How to find a place to live in Japan?
Tips on everything from searching online to privately viewing!
Hi everyone, today I’m going to share tips on where to look for information online about places to live and what to check when setting up a private viewing before closing on a property.
In Japan, one can often see an interesting sight, the sight of construction everywhere. New buildings are always being built and it seems like construction is always going on somewhere. It can be surprising to see a city transform after only a few months.
It can look like an unorganized concrete jungle with buildings springing from the ground like plants.
In this concrete jungle, how can one find a good place to live for oneself among the multitude of buildings?
I’d recommend that you look for information online about places before going to a real estate agency.
I’ll share the tips with you, from what to check online and how-tos, including a viewing actually. I’ll share some tips on everything from checking information online to privately viewing a property.
1 Tips for searching online for information 2 What to look out for when checking listings 3 "9 important things" to keep an eye out for when viewing a property
Tips for searching online for information
If one has time, I recommend researching about the area, the details concerning room/house layouts, details about services, and anything else you want in a place to live before going to a real estate agency.
The following websites are well known among Japanese people and are often used to search for information on housing. Since these sites are well known and widely used, many real estate companies, from mega companies to small businesses, post up to date information on listings.
It’s possible to search for houses and apartments by price range, size, and proximity to a rail line. I hope the machine translation works though.
The three main sites for housing information in Japan. (in 2020)
At home https://www.athome.co.jp/
These sites contain many listings and some of the listings may have already been rented or bought so please make a list of several rooms for consideration. It is good to have options, only having one specific listing in mind may lead to disappointment.
The busiest season for moving in Japan is from February to April. This is because almost all schools have their graduations and entrance ceremonies during this period. This is also the time for companies to move employees around or to accept new employees, as the business year starts in April in Japan. Therefore, it is difficult to view properties during this time as there are many other people moving and looking for places to live.
Let’s take a look at some key points to keep an eye out for when checking listings!
What to look out for when checking listings
Jo (畳/帖), unit of measurement used for the area of a room
Jo (畳/帖) is used as a unit of measurement used for the area of a room.
In the past, most houses in Japan had Japanese style rooms known as Washitsu (和室). These rooms use tatami flooring and therefore were measured using the tatami mats as a unit of measurement called a jo (畳/帖). This measurement is still used today to determine the area of a room.
One jo (１畳/帖) is equivalent to the size of one tatami mat. Different regions in Japan have varying sizes for tatami mats ranging from 1.44〜1.82 ㎡ and the size can also depend on the building it will be used in. Because of this variation in sizes a jo is defined as being at least 1.62㎡ when listed on real estate listings and advertisements.
A chart comparing the old and new versions of the fair competition code of real estate ads.
New release by
National Federation of Real Estate Transaction Associations
I’ve been told by people living in Japan, that Japanese rooms are smaller on average compared to rooms in western countries. These days, especially in big cities such as Tokyo, there is a new trend among young people where they prefer to live in super small rooms as small as 3 jo. Living in such a small space means lower rent compared to the average rent in the city. This allows people to live in places like Tokyo when they have a relatively small budget. There are even sites that specialize in listing tiny rooms.
Personally, I don't think I would be able to live in such a tiny space but everyone’s different so please check what kind of room you’d feel comfortable in considering the city you want to live in and your lifestyle.
Now let’s check how to read a floor plan called a Madorizu (間取り図) in Japan.
How to read a Japanese floor plan, called "Madori-zu".
Here is an example of a floor plan that one might find online.
“洋6”, means that this is not a Japanese style room and is 6 jo in size. (the area of 6 tatami mats)
便 is the restroom where the toilet is and 浴 is where the shower and bathtub is. In western houses and apartment the toilet and the bath are often in the same room but in Japan they are often separated.
クロ or CL is a closet and ロフト is a loft.
バルコニー is a balcony/porch.
List of Japanese terms found on floor plans.
玄＝Entrance (玄関) 和＝A Japanese style room (和室) 洋＝A Western style room (洋室) L＝Family/living room (リビング) D＝Dining room (ダイニング) K＝Kitchen (キッチン) BR＝Bedroom (ベッドルーム) S＝Storage room (サービスルーム) DEN＝Den or small room that can be used for hobbies or a workshop(書斎や趣味のための小部屋) RF＝Loft ロフト UB＝A modular/prefabricated bath that includes the bath and the toilet. (ユニットバス) Sto＝Storage space収納 SB＝A place to store shoesシューズボックス CL（Clo）＝Closetクローゼット SIC＝A walk-closet with space for shoes near the entrance of a house. シューズインクローゼット WIC＝Walk in closet ウォークインクローゼット PS＝Pipe space パイプスペース W＝A place for a washing machine洗濯機置き場 R＝A place for a refrigerator 冷蔵庫設置スペース DN＝Stairs used to go down下り階段 UP＝Stairs used to go up上り階段 WC/便＝The toilet/restroomトイレ AC＝A space for an air conditioner エアコン置き場
Are you getting excited thinking about a new place to live? I’d like to take the time now to go over how to check how earthquake resistant a building is. Japanese people often check the year the building was built.
The age of a building
People in Japan still hold onto the memory of the Great Hanshin earthquake which hit Kobe prefecture and the Kansai area in general in 1995. There was particularly heavy damage to buildings that were built according to the old Building Standards Act that had been in effect until 1981.
