Japan offers an incredibly safe society, with a rich cultural heritage, mouth-watering cuisine and many unique opportunities for study and business. Whether you move to Japan for work, or for cultural interest, one of the most challenging things to do is finding a place to live. In this guide you’ll find everything you need to know to start your apartment hunt on the right foot.

How does the apartment rental process work in Japan?

If you are going to rent a property, whether it’s a house or an apartment in Japan, whether it’s for a long-term or short-term stay you’ll probably end up paying a commission fee to a real estate agency or a broker, even if you find an apartment yourself on the internet. It’s very rare to find apartment owners that rent out directly, so resorting to an agency will save you time when it comes to finding something that will suit what you are looking for.

That said, not all real estate agents even in Tokyo speak English, but thanks to bilingual brokerage assistance services they act as interpreters to ensure good communication between you and your agent, or you can always bring a Japanese speaking friend with you!

Calculate what kind of apartment and location you can afford

It should come to no surprise that living in Japan can be incredibly expensive, especially in the more popular urban cities like Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka or even in prefectures such as Kanagawa. Renting a one room apartment in central Tokyo can set you back around ¥120,000 a month. It’s important that you decide early on how much you are willing to spend on rent. About 30% of your gross monthly income is recommended.

Keep in mind that location will have a huge factor on the price of rent, especially if the apartment is located near a major train station or a major metro line such as the Yamanote Line in central Tokyo. Japanese people will often pay a premium to live within a 5-minute walk from the station.

Be clear about your requirements

Before heading down to the real estate agent’s office, make a list of what you need in your new apartment or house. Do you need to live near a station? Do you need a pet-friendly place? Here are some things to consider:

The location: General area, near a station, proximity to supermarket etc.

Building type and year of construction, bicycle/car parking area, auto-lock security system, potential noise (proximity to main roads, entertainment districts etc.)

Apartment – Floor preference (no ground floor, higher than second floor etc.), size, room layout, balcony, built-in storage, natural light etc.

Of course, certain criteria will be more important to you than others, so be sure to let your real estate agent know which matter most. Be clear about which are essential to you and which you could live without.

Other options to consider: furnished or unfurnished apartments

Most long-term apartments for rent in Japan come unfurnished, with a few notable exceptions, Gaijin houses, for example, usually have a bed, table, chairs and other furnishings. Gaijin houses are shared homes, with several studio apartments, in which all facilities, kitchen and common areas are shared. These types of homes are very popular options for foreigners as students, travelers and people staying under the working holidays visa.

In addition, some buildings are only rented out to company employees. If your company offers you accommodation, it will most likely be an already furnished house. LeoPalace21 tends to be the most common housing service available for company apartments. They tend to be 1DK (floor layouts are explained below) with paper-thin walls and are what you would call a very “cozy” home.

Japanese Apartment Layouts

Japanese apartment Layout

Japanese real estate agents use LDK, a unique abbreviation to describe apartment layouts. It stands for Living, Dining and Kitchen area, and it’s preceded by the number of rooms, excluding the bathroom and/or toilet.

Some other common Japanese apartment layouts are:

  • 1K: A one room apartment with a kitchen.
  • 1DK: A one room apartment with a dining and kitchen area.
  • 1LDK: A one room apartment with a living, dining and kitchen area.

Be aware that floor plans are usually not drawn to exact scale. They are only to give you an approximate idea of what an apartment looks like.

Here is a Japanese-English Japanese room guide:

JapaneseEnglishExtra Information
間取り (まどり)Floor Plan
玄関(げんかん)EntrywayJapanese people always take their shoes off in the entryway before entering.
靴箱 (くつばこ)Shoe Storage
和室 (わしつ)Japanese Style RoomTraditional Japanese style rooms come with flooring made of tatami mats. Tatami mats are made from dried, woven rush reeds covering a hard compact straw core.
洋室 (ようしつ)Western Style roomWestern-style rooms are either carpeted or have laminate flooring.
ダイニング DDining Room
キッチン KKitchen AreaThe ‘X’ in the kitchen area refers to where to hook up a refrigerator. Kitchens will do not include an oven. Instead will be fitted out with a gas line for a gas stove.
押入れ (おしいれ) 物入れ (ものいれ)Closet
収納 (しゅうのう) 納戸 (なんど)Storage
脱衣室 (だついしつ)Laundry RoomOften there’s a big “X” in the layout plan indicating where the washing machine can be hooked up.
浴室 (よくしつ)BathroomA unit bathtub and shower. Older apartments may only have a bathtub.
メーターボックス MBMeter BoxThis indicates where the electrical, water and/or gas meters are located.
バルコニーBalconyThese are usually very small and narrow.
階段 (かいだん)Staircase
約 (やく)About, approximatelyIn the same floor plan above, you can see that the western style room is designated as 約6帖. This means it’s ‘about’ six mats or 0.93 in².

