House Hunting here in Tokyo Japan can be a whole new experience to non-Japanese who come to live in Japan for the first time. Especially the real estate practices in Japan are pretty much different from those in other countries. Not to get too surprised, you might want to prepare yourself by learning some information in advance about Tokyo before even getting started on your house-hunting. As one of the experienced bilingual agencies in Tokyo, we believe we can give you some insights on this matter.
Once you start looking into the property market on the internet you might come across some unfamiliar industry jargon. The following are some of the definitions of the terms on the sample Floor Plan below.
“Rent” + “Maintenance Fee” is the total amount of your monthly payment. The “Maintenance Fee” is generally regarded as the fees for the purpose of common-area maintenance in the building, such as elevators, hallways and vestibules. But in some cases this “Maintenance Fee” can be used just to make the price (Rent) “seem” cheaper than it actually is on the market database as an advertisement strategy of the real estate agency.
Security Deposit might sound familiar to you even back in your home country. It is refundable when you terminate your lease. The total amount ranges from none up to 6 month’s Rent (excluding “Maintenance fee”). Some charges are deducted from the deposit, such as the room cleaning charge and the restoration cost to fix the damages made on the property during your stay. An average rate for a room cleaning is about 1,000 yen per square meter in Tokyo area. This rate may vary depending on the cleaners that the property management firm hires. So the renters are NOT allowed to arrange the room cleaning by themselves. Restoration, replacement of wall papers, and so on can be very costly, so you might want to avoid putting any nails or screws in the walls.
Key Money is defined as NON-refundable gift money paid by renters to owners. The amount ranges from none up to 2-month rent (excluding “Maintenance fee”). It is common in Japan to charge a renter key money as a part of the initial fee. It is non-refundable, so you might want to ask your agent to negotiate with the owner for a discount or look for an apartment without Key Money from the beginning.
If the floor plan says the unit is 70.55 sqm, which excludes the balcony area.
The common acronym to describe a room type can be a little tricky here in Japan, but once you get used to it, it’s not complicated.
"1 R" = 1 Room (Studio apartment with a Kitchen inside the room)
"1 K" = 1 room + Kitchen (Studio apartment with a door separating the room and the kitchen)
"1 S L D K" = 1 bedroom + Storage room (like a Den) + Living & Dinning + Kitchen
"2 L D K" = 2 bedrooms + Living & Dinning + Kitchen
"1 D K" = 1 bedroom + Dining & Kitchen (smaller than LDK)
You may notice there are numbers followed by “J” in the floor plan. This “J” stands for “帖” or “畳” in Japanese Kanji, it is pronounced “JOE”, which is the unit describing how many Tatami mats are in a space. “1 J” equals the size of 1 Tatami mat, about 1.65 sqms (91cm x 182cm). So “15 J” is approximately 24.75sqm. This is quite common way to describe the dimension of the room in Japan. But even it says the living & dining room is “15 J”, it only describes its dimension, it does not mean that the floor is actually tatami, it could be wood flooring.
The actual Tatami itself looks like a mat made of dried straw. A Japanese Tatami room in the floor plan should be quite easy to recognize because it is indicated by grids in a rectangle shape, also sometimes in color of green. Tatami mats have pros and cons, some people might say the smell of the straw bothers a little or other say its appearance looks as cool as Japanese tea ceremony room. See more about Tatami mat in the link below. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatami
"Steel Reinforced Concrete"(the acronym : “SRC”) will be the most resistant structure against earthquakes, It was developed in Japan after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923. It is a combination of "Steel" structure (the acronym : "S") and "Reinforced Concrete" structure (the acronym : "RC").Also any one of these 3 structures above have thicker walls and more fire-resistant than any house in “Wooden Structure”. In general a wooden house is still regarded as being quake-resistant enough to survive an earthquake but it could be quite vulnerable to fire that might occur right after the quakes. Also due to the thinner wall of wooden apartment, you might actually hear your neighbors snoring through the walls at night. On the bright side, the Rent is much more reasonable.