Thus, many people pay close attention to whether or not a building was built before 1981 when looking for a place to live. After the Great Hanshin earthquake many older buildings were, of course, strengthened to withstand earthquakes better so if you are looking at an old building please be sure to check if the building you are looking at has been reinforced or not.
Under current building codes, buildings must be able to withstand medium earthquakes with little or no damage and to not collapse under the strain of a large earthquake.
The strength of an earthquake under the Building Standards Act is not defined by magnitude on the Richter scale but by the standard shear coefficient and the seismic ground acceleration that act on a building during an earthquake. In more common terms a medium earthquake is considered to have a seismic intensity ranging from the lower 5 to upper 5 level and a large earthquake is considered to be any earthquake that has a seismic intensity higher than that. Amendments in Architectural Law further iterate that a building must be able to withstand repeated or frequent earthquakes. Checks on the earthquake resistance of old buildings is ongoing. Japan is known as an earthquake prone country or the land of earthquakes so it’s important to confirm earthquake resistance when finding a place to live.
Regarding Shiki-kin 敷金 / Rei-kin 礼金
Shiki-kin is a security deposit to be held for potential cleaning or repair costs involved with moving out later.
Like with regular security deposits, it is possible to get the money back if you maintain a clean and undamaged room. Generally, it is about one month’s rent.
Rei-kin is often referred to as “Key Money” and literally means “Gratitude Money”
In this day and age, it does sound weird and a bit shady that a tenant must gift the landlord “gratitude money” separate from normal rent. One might think “Why do I have to pay this if I already paid a security deposit and will be paying rent normally?!?”
The custom originated in the past when finding places to live in Tokyo was difficult. There was a shortage of living spaces as parents sent their children from various prefectures to live alone in Tokyo. The money was paid to landlords as a way to show gratitude for allowing them to rent a place.
Depending on the area, an additional deposit of money may be required on top of rei-kin. Together with the security deposit there may be another fee, shiki-biki. For example, if the security deposit, shiki-kin, is 300,000 yen and the shiki-biki is 200,000 yen, then that means your security deposit is 100,000 yen and the 200,000 yen shiki-biki goes to the landlord and, like rei-kin, is non-refundable. Nowadays, the idea of rei-kin and shiki-kin is out of place in the modern real estate world so more and more places no longer require it. However, it does depend on the landlord and the area so be sure to thoroughly check the property information.
Some places don’t charge a security deposit so it might be cheap to move in but they might charge other fees such as a regular cleaning fee or a moving out fee. Please be sure to take your income and regular spending habits into account when choosing a place to live.
Other initial costs
Fire insurance, Property insurance, key exchange fee, the cost of cleaning before moving in, and parking lot fees.
Regarding fire insurance, it is legally required for anyone renting a room.
Payment methods depend on the landlord or property management company. Payment methods include automatic deduction from an account, bank transfer, and payment by credit card. This information may or may not be available online so please confirm this with the landlord.
Once you think you've collected enough information, why not try going to a real estate agency to set up an appointment to view a property?
9 important things to keep an eye out for when viewing a property
Naiken (内見) is a private viewing or inspection of a property before signing a contract to complete the rental agreement.
It’s a good opportunity to check the condition of a room compared to how it looked online. Please keep the following things in mind when viewing a property.
・The actual size of the room
・The amount of storage it has
Japanese rooms can be fairly small and are usually smaller than western rooms in general. If you set up shelving or other furniture for storage, it can make the space even smaller so when viewing a room check how much storage is available and try to imagine how much space would be left with furniture.
・Sunlight, the direction the room faces, and ventilation
・Any damage, stains, and mold
If you find any tiny damages which previous residence left, please take photos and share with the person in charge of you from a real estate.If you find any damage left by the previous tenant, be sure to take photos and report it with the landlord. This is to prevent you from being charged with any possible future costs that might arise from the damage left by previous tenants.
Another thing to note is the weather in Japan. It’s very humid in the summer, there is a rainy season, and in winter its cold outside but usually warm inside so quite a bit of condensation can form. All of this makes it very easy for mold to grow.
I personally recommend checking if the room gets sunlight, its ventilation and if the room has the bath and the toilet separate. Also I check if there is a screen to see any visitors who might ring the doorbell.
What to check besides the room
・The cleanliness and state of any common areas.
・If there is a place for trash collection and if that place is clean and locked.
*Checking these thing can give an idea of what kind of other people live there.
In my opinion, if the common areas are clean and well maintained it can mean that the other tenants and the landlord take care of the building. If it isn’t it can be a sign of tenants who don't care or are messy and that the landlord doesn't really care about maintenance.
・car park/parking lot and a space for bicycles.
・How the area is at night, if it seems safe or not.
・The distance from the nearest train station or bus stop.
*Please check how long it takes you to walk from the building to a station or the bus stop, it may be different from what was posted online.
Walk-throughs/viewing a property are usually only done in the day time.
Try not to let your feelings after the first walk-through decide whether you pick that place or not. It might be good to go again at night or during the morning on your own to check things out. The atmosphere might seem nice during the day but at night or in the morning it may be noisy. The streets at night might also look different and be a potential area for purse snatchers or the like. Japan is known to be fairly safe but it’s still not good be complacent about your safety, be sure to vet the area and building thoroughly.
How was today’s tip?
Please only sign a contract or rental agreement after thorough consideration.
Here is a leaflet which explains the residential environment in Japan and common rules including dealing with real estate agencies. Please check it out!