How to Find an Apartment in Japan

Find an apartment in Japan
Miso Dog
I’m living in a dormitory at Tokyo University, but I am thinking of leaving the dorms and moving into my own apartment next month. I’m so excited!
That’s great! But just to let you know, it’s not always easy for foreigners to find an apartment in Japan. Sometimes the realtor or owner can refuse a contract simply because you are a foreigner. It might be a challenge to find an apartment in a month.
Miso Dog
What?! Really?!? What should I do?
Don’t worry. Today I will talk about “How to find an apartment in Japan.” First, I will explain the steps to find an apartment as efficiently as possible. Then I will explain important things to take note of when renting an apartment in Japan.

Steps for finding an apartment in Japan

Step 1. Research the place you want to live in

Some people will immediately call the real estate company when they are thinking about moving. Still, it is recommended to do some preliminary research and check out the property you are interested in first. The following two websites can be used to help with looking for researching properties.



The above sites only support Japanese, so you can use a translation site such as Google Translate, to change the language to the one you want.

HOME’S and SUUMO are two of Japan’s largest rental property listing sites, and you can sort the properties by specific conditions such as location and rental cost. Since the properties are listed on both sites, you can use whichever one you feel more comfortable with.

The sites will give you a rough idea of what apartments you can expect for your price range you would like to pay. From there, you can specify the conditions qualities you would like for your apartment. For example, “The building may be old, but a place close to the station is good” or “It may be far from the station, but a cheap and spacious place is ideal.” There are many different conditions you can set to find your ideal place! Try to find a combination that best suits your needs and desires when finding an apartment in Japan.

Once you have an image of the apartment you would like in your head, it is time to go to the next step. Now it is time to visit a real estate agent. Bookmark the property listings you are interested in and let us head to the real estate agency!

Step 2. Contact a Real Estate Agency

The information posted on HOME’S and SUUMO’s website may not be up to date, so someone may have already signed a contract for the property with a real estate company without the real estate company knowing. Real estate agents will provide you with the latest information on properties. If you like a property, even if someone else applied for it, it is essential to show the agent what type of properties and conditions you want so that they can help you find something similar to it.

In Japan, first things first, you need to contact a real estate agency when looking for an apartment. They are entrusted with the management of the property by the real estate company, and on behalf of the owner, they will guide you through the entire rental process. The real estate agent will introduce the property to you and help you fill out the listing application. If you go to the real estate agency and tell them the conditions and specifications that you desire for your apartment (location, rent, layout, etc.), they will present several possible properties. Here are some things you might care about when searching for a real estate agency.

Which real estate agent is better?

When choosing a real estate agent, you want to select an agent with as much property information as possible, right? In Japan, that is not a problem. The data is the same for all real estate agencies. There is a property database operated by affiliated government organizations, that only real estate companies can access that any real estate company can select properties from. Some real estate agencies have exclusive brokerage agreements with the property owners, but these are rare cases, and you should not worry about them.

So, for real estate agencies, I only need to go to one place? No, this is not correct. We recommend that you visit at least three real estate agencies. Some real estate agents will try their best to support and help you, while others may not be very interested in helping you with your search. Please think carefully and choose an agency that you can trust to help introduce you to the apartments you want.

Real estate agencies are generally located near train stations. In relatively large cities, you can find up to five real estate agencies or more! It is a good idea to search for real estate agencies using Google Maps in advance. You can get an idea of what real estate agencies are in the area and see which might be helpful. To get you started, here are some major real estate agencies that you will probably come across.

  1. Apaman Shop(アパマンショップ)
  2. mini mini(ミニミニ)
  3. Homemate(ホームメイト)
  4. Pitat House(ピタットハウス)
  5. Oheya Sagashi Mast!(お部屋さがしマスト!)

I cannot speak Japanese, is that OK?

If you cannot speak Japanese, it is probably best to go to a travel agency which caters to foreigners. There are real estate agencies that provide English support and service. Although it would be best to ask your friends or co-workers about advice on real estate agencies in the area you are interested in moving to. However, if you are not able to, here are three agencies you can consider when finding an apartment in Tokyo.

