One of the most stressful things to deal with is housing in Japan. It can be expensive, there can be cryptic terminology, and hidden fees can pop up in the process to drastically increase the price of what you thought was a good deal. In this article, you will learn about the different types of housing available, what features determine the price, and any hidden fees to watch out for to make finding your new dream home in Japan stress-free.
When browsing through housing posts, you often come across terms such as 1R or 2LDK. The letter designates the type of room and the preceding number designates the number of included rooms. In the case of 2LDK: 2L means 2 living rooms, D means a separate dining room, and K means a separate kitchen. Here is a breakdown of all the common abbreviations and the meaning for each.
|1R||1 Studio room with a kitchen in the same room.|
|DK||Separate kitchen with space for a dining area.|
|LDK||Similar to DK but with a designated living room separate from the bedroom.|
|Number||The number in front of each letter represents the count.|
These are the most commonly found terms to describe features in Japanese housing.
|和室（わしつ）||Washitsu, Japanese Floor|
|洋室（ようしつ）||Youshitsu, Wooden Floor|
|物入（ものいれ）||Mono ire, Shelves|
|洗濯（せんたく）||Sentaku, washing machine installable space|
|帖（じょう）||Jou, Counter for tatami mats|
Types of Housing
Apartments or ‘apaato’ in Japan are generally buildings made out of wood and are lightweight structures often no more than 2 stories tall, similar to western multiplex homes or apartment complexes.
- Usually cheapest private housing because of cheaper material costs.
- Good for one to two people.
- Not very soundproof due to thin walls and low insulation so it’s easy to hear your neighbors.
- Older models tend to be less resistant to earthquakes.
- Lower quality interior.
Furnished Apartment 家具付きアパート
Some apartments come fully furnished, providing all of your living essentials from basic furniture to kitchen utensils.
- Don’t need to buy furniture.
- Easy to move out.
- Contracts tend to be short, around 1-6 months.
- There might be unneeded household items.
- Higher rent than non-furnished apartments
In Japan, the word mansion is different from the western meaning of a luxury home, and is basically a condominium. Mansions are built with steel and concrete reinforcements and are usually three stories or more.
- Concrete and steel make it earthquake and fire-resistant.
- Better security than apartments and usually has an auto-lock system.
- Tends to have higher-quality interior.
- More expensive than apartments.
- Usually have to pay a monthly maintenance fee.
Sharehouses are a communal style housing which are usually individual rooms with shared bathroom and kitchen. There are variations of privacy in sharehouses where some have individual bathrooms, stoves, and sinks. Sharehouses are a great option for when you first move to Japan because they’re cheap, don’t have a minimum length contract and can be a great way to meet people.
- Cheap housing option.
- Usually furnished with necessities such as mattress, table/chair.
- Can ask share mates for assistance when in trouble.
- Shorter contracts.
- Good way to meet people.
- Easier to obtain for foreigners. Recommended for the first move to Japan.
- Minimal privacy.
- Shared bathroom and kitchen can be dirty. (depends on the sharehouse as some hire custodians to clean)
- Shower rooms and kitchens can get crowded when you need them.
Individual House 一戸建て
Apartments and mansions make up most of the housing in highly populated cities like Tokyo but there options to have individual private housing in even Tokyo. This type of housing can be rented or owned, depending on how much you are willing to spend.
The advantages of individual houses are that they may have front or back yards, which makes it possible to have pets. They are often large and designed for multiple people, so it’s more common to see families live in individual houses.
- Can have pets.
- Can have your own parking space.
- Privacy and comfort of your own home.
- You have to ensure house maintenance.
- The price tends to be higher than mansions in the same area.
What to Look For in an Apartment
There are a number of factors to think about when deciding on housing. Here are some of the key factors that you should put into consideration when searching for a home.
Multiple factors which can determine the price of where you choose to stay and it is important to think about which matters to you and which you are willing to compromise.
- size of property
- access to other train lines
- walking distance to the station
- age of the building
In general places with a closer to the station make it easier to get around and will be more expensive than somewhere 15 or 20 minutes walk from the station. It is also usually more expensive near hub stations.
Newer buildings are also more expensive, not just because the interior is clean and nice, but there are safety measures in place against common occurrences such as typhoons and earthquakes which older locations may not be as equipped to handle.
Wooden floor or Tatami
Tatami is the traditional Japanese style flooring made of woven reeds. It can be aesthetically pleasing and provide a zen atmosphere to your home. Older buildings tend to still use tatami and is often cheaper compared to wooden flooring. However, tatami mats can be difficult to maintain, hard to remove remnant smells, and are vulnerable to mold and mites throughout the year if not managed properly.
