Buying a property in Japan

No matter where you live finding a property to buy or rent can be a truly stressful experience. Because of the cultural differences and language barriers some expats find negotiating the Japanese property market particularly tricky, but it doesn’t have to be.

Housing in Japan is a strange mix of traditional and modern Western influences. With a large population and not much space to house them all on, the Japanese have looked upwards. Up to 25% of the population is concentrated in the capital of Tokyo area alone. Modern Japanese cities are filled with high-rise apartment buildings called manshon. In some bizarre cases there are residential buildings built under ground and capsule hotels are often used for temporary housing or overnight stays.

Apartments in Japanese cities are often incredibly tiny. They are often designed as multi-purpose spaces. For example a bedroom is often also used as a living room, which can then be turned into a dining room etc… Some properties can be as small as 15 square meters!

Most Japanese properties are rented unfurnished and often have very few of the amenities we here in the West expect. Ovens are often just hot-plate style gas burners and heaters are often nonexistent save for a kerosene heater in the cold winters.

Western style apartments are available in some areas but these are incredibly expensive and only within reach of the most wealthy citizens.

Anyone is eligible to buy property in the country as long as they can afford it. The ownership of property does not count towards the chances of obtaining full citizenship however.

Finding a place

Unless you are fluent in Japanese don’t even consider going property hunting on your own. It’s a good idea to ask a Japanese friend or other experienced expat to assist you in your search. The place to start is to read one of the many real estate magazines on sale at most newspaper or book outlets. Most of the companies that list property in these publications have their own websites. The internet is also useful as you can use the translate feature found on sites such as Google to read the pages in English.

Hidden fees and Guarantors

In Japan renting a property is similar to getting your visa, in other words it can be a hassle. Like applying for a visa you will need a guarantor to vouch for and sponsor you. This person acts to reassure the potential landlord that you are a respectable member of society, who will pay rent on time and who will not damage the place. Be sure to choose someone you trust for this role as they will become financially responsible for any rent in arrears or damages. As an expat you should ask your employer to be your guarantor, most will be happy to assist you but if this is not an option then try and get a Japanese friend. If you don’t have either of those options available you can pay for one as many real estate agencies, although this is often quite expensive.

You will also be surprised and possibly annoyed at the way the Japanese seal a rental agreement. In the UK it is common to pay a deposit of one month’s rent, in Japan you will have to pay a deposit as well as having to pay ‘key money’ worth between one or three months rent. This is to show gratitude to your landlord. To a Westerner it may seem like daylight robbery!

If living in an apartment building or a manshon, you will probably be charged a kokyuhi fee as well. This is a smaller fee that contributes to the building’s upkeep. All of these fees must be paid in cash, and none of them, except the security deposit, will be refunded.