They have specialized staff who can provide support in English, Chinese, and Korean. The company mainly operates in Tokyo, Saitama, Kanagawa, and Chiba, so it may be challenging to ask for assistance for areas outside of these. However, if you are thinking of moving to any of the areas listed here, they come recommended by other foreigners.

Yours Corporation is a real estate company that provides a wealth of rental property information for overseas individuals, concentrating on the Jonan area of Tokyo, consisting of Minato, Shinagawa, Meguro, and Ota districts of Tokyo.

This company provides support and guidance for finding properties in English, Chinese, Cantonese, Taiwanese, Korean, Nepalese, and Vietnamese. They also offer free support after moving in.

Step 3. Checking out the properties

Now that you found a few properties presented by the real estate agent that you are interested in, it is time to look at them in person. In most cases, the real estate agent will drive you to the different properties they introduced to you. You will then go into the apartments together, and they will explain the various features of the building and apartments. You can ask about anything that you are concerned about or interested in. It is best to ask as many questions as possible to avoid any anxiety and concerns you may have. Remember, you will be living in the apartment for quite some time, so it is best to find out as much about it as possible!

While looking at the property, the real estate agent may ask, “What do you think about this place?” If your reaction is positive and is something along the lines of, “This room is nice,” the agent may begin to rush you and be more assertive. They may respond with something like the following, “This property is popular, so it is better if you decide before the end of the day. I think other people will be signing a contract tomorrow.” This may sound like a lie, but in many cases, it is not. Be especially careful during seasons where there are a lot of people moving, particularly March and April. During this time, many people decide where they want to move to without looking at the property in person. If the property is popular, the place will be snatched up quickly by a renter. If you find a room that you are interested in, it is best to decide to rent it as soon as possible. You never know if another person has their eyes on the same apartment.

Step 4. Screening Process

Once you find an apartment that you are interested in, the real estate agency will most likely require you to fill out an application form with information such as your contact information, work/school information, salary, and etc. The real estate agency will screen your application to make sure you are eligible to continue with the application process. This screening typically takes about 1 week or so. Assuming you have proper finances and such, there should be no problems with this process.

Step 5. The contract

After finding a place you are interested in, the next step is to apply for a contract. The real estate agent will send you an estimate of the initial costs and the contract. Check the contents of the contract, and if there are no problems, sign the contract. Congratulations! Now that the contract has been signed, the next step is moving!

Important things to note when renting an apartment in Japan

Can you be refused a contract because you are a foreigner?

Even if you speak Japanese, you may be refused a contract for an apartment just because you are a foreigner. According to a survey conducted by YOLO Japan, 41% of foreign residents in Japan say that they have been refused for apartments because they are foreigners.

Why are foreigners refused apartments? There are several possible factors, but property owners who refuse foreigners may have experienced some trouble in the past when renting to foreigners. Examples of trouble that are often heard are, “There were foreigners who left the country without paying their rent,” “There was a party at the apartment, and a noise complaint came from a neighbor,” and “Although the contract was for one person, they lived with multiple people.”

So, what can you do so that you are not refused? Some property owners refuse foreigners without any negotiations or discussions. Still, at least the following things should be considered when visiting a property to give a good impression to the real estate agency and owner.

  • Go to the apartment viewing meeting 5 minutes before the actual meeting time.
  • Wear proper clothing. Plainclothes is fine, but make sure that your clothes are clean and ironed.
  • Hide your tattoos. Tattoos are still viewed in a negative light to some people in Japan.

You may still be refused at times, so let us not give up and let us go to as many real estate agencies as possible! You are sure to find and get your ideal apartment!

About the initial costs when renting an apartment in Japan

Many foreigners are surprised that the initial costs of renting in Japan is quite high. Below is a sample breakdown of the typical initial costs for renting an apartment.

