Tokyo housing and renting accommodations, goodness. It can be challenging to know where to start. But traveling to any foreign country is made that much easier by securing the proper accommodation. Depending on the length of your stay, you might look into a hotel, Airbnb, or the long-term rental of a house or an apartment.
If you’re planning on spending quite some time in Tokyo, your best bet will probably be renting a property that disposes of all the utilities you might need. And because the Tokyo housing and rental system differs from that in the U.S. or Europe, we thought we’d create this guide.
This article is a part of our extensive series on Learning about Japan through Online Japanese Lessons at Japan Switch.
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How expensive is Tokyo housing?
As is often the case, your opinion on Tokyo housing and rental prices will depend on the cost of living in your own country. Housing in Tokyo can cost anything from ¥20,000 ($190) to ¥150,000 ($1,400). Now, this may not sound like a lot, but considering that the national average rent falls between ¥50,000 ($470) and ¥70,000 ($650), Tokyo’s by far the priciest city to live in, in Japan.
The overall cost of your Tokyo accommodation will depend on amenities and the property’s proximity to the city center.
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that, while some rental properties will feature a “Western-style” room (youshitsu, 洋室), others will be in traditional Japanese design. Japanese-style rooms (washitsu, 和室) have floors covered in tatami mats, rather than hard floors. Japanese people sit directly on the floor, or on special floor-level “chairs”, and they sleep on foldable futons that can be put away during the day. Western-style rooms, as expected, may feature modern amenities like a bed, desk, bedside tables, chairs, etc.
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Different Types of Tokyo Apartments
Browing a realtor’s Tokyo catalog can become very confusing very quickly for a foreigner. Words like 1R, 1LDK, or 2K can all seem hectic, but they’re actually quite easy to follow, once you read our breakdown.
These abbreviations are simply a quicker way to define a certain apartment type.
“R” stands for “room”
“D” stands for “dining”
“K” stands for “kitchen”
“L” is for “living room”
“S” is for “storage”
Let's dive a little deeper into Tokyo's housing and what you can expect in terms of rooms.
1R (13sqm – 20sqm)
The 1R apartment is your basic small studio. You’ve got a small, rudimentary kitchen on one side of the door, while on the other, there’ll be a small bathroom. Once you go past these, you’ll be directly in the bedroom. Note that 1R apartments have nothing to separate the sleeping area from the kitchenette. Some 1R apartments will also feature a small built-in closet, though many won’t.
Pro Tip: Some 1R apartments will have a space inside the apartment for you to hook up a washing machine, while others may not. For some, this space will be outside the apartment, on the balcony.
But also: Often, the measurements for rentals will be given in tatami, instead of square meters, so you may have to do the conversion yourself. One tatami equals 1.65 square meters.
1K (13 sqm – 25 sqm)
Now, you want to be careful when renting a 1K apartment. In theory, the only difference between the 1R and the 1K is that in the 1K, the kitchen and the sleeping area are separated by a wall.
However, not all landlords observe this distinction keenly, and some properties marked as 1K might not have that wall (making them essentially a 1R). Another thing to be wary of, when shopping 1K, is the size of the kitchen. It’s tempting to assume that, since the kitchen and the bedroom are distinct, the kitchen is larger. Sadly, in many 1K apartments, the kitchen counter is as small and as rudimentary as in a 1R.
Note: In Japan, you can either get a common washing area and WC (also known as a “unit bathroom”), or you can get two separate rooms for these purposes. Smaller rentals typically feature a unit, while larger apartments will often have a WC room separate from the bathing area.
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1DK (25 sqm – 30 sqm)
The 1DK is essentially a two-room apartment, with a clear separation between the bedroom, and the kitchen and dining area.
Although the bedroom/separate room will be smaller than the dining area, the 1DK is the closest you’ll get to a “proper” apartment with all the necessary rooms. Many 1DKs also come with some built-in storage space, or a built-in closet.
Note: The higher the number goes (e.g. “2DK”, “3DK”), the more separate rooms there are, on top of the dining area itself.
1LDK (23 sqm – 35 sqm)
The 1LDK is what most Westerners think of as a “traditional one-bedroom”. Most 1LDKs feature a separate bathroom and WC, typically located near the entrance. Then, you’ve got the living area, which also sometimes doubles as a dining room. And then you have the separate bedroom and kitchen on either side of the living area.