Most of rental apartments in Japan are NOT furnished. There are no lighting fixture, refrigerator, washer, drier and so on, you will need to buy those appliances by yourself. However, most of the owners do install an air-conditioner in the living & dining space because of the hot and humid weather in summer season. In some cases, air-conditioners will also be installed in the bedrooms by the owners. It’s quite difficult to find a fully-furnished apartment option on the market.
There are Pet-Allowed apartments in Tokyo, but in most cases, only a small-size dog (less than 10 kg) or a cat will be allowed. If you are planning to have a large-size dog like a Golden Retriever, (heavier than 10 kg to be exact), the number of your options will be extremely limited. When renting a place with your pet, the owner will most likely charge you for an extra 1 month deposit, which will most likely be NON-refundable to cover the damage caused by pet and for the special odor eliminating treatment. You might want to keep these things in mind.
Even just for renting a place in Japan, most of property owners require a “Joint Guarantor” a “Co-signer. For any NON-Japanese renter, it seems to be very difficult to find a Guarantor unless your spouse is a Japanese citizen because this Guarantor person has to be a Japanese citizen and also the renter’s next of kin at the same time, such as parents or siblings, who also make almost the same amount of income as the renter dose. So even to any Japanese renter, his retired parents who are on pension may not be qualified as a Joint Guarantor, which happens a lot lately because of Japan’s rapid aging population. So regardless the renter’s nationality, finding an eligible Guarantor has become more and more difficult to anyone today. To solve this vicious circle of the situation, the industry has invented a new service system called “Guarantor Company”, which acts as a Guarantor for the renters and also acts as an unpaid-rent-collector to secure the owner’s income gain. Of course their services are not provided free of charge, the service fee to pay initially ranges from 40% up to 100% of the total rent that you will pay monthly (Rent + Maintenance Fee + Car Parking Fee, etc.). The fee is mostly charged on the renter’s side, but in some rare cases the owner may cover its cost. The Guarantor Company also does a tenant screening on the renters especially regarding their financial background and visa status. They will require you to submit some financial statements. (We’ll get to this in more details later.)
A two-year lease term is quite common in Japan. After the two-year period, renters will be required to pay a fee called “Renewal Fee” to the owner for renewing the lease. It is usually 1 or 1.5 month rent (excludes Maintenance Fee). This is one of unique customs in Japan, such as “Key Money”, which you may think it is a little strange. In some cases, even this Renewal Fee could be negotiable with the owner. So please don’t give up on your hopes yet.
Many of our clients are quite surprised when they learn that the renter is the one who pays the Agency Fee (Brokerage Fee). A Japan’s law (Building Lots and Buildings Transaction Business Act) says the legitimate maximum amount of the brokerage fee is up to 1 month of Rent (excluding Maintenance Fee) + Consumption tax. In some cases, the owner may agree to pay for some portions of this fee to your Agent. In such a case, that would make the share you are supposed to pay negotiable for a discount.
Once you have decided on signing a house lease in Japan, you are required to get some kind of fire insurance without exception. In general, the insurance covers damages on the policy holder’s BELONGINGs, which caused by an accident or unpredictable event such as a fire, lightning, flood, explosion, falling object, bust pipe, etc. (The conditions vary depending on the insurer.) Due to “Tenant Legal Liability”, in the case the policy holder himself accidentally caused one of the above events, the insurance would also cover the cost of the recovery from a loss of the owner’s property. Since this cost to cover could be a large sum of money in many cases, this is the whole point of taking out a fire insurance to protect the tenant himself to begin with. Its contact term will be the same as the house lease term, which is 2 years mostly. The amount of the fee for the 2 years ranges approximately from 15,000 yen up to 40,000 yen, depending on the size of the property. Most of insurers offer additional earthquake insurance as an option, but requires additional fee as well.