  • Security deposit – One month’s rent is the standard amount. The security deposit is for the cost of restoring your apartment when you leave after completing the contract. In your country, the security deposit may come back when you move out, but in Japan, it is mostly used for cleaning expenses and is typically not returned.
  • Key money – Foreigners are most surprised by this cost. This fee is to show appreciation to the property owner and will be about one month’s rent. The difference with the deposit is that it will never be returned to you. Recently though, the amount of properties not requiring this key money is increasing. Try and be on the lookout for an apartment that does not require this!
  • Previous rent – Once again, one month’s rent is the standard amount. This is prepaid rent for the month when you move in. For example, if you sign your contract in February and you move in March, you will have to pay the rent for March in advance. If you move in from the middle of the month, a prorated or daily rent will be charged. You will only have to pay for the remaining days of the month starting from when you moved in.
  • Brokerage fee – This is typically about 0.5 to one month’s rent plus consumption tax. Payment is made to the real estate agency that provided you with the property information and helped with the contract. By law, the upper limit for this fee is one month’s rent.
  • Fire insurance fee – This fee is typically 15,000 JPY for single individuals, and 20,000 JPY for couples and families. In the case of a fire or water leak, you need to take out property damage insurance and pay it to the property damage insurance company.
  • Guarantor fee – This is usually one month’s rent plus an additional 0.5 months’ rent for common area usage/management fee. This is a fee that is paid to the guarantor company is non-refundable. This is in case you are unable to pay rent. If you have a Japanese guarantor, then this may not be necessary.
  • Moving costs – This depends on the distance and how far you are moving to from your current address, the number of things you are moving, and the time you are moving. For single individuals, the range can be from 20,000 to 120,000 JPY. For couples and families, the cost could be from 60,000 to 250,000 JPY. As there is quite a wide range of costs, it is best to conduct an estimate with a moving company to get an idea of how much moving all your things may cost. Another thing you should be aware of is the time of the year you are planning on moving. In most cases, moving during the heavy season when everyone is moving, March and April, will be more expensive than on the off seasons. Try to plan to move during these times to save on moving costs.

In addition to the above, there are cases where you have to also pay fees such as a key exchange fee (not related to the above “Key money”), pest control fee, room deodorizing cost, etc. If you do not know what else you must pay, please check with your real estate agent.
So how much will the initial cost be? The normal market rate is said to be about 4.5 to 5 months’ worth of rent. In other words, if you move into an apartment that costs about 100,000 JPY per month, you should think that the initial cost will be around 450,000 to 500,000 JPY.

Japanese guarantor

When you try to make a contract for an apartment in Japan, you may be asked for a Japanese guarantor. Perhaps it will be difficult for many foreigners to find a Japanese guarantor. A guarantor is a person who pays on behalf of the renter if the renter fails to pay their rent, or if he/she encounters any problems such as damage to the property and are unable to reimburse the owner. You can say that this is a heavy responsibility because the guarantor will have the same responsibilities as the renter. Your parents are probably the only people who can be asked to perform this role, but most likely, they are not Japanese. So, what should you do? Possible solutions to this are introduced below.

  • Ask your company or university to be your guarantor

If you are working or studying abroad in Japan, check with your employer or exchange school (university, etc.) to see if they can be your guarantor. This could help solve your problem of finding a guarantor.

  • Use a guarantor company

A guarantor company is a company that will pay the guarantor fee and covers your rent in the case that you are not able to pay. Recently, even Japanese people are less likely to get their parents to be their guarantor. Reasons for this could include it being challenging to ask the parents, the parents are much older and are no longer working, and they cannot be recognized as guarantors. Check with your real estate agent to see if you can use a guarantor company. If a guarantor company is available, a guarantor is often not necessary.

What are the differences between a mansion and an apartment?

If you are looking for an apartment in Japan, you may be confused by the differences between an apartment and a mansion. An apartment in the US is different from an apartment in Japan. In Japan, both apartments and mansions are rental properties. The differences between the two are listed below:

TypeBuilding typeNumber of floorsRent
ApartmentWoodenMany are 2 floorsCheaper
MansionReinforced concrete and such3 floors and moreMore expensive

Do you kind of have an idea of the differences between the two? The difference is a bit vague and difficult to understand. However, there are no clear definitions of the differences between the two. Even among Japanese people, the two are sometimes used interchangeably. This is not a must to remember when searching for an apartment, but the above characteristics are good to know if you come across these terms when room shopping.

Bath and toilet are separate?

When you are looking for a home, you will often come across the phrase “bath and toilet separate.” In Europe and the US, it is common for baths to be in the same area as the toilet. In Japan, though, the general idea is that baths and toilets are separate. If you are looking for cheaper rooms when finding an apartment in Japan, you may want to look for rooms with the toilet and bath together.

