Finding a place to live in Japan is one of the first steps in your new adventure. While you may be familiar with renting an apartment in your home country, you are likely to find the system in Japan much different than what you’re used to. Today, we’re going to teach you how to select a Japanese apartment, how to find an agency, and the fees that you need to be aware of.

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Finding the Right Area

One of the major things you need to research before signing a lease is what area you want to live in. First of all, whether you’re in Japan to work or study, you’ll want to find a place that’s as close to your workplace or school as possible. Ideally, you’ll want to be within walking distance. However, if this isn’t an option, then a place that’s no more than a 30-minute train ride is the next best thing.

Finding the Right Area
Finding the Right Area

The reason it’s important to be as close to your workplace or school as possible is because you will be making this commute EVERY DAY. Any commute longer than 30 minutes adds up to more than an hour of travel time each day. On top of that, it’s likely there won’t be any seats left when you board the train, so you’ll have to stand the entire time squished in a crowd of sweaty salarymen. Cutting commute time to a minimum is a great way to minimize stress and make for a more enjoyable life.

Also, make sure your apartment is near a grocery store and/or convenience store. There may be some pretty cheap housing options out there, but if they’re out in the middle of a rice field with the nearest shop a 20-minute walk away, you’re going to wish you had been a little less frugal.

One other thing to note is that the closer the apartment is to the train station, the higher the rent. For all of you light sleepers out there, though, be aware that the closer you are to a train station, the louder that clackety-clack of trains rushing by will be. I personally don’t mind the 10-minute walk from my station to my apartment, as it’s quiet at night.

Finding a Real Estate Agent

In Japan, you can’t sign a lease directly with a landlord, you have to go through a real estate agency (i.e. a middleman) first. When you hear this, you might be thinking, “What? A real estate agency? I’m not buying property here. All I’m doing is renting an apartment. Can’t I just cut out the middleman?” 

The short answer: sorry, you can’t.

Here are some links to popular sites for apartment-hunting. Be aware, though, that the agency for a particular room might be different than the company that hosts the site. The agency that controls the property should be somewhere near the bottom of the listing. You can contact them directly via the contact information they have listed. 

  1. Gaijinpot Apartments
  2. Real Estate Japan
  3. Housing Japan 

Below are some popular agencies commonly used by Japanese people. They have branches all over the country (usually near a train station) that you can visit and take a tour of available properties in the area. Each agency has different property listings, so try a few of them out before you make a final decision.

  1. Able
  2. Suumo
  3. Minimini      

Below is a site I personally like and used to find my current apartment. However, it’s all in Japanese.

  1. Chintai


Are you sitting down? Great, because here’s the kicker: you’re not going to like the initial costs associated with renting an apartment in Japan. Where I come from, when you first move in, usually you just pay a security deposit (which you get back when you move out as long as you don’t break anything). After that, maybe the first month or two’s rent, and then you’re free to start unloading furniture. However, in Japan, there are several additional costs on top of the security deposit and first month’s rent. Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to pay before you move in:

1. Key Money (Reikin)
1. Key Money (Reikin)

1. Key Money (Reikin)


Key money? You mean the money to change the locks on the front door? Sorry, there’s a separate fee for that, too. Key money is a mandatory fee paid to the landlord as an expression of gratitude for allowing you to possess the keys to one of their rooms. In recent years, some landlords wave this fee, but in my experience, those properties tend to be of the flimsy, bottom-of-the-barrel variety. If you want a nice place, it’s best to just bite the bullet and fork over the cash.

2. Security Deposit (Shikikin)


This is less a deposit and more just an all-out fee since you won’t get this money back no matter how well you take care of the apartment. The reason it’s non-refundable is because the landlord uses this money to prepare the room for the next tenant after you move out. How, specifically, do they prepare the room? And does it really cost a whole month’s rent to do so? Nobody knows. Sucks, right? Well, it gets worse. Get ready to pay upwards of an extra 40,000 yen ($400) the day you move out as a “cleaning fee.”

3. Agency Fee (Chuukai Tesuuryou)


Wait a minute, an agency fee? Are you sure I can’t just skip the middleman and find a landlord that will rent to me directly? Sorry, not gonna happen. Japanese society relies on middlemen to keep unemployment down. Wah-wah…

4. First Month’s Rent


5. Property Insurance (Songai Hoken


This covers damages in the case of a fire or natural disaster. Check with the agency for more specific details on what the property insurance covers.

6. Maintenance Fee (Kanrihi)

AMOUNT: 0 YEN – ???

This fee you pay each month for general repairs and maintenance of the property. The fee can range from nothing to tens of thousands of yen (hundreds of dollars) if there are special amenities such as a lobby and front entrance security. Always make sure to factor in the maintenance fee when figuring out your monthly rent.

7. Key Exchange Fee

AMOUNT: 10,000 YEN+

Yup, another key fee. This is the one you pay to change the locks from the previous tenant.

8. Monthly Bank Transfer Fee (Furikomi Tesuuryou)

AMOUNT: 7,000 YEN+ (2 YEARS)

To pay rent, the money is automatically deducted from your bank account, called a furikomi. These furikomi incur a 210 yen (or so) fee per transaction, and, yes, the agency charges you for that, too. Oh well…

Total Expenses

All of this added together, and you’re looking at about 400,000 yen ($4,000) in move-in costs for an 80,000 yen ($800) a month apartment. And, yes, it all has to be paid IN CASH and UPFRONT or you can’t move in. No installments, no credit cards, CASH NOW!

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In Conclusion

Finding the perfect apartment in Japan can be a challenge, and the fees can be ridiculous, but I find that as long as you expect these things beforehand, it’s usually easier to deal with them once they occur (as opposed to being surprised). So, the bottom line is do your research on areas you’d like to live in, find a real estate agency with good properties, and make sure you save up enough cash for those initial move-in fees. 

Final thought: don’t settle for less! If you don’t immediately find what you want, keep looking and don’t give up! Be diligent, and you’ll surely find a place that makes you happy!   

Learn Japanese Online with BondLingo

Learn Japanese Online with BondLingo


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