Many owners will replace the locks and keys on the entrance door when they have a new tenant. The expense of the key replacement might or might not be charged to the renters. The amount of the charge ranges from 10,000 yen for regular locks up to 40,000 yen for more secured complex keys.
Before you get started on your house hunting, you might want to clarify several points first listed below.
You may feel much more comfortable if you are given a rough idea of how much money to pay upfront when signing a lease in Japan. Here is an example estimate of a lease contract.
Rent : 150,000yen / Date of lease : April 20th
The total is 1,148,250 yen, It is a lot of money just for renting a place! But don’t panic yet, there are some ways to reduce the amount on your bills. Here are some tips which might come in handy to save you some money.
If the company you work for could act as your sponsor and allows you to sign the lease under the company’s name, it’ll definitely make your life in Japan much easier. This is called “Corporate Contract”. The screening process will be much easier and NO Guarantor Service Firm may be required to use. Some companies may even pay part of the Deposit and Agency Fee. And on top of that, you may get some tax deduction. (You still need to confirm the details with your employer). But everything will still depend on the company scale and some other conditions. If the company is listed on the stock exchange in Japan or its business operation goes worldwide, (either way the company MUST be registered in Japan.) you may maximize your benefits. But if NOT, your “Corporate Contract” attempt might become a much tougher tenant-screening than an Individual Contract case. In such a case the Owner will require way many official documents about your company in fact.
Yes. The owner checks your visa status at the screening. You need to have a legitimate document to stay in Japan called “Resident Card”, or “在留カード” in Japanese. Please keep in mind that anyone who has a Tourist Visa or a Working Holiday Visa will certainly have difficulties to sign a regular long term house lease here in Japan because of the period of stay granted.
In the case you are currently on a lease in Japan, please check the termination clause on your current lease beforehand with the owner or property management firm. The termination notice commonly has to be filed 1 month or 2 months in advance. Once you find a new place, the new owner is most likely to ask you to start the lease within the next 2 weeks or so. In such a case you would have to pay double rent for a period of time.
If the renewal date of your lease is coming up, you might want to ask the owner or management firm about your renewal term before starting house-hunting. If you didn’t inform your owner about NOT renewing the lease, you may need to pay the painful “Renewal Fee” (the equivalent of 1 month rent in general). Please be aware that an automatic Renewal is pretty common in Japan if the tenant didn’t file a termination notice in time.
Some lease conditions come with “Penalty Terms” if terminate before the lease is up. In some cases, the penalty is applied even when terminating it within the first year of the lease. If you got any great deals on your current lease, such as NO Key Money or the first month rent for FREE. Most likely, the lease has some type of Penalty Terms.
In Japan, it is pretty common to have two agencies involved in one house lease contract,
“Owner-side Agent” otherwise known as “Property Management Firm”, and “Tenant-side Agent” also known as “Brokerage Agent”. The “Owner-side Agent” helps the property owners to market the properties to brokerage agents and also to screen applicants on behalf of the owner to choose an appropriate tenant. On the other hand the “Tenant-side Agent”, otherwise known as Brokerage Agent, will not only help house-hunters to find a suitable apartment on the market, but also help them get through the pain-in-the-neck tenant screening by standing up for the applicant the Agent represents.
Since a tenant screening is unavoidable, you might want to budget your monthly rent properly from the start. About a third (1/3) or less of your annual income should be the max amount for the rent you pay for 12 months.You may be declined at your tenant screening if the owner thinks you cannot afford the rent. The annual income may include monthly paychecks, bonus, your spouse’s income and any other additional official income. Please note that some property owners might suppose the income from overseas (outside Japan) not be considered as part of your income.
