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Living in Japan:
Guest Houses & Things to Watch Out For

Living in Japan.Living in Japan. A Small Scale Guest House

By far one of the most challenging aspects of living in Japan is finding suitable accommodations. If you have to find your own accommodations in Japan, there’s a lot you need to know before you go.

There are basically two options available to you for long-term stays. You can live in a “gaijin” (foreigner /guest) house – by far the simplest and cheapest option in the short term or rent a private apartment - a tedious and expensive one that is best tackled when one has a few connections and intends on staying in that city for some  time.

Living in Japan –  Hanging Your Hat in “Gaijin”/ Guest Houses or Share Houses

Living in Japan in a Share HouseLiving in Japan in a Share House

The most hassle free ways of living in Japan, (short of staying in hotels,) are gaijin or shared houses.

These are either shared or private accommodations for foreigners and finding such accommodations is not so tough in large cities.

Most big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya etc. will have them. Large cities will have many vacancies so finding a place to stay usually isn’t a problem. There really isn't anything such as a "typical guest house." Regarding furnished guest houses, you'll find that they vary greatly.
Not only in size and condition but in amenities offered as well. Some will have beds others won't. Those that don't have beds will have futons.

Living in Japan - Watch Your Rental Contracts

You need to watch contracts quite carefully in this area, as some guest houses will charge for beds etc. In fact, this goes for the entire gamut of things in shared housing. Just remember, using shared housing to avoid guarantors  and all the other hassles that come from living in Japan doesn't come for free. By far the most daunting task in finding accommodations is being able to read the contract, which is in kanji, before signing.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, everything comes at a price. It is the nature of scales of markets and basic Econ. 101. (Remember that stuff on supply and demand?) Money folks. If they can't squeeze you on reikin  (non-refundable money paid to the landlord) they squeeze on a different front. But bet your bottom dollar some squeezin' be going on.

Living in Japan and the Shell Game

This can come in the form of renting bicycle and motorcycle parking. Yup bikes. And things called "administrative fees." That's right it's not "reikin" , it's an administration fee.  No... that's not right. It's an  application it's an regulatory fee. No, let me see... Got it!  It's a processing fee. No lies here. Just disinformation.

Other fees that get tucked away are contract renewal fees they will range in the 15,000 yen (150 USD) range. There are usually "common service fees" charged as well. Electricity is free but is limited. If you are a real power hog (in excess of 100 kwhs) extra charges will apply.

Folks, let's look at it this way - one way or another, economics of the situation prevail and the money has to come from somewhere. And it does.

Still despite the game, it's an easy way to set up shop and start teaching ESL, that is if  you didn't sign with a large eikaiwa who took care of these pesky details for you.

Getting a guarantor who will by design takes the fall for you if you don't pay rent or burn the damn place to the ground is no small overlooked detail. So gaijin houses  wring a lot of the pain out of making the big jump to  living in Japan including dealing with culture shock. Hey it's easier to adjust to the big jump when there's someone in the shared kitchen to kill a bottle of wine with when everyone else in your time zone has long gone to bed.

Here's a nice video of a share house - it would be wise to note that this particular share house is a bit on the upside money wise and realistically should not be viewed as being a "typical" share house. Sometimes they are referred to as "designer share houses" as is the one shown below.

More Stuff on Shared Living in Japan

Some will offer high speed internet connections and televisions with small microwaves and other kitchen amenities . While others will be more sparse in this department. In general, larger gaijin houses with larger budgets for advertising and development will be nicer.

No matter what, expect the refrigerators, tables and microwaves to be more along the lines of what you would expect to find in your typical college dormitory. So it goes without saying that if you're going to try living in Japan in a guest house, that you ask specific questions about amenities offered.

And most definitely, don't put down any cash without seeing some pictures of where you'll be staying. After all living in a nasty guesthouse will make your stay in Japan... well.... down right nasty.

If you're not sure if living in Japan in a guest house is the right thing for you, check out our page on Japanese apartments to get the low-down on what to expect for typical heating and air-conditioning, bathrooms, furnishings and more!

Advantages to hanging your hat in a guesthouse while you get situated are:

  • They offer long and short-term leases. (Often monthly and weekly.)
  • Most exclude agent fees and key money to some degree. (This can amount to thousands of dollars.)
  • Furnished and unfurnished are available.
  • Expect to pay only one month of rent as a security deposit. (Read the fine print!)
  • Shared guesthouses provide an excellent chance to start networking and find work. And when it comes to making decent money in Japan, it comes down to university work, or  getting a bunch of  your own clients working free-lance  or the holy grail of them all running the show yourself by owning  your own school.
  • Often located just off of train and bus lines.
  • Private and shared accommodations are available in most large cities.
  • Many will accept reservations by phone with just 1 or 2 weeks notice.
  • Larger guest houses will have English speaking staff.

Guest Houses and More on Accommodations in Japan – Things to Watch Out For

  • Security deposit -this may or may not be returned in full.
  • Linen fees. If they charge them, they’ll be in the neighborhood of 30,000 yen ($240 U.S.) This is a one time non-refundable fee.
  • Minimum stays of a month or longer are often required.
  • Often don’t accept credit cards but this is rapidly caving in as Japan is slowly succumbing to a credit based society from its origin of being cash based.
  • Utilities often aren’t included. Again look at the contract. But take heart as most of the large scale gaijin houses have staff that speak English to some degree.
  • Some require a Japanese guarantor. (Usually for long-term private and furnished apartment. This is slowly changing making living in Japan a bit easier.)

Private Guest Houses
What you can expect to pay while living in Japan

Prices for accommodations will vary depending on location, size, furnishings and whether they’re private or not. On average you can expect to pay the following for a private apartment in Tokyo. Again folks, these are just averages. You will find cheaper apartments if you look around and you'll definitely find more expensive ones.

Furnished and Private: 25 square meter size 1 bedroom with bath and kitchen 130,000 yen per month ($1040 U.S.)

Unfurnished and Private: 25 square meter size 1 bedroom with bath and kitchen 100,000 yen per month ($800 U.S.)

Survival Tip
Even a modest increase in size (5 square meters) will add hundreds to your monthly rent. So if you’re single, look for accommodations with the least square footage. It will be tough to find private and furnished accommodations for under 90,000 yen. Also, remember you’ll be required to show your passport and a valid visa before they’ll accept your application.

Shared Guest Houses
What you can expect to pay while living in Japan

If private rental prices are a little too steep for your pocket book, you can slash your rent bill by living in a shared guesthouse.

These are usually furnished and are semi-private in that you have your own bedroom. Your bedroom will typically be about 3 tatami size or 4.96 square meters. Communal areas are the kitchen, living room and bathroom. Furnishings typically include a futon, linens, kitchenware, utensils and other simple furnishings like a study desk, bookcase and chairs.

Prices swing a lot. I’ve seen them for as cheap as 48,000 yen per month and as high as 102,000. Expect to pay around 60,000 yen per month ($480 U.S.) for shared accommodations.

Survival Tip 
As far as living in Japan is concerned, choosing a guesthouse, shared if you can take it, is probably the fastest and cheapest way to get situated so you can find a teaching job and build your network.

After a few months you’ll have a good idea if you want to stay longer and make a career out of teaching English as a second language in Japan. If you do, you’ll probably want a more permanent living situation. If so, you’ll need to take the next step to living in Japan long-term. Renting your own private apartment.

Related Articles...

Japan Studio Apartment
Tatami mats
Tokyo Apartment
Japan Accommodations - Tips and Advice for Getting Your Own Apartment. Hurdles You'll face and how to get through them.

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