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Renting an apartment in Japan IS EXPENSIVE

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.


And 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.

Mrr. (>.<)

(738 geeks have read this)

Hi! This is Jamie Lynn Lano! I am a Washington State (USA) native who: ☆ Holds a Bachelors of the Arts in Media Arts & Animation from AiPx. ☆ Worked as an assistant mangaka in Japan for Konomi Takeshi on The Prince of Tennis. ☆ Was an essay columnist for Asahi Weekly from 2008-2013. ☆ Was the star of Asahi Pop'n Press on Asahi TV (Japan) from 2009-2013 ☆ Was a write for Metropolis magazine in 2010. ☆ Has kept a blog foreeeeeeeeever! First and Current blogs.

20 Comments

  • Emi

    In the US SF Bay Area, I paid a $1400 deposit (1200-1400 is common where I’m at) and the landlord showed the place while I still lived in it, but she had to give 24hours notice first. A 500 deposit seems like a dream 🙂

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      WOW!! I’ve heard that the rents in San Francisco are murder. Still a better deposit than most places in Tokyo (I’m assuming that’s around one month’s rent cost?), but I wouldn’t want to live there. You guys have it hard!

  • eitou

    A slightly macabre but handy tip… if you’re looking for cheap apartments, especially in Tokyo, ask for an apartment where there has been a death. Japanese are incredibly superstitious and will not rent such a flat. The price shoots right down and often the landlords / realtors are so desperate to get rid of the flat that there are no additional fees or racism involved.
    This is, of course, not for those who are superstitious themselves or who don’t like the idea of renting an apartment where someone has died which is fair enough!
    I have heard that sharehouses are a good option for larger cities or, if your company / workplace subsidises your travel fees, living in the suburbs often works out better. I think that Tokyo is one of the better cities in which to do that given the fantastic travel links… but navigating Shinjuku station during rush hour is a PAIN.

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      Haha, I hear you on Shinjuku!! Even not during rush hour, there are still a lot of people, especially slower retired people, who meander around and can make it hard to navigate. Plus, Shinjuku station is a giant maze, and it’s impossible to find your way around easily if you make the mistake of exiting from the wrong exit, or even worse, the take the wrong set of stairs from the platform! Something I learned to take great care to avoid. XD

      That’s a good tip about the ghosts! I don’t think that it works very well anymore, since I tried the same trick at three different agencies the last time I was looking for an apartment, and the last one actually laughed at me. XDDD;; Everyone is looking for any deal they can get!

      I stayed in two different guest houses, and while they are noisy and don’t allow pets (understandable, but that made it a no-go for me, or I would have moved into one instead of leaving the country), they’re not the best option. They can help you get started, though, and when I did need to move suddenly, they were a lifesaver for me.

  • zoomingjapan

    I agree that it’s horrible how much you have to pay in Japan if you want to rent an apartment / mansion.

    However, recently more and more alternatives pop up, especially in the big cities. I just wish they would spread all over the country. *sigh*

    Well, once you have your apartment, I’d say it’s rather cheap – as long as you don’t live in a big city.
    For my first apartment I paid 22.000yen / month.

    Now, I have a HUGE apartment in the countryside with several rooms I don’t need and a parking lot for my car. I pay 55.000yen / month.

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      Wasn’t your first apartment subsidized, though? Like, your company paid part of the rent or they owned the apartment? That’s a common arrangement, and I know a few friends who are lucky enough to have that. 22,000 seems way, way too low. I’ve never heard of a rent that low, even when I was living in the countryside in the US in government-subsidized housing. 55,000 is more common, especially in the country (In contrast, my apartment in Shinjuku-ku that was 60,000/month, was 4/5 mats, with no closet and the “kitchen” was part of the genkan). I wouldn’t want to live outside of the city, though, ever again. It’s too boring, too inconvenient for me. I need to have a lot of shopping nearby. What do you mean by alternatives, though? Like guest houses? They’re not really a private apartment, and you can’t have pets, cars, or keep your own cooking things, so I wouldn’t really equate them. They’re also usually noisy because they tend to be filled with young people who like to stay out late, and have thiiiin walls (at least the 2 places I lived were).

      When I was in the US, though, it was almost always cheaper to move than to stay where you were. Most of the time, there was only a $500 deposit, and you’d get the first and last month free, so essentially, it was cheaper to rent a new place than stay where you were. I miss that!

      • zoomingjapan

        Yes, great memory.
        Especially in the inaka it’s common that rent might be subsidized by your school / company.
        So, the total rent was 44.000yen.

