Big in Japan: How to rent an apartment in Tokyo

It’s been a busy week for me here in Tokyo…

After all too many years of living in foreigner guest houses, I decided that it was finally time to get a real Japanese apartment.

Now, I know you’re probably thinking that this is a completely normal and respectable proposition. However, I can assure you that moving shop in Tokyo is anything but easy.

What exactly is involved in renting a real apartment in Tokyo? Good question!

For starters, Japanese use the phrase hikoshi-bimbo to describe someone who recently moved into a new apartment.

Literally translating as ‘moving poor,’ hikoshi-bimbo describes the state of having to fork over six months’ salary for the privelege of renting a new apartment.

That’s right folks – it costs an average of six months’ salary to rent an apartment, not including purchases of furniture, bedding, appliances and other “luxury items.”

Believe it or not, Japan still has a number of feudal laws on the books aimed at maintaining the gap between rich and poor.

Essentially, this means that you need a serious amount of cash on hand before you can even step foot into the realtor’s office.

Confused? So was I, though hopefully this post will help clear things up a bit.

My new apartment is a 2LDK, which means that it has two bedrooms, one bathroom and an all-purpose living room / dining room / kitchen. It is located in a high class part of Tokyo, though the rent is affordable since the building is fairly old.

Rent for one month is 170,000 yen (US$1500), which isn’t that terrible considering that I’m sharing the place with a good friend. However, before being handed the keys, we had to pay considerably more than this amount – in cash.

As a rule, all new renters also have to pay two month’s rent in advance, which is somewhat reasonable considering the percentage of defaulters in Japan.

On top of that, all new renters have to give another two month’s rent as a security deposit, which is refundable assuming there is no damage to the apartment.

Here is where things start to get a bit shocking…

On top of that, all new renters also have to give another two month’s rent as a gift to the landlord, which is not refundable under any circumstances. This money, which is known as reikin (礼金; key money) in Japanese, is a huge blow to the wallet.

On top of that, all new renters also have to give another month’s rent as a finder’s fee to the realtor, which is also not refundable under any circumstances. This money is considered to be a small price to pay given the competiveness of the Japanese real estate market.

To summarize, this means that my somewhat affordable apartment required an initial down payment of a whopping 1,190,000 yen or approximately US$10,000 in cash.

With that said, my apartment is amazing, especially if you’re a fan of traditional Japanese architecture. Although I’m certainly going to be hikoshi-bimbo for a little while, at least I’m doing it in style.

(If you don’t believe me, check out the pictures of my swinging pad!)