While not mandatory, many 1LDKs will also feature some kind of built-in closet for storage.
Finally, the 1SLDK is very similar in layout and overall size to the 1LDK. With this one, you’re guaranteed a built-in storage space (typically annexed to the bedroom).
Things to Keep in Mind About Tokyo Housing
Take a (virtual) tour first
While a lot of Tokyo housing websites feature a floor plan, you’ll want to also get a visual of the space. Look for properties with a lot of pictures (from all angles), and ideally, if possible, arrange for a tour or virtual tour through your agency. Remember, this is where you’ll be living for the next several months, so you want to ensure that there aren’t any issues with ventilation and that it suits your needs.
When renting / living in Japan, keep in mind that most every place has shoe-free policies. That means it is understood you will remove your shoes when entering the home, especially in properties covered in tatami mats (as opposed to hard floors, or fully carpeted).
This is why some rental properties will mention that the shoe box is supplied by the landlord.
Note: Unless you have special permission from the landlord, you’re not allowed to wear your shoes indoors. Doing so may be considered a breach of your contract, and result in the termination of your lease.
Interested in more of the cultural rules and norms that make up Japanese society? Read our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Customs here!
Furniture, fixtures, etc.
It’s also important to keep in mind that most landlords in Japan when offering long-term rentals, will not include furniture in the price. Most of these rented properties will come unfurnished, sometimes even without lighting, air conditioning, or curtain fixtures.
So you may have to factor in the cost of furnishing the apartment on top of the rental fees themselves (explained below in greater detail).
Fortunately, there are a lot of places you can get appliances and homewares at a huge discount such as Sayonara Sales, Mottainai Japan, or Jimoty. These are online markets where both Japanese and foreigners alike are trying to offload their goods as quickly as possible. In many cases, as long as you figure out the transportation, you’ll be able to score most things for free.
Different types of flooring
As we’ve already seen, it’s traditional for Japanese accommodations to be covered in tatami mats. These are thickly woven rice straw mats that serve as an extra insulating cushion. Tatami mats are not simply a decorative choice, but also keep the room warm/cool in summer/winter.
Alternatively, foreign tourists may be more comfortable with hardwood floor. Naturally, this type of flooring will cost more, and will also require you to be extra careful not to scratch or dent it.
Finally, some properties are fully carpeted and may provide a more comfortable feel when walking barefoot. You also don’t have to worry so much about dents and scratches. However, because of Japan’s naturally humid environment, fully carpeted properties are quite rare, since they can, in time, develop mold, mildew, and other such problems.
When specifying your needs to a real estate agency, it would also be good to mention other requirements. For instance, some properties may feature an auto-lock front door, while others may only have a key-lock door.
You’ll get to choose between properties with both gas and electric utilities, or fully electric utilities. As you probably know, full electric is often considered the safer route, though will also be more pricey.
Some apartments may feature a balcony, while others will not, as well as other additional features like air conditioning.
Whether or not you view any of these as essential is up to you, but specifying as many of these requirements as you can think of can really make the realtor’s job easier.
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What are the different types of buildings for rent in Tokyo?
Generally, individual Tokyo housing and rentals are divided into three categories: the apartment or apāto (アパート), the mansion or manshon (マンション), and the rental house or kashiya (貸し屋). One thing to note about mansions is they aren't lavish, luxury estates you might be thinking of. When the word was borrowed, it was instead used to represent condomoniums which is something to keep in mind on your search for housing in Tokyo.
Alternatively, you may choose to rent a room in a share house, or shared living space. These are by far the least costly rental options in Tokyo, and you’ll get the privacy of your own bedroom while sharing common living spaces, kitchens, bathrooms, and so on.
Naturally, conditions in a share house differ from property to property. Some shared homes will provide individual rooms equipped with a bed, desk, and chair, as well as some storage space. While not guaranteed, it’s common for these rooms to also be equipped with an individual small fridge, and in some cases, even a WC, washstand/sink, or even in some cases, a shower.
