Mission impossible: search for an apartment in Tokyo

search for an apartment in tokyo

I was really looking forward to searching for an apartment in Tokyo from April.  I kept checking real estate ads and was ready to raid Ikea. My dream for 2017? A new, bigger flat in Tokyo.

Since I arrive in Tokyo, about 4 years ago, I had the experience of moving only once. At that time, unfortunately, I didn’t get the luxury to search for the perfect flat. I had 1-week to move out/move in. It was a hard but somehow kind of funny experience. And 2 years later, I was ready to start all over again.

I’m currently living in a 1k in Shinjuku district, close to a big road. The place I’m living in is doomed. Since October 2015, we’re constantly disturbed by night construction work. I’m not talking about a few hammers banging on the walls. No, no, no. They’re destroying the pavement from 8 pm to 2 am, to do only God knows what from 2 am to 4 am (electricity, gas, water pipe…pick one). Then they redo the pavement from 4 to 6 am. And then again the following night or the week after.

My husband coming back from his mission abroad was the perfect opportunity to search for a bigger and more quiet place. We had a budget in mind and, being married and, we naively believed it’d be easy. Oops, we’re in Japan. Nothing’s easy.

I thought my search for a new apartment in Tokyo would be cool, as I’m much more comfortable speaking Japanese compared to 2 years ago. In reality, deception after deception, we gave up and opted to keep our small 1k for the time being.

Search for an apartment in Tokyo: more challenging than reaching Mars

I know so well real estate websites (SuumoChintai et Athomes) that it takes me less than 10 seconds to check all the right boxes. They all know me too well as well since I keep having their pop-ups on Facebook and so on.

I spent long evenings reading all their ads, trying to figure out which ones are fake ads. Japanese agencies have a tendance to misplace addresses on purpose, to use wrong pictures or to simply ‘invent’ an apartment, to attract clients. They trick you into scheduling an appointment, to tell you “oops, sorry, this apartment isn’t available anymore. BUT we have much better options (sic)”.

We were not eager to lose precious time in their agencies so each time we were interested in one particular flat, we’d asked directly for a visit. As a consequence, we were told many times that said flat wasn’t available. Surprise, surprise, 2 months later, the ad is still online.

Being a foreigner searching for a flat in Tokyo is a pain

When apartments ads were not fake… Owners were not into foreign tenants. Real estate agents did their best not to be rude, but facts are facts. Many Japanese owners have prejudices against foreigners, whatever their origins, income, language abilities etc. In total, we were turned down for about 7 apartments, because I’m a 外人. Being married to a Japanese didn’t help. Being French (France still being popular in Japan) didn’t help. Working-did-not-help.

God dammit.

The worst episode we had to go through was in a small agency in Nakano. We had just visited an apartment – not looking at all like it was advertised, and the agent promised he had “better” choices.

The air was heavy and humid, the agency swamped with other couples, radio was on and broadcasting some kind of bad electro music. I was sick with all the noises and displeased with the lack of discretion. Since I’m a foreigner, the agent didn’t want us to visit flat we couldn’t apply for. So one by one, he called owners to ask them it was O-K. That was humiliating.

– Hi, apologies for the inconvenience, I’m with a couple who’d like to visit your property… I have to tell, the husband is Japanese and he’s married with … Oh, I see. I understand. Even though she’s Russian (HELLO I’M IN FRONT OF YOU AND FRENCH)? Sure, I understand. Thank you.

– Hi, hello this is Nakano agency. I’m sorry for calling you, but I’m with a couple interested in your property. Yes, so the wife is Russian (Yes, he DID. He called me Russian for the second time – by the way I have nothing against Russia, I love Russia, the culture, and language, damn, I even want to live in Moscow). Oh, I see. It’s no. Sure.

– Hello, yes, this is nantoka from Nakano agency. How are you? Good, good, ah ah! So, yes, I’m with a young couple… No, no children. But, ah, the wife is French. Is this a prob… I understand. Thank you for your time…

We were upset and tired, and we told him we were leaving. I understand he was not responsible for the owners’ positions, but we were angry.

In Japan, there’s an appropriate ‘season’ to search for a place

A lot of agencies told us we were too late. The best opportunities are gone, and the apartment they have left don’t meet our criteria. It is true that Japanese people tend to move before April when newly graduated students get their first job and Universities start. Which pushes the ‘flat-hunting’ period to January / February.

Around October 2016, I had indeed visited an awesome apartment – it was love at first sight!, but with my husband abroad, I couldn’t afford the rent on my own.

The moral being: searching for an apartment in Tokyo after April stinks!


Search for an apartment in Tokyo: a one-way road to bankruptcy

Despite the disappointment and traumatic experiences, we were not yet ready to give up. We tried to visit a few more flats, more or less matching our needs.

– Are you aware moving in Japan is quite expensive?

– Well, it’s not like we have a choice, right?

The agent smiled and kept silent. M

敷金: security deposit (1, 2-month rent)

礼金: key money (1, 2-month rent)

Agency fee: 1-month rent

Cleaning: can cost up to 1-month rent. Keep in mind that if you’re moving out, you’ll also have to pay a cleaning fee for the flat you’re leaving (in my case, about 30,000 yen).

Sure, alright. You also have to pay various insurances (fire, etc.) depending on the building management. Ok. Sure, more money.

But then. Then.


– I’m not sure you’re aware of this but *cough cough* well… Even though your in-laws are your guarantors, you’ll most likely have to pay for a guarantor company. You know, owners are worried about foreigners.

– Wait?

– Yeah… Usually, you have to pay a guarantor company once the owner agrees. It should cost less than a month rent but, you’ll have to pay the fee every year.

Hell no. Moving in the flat we were visiting would have cost us:

敷金: 110,000 yen

礼金: 110,000 yen

Agency: 110,000 yen

Guarantor: 110,000 yen

1st month rent: 110,000 yen

Cleaning: 30,000 yen

Total: 580,000 yen (about 4750 €, not counting the moving in cost).

When my husband heard about the guarantor company, we looked at each other decided it was time to give up our search for an apartment in Tokyo and get back to enjoying our free time. Sure. Our 1K is tiny. But tiny is cozy!


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