Little House In Ise

To Live in Tokyo …
February 27, 2008, 18:13
Filed under: Expat, Family, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Unless you are rich, blessed with a company that pays for your housing or are just lousy at finances, to live in Tokyo, requires downsizing expectations about house or apartment size. Usually, downsizing a lot is going to be barely enough.

When house hunting, consider where you want to go every day (work/play) then choose a location that is convenient to a rail line that will take you there. Anything inside the loop formed by the Yamanote line is going to be pricier than places outside with famously expensive locations such as Ginza and Shinjuku topping the list.

To keep costs down, consider living outside the loop. The farther out the cheaper it gets with Chiba and Saitama being relatively reasonable. The Yokohama area and locations adjacent to the Chuo line are also expensive. Try to find a place near your preferred station. Buses may be less frequent than you need and station area parking can be pricey (way out in the Chiba Urayasu area, parking near the station costs about 20,000 yen per month — about $200). Also, avoid living near stations where the express trains don’t stop. It’s awful to stand in the cold, watching trains zoom past knowing they go where you want to be.

Another way to keep costs low is to rent an older apartment. This may sound obvious but the drawbacks associated with it are not. To start with, older Japanese homes and apartments have serious insulation issues and end up being both colder and hotter than new ones. The bigger problems have more to do with space for stuff. An older apartment will only be designed to hold an old-style fridge and washing machine. In both cases, that means very small. For singles that can work, but for families or couples it can be a problem. In some areas, for example the Okachimachi area near Ueno, the local custom was to visit public baths so many older homes, that have not been remodeled, don’t include a bath.

I recommend avoiding any commute that requires changing trains in Shinjuku. I am a crowd wimp, so take the traditional dose of salt, but Shinjuku station and its walking-distance-neighbors are tough to get around in at the best of times. Dante missed out by not including Shinjuku station at rush hour as one of his circles of hell.

If you are renting a mansion (condo/apartment) ask your real estate agent for “bunjo” type. Bunjo mansions are built to be sold rather than rented and so tend to be built to a higher standard (quieter and warmer).

Finally, it helps to be comfortable with using tatami mat size (jo) as a unit of measurement for room sizes. Overall, house and apartment areas will be described in square meters but individual rooms, especially Japanese style rooms, will be described by the number of tatami mats that would fit the room. A typical small room is 6 jo. A typical storage or bonus room is 4.5 jo. An LDK (Living-Dining-Kitchen) that is 14 jo is big.

Good luck!


6 Comments so far
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Another detail about renting apartments that I should add is that private leases, those not done through ones workplace, will require a guarantor (保証人 — hoshounin). In my case, I have Japanese family members who are willing to “take a risk” on me. For people who do not have anyone to whom they can turn for help of this sort there are companies (保証会社 — houshogaisha) that will be your guarantor, for a price. The price is generally about one month’s rent and then a few thousand yen per month. So, it is possible to get an apartment on you own in Japan but it takes money!

So far, the only negotiation I have been able to do has been to reduce the rent while increasing the management fee (monthly payments stay the same). The reason this is beneficial is that the deposit, bribe money (礼金 — reikin) and agents fees are all based on the rent NOT what you pay each month. This helps reduce the pain of having to pay several months rent up-front when you first move in.

Comment by Eric Holcomb

Hi Eric,

I found your blog through Little Cricket’s site and have been reading it with great interest. Specifically, I’d like to talk to you more about training at Hombu Dojo. I wonder if you would be so kind as to contact me by email at: wjwmorrow atmark

Many thanks, John Morrow

Comment by Mad Dog

I would be happy to contact you.

Comment by Eric Holcomb

Great info. Any tips on buying in japan? Seems like info on buying is few and far between.

Comment by j

Buying is tough. I only looked into the mortgage portion and found, very quickly, that I am ineligible. To be eligible for a home loan from a Japanese bank one needs to have worked at the same company for at least three years. That marked me out right away so I did not pursue it further. I have heard that the guarantor requirements are much more stringent so that is yet another issue to keep in mind. Also, Japanese real-estate offices tend to specialize. They either do rentals (chintai) or sales (I forget what they’re called — fudosanyasan will do) rarely both.

A last note about rentals: Tokyo Rent seems to specialize in apartments for foreigners. There is no reikin requirement and their facilities are quite new. They seem well suited to singles and maybe couples.

Comment by Eric Holcomb

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