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You are in: Features: "Reaching an Accommodation"

Reaching an Accommodation By: Nick May

Yep - there is a system - know it, work with it or around it, and you'll get an apartment without too much difficulty. Try to ignore it and you'll just have hours of frustration, pain and anger.

If you are here with a large company, this article is not for you - just have your secretary make the right phonecalls and wander down to see what is in the 5LDK line....

The biggest obstacle anyone faces when apartment hunting is getting a guarantor, or hoshounin. The guarantor must sign the contract with you and is financially responsible if you don't pay your rent. Most Japanese people have family or a company who will guarantor for them - a just off the plane foreigner doesn't. No-one likes standing guarantor for someone they don't know very well - foreigner or Japanese.

For the fudo-sanya-san the best guarantor is a company, followed by an older married salaryman. Many foreigners know more women than men. Often such women are young, unmarried and in insecure jobs. They don't have much clout.

Whoever you ask and whether they say yes or no, it will affect your relationship with them. (Note: if you ask a romantic partner to stand guarantor for you, this may be taken as a sign of your commitment...) In these post-bubble time there is more room for negotiation with your estate agent- particularly if the apartment is very old - but generally you will have difficulty getting an apartment unless you have someone lined up as a guarantor.
In our experience very few rental agents are directly racist. But they have their own problems, not least of which is gaijin who don't understand the system and who demand too much.

The basics

You pay up to 7 months rent up front in order to move in. Between 3 and 5 months of this is shikikin, 1 month is reikin and another the first month's rent. If the apartment is expensive you may be asked for more. Most of this is non-returnable. You also need a hoshounin - a financial guarantor. Having a gurantor is critical - see the sidebar... The first point of contact is usually with a "fudo-san" (a rental agent) who may - but not always - have to deal with a "kanrigashia" (a management company) who will be dealing with the owner. If you do not understand any of these terms see the vocab on pages 2 and 3

The fudo-sanya's problem.

The agent is making limited money out of this - one months rent. They may be dealing with a conservative or possibly even racist owner, or they may have to defer all decisions to a management company. They may be worried that you are not "house-trained" for Japan and, since they are unlikely to speak English, genuinely worried about communication problems. They know you are here for a short time (and the Japanese hate instability) and that you may not have a very reliable guarantor. Sorry to say, they may even not like you because they have had unfortunate dealings with foreigners before - people's inhibitions, and occasionally their scruples, tend to slip in a foreign country. They know you will almost certainly be more hassle than a standard Japanese customer. Once you are in, you are legally a bugger to shift - tenants have strong rights in Japan. These are all good reasons for them to think twice before offering you an apartment. Understand their problems and concerns and reassure them. Don't hassle them about things they can't change - they didn't invent the system. You want them on your side.

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