bills can be paid via bank transfer or at a convenience store.
Gas in Tokyo is primarily supplied by Tokyo Gas. It is used for cooking, water heating and home heating. The cost of gas, like electricity, can be relatively high, particularly during the winter months. Residents start a new contract by contacting Tokyo Gas via their website or by phone. After installation, bimonthly bills are issued which can be paid at a convenience store or via direct debit from a bank account.
Water service is provided by the Bureau of Waterworks in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. The water in Tokyo is safe to drink straight from the tap, and the service is reliable. After moving in, residents need to contact the Bureau to set up their water supply. Bills are generally sent out every two months and can be paid online, at a convenience store or by direct debit.
Waste disposal is managed by the local municipality in Tokyo, and each ward can have its own specific rules. For example, Shinjuku and Setagaya wards have different waste separation rules and collection days. It is important for residents to check with their local ward office to understand the specific rules in their area.
Tokyo operates a strict recycling policy, making it essential for expats to follow the rules for disposing of burnable, non-burnable and recyclable waste. Consult the Bureau of Environment Tokyo to understand Tokyo's waste disposal system.
Internet and telephone
There are many internet service providers in Tokyo, such as NTT East, SoftBank and au. As for mobile services, the major providers are NTT Docomo, SoftBank and au. When choosing a provider, expats should compare the cost, speed, contract terms and customer service. Internet and mobile services can be set up by contacting the providers directly or by visiting their stores. Most providers require a contract, but there are also options for prepaid services if a long-term agreement is not preferable.
Certain districts may offer better internet connectivity due to the presence of business hubs. Districts like Chiyoda and Minato are known for high-speed internet, whereas more residential districts might have slower internet speeds.