Getting an apartment in Japan

When I came to Japan to work at pixiv this year, I knew this was going to be my first time in the country where I’d have to actually find a proper apartment to live in. When I came here on my working holiday, I spent the first half of it living in accommodation provided by the company, and the second half was traveling around Osaka, home-staying with Japanese families (Excellent fun, by the way!).

Making things a bit more interesting, I also had a few criteria for the apartment of my dreams:

  • pixiv have a policy where they can add help subsidise your apartment rent, providing the apartment is within a certain distance from the office (So, the closer to the building in Sendagaya, the better!)
  • Since I knew I wasn’t planning to stay in the longterm, ideally the place would be pre-furnished.
  • IDEALLY (but not necessarily), I would like a place that wouldn’t require me to commit to a 2 year contract (And then having to pay piles of money to cancel down the track)

A few weeks before leaving Perth, in probably the most stereotypical way of looking for apartments in Japan, I started my search on GaijinPot.com. I’d heard from a few people that it’s not unheard of for landlords to refuse new tenants purely because they’re not Japanese before, so I figured if it was listed there, they should all be okay.

There ended up being quite a few interesting places on GaijinPot. There was one particular one that I especially liked the look of since it had a loft above the kitchen where the bed (I like lofts. XD) So I sent a message to the realtor and asked that (given my set of criteria above) whether it might be possible to rent that one when I got to Japan. I promptly received a reply from a realtor from Tokyo Best Realtors explaining to me that although that particular unit DID require a 2 year commitment, if we met up once I arrived in Tokyo, they’d be able to help me find a much better suited apartment. I agreed and we scheduled a meeting on the first Saturday of me arriving in Tokyo (free of charge!).

When I actually arrived in Tokyo, I was expecting to start working at pixiv straight away, so I was a little nervous at imagining how I was going to manage full-time work, out of a hotel, while at the same time searching for an apartment (To the point where I was wondering if I should have committed to an apartment before coming to Japan). Interestingly/thankfully, when I arrived at the office, I was informed that it was necessary for my employment registration (including bank account registration) that I have a permanent address before I could actually officially start work. So with my newfound free time, I was looking forward to securing an apartment as fast as possible.

On the first Saturday of being in Japan, I went and met Mr Taka Nomura of Tokyo Best Realtors in a café in Shinjuku to discuss apartment options in the area. Thankfully, he spoke absolutely flawless English, so it was very easy to get down to business (I doubt that I could have done that with my Japanese!).

Mr Nomura explained to me that there is actually a central database of available housing in Japan, accessible only via licensed realtors, and that although online sites like GaijinPot display a good number of apartments, the central database has the most comprehensive list. After showing me the database, he told me that even if I couldn’t get a furnished apartment, it IS possible to rent a full furniture set in Japan (on a yearly basis), so it’s not completely necessary to search for furnished apartments. Anyway, after doing a little bit of searching in the general Shinjuku area, we discovered that there were actually 2 short-term apartments that were available for rent on an ongoing basis (ie you could cancel at any time). One was quite small, but close by, and there was another one that was further away, but a lot bigger.

As it looked like time was going to be of the essence, we left the cafe to go check out the smaller apartment to see what it was like. Since I was actually expecting something tiny, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was actually quite open and felt rather roomy; more than enough for my needs. On top of that, it was still in the range of the pixiv housing subsidy. So without doing too much thinking, I told Mr Nomura that I would definitely like to rent this apartment. Mr Nomura said he’d contact the landlord and see if they’d accept my application.

A few days later, I received an email from Mr Nomura saying that the landlord approved and the apartment would be mine once I’d paid the initial invoice, which consisted of all of the initial setup fees such as cleaning, lock fitting, and remaining rent for the month. After paying that straight away, I had another meeting with Mr Nomura to sign the contract and receive the key, and that was it! The place was mine!

Overall, the process was very quick. It took less than 2 weeks to go from having absolutely no idea what to do, to receiving the keys to my new apartment. I was very impressed at Mr Nomura’s handling of the whole process. He was extremely professional and meticulous in explaining all of the details, and was always extremely prompt when communicating via email.

After this experience, if I was going to do this again, my recommendation now is to most likely bypass GaijinPot and just meet with a Tokyo real estate agency directly once you’ve arrived in Japan. Since they all have access to the same database, you won’t find different places at different agencies, and so it’ll boil down to how the agency will treat you. At this point, I’m very glad to vouch for Tokyo Best Realtors as their service was absolutely amazing.

If you have any questions about this post, feel free to follow me on Twitter, or like my Facebook page!

  • Published August 10, 2013
  • Categories Travel