As one of the bilingual real estate agents in Tokyo, this will be the most painful fact that we must tell you. Unfortunately there are still many owners and property management firms which don’t accept non-Japanese renters. So what is their problem then? In many cases it is just due to the fact that they’ve never communicated with people in other languages besides Japanese. Most owners are elderly or some local realtors which have been running their business for a long time. They really don’t like all the hassles and troubles that they have to go through when dealing with Non-Japanese speakers. Even today, this deeply-rooted language barrier seems to be a quite serious issue in many business fields in Japan. If you are fluent in Japanese, the situation will be better. But still, owners might have other concerns, such as “cultural differences” (partying habits, strong smells of some exotic spices, etc.). So, avoiding this particular type of owners and local realtors from the beginning would be the key to success in house-hunting.
But here is good news for you. There are many owners in Tokyo who we called “REIT” (the acronym standing for “Real Estate Investment Trust”, which is an investment firm). They wouldn’t pay too much attention to the language you speak at their tenant-screening because they most likely have English-speaking staff in their office. And, many of the investors in REIT are overseas investors, so they should have less bias against non-Japanese renters.
Nowadays, everyone would agree that the internet is the most convenient and effective way to search something, including apartment search in Tokyo. Before you start browsing any real estate portal site, here is a Japan’s unique industry practice that we believe you should know. 99 % of real estate agents in Tokyo actually share the same property databases on the market. Therefore you will be given pretty much the same apartment information at any agent’s office in Tokyo. So choose your agent wisely from the start to save your precious time.
Also you can visit the link below “ TOKYO REAL ESTATE”, produced by us, S-FIT Co., Ltd., our recently-renewed real estate website contains thousands of rental property information from the current Tokyo market. Find your dream apartment with us at TOKYO REAL ESTATE.
Website : TOKYO REAL ESTATE
Once you find an apartment, you will need to fill out all the necessary information on the application forms and submit it together with the other items below. Once you successfully submitted all the required forms and documents to the Property Management Firm through your agent, they will put your name on the top of the applicant’s list until the tenant-screening is done.
Resident Card (在留カード, Zairyu Card) / Passport / Japanese Driver's license.
(Note) Please make sure that your permitted period to stay in Japan is long enough to sign a 1 or 2-years apartment lease.
Offer Letter (採用通知, Saiyou Tsuchi)
Employment Certificate (在職証明, Zaishoku Shomei)
Tax Return Form (納税申告書, Nouzei Shinkokusyo)
Certificate of Tax Deducted (源泉徴収票, Gensen Chosyu hyo)
Paychecks for the last 3 month (給与明細, Kyuyo Meisai)
(Note) In the case you prefer to sign the lease under the company’s name that you work for (called “Corporate Contract”), a copy of the following items might also be required. Some items below could be omitted depending on the company’s business scale and some other conditions, but at least the company MUST be registered in Japan.
Once the Property Management Firm received your application forms, they will contact you on the phone to make sure all the information on the form you are giving them is correct. In the case you are required to use a Guarantor Service Company as your joint guarantor, they will also call you for the same purpose. During this phone conversation you might need to speak Japanese if they cannot speak English. In fact, there are only a few English-speaking Guarantor Service Companies in Tokyo, in some cases your application could be declined easy just because of your low Japanese language proficiency. This is one of the reasons why you might want to choose a bilingual agent from the start to avoid this kind of hassle.
This screening process might take some time, ranges from 3 days at the soonest up to about 2 weeks at the longest. It depends on you have submitted the proper documents or not. Generally speaking the Owner tends to prefer to have the Renter start the lease ASAP to minimize the vacancy period. Most of the Owner’s offices are closed on weekends and many Property Management Firms are closed on Wednesday and Sunday. (Wednesday is commonly industrial non-business day in real estate business in Japan.) This may affect your screening period as well in the case you’d like them to hurry the process. So plan well in advance.
Your application might be declined after the tenant screening for some reason. However, the reasons will not be revealed to you.
