Accommodation in Tokyo comes at a premium, as does most housing in large, overpopulated cities. While the standard of accommodation is excellent, many an expat has found that the properties are far smaller than what they are accustomed to back home.
Naturally, due to the short-term nature of expat assignments, most people tend to rent rather than buy property. However, rentals do move quickly in Tokyo and expats should do some research on the processes involved in securing accommodation in the city before they make the move.
Types of accommodation in Tokyo
Due to lack of space, most people live in apartments in Tokyo. Larger family homes with gardens are available but will be located further from the city centre.
Apartments in Tokyo located in older buildings are known as apato. More modern, larger apartments with high-rise complexes are called mansions.
Many single expats living in Tokyo for a year or two opt to live in shared housing, commonly referred to as gaijin (foreigner) houses, in which living areas, kitchens and bathrooms are shared by all the residents. This type of accommodation is cheaper than renting an apartment, and also has the added benefits of shorter notice periods and fewer initial costs.
Finding accommodation in Tokyo
While it's possible to find a property in Tokyo using online resources and newspaper property listings, most expats don’t make much progress through these channels because of the language barrier.
For this reason, most new arrivals prefer to enlist the services of a real estate agent. These professionals not only communicate in Japanese but have a comprehensive knowledge of suitable properties in the area and are in a position to find accommodation that meets the needs and budget of their clients.
Furthermore, many landlords are reluctant to rent to foreigners without the security of using a reputable agent or at least a Japanese guarantor.
Renting accommodation in Tokyo
Once expats have found a property that meets their requirements, the next step would be to sign a lease and secure the accommodation.
A typical lease in Japan is signed for two years but can usually be broken early as long as a certain amount of notice is given to the landlord.
Tenants are expected to put a damages deposit, usually equal to one to three months' rent. This is refundable providing that there's no damage to the property at the end of the tenancy.
Though it's slowly becoming less common, key money or reikin (literally 'gratitude money') is another upfront cost traditionally associated with renting a home in Japan. Key money is usually the same amount as the deposit, but unlike a deposit, key money is kept in full by the landlord as a gift. In some cases, key money may be up to six months' worth of rent.
Utilities aren't normally included in the monthly rental, so expats will need to budget extra for this. In some apartment buildings, a maintenance fee may also be required monthly.