Apartment hunting in Tokyo – Part 1

Time has flown by – I hadn’t realised that it’s been over a week since my last post!  There hasn’t been much time to just sit down and relax lately, though hopefully things will be a little less hectic as time goes on (though you wouldn’t know it by all the running around I was doing at work this week! – and yeah, I know it’s only Tuesday..already!)

Aside from the daily grind at the office every day, most of my free time has been spent house-hunting.  I currently live at Higashi-Kurume which, while being a pleasant neighborhood, is just a little distant.  It currently takes me about an hour and a half door to door (depending on if I can catch the bus on time), and involves a bus ride and transfers between three (3) train lines one way.  For the math inclined, that’s 3hrs on the train every day, 15hrs every week, 60hrs every month, and 720hrs (or 30 days/1 month) a year.  So…I’ve effectively spent 3 months of my life in a train during my 3 years at Kurume.

Also, though the family I’m staying with is very nice, I would really LOVE to have a place of my own now.

So… I’ve been house-hunting and though tiring, it’s also been learning experience in several ways.

In my case, the biggest barrier in this process has been the lack of language ability.  Yes, I fully acknowledge that the fault is entirely mine – I have simply been too lazy to learn more than what I need to get by.  If I can order food, or ask for general directions, then I can get around without much difficulty in Japan.  Even outside of central Tokyo, one can get by with minimal vocabulary (and patience) since Japanese people for the most part are fairly helpful and kind.

When it comes to renting a place though, the Japanese are not so accomodating and understandably so.  After all, you’re going to be living on their property and presumably needing to interact with them from time to time.  If you can’t explain the thick smoke billowing out of your window, or why water is flowing out of your apartment, and what the heck a howler monkey is doing on your balcony, then you’re setting yourself up for potential tension down the road (though if you’ve got a howler monkey on your balcony you’re probably setting yourself up for tension regardless of how good your Japanese is).

In my case, agencies and landlords are happy to see my name (Matsuya) and even happier to know I’ve got Japanese citizenship, passport and all.  However, they quickly turn glum when they realise just how minimal my Japanese is.  Some agents won’t even bother showing you any of their available properties until they’ve called up the landlord and asked if they are willing to accept a non Japanese-speaking tenant.  I am still fairly lucky though – I hear that the situation is usually much more difficult for someone who’s not a Japanese citizen/permanent resident, even if they’re fluent in Japanese.

It really, REALLY helps to have a Japanese friend along with you who not only acts as your translator, but also is able to assure the agent/landlord that you’re really not such a bad and scary foreigner.  Having a Japanese friend with you also means that you have access to many more property options.  Sure, one could go exclusively to housing agencies that are more foreigner-friendly, but these tend to either focus on the really cheap (usually shared) guest/student houses or thousand-dollar expat homes.  I think it’s safe to say that there are more housing opportunities becoming available for non-Japanese these days, but the best (in terms of cost anyway) properties are still to be found amongst the local housing agencies.

Hmm… I can see this post building up to one of my mega-writeups, so I’m going to take a break (literally) and continue on this topic in another post shortly.



  • Tet
    March 18, 2009 - 14:27 | Permalink

    Hunting for an apartment is indeed a pain in the arse and I agree it’s tougher for foreigners since they give you that strange look…

    Although I got a strange look myself because I told them Im not really from Japan =p

  • March 19, 2009 - 00:18 | Permalink

    I think most people who know you would definitely feel you’re more “American” at heart than Japanese :p

  • Tet
    March 19, 2009 - 16:47 | Permalink

    Weeeell, as long as people don’t start calling me a twinky then I’m okay XD

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  • October 22, 2010 - 13:51 | Permalink

    Have you felt discriminated in any way, like “No Gaijin” despite your Japanese heritage? I thought that I would have an edge in my apartment search because I speak Japanese, my spouse is Japanese, and I have lived in Japan for years. But during my last move, my agent contacted about a dozen landlords about some really good listings but they all said “gaijin dame” regardless of my background. I’d like to think if I met the landlords myself (and save myself the mediator fee at the agencies), things would be different.

  • October 23, 2010 - 16:47 | Permalink

    How long ago was this? When I was searching for an apartment, I didn’t feel particularly discriminated again because of my “foreign-ness” (though to be fair, I am technically Japanese since I hold a JP passport).

    Actually, I felt that the agencies (Pitato house, Homes, etc) were more concerned about my inability to speak Japanese. The first thing they did when calling up a landlord was to explain very apologetically that their prospective tenant (me) didn’t speak the language. The landlords (I think understandably) were then scared off.

    Things worked out because a friend of mine in the business acted as an intermediary, and though the rental agency also doesn’t speak English, once the initial paperwork was cleared, I haven’t had to deal with them since.

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