So You Wanna Be A JET: Housing

Hey JETsetters!

Now that you’ve got your placement results, you’ve got a few things to consider while waiting for your departure date. The main one being housing. Where exactly will you be living for the next one to five years within your placement? There are a lot of factors to consider when moving in Japan, especially on the JET Programme.


First things first, do you have a predecessor? Hopefully by now you have an idea if you have one.

Some people get to move into their predecessor’s housing. In this situation, typically you would also inherit some furniture, but not always.

If you are moving into your predecessor’s housing, you typically will have less fees than someone signing a brand-new lease, but this varies. If your Contracting Organisation (CO) is your landlord, you will more than likely fall into the former category. If you have a separate landlord, you might have to still pay some move-in fees for signing your lease, but it is still usually a little lower than those moving into a new place.

However, even if you do have a predecessor, you might be out of luck with housing. Maybe your pred was married and living in a bigger house that your CO reserves just for families. Or you are coming with a family and need a bigger place than what your single pred had. You might be coming with pets and need to find pet-friendly housing. Maybe your CO is hiring more JETs this year and is splitting your pred’s duties between you and another and you drew the short straw. There are several reasons why you might have to find other accommodation even if you have a predecessor, so be prepared financially and mentally for this.


If you must find your own accommodation, your CO should be helping you with this, especially if you do not speak Japanese or haven’t lived in Japan before. Even if you speak Japanese or studied abroad before, actually living in Japan is a whole different ballpark. Make it clear to your supervisor what your preferences are. If you must sign a brand-new lease and find your own place, you should be able to dictate [most of] the terms. Your CO might have regulations in place that prohibit you from operating a motorised vehicle, whether that be a car or a motorbike, so you want to know how far it will be to commute to and from work.

Are you an ALT and have visit schools? How far away are they? How will you get there? Will transportation to them be reimbursed (tip: they should! Any mandatory work expenses outside of your normal commute and not within “reasonable” walking/biking distance should always be reimbursed. Double check with your CO.)?

Do you have a rent limit? Do you have any disabilities, such as not being able to walk up and down stairs easily and need to be on the first/lower floors? Do you prefer being close to the shopping centres or public transportation? What about which utilities are included? Does it include internet? Do you prefer to live in an apartment or mansion? These are all things to consider and talk to your CO about.


Tatami flooring is still very much prevalent in Japan, even in mansions. It is a headache to clean. Tatami is a mould infestation waiting to happen. It also almost always “needs” to replace with every tenant. If you have tatami, be prepared to get even less of your deposit back. Or worse, your lease might state that you are responsible for a separate tatami replacement fee when you move out outside of your deposit. It is also very fragile. You cannot walk on it with shoes (which you shouldn’t be doing indoors anyways) and you need to be careful of what type of furniture you put on it. You also need to be careful it does not get wet. It’s a pain. I love tatami for tea ceremonies, dojos, and other traditional ceremonies, but hate having it in my flat. I now refuse to live in a place that has it. Plus, it smells very strongly, especially if it is newer.


To subsidise or not to subsidise

Some JETs get lucky and have subsidised rent. This can either be because their CO is their landlord, it is government housing for government employees (which you are!), or because their COs are just that awesome. Your CO is not required to subsidise your rent or provide you a living allowance. The government is changing things up too, so more and more JETs are not getting any sort of housing assistance.

If you are getting a subsidy, you should have it clearly written in your contract! If your CO told you, either word of mouth or via email, but it is not in your contract, get it formally in writing ASAP. If it is not in that legal document, they can take it away from you at any moment. Even if it is in your contract, it can change year to year if you renew, so please know your contract!

Housing allowances definitely help out, but they are also taxable, as they are considered to be part of your standard income pre-deductions. So, it will raise your fees slightly. If your CO has lowered the rent on their own without providing you the money directly, you might not have to worry about the extra deductions, but double check.