Viewing prospective apartments

After stating your preferences, the agent will search for apartments that match your criteria. They will print out floor plans of prospective properties. Each floor plan will show the size of each room, the age of the building, area, distance to the nearest station etc. Room sizes are displayed on the plain in the measurement 畳 or 帖, which is 1.65m2 (5 feet 5 inches). After choosing a couple of apartments you are interested in, the agent will take you to view them.

Seeing potential apartments is really exciting and it can be hard to remember small details later.

Take plenty of photos for your own references and don’t be afraid to ask the agent to see the apartments again. Don’t forget to check out the neighborhood too. After viewing the room, take the time to walk around the neighborhood to see where the closest supermarket, convenience store and post office are located.

Japanese apartment renting contract requirements

Once you have decided on a suitable apartment the next step is making sure you have all the paperwork ready.

Each real estate agency or housing service agency will have different requirements but all will need the following:

  • Two forms of ID – Passport, residence card or student ID
  • A domestic (Japanese) phone number
  • Your own and emergency contact (a Japanese person is preferred)
  • A Japanese bank account – This to pay for the initial move-in costs and monthly rent. In rare cases, you may be able to pay for the upfront costs (as described further below) by credit card or cash. But your monthly rent must be paid by domestic means. In your application you will be asked to fill out an automatic withdrawal form, so that the rent will be automatically deducted from your account on the day that it is due.
  • A copy of recent pay slips or bank statement – This is to prove that you can pay the rent each month.
  • Letter of employment or certificate of eligibility – this only applies if you are a student.
  • A guarantor – A guarantor acts like an insurance and guarantees the landlord that any outstanding dues be paid. Ideally, your employer will be your guarantor.

Your guarantor will have to prepare the following documents:

  • Proof of residence (住民票)
  • Income statement (源泉徴収表)
  • Personal seal/Name stamp (印鑑証明書)

But if you don’t have anyone to ask, you can use a guarantor company (which the agent will recommend to you) for a fee.

Don’t Forget about the Move-In Costs!

Japan has a much higher upfront cost for moving in to a new apartment than many other places in the world. Things can add up pretty quickly!

These move-in fees can include:

  • Rent Advance 家賃 – Up to 2 months’ worth of rent is paid up-front.
  • Security Deposit 敷金 – A security deposit equivalent to one to three months’ rent is given to the landlord. When you move to a new residence, the money is used to pay any outstanding rent, make repairs and clean the apartment as necessary. The balance, if any, is refunded to you when you move out.
  • Guarantor Company Fee 保証料 -This initial fee ranges from 50% to even 100% of the rent plus consumption tax (10%).
  • Insurance Fee 保険料 – This covers any water or fire damage. Starts at ¥20,000 and can go up depending on apartment.
  • Realtor Fee 仲介手数料 – Agents often charge one month’s rent commission plus consumption tax. *Cleaning Fee – This is for the realtor to clean the apartment after you leave. Starts at ¥20,000.
  • Common maintenance Fee 共益費- This pays for the maintenance of the common areas (hallways, elevators etc.) in your building. Sometimes this is already included in the rent and is not shown as a separate fee.
  • Key Money 礼金 – This is a gratuity you pay to your landlord, and it is non-refundable. It’s usually about one to two month’s rent though, it’s typically much higher in Kansai.
  • Changing Lock Fee 鍵交換代 – This is to change all the locks so that you can have comfort knowing that you have the only key. Starts at ¥15,000. *Depending on the property, these fees are negotiable.