Separate Bath and Toilet
Many people prefer separate bath and toilet rooms since multiple people can use the facilities at the same time. However, cheaper, smaller apartments will usually have them crammed in the same space. The bidet attachment is also an ubiquitous sight in many Japanese homes but is often not found in smaller/cheaper homes.
Kitchen spaces are small and kitchen counters are almost nonexistent for one-room houses in cities, due to the fact that many working class also don’t cook at home. If you plan on being a chef in your kitchen, kitchen counter space is something you should properly consider or whether you have space to furnish an extra counter.
First Floor or Higher?
First floors in apartments and mansions tend to be cheaper. The main reasons are that it doesn’t get as much sunlight, there is more humidity in the summer which causes mold, and insects can find their way into your home.
Window Facing South
In Japan, windows that face south receive the most sunlight. Therefore, rent in these places tend to be slightly higher. However, it should be confirmed whether there are neighboring buildings blocking the view as this would only provide a concrete sight or peek into someone else’s home.
Washing Machine Location
Where to put your washing machine is predetermined by the room’s layout. Older apartments tend to have their washing machines outside while newer model homes have it on the inside. Having your washing machine outside can leave the machine exposed to the elements and rust quickly.
Lofts are more common in apartments than mansions and is a cheap way to have some extra space. You can use it to store off-season items, such as kotatsu, space heater, or blankets.
An auto-lock provides security from non-residents being able to freely enter the building. It is a common feature for mansions and is often installed in the entryway of the building or outside before reaching your room. This adds extra security but often comes with an extra maintenance fee in your rent.
Some apartments and mansions allow small pets such as rabbits and small dogs. However, even if they are allowed, loud noises may not be allowed, which can prevent you from having a pet.
If you own a car, this is one thing to consider. A parking space is included in some places, but you will often need to pay a fee to reserve the space. In places which do not include a parking space on the premises, you will have to reserve a monthly space in a separate local parking lot.
Heated Bathtub (追い焚き)
This is a feature of mansions. Many newer mansions have an external bathwater control panel outside of the bathroom or even in the living room. There are functions such as controlling water temperature or keeping bathwater heated for assigned periods of time. Some can even being filling your bathtub by controlling it from your living room. If you like taking baths, its a nice feature to have, especially in the winter when you want to minimize the time between warm places.
Sink Room ( 洗髪洗面化粧台 )
Another feature of certain mansions are specialized sink rooms outside of the shower room. This can also be part of the living room or in a separate room. So even if the shower is occupied, the sink is accessible for your daily needs.
Watch out for Fees
Security Deposit 敷金 ・保証金
The security deposit is a refundable fee that is used to cover any damage and cleaning costs when moving out. There is also usually professional cleaning hired when moving out and the cost is deducted from the security deposit with the remainder returned back to you.
Key Money 礼金
Key money, or reikin, which translates to ‘gratitude money’ is often a surprise to many foreigners planning to live in Japan. It is a non-refundable payment to the landlord at the beginning of a lease and can be anywhere from 1-6 months worth of rent. It first began when livable housing became competitive after the destruction of the Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and served as a way for housing seekers to gain the favor of landlords. The practice continued and became a standard expense of housing in Japan. In recent years, however, many properties have stopped requesting key money and often advertise it so pay close attention to these when looking for homes!
In Japan, it’s almost impossible to get an apartment or mansion without a real estate agent, especially as a foreigner. The agency fee is what you pay the real estate agent when you’ve contracted a house and it’s usually equal to one month’s rent.
Mansion Maintenance Fee
The mansion maintenance fee is a small fee applied for mansions in order to operate and maintain the auto-lock system, elevator, and security system. It usually costs 3000-9000 yen and included in the monthly rent.
Guarantor/co-signer 保証人 (hoshounin)
Almost all places will not rent to foreigners due to prior occurrences of irresponsible residents and general distrust of credibility. When renting places aside from share houses or dormitories a guarantor or co-signer will be required.
Guarantors can be arranged through a specialized guarantor company (保証人会社) which can cost half a month of rent or more; or can be arranged through an employer or university. Personal contacts, such as spouses etc., are usually not accepted as a guarantor.
So Which Housing is Right for Me?
If you’re just moving to Japan, finding a home is quite hard, and the easiest, fastest, and most painless option would be to start at a sharehouse. From there, you can either stay or look for other apartments and invest in furniture. If you’re living with another person, perhaps an apartment or a small mansion would be a great choice. If you’re living with your family, a mansion or an individual house is recommended. We hope that this guide will help you make informed choices and ensure a comfortable process for finding your next dream home in Japan!