Moving terms and situations in Japan to consider

R/L/D/K – Room, Living, Dining, Kitchen. Japan classifies housing from 1 to whatever number followed by one or more of these letters. The highest number I’ve seen is 7. This is the number of rooms, excluding the LDK, that are in the unit. Starting from 1R up to XLDK. LDK are bigger, even if it is just a 1LDK. These rooms might not always be separated by a physical door but will be far more spacious and will show up on a floor plan labelled as such.

Jo – “Mat”. Most Japanese rooms are sized by the number of tatami mats that can fit inside it. On a floor plan you will see either 帖 or J after a number, such as 6帖. Most rooms tend to be 5-6J, with LDKs being more, around 8-12J depending if it is a DK or LDK and the general layout. I lived in a 6JK in Kyoto. The kitchen did not have a sizing label and it was extremely small. My room area was only able to fit I’d say 2 single futons side by side plus my desk/external closet. 6J is typically fine for a room alone, but not if it’s the only section in the flat. You know yourself better than anyone, so think about how much space you need to be comfortable.

Green/Yellow or White/checkers on layout – If you are looking at a floor plan and see rooms coloured green, they will typically be tatami, and yellow for [wood] flooring. Or if it is a black/white drawing, checkers or a pattern will be tatami and solid white will be flooring. A lot of 2 room apartments tend to have one room be tatami so keep this in mind when looking around.

Apartment vs. Mansion – Mansions are typically multi-unit complexes. Think high-rises. They also tend to be smaller in size but sometimes pricier than apartments. Apartments typically will have less units and usually be more family oriented but not always.

Deposit – usually 1 months rent, can be up to 6 months. Chances are you will not get this back, or at least all of it, when you move out. Japanese landlords are notorious for finding reasons to replace things in the flat when you move out, especially for foreigners. Your deposit might even be higher depending on your location. Surprisingly, Kansai tends to have higher deposit than Kanto, even though housing itself is a bit cheaper for the size.

Key Money – What’s this? Hell, that’s what. This is not a fee to have the locks changed, that’s a separate fee. Yay, all the fees… This wonderful fee is essentially gift money. You literally are paying the landlord to generously allow you the pleasure of living in their wonderful complex. You will not get this money back at all, after all, you can’t take back a gift, even in Japan. It is an old tradition in Japan, and it is still going strong to this day. Newer units and landlords are slowly moving away from this trend, but you will have to look hard for it. This can be anywhere between one to six months rent, typically around 2 months’ worth.

Lock/Key Changing Fee – Usually around 3,000. If you have an electronic key, this may cost more.

Cleaning Fee – You might have a separate cleaning fee, which can be anywhere from 10,000 – 30,000 or a month’s worth of rent, or it might just be taken from you deposit.

Agency Fees – Your real estate company will typically charge you a fee for them securing you the apartment. This can be anywhere from half a month’s rent up to 3 months rent. It usually averages around 1-2 months’ rent.

Guarantor Fees – You might get lucky and be allowed to have a guarantor of your choice, such as your CO (if they are willing) or a Japanese national who has significant income. This is the same as a co-signer or guarantor on a loan in your home country. In the case that you cannot or do not pay your rent or fees, your guarantor is responsible for paying them. Foreigners typically will be required to have a guarantor, even if the lease does not normally require one. All it takes is one person to ruin it for everyone. Don’t break contract guys. If you are not lucky enough to be allowed to use your own guarantor, you will have to go with a guarantor company. This is still handy in that you should always be able to have someone be your guarantor, but you are paying them to do so. This system would have made my life so much easier in the US when I was trying to get my apartment without my own guarantor… This can be between a set fee by the company or 1-3 months’ rent.

Maintenance Fees – Common service area fees, such as stairs, hallways, parking spots, etc. This might be grouped together with community fess but not always. Not all places charge this. You might also just have this included in your normal rent. Around 1,500-5,000.

Community fees – Sometimes you might have to pay a community fee if your neighbourhood does events or community service, such as safety patrols. I don’t see this one as much any more, since its usually grouped with maintenance fees, but every now and then it will pop up on an apartment listing. Usually included in your rent. Around 500-2,000.