You won’t necessarily have to pay all of these fees as it entirely depends on the apartment. However, you should be prepared to pay approximately six months equivalent rent before you sign the rental agreement to cover the upfront costs. Read the rental agreement carefully and ask your realtor about any costs that you are unsure about.

Take a look below at some example deals of the costs of moving based on a ¥60,000 rental.

Here is an example of the apartment renting costs in Tokyo

Good Apartment Deal in Tokyo For limited options:

Renting FeeCost
Rent in advance¥60,000
Security deposit¥60,000
Guarantor company fee¥32,400
Insurance fee¥20,000
Realtor fee¥64,800
Cleaning fee¥30,000

Average Apartment Deal in Tokyo For more option selections:

Renting FeeCost
Rent in advance¥60,000
Security deposit¥60,000
Guarantor company fee¥32,400
Insurance fee¥30,000
Realtor fee¥64,800
Cleaning fee¥30,000
Common maintenance fee¥3,000
Key money¥60,000
Changing lock fee¥15,000

Expensive Apartment Deal in Tokyo: These deals mainly apply to larger apartments, pets or highly desired areas:

Renting FeeCost
Rent in advance¥120,000
Security deposit¥60,000
Guarantor company fee¥32,400
Insurance fee¥30,000
Realtor fee¥64,800
Cleaning fee¥50,000
Common maintenance fee¥3,000
Key money¥60,000
Changing lock fee¥18,000
Pet deposit¥40,000

Tips on finding a cheap apartment in Tokyo

As mentioned before location plays a huge factor in the overall price of a place. Choosing an apartment that is further away from the train station, further away from the city center and in an older building will all make for cheaper rent. In fact, living in a more rural area often makes for a much cheaper alternative.

Sometimes you can find 2LDK apartments for just ¥50,000!

Also, the time you begin your apartment hunting can also affect the prices you’ll find on the market. Between January and March, the rental prices for apartments are higher due to the large number of newly hired college graduates seeking a new place to live. During this time the negotiation period is less than a week as apartments fill up quickly. Once this period dies down, between April and July due to the low demand for apartments, property owners are pushing real estate agents to fill up their available properties.

Often property owners will offer no key money, lower rent or invest in upgrading certain properties to make them more appealing to future tenants. Another cheap alternative is a Jiko Bukken (事故物件), a “black property”. These apartments are often in great locations, spacious and have very cheap rent. But what’s the catch? Typically, in these apartments either a suicide or deadly accident has occurred hence the heavily reduced price. Agents are legally obligated to inform the next tenant that moves into the property after the incident. However, there is no further obligation to inform any future tenants from then forward. These places are always completed renovated, to make them more attractive. The only thing to consider is, are you afraid of ghosts?

Commonly Asked Questions about renting an apartment in Japan

What’s the difference between an apato (アパート) and a mansion (マンション)?

アパート is the abbreviation of the word “apartment”. It refers to less modern apartments located in older buildings that are usually made of wood or lightweight steel. In Japan, マンション does not actually mean mansion in English. It’s another type of apartment and its commonly associated with more modern properties. マンション usually have three or more stories and are constructed of reinforced concrete and or steel.

Can I negotiate the price of my apartment?

Yes, you can! In fact, most Japanese landlords expect to negotiate the price of rent so there is some margin for the offered price. In addition, you can also negotiate with your real estate agent a reduction in the commission charged. Make the proposal you want and get a better price for your new apartment.

Can I rent an apartment in Japan while being unemployed?

Though it’s possible, it’s very difficult. Most landlords require, for long-term rentals, proof of income before renting the apartment, and what’s even more important they will ask you to prove that you have the right to reside in Japan with a work visa. Therefore, although it’s technically possible to get an apartment without having a job, it will be very difficult.

I’ve heard some Japanese landlords are reluctant to rent to foreigners. How can I avoid this problem?

Unfortunately, in Japan, discrimination of applications based on their nationality and race does still exist. However, it is not as common as 10 years ago. In response to Japan’s decreasing population, the Japanese government is proactively accepting more foreign labor and exchange students so the number of property owners that are open to foreign tenants have increased considerably.