Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Finding and Renting an Apartment/Flat in Japan

Hello all!

Long time no post. I know I keep saying I'll explain exactly what I'm up to re: life in Japan, and that post is coming, I promise! But for the moment it's a bit of a mess anyway, and today, while it's all still fresh in my mind, I'd like to write about finding and renting an apartment in Japan.

As I needed an apartment ASAP after I came back to Japan (a huge thank you to everyone who let me stay with them in the meantime, you guys have unlimited passes for the airbed at Chateau Annabelle), I started looking online for a new apartment while I was back in New Zealand. Actually, I like looking at houses in general, so it was quite fun for me to look at the photos of lots of different apartments and compare them.

Here are three good sites to use when it comes to looking for an apartment in Japan:


I found suumo the easiest to use, and it had a lot of listings for apartments in the town I was moving to. What I really liked about suumo was that they have a really big range of preferences/options you can choose from when you search.  You can choose things like the maximum rent you're willing to pay, what area you want to be in, how many rooms you want, if you want first story or not, if pets are allowed, and you can even put a limit on how old a building you want to look for. But there were two preferences which were really important to me: apartments with no deposit, and no key money. I've never moved into an apartment in New Zealand, so I don't have anything to compare with, but moving in Japan seems really expensive. You often have to pay a deposit of at least one month's rent (but sometimes more), and something called "key money". Key money is basically a non-refundable deposit (usually also equal to a month's rent, but it varies), apparently to "thank" the landlord for letting you rent the room. If you're thinking that's kind of bullshit - same here. So I exclusively looked for apartments without this requirement. In the end I still had to pay a ridiculous "cleaning fee" which basically seemed like a sneaky way of charging me key money, but whatever Japan. You do your thing.

I bookmarked a lot of apartments I was interested in on suumo, and then went back and double checked things like their specific location and so on. Lots of the listings have videos that the realtors have taken in the apartment which is also really helpful when narrowing down the list. In the end, I had three apartments I was very interested in. The next step was to check if each apartment would allow foreigners. In Japan, it's unfortunately common for realtors to reject foreigners as tenants, so there was no point in me asking any other questions about the apartments before I checked this out. Suumo is basically a site which brings together listings from smaller real estate businesses, so each of my three messages were forwarded to different realty companies. Of the three places I contacted, one said that foreigners were fine, one said only permanent foreign residents were fine (so, not me), and the other responded in a very polite and vague manner - so, Japanese for "no, go somewhere else".

So I really only had one option - luckily it was for the place I was most interested in. The realtor who responded to my initial question gave me his contact details, so from then on I was able to email him directly. We arranged a time for me to come to their real estate office, and they would take me to view the apartment. Even with my limited Japanese, it was quite easy to arrange all of this over email.

A few days after I arrived back in Japan, I went to the real estate office. The realtor I had been emailing met me and introduced himself. As well as talking to me about the apartment we were going to see, he asked where my new work was and showed me information on lots of other apartments in the area. In the end, I chose four apartments I wanted to go and visit. I felt like that was a lot, and I was hesitant about asking to see so many, but the realtor seemed happy to take me to them. Considering I had only been back in Japan for a couple of days after about two months back in NZ, my Japanese was even worse than usual, but he was incredibly helpful at explaining things to me simply. He drove me to the four apartments, and we spent about ten/fifteen minutes in each one looking around. They were all really nice places (especially compared to my old apartment), but I was able to rule two out straight away for being too small. That left me with two to decide between. I told the realtor I would take a day or two to think about it, and email him as soon as I decided. He told me when I could move in by (within a few days, basically) and very kindly drove me back to the train station.

Actually, I took more than a day to decide which apartment I liked. There were benefits to both the apartments I liked. One was newer, slightly cheaper, close to work, and in a nice quiet neighbourhood. The other was extremely cute (it matters to me!), and closer to conveniences like shops, restaurants, buses (local ones and a bus terminal with buses to Tokyo, Osaka, etc) and trains. In the end, I settled on the second option. It was actually the one I had been attracted to back in New Zealand, so I felt it was really right for me. I went back in a few days with a bilingual coworker from my new job, and the realtor went through the entire contract with me and my coworker helped explain. People from my company also kindly offered to be my guarantors (in case I don't pay my rent for some reason, they will be asked to pay), and an old coworker of mine agreed to be my emergency contact (if something happens to me, they will be told and can contact my family). If you're moving, you will have to think about these things too. Something that surprised me was that because my new apartment was a little far from Utsunomiya, if I were to ask someone who lived in Utsunomiya to be my guarantor, I actually needed two people to agree to be my guarantors. I had only arranged for one, so I ended up getting someone from my new company to be my guarantor instead, because they live in the same city as I was moving to. If you don't know anybody in Japan who can be your guarantor, there are actually companies who will act as a guarantor for you. You pay them a small fee each month for this service. As usual, Japan has thought of everything for you.

Moving day!!!
When it came to moving itself, I thought it would be easy and cheap enough - I was only moving about an hour away from my old home of Utsunomiya. I asked a Japanese friend of mine to call a moving company and get a quote for me. Their answer? ¥60,000 - ¥80,000 to move my bed, table, sofa, and some boxes of my stuff. That's insane. ¥80,000 is what companies were quoting me to ship all of my stuff back to New Zealand. So, no way. Friends told me I could definitely bargain with the moving companies, but I decided to go down a different road - exploiting my friendships here in Japan, instead ;) I put out a cry for help on Facebook, including a few Tochigi-wide Facebook groups, and luckily got lots of responses with offers of help from friends, acquaintances, and even total strangers! So a friend and I made a day of moving my ridiculous amount of stuff, in two trips. He was an amazing help and I am so grateful to him - thanks, Taichi! After moving, we went to a lovely onsen to recover. Even still, my legs were killing me the next day! Both my old apartment and my new one were second-story apartments, so I was running up and down stairs a lot.

I can highly recommend post-moving onsen. This one in Tochigi city was beautiful!
This has been a massive post, but I still have some final tips for anybody thinking about moving in Japan, and that's about what will be in your apartment when you first move in. That is to say, nothing. I really wanted to be in my own place when I finally had all my stuff there, so I decided to sleep there on the first night. The place had no lights (not even no lightbulbs, there were no light fixtures for the lightbulbs), no curtains, and definitely no fridge, stove, or washing machine. Luckily I'd been able to get the electricity turned on that day, but my gas and water were due to be turned on the next day. This is standard for apartments in Japan, so don't expect to move into a flat with all the amenities, the way you would in New Zealand, and I assume other western countries. You're going to have to buy those things yourself - it kind of sucks, but at least you can take them with you (or sell them on) when you leave. I had to live without a fridge/stove/washing machine for a while, but I have all those things now.

Overall, finding an apartment and moving was a pretty good experience. Everyone was really helpful, and I enjoyed getting to choose my own place and decide things myself this time, as opposed to when I first came here on JET and everything was already decided for me. It felt a lot more like being a proper adult, haha. Now, having been settled in for almost a month, I can say my new apartment was definitely the right choice! I love it so much, and so does everyone who has come to visit so far! I'm looking forward to making this place even more cosy, especially by decorating for the upcoming holiday season!

If you have any more questions about finding an apartment, moving, or anything mentioned in this post, be sure to comment below. I'll do my best to help!

- Annabelle.


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I've been a high school English language teacher on the JET Programme since August 2013. Read about my experiences, advice on being accepted into the JET Programme, and travel tips around Japan on my blog:


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