Fire/Property Insurance – Mandatory for most leases. Usually around 20,000 for a standard 2-year lease. You might pay this upfront or monthly. You will have to renew this every time with your lease renewal. I do recommend going with another private insurance company on top of this as a precaution. Japan is prone to various natural disasters, plus accidents. Sometimes this insurance will only cover damage that your unit did to other units, not your own internal unit… So, it is good to shop around. Ask your PAs and other JETs what they recommend.

Renewal Fees – Most contracts are for 2 years and you will typically be required to pay a fee to renew it. This is how landlords usually get away with not having a new tenant pay key money… Typically one to two months’ rent.


Start-up costs

Some JETs get lucky and their COs might pay for the move-in costs and charge you over the next two to three months from your salary, but this is very rare.

I cannot stress enough how you need to be financially ready to move to another country. Most JETs are coming right out of Uni, which is difficult as you might not have a ton of savings, but you have to be prepared. Your CO is under no obligation to spot you money or support you until your first paycheck (or beyond). Their only duty financially is to pay you your salary for doing your job, that is all. You would not expect a company in your home country to pay for all your expenses or lend you money until you get settled (unless in rare cases you were headhunted, or it was discussed previously). You cannot expect your CO here to do so. They are already sponsoring your visa and doing so much for you during your time on JET that no other company would do in Japan.

You should bring at the very least $2,000 with you, but $3,000+ is highly recommended by CLAIR, with some prefectures recommending $4,000. You might not get paid your first month! Some prefectures do not pay JETs until September! Imagine having high move-in costs within your first week and then having to survive nearly 2 months without pay.

Please try to save as much money as possible now. I suggest starting to save a little bit every month from the moment you decide to apply for JET. If you get in, awesome you’ve already started your savings. If you don’t get in this year, then you also have a nice chunk of savings put away or for a treat.  If you put away $100 a month from the date the application opens to the date results are announced, you should have nearly $1000 already saved up. This still isn’t nearly enough for feasible start-up costs, but it is a start. If you get called in for an interview, I suggest starting to save even more money ASAP. 

Your move-in costs will nearly always be all cash too, so make sure you have the money on hand with you when you go to move in.


Pets

If you are coming with pets, there are several things to consider! Japan is not super pet friendly in terms of housing. It is not impossible to find an apartment, but it will be more difficult, and it will cost you more. The rent of the apartment itself almost always will cost more and you will have to pay a pet fee, which can be a one-time fee or monthly. Typically, you will pay 1-2 months rent as a pet deposit over a monthly fee. You will have to fight tooth and nail to get this deposit back even more than your regular deposit, and you more than likely lose.

Most units will only allow one pet. It is pretty rare to find one that will allow more than one. If you get caught with more than you are allowed, or caught with one when not being allowed, legally they can evict you or force you to get the animal up.

Japan is trigger happy with euthanizing animals too…Most animals that wind up on the streets or abandoned get put down within a month, especially for dogs, due to space and safety/health concerns. This is one of the reasons you rarely see stray dogs in Japan, as they are rounded up pretty quickly as a safety concern. So please think carefully before you decide to sneak in a pet.

Some units will only allow cats, other will allow either a cat or a dog, but it will usually be a small dog. If you want to own anything the size of a shiba, which isn’t even that big, or bigger you will have an even harder time finding an apartment. You might have to try for a house with a small yard, which are less likely to rent to foreigners.

As far as noise goes, if your pet is rowdier, you might get complaints from the neighbours and your landlord can ask you to move out.

Smaller animals, such as fish, hamsters, or hedgehogs, might be able to skirt around the no pet policy, but you still need to check with your landlord. Fish tend to be the only pet you can really get away with if you have a small bowl or tank but anything bigger will require permission. If it is anything that will touch the floors or walls, you might have to pay a deposit regardless.

A fellow Ishikawa JET as a video about bringing his dogs to Japan here.