The tenant screening in Japan can be a painful, bitter experience to anyone, even to a Japanese renter. Revealing your tax records, income statements and visa status seems just like being stripped naked on papers. Part of the reason is because of the Tenant Law here in Japan, which favors the Tenant’s side much more than the Owner’s side to protect the person’s Right to Life. This means the owners would have more difficulties to evict their non-paying tenants from their properties. After the implementation of the revised law in 2000 (Land and Housing Lease Act and the Law on the Promotion of Supply of Good Quality Housing), a Fixed-Term Lease type ( The tenant MUST terminate the lease during its term) has started appearing on the market, which makes it a little bit easier to evict bad tenants than before. But still there are many owners who believe that the eviction process is annoying. As a result, the owners become quite selective when they screen applicants.
Once you have been noticed with an official approval by the Owner, the “Owner-side Agent” will prepare a draft of your lease contract and send the bill statements to you through your Agent shortly. In most cases the payment should be made by bank transfer on the start day of your lease. If you have any trouble transferring the money for some reasons, feel free to consult it with your Agent to see if there is any other way to do so. They might help you with your payment by taking the money in cash once and then make a bank transfer under your name to the Owner’s account for you.
You will be asked to make an appointment for a meeting with your agent (or the Owner-side Agent) when you sign your lease contact. In general, a lease contract in Tokyo contains three subsets of documents, which are the following :
No doubt that you might be quite surprised when you learn that a lease contract document contains hundreds of terms and conditions to agree on. In Japan a licensed real estate agent (宅地建物取引主任者, Takken Shuninsha) is obligated to give an oral explanation to the signer particularly about one of the subsets of the lease contract documents called “Essential details on the property to be leased” (重要事項説明書, Juyo jiko setsumei sho) in their office. Since it is an important summary of the Lease agreement, it will be essential to understand what the licensed agent explains to you. Please be patient with your agent for an hour or so and feel free to ask any questions until you feel comfortable enough to sign the contract.
When signing a lease contract in Japan, a hand-written signature will be acceptable in many cases. But occasionally you might be required to use a “Seal” (はんこ, Hanko, also called 印鑑 Inkan). Making a seal is not that difficult even to non-Japanese people. You can stop by any Hanko shops, retailer’s stores or shopping malls in your town to make one with your name in Japanese “Katakana”, not in English. The price for a low-end product can be 500 yen a piece, a custom-made piece could cost you more than 10,000 yen. In some cases the seal you use for signing must be officially registered at your ward or city office (called “実印” Jitsu-in). To have your seal registered, all you have to do is to visit your city office and follow the procedure for a seal registration there.
The Lease Agreement has to be written in Japanese in Japan. Some bilingual agents in Tokyo may prepare an “English Translation” to help their clients understand all the terms and conditions on the lease contract documents. However, they are not the official documents. The only lease Agreement that is valid and is regulated by the law of Japan is the one written in Japanese.
There are some original official documents you might be required to submit to the owner by the time of signing. It might take you half a day to go to your city office during weekdays just to get one of these official documents. So please plan well in advance to get these done in time. Be careful they might NOT be able to give you the apartment’s keys without all the necessary documents collected. The following is the listing of what you might be asked for. Each case has a different requirement so please clarify with your agent about what documents are required.
(1) In most cases, documents required are:
★ Original Copy of Certificate of Residence (住民票, Jumin-hyo)
★ Original Copy of Certificate of Seal Registration (印鑑証明, Inkan Shoumei)
(2) In the case of a Corporate Lease
★ Original Copy of Corporate Registration Certificate (会社謄本, Kaisya Tohon)
★ Original Copy of Company’s Registered Seal Registration (会社印鑑証明, Kaisya Inkan Shomei)
Finally, after the long screening process, you will receive your apartment key. Generally the keys will be handed over to the renters either a day before or after the start date of your lease. Even if you could get the keys beforehand, still you will NOT be allowed to keep your luggage or suitcases in the apartment until your lease starting date even you think that the apartment should be empty at the time. One of the main reasons is that your fire insurance won’t cover anything occurred during the uninsured period. Please be aware that somehow the owners can be very strict particularly about this matter and there will be no room for a negotiation, either.
