Living in Japan for nearly a decade has led to the decision of settling there permanently, post-pandemic. This involves not only the consideration of buying a house but also the possibility of building one, beginning with the search for suitable land. Future blog posts will detail this journey, starting with an overview of housing options in Japan, the rental process, and the costs involved.
This information aims to assist those contemplating a move to Japan, currently in the process of finding a place, or already residing in Japan and considering their housing options.
Housing Options For Travellers
In Japan, housing options vary widely, including share houses, apartments, and houses, each with its unique features and considerations.
A share house in Japan is similar to a dormitory. Residents have their private rooms for sleeping and storing personal items but share common facilities like the kitchen and living room. This is often the most affordable housing option and a great way to meet new people. However, in situations like a pandemic, the close quarters of a share house may not be ideal for social distancing.
Japanese apartments are categorized mainly into two types: mansions and apāto. Mansions are newer, larger buildings made of steel and reinforced concrete, while apāto are typically smaller, with two to three floors, and are constructed from wood or a combination of wood and steel. Apartments are usually described using an LDK system (Living, Dining, Kitchen). For example, a 1K has one room with a kitchen, and a 1LDK includes a bedroom, living room, dining room, and kitchen. A single person’s apartment is about 25m2 on average. Mansions generally offer better earthquake resistance, fire safety, and sound insulation but are more expensive and often available for sale rather than rent.
Japanese houses, especially in urban areas, are more compact than their Western counterparts and often have less insulation. The value of a house typically depreciates over time unless it’s in a prime location, like near a popular train station in Tokyo, where the land value increases. Houses are usually further from stations than apartments due to the high cost and limited availability of land near stations. In cities, houses are often closely packed, limiting views and sunlight. Modern houses, while potentially cold, may offer better insulation than older rural homes and can be free from pests. Location can be a significant factor in house choice, with proximity to stations and supermarkets being highly desirable. However, privacy concerns may lead residents to keep curtains closed, reducing natural light in the home.
Cost of Housing in Japan: Renting an Apartment or House
The cost of renting an apartment or house in Japan varies based on several factors, including size, location, age of the building, and proximity to train stations.
For example, in Tokyo, the most affordable 1K/1DK and one-room apartments are typically found in Hamura city, about an hour west of Shinjuku, averaging under 40,000 yen per month. In contrast, the same type of apartments in Minato-ku, one of the more expensive areas, average around 130,000 yen per month. However, even in expensive areas like Minato-ku, it’s possible to find smaller, older apartments for as low as 60,000 yen per month.
Rental prices generally decrease for smaller apartments, those located farther from train stations (more than a 10 to 15-minute walk), older buildings, or properties near less desirable locations like cemeteries. In Tokyo, the eastern side is often more affordable than the western side, historically associated with wealthier residents.
When renting in Japan, additional fees like reikin (a “thank you” monetary gift to the landlord) and shikikin (a refundable deposit) are common. Reikin can be equivalent to one month’s rent, paid every two years upon contract renewal, or a one-time payment of two to three months’ rent. Shikikin is a deposit mostly returned upon moving out, provided the apartment is in good condition.
UR Housing, government-subsidized apartments, offer no reikin and sometimes no shikikin. These apartments are usually older and located further from major train stations but offer discounts for specific demographics, like people under 35 or families with young children. However, these discounts have limitations, such as duration and income eligibility.
Other fees associated with renting in Japan may include a cleaning fee, lock changing fee, real estate agent fee, fire insurance fee, and guarantee fee. Additionally, apartments usually require a monthly maintenance fee, known as 管理費 (kanrihi), while houses typically do not.
Cost of Housing in Japan: Buying an Apartment or House
The cost of buying a property in Japan varies based on location and whether the property is new or used.
Buying a Used Apartment or House
In Japan, property values typically depreciate over time, so buying a used apartment or house is generally more affordable than buying new. Especially in rural areas, there are even abandoned houses, known as akiya, which can be acquired for very little. However, these are often far from public transportation and may require significant renovations. Properties built before 1981 might not be as earthquake-resistant due to changes in building codes.
Buying a New Apartment or House
New properties are popular in Japan. Houses already built (tateuri) can seem affordable, but they often have poor insulation and generic designs. The included costs of advertising and sales commissions can inflate the price, making them potentially overpriced.
