Looking for short term accommodations in Japan is relatively easy with a wide variety of choices – from Japanese style inns (ryokans) to ultra modern business hotels – making booking short term stays a snap. But what if you are staying in Japan for longer, say a few months? Now things start to get a whole lot more difficult.
After doing some heavy research for a longer stay in Japan, here’s what I’ve found about booking accommodations for the Osaka and Kyoto area.
Do your Research
If you are looking to stay in Japan for a month or more, you really need to do your research. You may find that a lovely apartment you found on a website was so close to a gigantic pachinko parlor that the previous renters couldn’t get more than a few minutes of sleep a night. Or worse, you could find your bunking with a lovely family of cockroaches.
A good place to find out about accommodations is on the Gaijin Pot forums. Do a quick search to see if there are any horror stories to place you are looking to rent.
Check out the Kansai Flea Market
The number one source of accommodation information for the Osaka and Kyoto area has got be the Kansai Flea Market.
At first I was confused by the name and almost passed it over, after all I was looking for a place to rent not a used bicycle. But the monthly Kansai Flea Market publication is a treasure trove of information on accommodations and employment in the Kansai district. You will find a lot of potential places to check out that you won’t find by searching the internet alone.
The Kansai Flea Market can be found in printed format if you are already in Japan at several locations (bookstores, airports, information centers), but even better, it can be found online. For some reason the site looks like complete bum on Internet Explorer, so check it out using Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari.
Demystify the Lingo
As you browse for accommodations in Japan you will come across some lingo you may not be familiar with. Let me shed some light on some of the more confusing terms.
- Key money – Think of this as a deposit that you’ll never see again. Key money is sometimes required to be paid before you move into your place and a go anywhere from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. This is above and beyond the money you put down for the first month’s rent and any damage deposit. It’s pretty much a way to scam you for more money. Look for places that advertise No Key Money.
- Fully Furnished – This one is pretty self explanatory. If you are looking for a place that you can just move right into, fully furnished is the way to go. However, not all fully furnished places are created equal. Sometimes you share a kitchen or bathroom, or you may get a bed and desk but nothing for eating utensils or dishware. Read the fine print when comparing fully furnished apartments or houses.
- Damage Deposit – As with most Western accommodations, Japan also collects damage deposits upfront. Again these deposits could run in the several hundred to thousand dollar ranges. I’ve heard horror stories of people losing their damage deposit because there was a little ink stain left on a desk. Find out as much as you can about any damage deposit or cleaning fee ahead of time so you don’t get a big shock when you leave.
- 2LDK, 1DK – The first time I saw these strange terms I wondered if it was some sort of secret Japanese code. Perhaps the location to Lord Toranaga’s hidden treasure? When I found out what they really stood for, I felt pretty stupid. These codes tell you the number a types of rooms that the accommodation has. For example: 2LDK means you have two rooms, a living room, dining room, and a kitchen. 1DK means you’ll be looking at 1 room with a dining room and kitchen. The more rooms the higher the rent.
- Japanese Guarantor – From time to time you may run across a place that will not rent to you without a Japanese guarantor. A guarantor is basically a Japanese person that will accept responsibility for you while you are in Japan (if you start to act silly are these people rounded up and punished?). If you have a friend in Japan (an adult who earns an independent living) you’ll want to check with them if it’s OK if they can be your guarantor. If don’t have a friend in Japan, look for listings with No Guarantor, or you may want to look at lining up one of the several realty agencies that can serve as guarantor and take you around to show you some available accommodations. And, if you have no friends at all? I’ll be your friend*
- Guesthouse or Gaijin Houses – Your typical guesthouse or gaijin house is an inexpensive, shared accommodation. Think of it as a student hostel often with shared eating and bathroom facilities. If you don’t mind being around people, a Gaijin house is often an affordable option for stays longer than a week.
*friend money may be required :P
You may find it simpler to use a realty agency when you arrive in Japan. The upside is that you can check out the available accommodations in person before you lay down any money. The downside is that you’ll have to pay a service fee to the agency or typically one month’s rent when you sign the contract. If at all possible, bring a Japanese person along and don’t sign anything until you understand all the upfront fees and are satisfied with the place.
For further information check out Gaijin Pot’s Accommodation in Japan.
Leave a Reply