Tokyo housing: Apartments
Apartments like the ones we’ve seen above are very common rental options in Tokyo. However, the closer you get to the city center, the smaller these apartments may be. Bear in mind that Tokyo is a busy, cramped city that a lot of people want to live in. for that reason, new apartment buildings seek to cram as many living quarters in as possible.
Apartments are often quite small (usually no taller than 2-story) and generally considered low-quality. The frame is made up either of steel or wood. While wooden frames are less pricy and feature more space for a lower price, they have a few drawbacks.
For one, wooden constructions have very poor insulation, meaning the home is especially vulnerable to extreme temperatures. Another common problem in wooden rentals is that there’s no sound insulation, so you’ll be able to hear everything from outside, or from the neighbor’s home.
Tokyo housing: Mansions
Mansions are, first of all, much larger than regular apartments, and usually constructed out of steel or concrete. These larger buildings are closer to Western-style apartment buildings, as they also often feature an elevator, a mail area, and other common spaces for residents.
Being constructed out of concrete, mansions boast a nicer, more stylish design, but will also be pricier. However, they do have better insulation, meaning it’s harder for hot or cold weather to permeate, and will also offer more privacy.
Tokyo Housing: Rental Houses
Rental houses offer a flexible and affordable option for those who want more space than an apartment can provide. Some rental houses in Tokyo are traditional Japanese-style homes with tatami mats, shoji doors, and a small garden. Others are more modern and spacious with multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, and a kitchen. Prices vary depending on the size, location, and age of the house, but they can range from around ¥100,000 to over ¥1 million per month. However, rental houses in Tokyo can be in high demand, and the process of finding and securing a rental house can be competitive and time-consuming.
Pro Tip: Obviously, the rental property type you choose will be influenced by budget, availability in your chosen area, and so on. If possible, we recommend opting for a concrete or steel frame, rather than a wooden one. While costlier, it does offer improved safety, and insulation, and is generally more comfortable.
How easy is it to rent in Japan?
We’ll be walking you through the renting process itself in just a minute, but we wanted to take a second to address what it means for a foreigner to rent property in Tokyo. Unfortunately, many local landlords are skeptical when it comes to renting to foreigners, as are some real estate agencies. This is often due to bad previous experiences and may prove an impediment to your rental process.
That does not mean all landlords or real estate agents in Tokyo are the same. It’s simply a situation you might encounter and should be prepared for.
If a landlord does agree to rent to a foreigner, they may also require that a Japanese national in good standing vouches for you, and even acts as a co-signer or guarantor (hoshōnin, 保証人) to your lease agreement. Fortunately, there are companies that will act as guarantor to help tick that dilemme off your Tokyo housing list of dilemmas!
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Foreigner-friendly Tokyo housing
In more recent years, real estate agencies (fudosan-ya, 不動産屋) specifically targeting foreigners have sprung up which will make the process easier. We do not recommend renting without a real estate agent, since the process may be quite different from your home country, and you will need someone to bridge cultural gaps.
Also, when choosing a real estate agency, you want to make sure they offer English language support. To rent a property in Japan, of course, you will need to sign Japanese documents. Ideally, you want a real estate agent who can help you understand and review these documents, to ensure you get a good deal.
Blackship Realty specializes in high-end apartments and properties in good Tokyo areas. They offer bilingual support, and staff that has been extensively trained in both local and international renting practices.
Real Estate Japan is a residential-focused real estate agency that covers the main areas of Tokyo, as well as Osaka, Hokkaido, Nagoya, etc.
Mitsui Fudosan Realty features a broad range of luxury and premium apartments and condominiums in the Chiyoda, Shinjuku, Minato, Chuo, and Shibuya wards of Tokyo.
Ideally, you’d want a real estate agent who understands international real estate, as they may be more attuned to your basic needs when it comes to a rental property. You may also be able to secure apartments with utilities included in the rent, or fully-furnished Western-style designs.
Tokyo Housing and the Renting Process
Naturally, a good real estate agent will be able to walk you through all the necessary fees, deposits, and so on. Since the renting process may differ quite a bit from your home country, here’s a basic breakdown of what to expect.
Before renting in Japan, you will need to pass a compulsory background check. This is a requirement not just for foreigners, but also for Japanese nationals, and is considered a must, whether renting as an individual, or a company.
