Because yesterday I was talking about just how ridiculously expensive it is to rent an apartment within Japan, I thought that maybe, just maybe, I should sneak in a post about why I said what I said.
I’ve heard that it’s a bit like New York City, which makes sense, considering that Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Overlooking what you get for the exorbitantly high rents (thin thin thiiiiin walls, zero insulation, no central heating/air, and let’s not talk about the miniscule square footage), there is something else that makes apartment hunting in Japan a task that’ll take all of your savings.
To rent an apartment, generally you will need to go to a realtor (不動産). There’s no such thing as looking for ads in the paper or just walking up to apartment complexes and asking in the offices, as I have done for every single apartment that I rented in the US. The good thing is that realtors are freaking everywhere, and you can spot them easily with a simple google maps search on your smartphone, or by walking down the street and looking for the sandwich boards and/or signs in the window. They even have Century 21, which is a company familiar to most Americans at least!
Signs look like this.
I don’t have anything against using a realtor. It makes things pretty clear and simple. Realtors will have you fill out a form stating what you are looking for and in what area, what your budget is, etc, and then look up hopeful candidate apartments and bring you a floor plan. If you like any of them, then they’ll take you on over to look at the apartment.
Assuming that you like an apartment, this is where things start to get ugly. First off, the realtor will CALL THE LANDLORD and ask them if they’re okay with renting to a foreigner. I am being completely serious. It’s totally legal to discriminate against someone in Japan based on nothing more than the color of their skin, and I actually have had multiple times when I had decided to rent an apartment, gone to see it, and had the application stall because the landlord said, “no, I don’t want to rent to a foreigner.”
Well, gee. Sorry for being less of a human being just because I happen to have been born in another country.
Maybe this is okay in other areas of the world. But I grew up in The United States, and while discrimination still happens all of the time, it is illegal to tell someone that you refuse to rent to them simply because of their race. In Japan, they come out and say it straight to your face that you’re not okay just because you’re not “Japanese.” (I use quotes, because to quite a few Japanese people, even if you’re born and raised in Japan and have a Japanese passport, but just so happen to be white/black/have Korean/Chinese heritage, you’re not considered Japanese. Wtf.)
Okay. Calm down, Jamie. Alright. So, let’s assume that you’ve found a place that is alright with a dirty foreigner renting their apartment, and you want to sign a contract. Well, you’d better have a LOT of money.
That’s because to get the key and sign the lease, you need to pay a lot of fees. A LOT of fees.
First off, there is the first month’s rent. No biggie. That makes sense to me. Then you need to pay 1-2 months as a security deposit. Alright…. well, that’s a lot more than the first&last-month-free with $500 security deposit that pretty much every apartment I’ve lived in in the US has charged, but I can understand this. It doesn’t stop there, though. There’s also a one-month (typically) fee that you have to pay to the realtors. So, we are up to 3-4 months worth of rent money just to move in. Then there is the mandatory renter’s insurance. That’s not a big deal, usually around $200 for two years. But then comes the big one. In Japan, there is something known as reikin.
Reikin (礼金), is literally translated as gift money. It’s usually given the title of “key money” in English to make it sound comprehensible, but what it really is is an expensive “gift” of money to the landlord. Like many “gifts” in Japan, this one is not optional. You have to give it if you want to move in. It’s “thank you for letting me move in and pay you money every month” money. As if the fact that you were going to be paying them half of your salary every month just for the pleasure of living in their building wasn’t enough. Oh yeah, also.. Every time you renew your contract, you have to pay this fee again (usually every 2 years).
So, we’re up to a possible 6 months of rent plus $200, just to move in. If you are, say, renting an apartment that costs $1000/month, as my third apartment did, it would cost you around $6,200 just to get the keys, and then somehow you’re supposed to also pay the physical fee for moving in. Next month, you still have to pay rent, it’s not like they’re going to give you a discount. So, it’s going to cost you half a year’s rent to move into a crappy, uninsulated apartment and listen to your neighbors’ baby.
Well, welcome to Japan!
If I sound angry, it’s because I am. The Japanese rental system is unfair, filled with corruption (reikin is corruption/theivery imo), and at times outright racist. Your other options, assuming that you don’t happen to conveniently know someone who will let you move into their place for free, is to stay at a hotel or a guest house– basically a dorm where you get a private locking room. You can’t have pets, don’t have your own bathroom, and forget about it ever being quiet at night.