Accommodation in Japan

Since I live way out in the inaka (countryside) rather than in Tokyo or Osaka or even a city, some of this information won’t apply to you if you’re planning to move to anywhere but the inaka.


My apartment was kindly arranged by my employer, so I was spared the confusion and stress of trying to rent in a country where 1) I don’t speak the language and 2) discrimination on the grounds of race is not illegal. Yes, you heard that last part right.


Most people who come to Japan probably end up living in a gaijin house (foreigner house) – a block of apartments rented out specifically to foreigners. This can be an excellent option for many people, especially to start out with, as they don’t involve paying key money. To rent an apartment, most landlords will ask for a few different payments. There’s the usual security deposit that you’ll have to pay in most countries. The difference is, it can be up to six months’ rent (or even more). In addition, there’s reikin (gratitude money), which is basically a gift. It can be the same amount as the deposit, and you do not get this money back. Everyone hates this, foreigners and Japanese alike – it’s extortion. For the Japanese though, who usually live with their parents until they get married, the key money can be taken out of their wedding gifts. Or at least, they know they’ll be staying there for years, so the expense can be somewhat justified. For the foreigner on a six-month or one-year visa, or someone who isn’t sure how long they’re going to be there, this is an excruciatingly large present to give to your new landlord. (As an aside, key money is illegal in most of Europe and in America.)


A gaijin house won’t have this payment. You’ll pay your deposit (usually a month’s rent) and that’s it. Maybe a utilities deposit of a few hundred dollars, but you can count on it not being ridiculous.


On the other hand, gaijin houses have their downsides too. They’re often more expensive per month. They’re usually filled with foreigners – not great if you want to improve your language/meet the locals. The walls are often thin and privacy can be hard to get. Also, many people will rent a room in a shared apartment, so the kitchen and living areas (and sometimes the bathroom/toilet) will be shared. Fine if your housemates are considerate, not so fine if they’re not.


Anyway, way out in the countryside gaijin houses simply don’t exist. There just isn’t the market for them. Also, it’s a little harder to attract a foreigner to come work in a school/business located in the sticks, so some employers will help you out with your accommodation. I’m not entirely sure what the arrangement I have is, but either my boss/her school owns my apartment or it’s leased by her and then sub-leased to me. Either way, I pay my rent to her and there was no key money. Happy days!


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