Japanese Apartments

Danny Choo is a guestblogger on Boing Boing. Danny resides in Tokyo, and blogs about life in Japan and Japanese subculture – he also works part time for the empire.

Been living in Japan for about 10 years now and love it. I'm surrounded by culture that I've been passionate about since a wee lad and despite the recession that we're supposed to be in, business for my start up is booming – couldn't ask for more.

Apart from the smoking, there used to (but not anymore) be something that used to get on my nut – the fun and games of looking for an apartment.

Upfront costs
The upfront costs of renting an apartment is honestly not amusing at all.

First up there exists something called "gratuity fee" or Reikin.
Since the dark ages, citizens have been paying the landlord a gratuity fee for letting them live in the landlords apartment. This gratuity fee can be up to 2.5 times the monthly rent and to make the situation even more amusing – you don't get this money back – none of it, Sweet FA, absolute squat.

Then there is key money known as Shikikin. Key money can be up to 3 times the monthly rent and is used as a deposit which the landlord uses to clean up the place when you leave. S/he usually tries to use as much of it as possible so when you move out so its like "thanks for staying with us for the years, here is a slap in the face and get out of here you stinking rat."

Apart from the gratuity fee and key money, one has to not only pay the landlord an average of 2 months rent upfront, one also has to pay the estate agent up to a months rent for introducing the place too. So an average case recap on the costs presuming that the monthly rent for a cozy apartment is 200,000 yen or roughly 2000 USD.

Gratuity fee: 4000 USD
Key money: 4000 USD
Upfront rent: 4000 USD
Estate agent fee: 2000 USD
Initial cost: 14,000 USD

No foreigners or pets
(more after the jump)

To make looking for apartments more fun, some foreigners in Japan (not all) go through the fun of the estate agent calling up the landlord in front of you – the conversation in my previous experiences have been…

Hi, My name is Taro from Eiburu Estate agents. We have a foreigner interested in your apartments, do you allow foreigners?

I've been turned down a few times this way and its a horrible feeling – especially just after arriving in Japan.
After my first few experiences, I learned to ask the estate agent to call the landlord *before* we wasted time looking on and deciding on a place.

Chintai Coopration is a site for folks seeking apartments online. The area that I highlighted in red in this screenshot is the "take note of" column and mostly contains "No foreigners or pets allowed." Also note that the page was last updated "2009/2/16."

But I have heard views from the landlords point of view too. Many landlords are elderly folk who cant speak English and find it difficult to communicate by gestures alone.
Some other landlords have had nightmares where foreigners run a mock and are not able to follow simple rules such as separating out their garbage into combustible/non-combustible which is a requirement.
Photo above taken at an estate agent which says "Foreigners Welcome!"

The final slap in the face is the fact that one (including Japanese folks) needs whats known as a Guarantor or "Hoshonin." A guarantor has to sign something saying that s/he will take full responsibility in the event that you run a mock or burn down your apartment – and in most cases that person has to be Japanese…

Buy a house
I mentioned at the beginning that I don't go through this grief anymore because I bought my own house (and on Amazon associate earnings alone may I add ;-). I will probably start to go through the fun and games again when we look for offices later this year though.

Got a few resources for folks looking to live in Japan.
-Got some useful terms one needs to know when looking for apartments in my Japanese Housing article.
-Some photos of all the apartments that I've lived in Tokyo in my Tokyo Apartments article. Includes some vids of other apartments too.
-And for folks looking to buy a house you can check out the Tokyo Property Purchase article which contains lingo on the restrictions in housing shape and size.
-And for folks who like the thought of paying for a house from blogging then I got some tips (which I need to update more often) in my Userbility, Blogging and Affiliate Tips category.

And a load of other living in Japan tips in the Japan category.