Documents you’ll need to apply for Tokyo housing
You will need to provide:
- Identification Documents – a passport, and a visa or zairyu kaado (residency card).
- Certificate of Eligibility (zairyushikaku nintei shomeisho, 在留資格認定証明書) – this Certificate is a document from the immigration authority, certifying that your purported activities in Japan are legal and fall under residency guidelines
- Letter of Employment (zaishoku shōmeisho, 在職証明書) – this should normally also contain some salary information. In some cases, a Letter of Employment may be accepted instead of a Certificate of Eligibility, or vice-versa.
- Salary Record (kyūyo meisai, 給与明細) – proof of salary for the past three months
- Bank Statement (zandaka shōmei, 残高証明) – a copy of your latest statement, or bank book, if you’re currently unemployed
- Tax-withholding Slip (gensenchōshūhyō, 源泉徴収票) – finally, some landlords may require a tax-withholding slip, or pay slip.
Tokyo Housing Rental Fees
When you’ve found an apartment you like, you will need to apply for it. When applying to rent an apartment in Japan, you are asked to put down a reservation deposit, or tetsukekin (手付金).
Next, you’ll be asked to provide a security deposit or shikikin (敷金) of 1-2 months’ rent. The security deposit, like in Western rentals, guarantees against damage to the landlord’s property. Although it can be withheld, if there is extensive damage at the end of the leasing period, the security deposit is normally fully refundable.
Pro Tip: Note, however, that some landlords will withhold a cleaning fee from this deposit.
Together with the security deposit, you’ll need to pay an appreciation fee, or key money (Reikin, 礼金). This is a Japanese custom, by which the tenant shows their gratitude to the landlord by offering them this “gift” (usually 1-2 months’ rent) that is non-refundable. However, some landlords have started waiving this custom, so you may look for reikin-free rentals.
You may also have to pay a brokerage fee (Chūkai tesūryō, 仲介手数料). This is a non-refundable fee charged by the real estate agency. According to Japanese law, it can’t be more than one month’s rent, and can, in some cases, not be charged at all.
When renting a home in Tokyo, most landlords will require you to also purchase insurance against disasters like fire. This insurance (Kasai hoken, 火災保険) is a non-refundable sum between ¥10,000 and ¥20,000 ($75 - $150).
Finally, as with most rentals, you’ll need to pay the first month’s fee ((Maeyachin, 前家賃), which depends on how many days there are in the month when you’re moving in.
Pro Tip: If you can not secure a guarantor to vouch for you on your lease, you may want to use a guarantor company. These are companies that offer guarantees for foreigners renting in Japan, against a small usage fee (保証会社利用料), which you’ll also have to factor into your overall budget.
In Japan, the average rent lease covers two years, though you may be able to find longer or shorter contracts, depending on your needs, through specialized real estate agencies.
Tokyo Holiday Rentals
It may be the case that you need a medium-term accommodation in Tokyo. That’s more than just a couple of days in a hotel but less than the generally accepted two-year lease.
In that case, platforms like Booking.com or Airbnb are probably your best option. For one, they eliminate the need for a realtor (as well as the affiliated fees) and allow you to deal directly with your landlord. Additionally, platforms like Airbnb often provide impressive discounts for longer (X months) stays.
By renting through short-term holiday rental platforms, you may also bypass the need to provide a letter of employment or certificate of eligibility to your landlord.
Note: Renting through such platforms, however, should be done cautiously. Do pay attention to other tenants’ reviews of a landlord and property, to avoid being scammed, or putting yourself in danger. Use your judgment.
Since traditional rentals also offer their unique benefits (and perhaps a factor of improved safety, in some cases), we recommend exploring all of your rental options before making a choice.
For instance, while renting through platforms like Airbnb may seem easier at first, fees and the rent itself may be higher than if you went through a traditional real estate agency.
While the Tokyo housing situation and rental process in other parts of Japan may differ from where you are, don’t let that put you off. With the help of this guide, as well as a seasoned Japanese realtor, there’s no doubt you’ll find a home suited to your unique tastes.
Whether traveling to Japan to experience the culture or for work, there are plenty of housing options available – from those replicating Western-style accommodation to traditional Japanese housing.
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