If you’ve decided to move to Tokyo, congratulations! The capital of Japan has a population of almost twenty million people, and it’s the world’s largest metropolis. However you feel about coming to live here, you can be sure that Tokyo has a lot going for it: low crime, fine restaurants, historical sites, and an excellent transportation system. Do you have a job waiting for you in Tokyo? Check. Got your work visa? Check. Is your passport valid? Check. What about accommodation? That part can wait until you get to Japan. After a long flight from the U.S. the most logical place to rest your head is in a hostel/guesthouse and you can stay here for a couple of weeks before a more permanent abode is found.
Looking for an Apartment in Tokyo
Seeking an apartment in Tokyo is challenging and the process is vastly different from how you would rent an apartment in your own country. In Japan, there will be a mountain of paperwork to get through and lots of money to pay before you can hold the keys to your apartment. First, decide where in Tokyo you’d like to live. Having a place near a subway or train station would be advantageous; however, this convenience will raise the price.
Next, decide what kind of place you want. A “mansion” isn’t what you would find in the West. Rather, it’s a multi-storey building made of concrete, steel, or a combination of the two. That means noise won’t penetrate the walls as much. In contrast, an apartment, or “apaato” in Japanese, is made of wood and lightweight steel, i.e., it’s noisier. Other factors to consider are how old the building is, what floor the apartment is on (the higher it is the more expensive it will be), and the structure of the bathroom (the bathtub and toilet in the same room will bring down the price).
What Documents Do You Need?
Get everything in order before visiting a real estate office because Japan is very paper-oriented. Bring your passport, residence card, letter of employment detailing your monthly wage, and a guarantor. Why is a guarantor necessary to find an apartment in Tokyo? Quite simply, they are required to co-sign the rental contract as a security measure if the tenant doesn’t pay on time or causes damage to the property. The guarantor should be a Japanese citizen, and he or she must provide an employment document and proof of a monthly salary. To ask somebody to be a guarantor is a big deal in Japan, so you should choose a person you know very well.
In Tokyo, prospective tenants do not approach landlords directly. Real estate agents work as intermediaries between apartment hunters and landlords and/or the utility providers (gas, heat, electricity, cable). Few agents speak English and at times like this it’s really helpful to have a Japanese friend accompany you to the real estate office. Companies catering to foreign residents are plentiful and they may be able to find a place that has furniture. The fees of these agencies might be lower as well. And now, we come to the toughest part of renting an apartment in Tokyo – money.
How Much Does it All Cost?
Be prepared to spend a ton of cash to get an apartment. You might be broke for a while after moving in! There’s the initial deposit, which isn’t always refundable; a cleaning fee, used to prepare the apartment for a new tenant; the real estate agent fee, given to the agent for his/her assistance; and key money, a gift to the landlord for letting a new tenant live in the building. This is an old custom in Japan and there is little chance of convincing the landlord to waive this fee. And, it’s usually not returned to the tenant after the lease is up. The contract will be written in Japanese, so before you sign bring a friend to translate it for you.
Once you’re in, you can relax. Flat hunting is stressful in any nation and Japan is no exception. Unlike in the West, where tenants have quick conversations with landlords and the first month’s rent is paid with no questions asked, getting an apartment in Japan can seem like an obstacle course. Given the costs of housing, even locals are finding it tough. Persistence, and patience, is the key ingredient to finding a dream apartment in Tokyo.