Unless you are absolutely fluent in Japanese, it´s best if you shop through a real estate agent. This will allow you to circumvent the language barrier (provided you can find an agent who speaks English), and may work to ease landlords’ concerns about foreign tenants.
Japanese real estate agents
In Japan, real estate offices usually serve a particular geographic area (or neighbourhood in a city). They often cluster near train and metro stations, locations frequented by travellers.
Real estate agents work for one-time commission fees equivalent to one month’s rent from the properties that customers choose.
Generally, ads for available properties are posted in the offices´ windows. These ads include the property size, its floor plan and its monthly rent. Properties for rent are marked chintai, while properties for sale are called uri.
If you see an ad you like, you can approach the agent directly and ask about it. In some cases, the agent may immediately take you to see the property. In others, he may refuse you outright. Real estate agents, like landlords, are sometimes unwilling to deal with foreigners.
It is best to deal through a real estate agent with whom you can communicate, either in English or in Japanese. If you do not speak Japanese and you cannot find a landlord that speaks English, strongly consider bringing a Japanese friend or co-worker with you when you are out meeting real-estate agents or property-hunting.
Finding a place on your own
Don’t even attempt to find a flat on your own unless you speak fluent Japanese. If you are, you can start by picking up a real estate magazine such as Isize or Chintai. These can be found any place where books or magazines are sold. They organize listings based on location, which may include particular train or subway lines. Most companies that put out real estate magazines also have websites where they post their listings.
Once you have found a suitable listing, simply contact the real estate agent associated with the listing and arrange to see the property in person.
In some ways, renting property in Japan is like getting a visa. You will probably need a guarantor for your property, just like you needed a sponsor to enter the country. The guarantor serves as reassurance to the landlord that you are a responsible, law-abiding citizen who will pay the rent and will not destroy the property. More importantly, the guarantor assumes financial responsibility for rent and damages.
Employers usually make the best guarantors, and most will not have a problem serving in that capacity. If your employer will not serve as your guarantor, however, the next best option is a Japanese friend or relative. As a last resort, many real estate agencies will provide guarantors, but they tend to be expensive.
Rental fees and deposits in Japan
One aspect of Japanese rentals that may irk foreign tenants is the number of initial fees. In addition to your security deposit (shikikin), you will have to pay ¨key money¨ (reikin) worth between one and three months rent. ¨Key money¨ is considered a show of gratitude to your landlord.
If living in an apartment building or a manshon, you will probably be charged a kokyuhi fee as well. This is a smaller fee that contributes to the building’s upkeep. All of these fees must be paid in cash, and none of them, except the security deposit, will be refunded. Also, don´t be surprised if your landlord requires another month’s worth of reikin when the time comes to extend your lease.