Furniture

Regarding furniture, your predecessor is under no obligation to give you their stuff for free, but they also shouldn’t be exploiting you for their used items. Ask around, look on google, Amazon JP, Book-off/Hard-off, and Rakuten. Check to see if you can find what they are trying to sell you at a second-hand shop for a lower price. If it’s going to cost you the same or nearly the same to buy something brand new, then it might be worth it to save for it or ask them to lower the price.

Do not expect your pred to leave you things behind, but most typically will be generous enough to leave you with some stuff. There are also plenty of horror stories out there about preds leaving their successor tons of trash and filth behind, so try to get pictures of the entire place and what they plan on leaving you. This way you can be firm on not wanting XYZ.

Your pred will have to dispose of anything that you do not want from them and it will cost them money. Unless they are selling to a recycle shop, which they will only get an insignificant amount back for, they will have to pay to get rid of it. Oversized trash in Japan costs a decent amount of money to remove and it a hassle to arrange, so many will try to get their successors to take their stuff or leave it behind. This doesn’t mean you can come in with an a-hole attitude and expect them to leave you all their newly bought furniture and appliances for free or only a couple thousand yen. Be polite and you will probably get more out it. Again, do your research on the prices, ask for photos, and be polite. They want to get rid of things just as much as you need them.

Also, make sure your pred is not trying to sell you things that is owned by your CO! If you are moving into housing secured by your CO or has been used by JETs for a while now, your CO might have paid to furnish some of the main appliances. Your pred has no legal right to attempt to charge you for these items. Ask them very clearly if anything was provided by your CO and then go and ask your CO directly to reaffirm this. Your CO is also not required to assist you in furnishing your apartment, so don’t expect help if you need to buy new appliances. Some will be generous, but it is an exception not the norm. If an appliance is owned by your CO and in extremely poor condition or does not work, push them to replace it right away. If you wait, they can say that you caused the damage and not replace/repair it. Likewise, if your pred sells anything that belongs to your CO, push for your CO to replace it. You are in no way responsible for re-buying those items, or worse paying your CO back for them when you move out. Your CO should be evaluating the apartment before your pred leaves/you move in, but not all do this correctly.

Someone in my year came into a fridge, and other items, that was literally stabbed multiple times by their predecessor… They are still attempting to convince their CO to replace all the items. Speak up right away and try to get things moving from day 1 before it’s too late.

Furniture in Japan is not super cheap if you are used to Western sizes. Most fridges are very small compared to the West and cost around 40,000. Washers can run you from 30,000 to 80,000. An A/C unit will cost you at least 40,000 upwards to 100,000, plus installation, which can be a couple thousand to 20,000. If you don’t have a stovetop, multiple (typically 2) burners will cost you at least 15,000 for gas and more so for IH. A single gas burner will run you around 4,000-7,000 and an IH will run 5,000-7,000.

If you’re expecting a full-sized Western oven, think again. Ovens are very rare in most places, and a new one will run you at least 150,000 to around 400,000. Toaster ovens, which are around the size of a microwave tend to fill-in for ovens in Japan and will run you around 7,000 for a decent sized and powered one.

Dishwashers are just as hard to come by as ovens and will run around the same, around 100,000, and use a ton of water and fit very awkwardly in your kitchen. They aren’t the typical Western types usually, but a little bigger than a microwave that you plop down on a counter and connect to a hose.

Check your local sayonara/recycle pages on FB and check out second-hand/recycle shops for cheaper used furniture before buying new for major appliances to save you money!


You also should double check when and how you will need to pay your rent. Will you be paying your CO or paying your landlord directly? Do you need to do it via bank transfer every month or is it automatically withdrawn?


Moving companies will also cost you around 50,000 to 400,000, depending on the size and distance of the move. Even if you’re just moving across town in one truck, it’ll typically run you 40,000-50,000. If you are willing to rent a truck and move things yourself, it will be cheaper but more difficult to move things around. Be careful to not damage your flat (or your pred’s) when moving things!


Moving on can be stressful if not properly planned for. Take a moment to take a deep breath and relax, then ask your supervisor and predecessor as many questions as possible. The more information you come in with, the better off you will be.

Good luck with your move JETs! You’ll be settled into your new home sooner than you think!

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