What is a delivery box?

The delivery box is used by the delivery companies to store the recipients’ packages when the recipient is not at home. This way, the person can still receive the package when they are not home without worrying about someone taking it when they are not away. It is also called a delivery locker, and as the name suggests, there are locks placed on the lockers so that only the recipient can open the locker. If you live alone and do not spend much time at home, a delivery box will make Amazon shopping and your life much easier. Shop to your heart’s content without having to worry about having to be at home to receive the delivery.

What is an auto lock?

Auto locks are mechanisms that automatically locks the door at the entrance of the building. This is useful to prevent crimes because only residents with a key can enter the building. Japanese women who live alone, often worry about whether an apartment has an auto lock or not. If you are concerned about security, looking for an apartment in Japan with an auto lock entrance may be something you want on your checklist.

Are the first-floor rooms dangerous?

When Japanese people look for apartments, some people tend to avoid the first-floor rooms. Therefore, many apartments’ first-floor rooms are cheaper than the second floor and higher. The reason for this is from a crime prevention perspective. As the first-floor rooms are easier to access by jumping over the balcony railing and such, it is more dangerous than higher floors. So, especially for women, it is recommended to live on the second floor or higher.

What are management (管理費) and common service/area(共益費) fees?

When you check your rent, you may see common service/area fees and management fees. These costs are paid monthly along with your rent. When finding an apartment in Japan, it is important to consider the total costs that you will pay monthly, which will be the rent + common service/area fee + management fee. Some apartments do not have management and/or common service/area fees as well.

So, what exactly are management and common service/area fees? These are costs for maintaining and managing common areas for buildings such as condominiums. These common areas include passages, entrances, stairs/elevators, corridors, and garbage storage areas. Nowadays, there are no clear differences between management fees and common service/area fees. When you are finding an apartment in Japan, it is safe to think of the two as the same.

No furniture is provided?!

Japanese apartments usually do not come furnished with furniture and appliances, so you need to have everything already or be prepared to buy things when you move—refrigerators, washing machines, TVs, beds, sofas, kitchen utensils, etc. Depending on how much you decide to furnish your room, the costs can add up quickly. We recommend that you make a list of what things you need and make a budget from there. One recommendation for places to buy furniture is special events and exhibitions in Japan that sell furniture at a discounted rate. Be on the lookout for these if you are planning to purchase furniture for your new apartment!

2-year minimum contract?

Many Japanese rental contracts have a minimum of 2 years. However, there may be times when you must move within two years, such as when you are relocated for your job, or the university campus has changed. If there is a possibility that you may need to move within two years, it would be a good idea to ask the real estate agent about this and check your apartment contract. There should be a procedure for moving out while still in your contract. Below is an example of a standard process for moving out while you still have a contract with the apartment.

Request to move out

Regardless of whether you are still in the middle of your contract or not, in many cases, you must announce to the real estate agent and/or owner that you are planning to move out at least a month before the departure date. There are some instances where you are required to give more than one month’s notice. Therefore, it is best to check your contract as soon as possible if you are concerned about this so you can schedule everything out.

Penalty fee

If you cancel your contract during the contract period, depending on your contract’s conditions, you may be charged a penalty fee. Penalty fees are typically one to two months’ worth of rent. This condition varies between contracts, so please consult with the real estate agent or your contract to see if you will be charged any penalty fees for canceling your contract.

Useful vocabulary when you find an apartment


Kanji ReadingEnglish
不動産業者Fudo-san Gyo-syaReal Estate Agency
敷金Shiki kinSecurity deposit

Rei kin

Key money
前家賃Zen YachinPrevious rent
仲介手数料Chuukai tesuryou

Brokerage fee

火災保険料Kasai hoke-ryouFire insurance
保証料Hoshou-ryouGuarantor charge
引越し費用Hikkoshi hiyouMoving costs
バストイレ別Basu Toire BetsuBath toilet separate
宅配ボックスTakuhai bokusuDelivery box
オートロックO-to rokkuAuto lock
管理費Kanri-hiManagement fee
共益費Kyoueki-hiCommon service/area

Terminate contract


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