        Shared housing is very common recently. I have never tried it, but I wonder if that’s a good alternative. 🙂

        • Jamie Lynn Lano

          Yes, I shared a large house with two other people at one time. It seemed like a good idea, because we had a lot of space for the same as it would cost to rent a tiny apartment by yourself. It wasn’t very good in the end, though, because the walls between rooms are even thinner than between apartments. I could hear my friend moving in her bed, it was insane! Also, since it was a house there was even less insulation than an apartment (drafty wood!), and it was framed by other houses, so it was almost always cold and damp and dark. I wouldn’t do it again!

  • KC

    ha! this post is so timely because i JUST had to pay my lease renewal fee this month, and i am sooooo poor til my next paycheck… T_T

    i also live in an apartment that was, basically the only place the realtors had that was ok with renting to a dirty gaijin… so i totally know what you mean with your whole rant thing…. i do like my tiny prison cell though… and it’s in a good location, so meh.

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      A good location can make all the difference! If I went back and had to choose a “cheap” place, I’d choose the dingy one-room 4.5-mat place with no closet that I had in Shinjuku over the 2DK that I had in Kanagawa (they were the same price). Yeah, when the lease renewals came up for me, I refused every time. I just never felt like the apartment was worth so much money.

  • GoneToMoon

    Hello Jamie, longish time reader and thanks for continuing to add to this blog 🙂

    Question!

    Is this experience from living in Tokyo or have you rented apartments in other places in Japan?

    (I ask because if you compared living costs in London with the rest of the England it would seem pretty damn expensive)

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      This is in Tokyo and the suburbs surrounding it. I lived in Kanagawa for about three years (four different places), but found that it was only slightly cheaper (in monthly rent) than Tokyo, and way more inconvenient. When I traveled I often looked at rents in the windows of agencies, but found that while the square footage was more, you still couldn’t rent any place for less than $600/mo, and the construction was still terrible. Of course if you like the countryside, then it’s great for you!

  • Nesli

    I so love your blog.. Thank you! 🙂

    (I am a loong time reader, thought I should finally tell you how much I enjoy this sweet place)

  • Audrey

    I definitely got lucky with renting apartments in Japan as I have yet to have experience any discrimination for being a foreigner–but I suspect that that’s probably because my Japanese husband dealt with all the paperwork and talking. But never during our meetings with the realtors or landlords did any mention of me being a foreigner come up at all.

    For our second apartment, we didn’t have to pay key money! Thank goodness.

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      Oh yes! The one time that I tried to rent with a japanese person was the only time that the issue never came up, for me, too. Well, that and the time that my company already owned the apartment (my first one was like that). I always looked for places with low or no key money, but it really limited the selection, and once they even lowered my deposit to zero because I couldn’t afford it, but kept the two months key money. Go figure, since you can’t ever get the key money back! Rawr.

  • Anon

    I rent a new apartment few months ago.
    I think that the reason why it is so expensive is because apartment are left empty much longer than in other countries. No visit are allowed if the previous resident hasn’t left yet (I don’t know about US, but in France, people can visit apartments while the previous resident is still living in there).

    What bothers me the most is not to be allowed to play guitar, sing or own a pet (It depends on the apartment but usually it’s not allowed). I wonder how hard it can be for a foreigner to buy an apartment…

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      I don’t know if they’re left vacant for longer, but you’d think that landlords would get rid of all of these expenses in order to rent out their places more quickly. In the US, we can’t visit apartments when tenants are still in them, at least in my experience. The complex usually keeps an open apartment jusst for the purposes of showing it to prospective tenants, like a showroom (obviously only for big complexes). I miss having swimming pools and things like that, too.

      Not being able to play guitar makes sense, though. I could hear my neighbor’s baby all the time. If they had tried to play guitar, I would have called the police because it’s not fair to have to listen to them all of the time.

  • Elizabeth

    Tokyo is terrible >.< I can't believe you have to pay the reikin everytime you renew your contract! Unbelievable.

    In Sapporo, it is fortunately more reasonable (just for comparison). Again, you use a broker but there is no reikin. I think I paid the estate agent one month's rent and then …. maybe another 2 month's rent plus a little extra for insurance and cleaning fees. There was no extra cost when my contract renewed. In fact, it just automatically continued on a month-by-month basis after the two years.

    • Jamie Lynn Lano

      Sometimes you can get lucky and get no reikin, but I always looked for those places, and they were usually really terrible in quality. I even tried to get a reduction in reikin once and instead they reduced my deposit instead. I can earn the deposit back theoretically (I have never gotten a cent back no matter how nice a condition I leave my apartment in), but of course reikin is theirs to keep and the motivation is obvious. >.< You're lucky about the renewal. I always refused to renew because it felt like the apartments were always substandard so I should just look for another place anyways, but it becomes expensive after a while. 🙁 To be fair, they really shouldn't require anything besides a small security deposit (no more than 50,000 yen) to move in anywhere. I don't like how Japan just rips you off.

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