Building a House
Building a house involves selecting the land and then planning the house construction. Options include working with a large housing developer (ハウスメーカー) like HEBEL HAUS or Sweden House, which manage everything from design to construction. Other choices are smaller local companies (chiikikoumuten) or hiring an architect and contractor, which allows for more customized, energy-efficient designs.
Building a house from scratch is one of the most expensive options, comparable to buying a central city property. It’s also a complex process, often involving numerous transactions and a less certain timeline. However, it offers the advantage of customizing the house to specific preferences, such as insulation quality, kitchen size, and storage space. While costly and time-consuming, it’s a viable option for those planning to settle permanently in Japan, particularly in rural areas where land is cheaper.
Renting Housing in Japan: A Guide to Finding Apartments and Houses
In Japan, several websites are available in both English and Japanese to assist in finding rental housing (借りる・かりる). Key Japanese websites for locating rental properties (賃貸物件) include:
- LIFULL HOME’S
- at home
These platforms offer search options based on train lines or areas, allowing you to refine your search by size, price, proximity to train stations, and more. They also provide the option to filter results to show only properties without reikin (thank-you money) or shikikin (security deposit).
A guarantor is often required when renting in Japan. This person or entity is responsible for paying your rent if you are unable to do so. In recent times, it has become more common for landlords to prefer guarantor companies over personal acquaintances or family members. The typical cost of using a guarantor company is about half to one month’s rent initially, with a reduced fee upon contract renewal.
Ideal Timing for Finding and Moving into a Rental in Japan
The best time to start looking for a place to rent in Japan is between December and February. This period precedes the peak moving season, which typically runs from January to March, coinciding with the start of the fiscal year in April. During this time, many university graduates begin new jobs, leading to increased demand for housing, especially in larger cities. Starting your search early, ideally in December, is advisable for securing a good place.
However, it’s important to note that moving costs during this peak season are usually higher. Another busy period for rentals is in the fall, specifically September and October, due to mid-fiscal year job transfers among company employees.
For instance, when searching for a new place, checking popular websites like SUUMO and LIFULL HOME’S frequently can be beneficial. Although late March is not the optimal time for house hunting due to reduced availability, persistence can pay off. Desirable properties, such as a newer 3LDK within a ten-minute walk from a station, can appear suddenly and are often claimed quickly. In some cases, renters may even commit to a property without viewing it, due to high demand.
Key Factors to Consider When Searching for a Place in Japan
When looking for a place to rent in Japan, several aspects should be taken into account:
- Neighborhood: Check the availability of essential services like grocery stores, convenience stores, and if you’re a parent, daycares and schools. Safety is also a key consideration.
- Commute to Work: Some may not mind a long commute, as it offers personal time, especially in a bustling city like Tokyo.
- Commute Experience: Consider the crowdedness of train lines during rush hours. Living farther from busy areas might mean more space and comfort during travel.
- Type of Housing: Decide between living in a house or an apartment. Houses generally offer more privacy and space but can be pricier and colder. Apartments might have issues with noise from neighbors and shared facilities.
- Proximity to Train Station: Evaluate how far the place is from the nearest station. A longer walk might mean lower rent but could affect your daily routine.
- Building Age: Older buildings might be less expensive but could have issues like noise, pests, and outdated infrastructure.
- Layout and Size: Examine the actual layout and included amenities. Some places may have unconventional setups or lack certain facilities like a stove or air conditioning.
- Floor Level: In apartments, the first floor can be cold and prone to pests. Higher floors might offer better views and less noise, but consider if you have children, as noise can be a factor for neighbors below.
- View and Sunlight: The view from your window and the amount of sunlight can impact your living experience. South-facing homes typically get more sunlight.
- Costs: Consider not only the rent but also additional expenses like reikin (thank-you money), shikikin (security deposit), maintenance fees, and moving costs.
In conclusion, the cost of housing in Japan varies significantly depending on various factors such as location, type of housing, proximity to transportation, age and condition of the building, and additional fees like reikin and shikikin. While options range from more affordable older buildings to pricier, newer apartments in central locations, understanding these variables is key to finding a place that fits both your needs and budget in Japan.