There are many things a gaijin has to learn about before finding lodgings in one of the biggest cities in the world. The first decision you have to make is;
“How much money do I want to spend?”
It seems that the international standard for how much one wants to spend on rent is 1/4 to 1/3 of one’s monthly income. If you’re anything like me, then you probably want to spend as little as reasonably possible- without sacrificing a toilet or a front door. And if you’re MORE like me, then you probably want to save all of your extra money for overseas excursions and *cough* “imbibing,” and so will scour the belly of the internet looking for that one apartment “gem.”
Now that you’ve decided how much money you (don’t) want to spend per month, YOU’RE GOING TO ADD ABOUT 200 DOLLARS. Why? Because you want to live in Tokyo, that’s why. Get real, kids.
At this point, most foreigners hit a big wall. The wall is pretty obvious and easy to spot. I’ll show you the wall;
What’s that? YOU DON’T SPEAK FLUENT JAPANESE??? WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU??? Of course, since it’s now the 21st century, there are many, many rental agencies that are willing to rent to foreigners, and have websites in multiple languages.* But as a foreigner, you need to learn the Japanese apartment ‘lingo.’
A guarantor; Someone who will validate your existence, and is legally responsible if you skip town like a douchebag and don’t pay your rent. Many companies that hire foreigners will also be their guarantor. Except if you work for my company. Then you’re up the creek, without the proverbial paddle. There are companies that will act as your guarantor, but of course, they will take a small piece of your soul as collateral. It’s in your best interest to limit yourself to rental agencies that accept a simple professional reference or skip the step altogether.
Key money (Reiken); Also known as...
THE GREATEST JAPANESE SCAM OF ALL TIME.
There is no legitimate reason for key money. It’s usually worth a month’s rent, and it does nothing. You are giving this money away to the landlord or building owner. It’s a present. A bribe. It’s a monetary ‘thanks’ for allowing you the privilege of living in a closet in Tokyo. I’ve heard horror stories of people in Osaka and Nagoya paying up to two months rent in key money, and that’s before all the other fees…
Agency fee; This one is pretty straight forward. It’s (more) money you hand over to the agent who opened the front door of the apartment for you. In some cases, the agent truly works for his or her money and does the apartment hunting for you. But usually, it’s more of a scam. It’s also worth approximately another month’s rent.
Deposit money; Also considered pretty internationally standard. Back in the old country, we called it “first and last.” You pay the first and last months of your stay up front, which kind of provided proof that you were a real human with real money. Here in Japan, you can pay up to 5 months rent in a deposit. The average is 2. BUT- SURPRISE (heh heh)!!!!! It doesn’t necessarily include the initial rent! Suckaaahh!!!
Cleaning fee; Oh wait, you thought you were FINISHED paying out your nose for your “cozy nook” of Tokyo? Think again. Whoever rented the place before you was probably a hobo, with a crazy fetish for Indian food. So you’re going to have to pay to get that sh*t cleaned. It’ll run you about 30,000 yen. But trust me- PAY THIS ONE. Worth. It.