In Japan, signatures do not legalize important documents such as housing contracts and bank statements. Japanese prefer to use their inkan on important documents, and housing deals are no exception.
Inkan (referred to informally as hanko) can be purchased in a variety of locations, but the simplest options are train stations and online purchase. The cost of an inkan will vary depending on the complexity of the design. A fairly plain inkan will probably cost somewhere around a 1000 yen.
Japanese rental contracts
Never sign (or in Japan, stamp) a document without understanding the terms. Rental contracts are perfect examples. Make sure you are clear on the rent amount, when it is due, and how long the lease is valid. Some Japanese landlords will penalize tenants for ending their lease and some will not, but in any case you will want to give your landlord at least a month´s notice (preferably two, if possible) before moving out early.
A typical lease will last one or two years. Each time you renew your lease you must stamp the new contract with your inkan, and your guarantor must do the same with his.
When you renew your lease, you may consider renegotiating the rent with your landlord. While this is considered an insult at the beginning of the lease, it is not uncommon when it is time for renewal (especially if the rent is increasing). Your success will probably depend on your landlord and your Japanese skills.
Maintenance of your apartment
Japanese tenants are expected to maintain their living spaces, and so are foreigners. If you have a garden, your landlord will expect you to keep it presentable. Damage to appliances and surfaces inside the apartment should be repaired promptly. If you ignore problems and the landlord decides repairs are necessary, they will be made at your expense, so it is best to handle potential issues early.
Japanese apartments are rented with the understanding that they will be returned in the same state that they were leased. Never make any improvements to your rental property without talking to your landlord. A renovation may seem practical to you, but your landlord might not agree. Unapproved changes could turn into damage charges. There is a chance that your landlord will support your home-improvement ideas, however, and even reward you by discounting your rent a few thousand yen.
Rental fees in Japan
The final hurdle in the leasing process is likely to be the most aggravating for most foreigners. When renting a property, there are fees to be paid. A lot them.
First, you will have to make a security deposit (shikikin), which will be refunded when you move out and the property is given back in perfect condition. Then, you will have to pay ¨gratitude money¨ (reikin) to your landlord, usually a couple months worth of rent. Reikin is not refunded. If you live in a manshon or another large housing complex, you may be charged a kokyuhi fee as well. This is a small charge used to help fund the complex´s general upkeep.
Next, of course, you will also have to pay your real estate agent. Most agents charge a commission fee (chukai tesyuro) equal to one month of your rent. Finally, do not be surprised if your landlord requires additional reikin when it is time to renew the lease.