Accommodation Options in Tokyo for English Teachers in Japan
Moving to one of the largest cities in the world is quite a daunting task, particularly when you have to find your own accommodation using another language.
On the JET Programme, ALTs (assistant language teachers) are, in every prefecture except Tokyo, provided with accommodation by the school and will likely inherit all of the necessary furniture and kitchen appliances that they need and only pay a small amount of rent.
In Tokyo, the freedom of choosing your own apartment is an exciting prospect. No hand-me-down furniture from 30 years ago, no scary, mouldy tatami mats to deal with, only pure freedom of choice. This means, however, that you have to tackle this task all by yourself, but the good news is that you have a few different options to choose from.
What are Tokyo apartments like?
Apartments in Japan are quite different from what you’re probably used to if you come from a western country.
Small kitchens - In the average apartment, the kitchen consists of 1-2 gas burners, or a plug-in camp stove and a sink. The kitchen is often placed in a hallway with little-no bench space. We bought a bench from Ikea because we cook a lot and it has definitely helped. However, if you’re not a big cook, you can do what many other Tokyo-ites do and eat out. Eating out is extremely cheap, and you can easily eat for under $10.
Japanese bathrooms - Bathrooms in Japan have the toilet and bath areas separated and almost always have a wet room that holds the shower/bath. This means that they take up quite a bit of your space because the wet room has a section for showering and a section for the bath as well.
Genkan - taking off your shoes in the genkan (entrance) is an important custom in Japan, and one of the rules of renting an apartment is not to wear shoes beyond the genkan.
Rules - most apartments have a series of rules to follow, including sorting (sometimes into seven different categories) and taking out your garbage on the appropriate days, and banning musical instruments.
Tatami flooring- Tatami is traditional Japanese flooring made from woven straw. They are great for insulation against heat and cold, but they are easily damaged and require a lot of care to ensure they don’t get mouldy or torn by furniture. Not all apartments have tatami, and you can definitely find apartments without it.
Where to get an apartment
Obviously, close to your workplace is ideal, but if you are placed in inner-city Tokyo, the rent can be very expensive. There are expensive neighbourhoods and cheaper neighbourhoods, but the cheapest place to live is not in Tokyo.
Lots of people commute into Tokyo from the surrounding prefectures, and due to the incredible train system, this is quite an easy task.
If your school is in north Tokyo, perhaps consider Saitama prefecture, in east Tokyo, think about Chiba, or in south Tokyo, perhaps Kanagawa prefecture.
If you are able to, ask your school where most of the teachers live and check out the rental prices in the area. Also, consider whether you are ok with commuting long-distance or whether you would prefer to walk or ride to work.
Another important thing to check is how close your apartment is to a train station. The closer to a train station, the more expensive it is because of convenience, but also it can definitely be worth the extra money. On the other hand, if your apartment is a 15mins walk from a train station (this is considered quite far), it will probably be cheaper.
A few things to note
Guarantor: Getting an apartment in Japan is not an easy task for foreigners as many landlords will refuse you due to being foreign. You will need a guarantor who promises to pay your rent should you fail to do so. There are many guarantor companies that you can go through or, if you have a close friend or family member who is Japanese, you can ask them to be your guarantor.
Natural disasters: Japan is very prone to natural disasters and gets typhoons, earthquakes, and flooding on an annual basis, with the unfortunate risk of tsunamis as well. Choosing an apartment can be affected by these factors as a lot of Tokyo is built on reclaimed land (on the sea).
Reclaimed land is not as sturdy as real land and can collapse if the earthquake is too large. Apartments on the water are often cheaper, but you have a higher risk during natural disasters. It’s a good idea to check the flooding maps before accepting an apartment and ensure that you’re also out of the tsunami range. Additionally, buildings older than 1981 are not as earthquake-resistant as those built afterward due to the building laws that came into place in 1981, so check the age of the building you’re moving into.
Option #1: Apartment - using a rental company
Renting an apartment as a foreigner can be a difficult process, particularly if you don’t speak fluent Japanese. We (and many other foreigners) go through a rental company to allow for a smooth process.
There are a number of different guarantor and rental companies, but we went through Global Trust Networks (GTN) because it is the company recommended by the JET Programme.
They not only find you an apartment and act on your behalf, but they are also a guarantor company. We had a really great experience with GTN, the replies were quick, and the staff answered any and all questions that we had. They can also help you get credit cards, washing machines, fridges, and Internet access set up in your apartment. They have their own website on which you can look up apartments to suit your needs, and they will also send you listings as per your requirements.
Most apartments will ask you to sign a two-year lease. However, it’s not impossible to get out of, and you will usually just have to pay a fee for breaking the lease early. It’s quite difficult to find an apartment with a less than two years lease, so perhaps consider one of the other options if you’re worried.
Also read: The Top 5 Places to Teach English in Japan
Option #2: Sharehouse
Share houses in Tokyo are everywhere and are very popular for single people and foreigners because it makes it easy to make friends. You receive a room in a share house, usually between 7m2 and 10m2, and bathrooms, kitchens, and lounges are all common areas shared between the residents.
Share houses can house anywhere between 6 and 90 people, depending on whether it takes up a single floor or the whole building. Depending on the share house's size, you might have a fridge and bed provided in your room, while in others, you just get an empty room.
Some chain share houses are targeted at foreigners and hold monthly events so that you can get to know your ‘housemates’. Usually, all utilities are included in your monthly rental cost, so you don’t have to pay any bills. Share houses are also a great option if you’re only staying for a short time because you can rent them for a minimum of 3 months (some share houses can offer even shorter contracts).
Option #3: Airbnb/business hotel
If you’re only staying for a short contract (less than three months), renting an Airbnb or a room in a business hotel might be a good option. Keep in mind that Airbnb in Japan can be a little expensive, particularly in Tokyo, although some hosts will offer discounts for stays longer than one month. To rent an Airbnb in Japan, you will need to send a scan of your passport to the host as per the laws surrounding Airbnbs in Japan.
Japan is the land of companies and businessmen, so there are a lot of business hotels that are nice but basic and very affordable. So if you’re happy to eat out every day, then you might look into this as a short term option.
Final Piece of Advice
Adjust your expectations. You are moving to one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and you will probably not be living in the spacious apartment of your dreams.
If you don’t have time to read everything, here is the general gist. If you’re staying for a while, get an apartment, but use a company to help you because it’s tough for foreigners. For shorter-term stays or single people looking to make friends, try a share house. And for temporary contracts, check out Airbnb or a business hotel. Good luck!
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