Possibly the toughest hurdle you may face in living in Japan is finding accommodations. You can’t simply plunk down some cash, sign on the dotted line and move in. Still, if you’re planning on a long-term stay in Japan and are tired of living in guest houses, you’ll have to bite the bullet and get started.
There are 3 things you’ll need to get your own private apartment in Japan. They are cash, a bit of perseverance and finally a Japanese national to serve as your guarantor or use a guarantor company. Sometimes though even using a guarantor company won't cut it and you may very well still have to use a Japanese national in addition to a guarantor company.
Let’s start with cash. Firstly, realize that so many foreigners start their career in Japan in “gaijin houses” or guest houses for a good reason. It takes lots to get set-up your own private apartment. Money wise, here’s what you can expect with a typical 1 year lease contract.
Real Estate Agents Fee “Chukai Tesuryo”
Because you don’t rent directly through the landlord, you have to go through a real estate agent or “fudosan.” He gets the first cut for listing the apartment, signing contracts etc. This is non-refundable and is typically 1 month of rent.
Security Deposit “Shikikin”
Next, stop on the pain train. 2 sometimes 3 months of rent is held as a security deposit. One thing to note is that leaving your apartment in pristine condition doesn’t guarantee that your deposit will come back. Often routine preventative maintenance is done with this money –i.e repainting etc.
Landlord’s gift “Reikin”
The landlord gets the next cut. This as you might have guessed is non-refundable. Typically it’s 2 months of rent. If it’s only 1, consider yourself lucky. (It’s addin' up ain’t it)! Keep in mind that setting yourself up takes some capital but if you're living in an apartment from Aeon or Geos (they paid your key-money), if you get the ax, you're on the street!) Given this, if teaching in Japan is going to be a long-term thing for you, take the financial pain bath and get yourself set-up. Reservation Fee “Tetsukeikin”
Still another month of rent is charged for holding the apartment. It’s refunded as soon as you sign contracts. It’s the agents way of making sure you’re serious about the deal – a guarantee if you will.
Japan: Accommodations and Finding a Guarantor
Yet another hurdle in finding an apartment in Japan is the guarantor. This is basically a co-signer to the rental agreement. This person needs to be a Japanese national with a good credit history and a job. Note there are companies that perform the duty of becoming your guarantor for a yearly fee of about 10.000 yen.
In other words, if your guarantor has declared bankruptcy he or she won’t do. Not all agents mandate a co-signer so be sure to ask. The English school you work for will often be your guarantor and this should be the first place you look. Note: not all schools will become your guarantor. In general the very large chain schools will. Small ones generally don't.
Another little tid-bit of information that may come in handy is this - even if you line up a company to perform the role of guarantor the landowner often will insist on another personal guarantor. A native Japanese with a job. This is in addition to the corporate guarantor. A gigantic pain to say the least.
If they’ve been in business a while, they probably have contacts with real estate agents and can make the whole process of finding accommodations a lot less painful.
Many schools offer loans to cover all the costs of getting an apartment. They generally deduct it from your salary a little every month.
Note: money wise, no matter what kind of apartment you set yourself up in, even the tiniest studio apartment, all financial "gifts" if you will still apply.
The Importance of Perseverance
Finding an apartment in Japan is no easy task. Landlords simply don’t want to deal with foreigners – especially foreigners who don’t speak Japanese. (After all, if you don’t speak English, how can they tell you that you threw your garbage out on the wrong day)?
It’s not the real estate company that makes this such a task it’s the landlord. The landlord stipulates the policy like “no foreigners please”. The real estate company just takes a cut of money for renting the apartment out. They serve "the man" so to speak. So this means you’ll be turned away many times before you find a landlord who will rent to you. Essentially it’s a numbers game. You have to keep plugging until you find an apartment. The more doors you knock on the greater your chances that you'll find someone willing to rent to you.
Keep in mind this whole process is a lot easier if you’ll be moving in with your Japanese boyfriend or girlfriend. If you’re married to a Japanese national it’s easier still.
Other Things to Consider
A word of warning on finding your apartment. Don’t be hasty in selecting your apartment. We can not stress this enough. Take your time and make a good selection. Paying key money once is pretty tough, paying twice is a financial disaster. Having said this, here are some other things to look for.
1.Once you find an apartment, make sure you look at your surroundings AT NIGHT. If you’re next to a busy restaurant especially one that serves alcohol, you could be in for a rough time.
2. Elevator the Pros and Cons. Make sure your building has an elevator if your apartment is on the fourth floor or higher. Also make sure you actually go in the apartment. Don’t just look at pictures or floor plans.
Now if you are trying to save money, (who isn't right?) Get an apartment without an elevator provided you're on the 1st, 2nd or 3rd floor or so. High Japanese apartment buildings have elevators and they aren't providing that service for free. Make no mistake - you will be charged an extra fee for this. In fact property owners avoid these types of buildings. Because of the high maintenance fees. Source: The Japan Times. The Ups and Downs of Elevators.
3. Try to find one with a western toilet. They are getting more popular, but old buildings will have a traditional type. “Squatters” as they’re called are a drag. Click to see a clip and pictures of a typical Japanese apartment.
4. Convenience. It’s nice to have a convenience store and bus line close by so don’t forget to check on this. The person showing the apartment will know.
5. Don’t expect the rental contract to be in English, so bring a Japanese friend to help you with understanding its terms and conditions.
6. Make note of any defects. Look at the tatami mats carefully. These things are expensive if they have to be replaced. Guess who pays for them? We'll give you a hint. It's not the landlord.
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