Before bringing your luggage and furniture into the apartment, there is one more important thing to do. A “Walk-Through” inside the apartment to check pre-existing minor damages, such as dents and scratches on the floors, smudges and tears on the walls, and so on. This is for your own protection, so you will not be responsible for those damages when you move out. You might be given a check-list by your agent to fill out with the details of those minor damages. Even when you are not given any check list, you should make a list and take some pictures of those damages with a camera for possible dispute in the future.
There are still some work to do before you start a new life at your new place. You will have to set up the utilities. It is not so difficult, you can simply connect all the utilities on the phone as well as the Internet. (The Internet set-up service could be easier to someone who can read Japanese well because the websites of this particular service are written in Japanese only).
Each utility supplier has some English-speaking staff in their office and will be able to help you over the phone. You can also ask your agent to get all these utilities connected on your behalf if you feel it would be too much trouble for you.
In the case you move in to a different town or city besides Tokyo Metropolis, the utility companies will be different. Please ask your agent about further details.
Call “Bureau of Waterworks of Tokyo Metropolitan Government” (東京都水道局, Tokyoto Suido Kyoku)to connect the water. Please call them and tell the operator your name, address, contact number, and the start date of the service. The operator might be speaking with you in Japanese at first, just ask for an English-speaking staff to assist you. For further information please visit their English website below.
Call “Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc.” (東京電力, Tokyo Denryoku) to reconnect the electricity. Please call them and tell the operator your name, address, contact number, and the start date of the service. When you call, you will hear a recording in Japanese. Just ignore the recording and wait till it ends, then an operator will pick up your call. The operator might be speaking with you in Japanese at first, just ask for an English-speaking staff to assist you. For further information please visit their English website below.
Call “ TOKYO GAS ” (東京ガス, Tokyoto Gas) to connect the gas. Please call them and tell the operator about your name, address, contact number, and the start date of the service. The operator might be speaking with you in Japanese at first, just ask for an English-speaking staff to assist you. You will have to schedule an initial inspection over the phone. A technician from the gas company will visit your new place to reopen the main gas valve safely. Please tell the staff the most convenient date & time for the inspection. For further information please visit their English website above.
Nowadays, it wouldn’t be too exaggerated to say that nobody can live without the Internet. Although it might take a bit of time, you can get the internet connected simply by making a phone call to the internet service providers or applying for a subscription online at their websites. Many of the providers in Japan offer English language support for their customers either by phone or on-line.
Real Estate Agent's Support Available?
Please be aware that your real estate agent won’t be able to help you much when it comes to setting up the internet. Since its application process requires personal information such as your credit card number, no one is allowed to apply for the subscription but the subscriber himself.
Internet Service Providers in Tokyo
So-called “Internet-Ready Apartments” are quite common recently. It means that some type of connection to the internet is preinstalled in the building. In Japan, internet service provider, such as a telecommunication company or a cable TV company, offers high-speed fiber-optic internet connection over the entire region. Please ask the property maintenance firm about what internet provider is available in the building beforehand. The process could take about one or two weeks from the time you apply to the time you actually get connected. FYI, in most cases, the Internet fee will be charged on a separate bill, not together with your rent. There is another way to get yourself connected to the Internet that you might want to consider. “Wi-Fi”, is getting more popular these days in Japan. As you may know it is a technology that connects to the Internet through wireless connection. Its access speed has been improved significantly and it is convenient because you can use just one Wi-Fi router to cover every electronic device you have, such as a desk-top, lap-top, tablet and even a smart phone. A great thing about “Wi-Fi” would be its easy and simple application process. You can get the Internet connected right after you sign up a Wi-Fi service at an electronics store.
See the listing of some of the popular Internet service providers in Japan. Please be aware that you need to make sure which providers are available in your apartment with the property maintenance firm.
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