Renting an apartment (or house as the case may be) in Japan is a rather daunting task, even for Japanese people, and can be next to impossible to achieve on one’s own for a foreign resident. Most people from other countries fly into Japan as either tourists or those coming here to work. Tourists of course never have to think about renting a place, as their accommodation will already be pre-arranged, and in most cases will be in a hotel, a Japanese traditional Inn, or some variety of youth hostel.
However, for those flying into Japan for the purpose of employment, a place to stay is a necessity. Luckily, in the vast majority of cases, a place will be provided by one’s employer. For example, when my wife and I came to Japan for the second time, we worked for an English conversation school that had branches nation wide, and apartments for its employees.
We were taken straight from the airport to an apartment block just outside of Gifu city, and given a tour of the apartment in which we would be residing, along with a tour of the area. We were shown the location of nearby shops and restaurants, as well as the local train station (two stops from the city), all within walking distance of our apartment. This kind of scenario is perhaps the most common for those with jobs flying into Japan (on a working visa).
Later we discovered that the rent we were paying back to the company from our salary was double what most people in the area paid for an apartment of the same size. Our apartment was classified as a 2DK. (DK = Dining / Kitchen. LDK = Living room + Dining / Kitchen.) More about the cost of rent later. However, in fairness to the company we worked for at the time, our apartment was ‘fully furnished’, and all the utilities were already arranged and paid for by the company. It even had two air conditioners, a dryer above the washing machine, and a TV with attached video cassette recorder/player (this was the 90’s).
The company will also act as liaison and ‘sponsor’ or ‘guarantor’ in the case that anything goes wrong, something gets broken, damage is caused to the apartment, or there are problems with neighbours. In most cases, the company will lease an apartment, or an entire apartment block, rather than pay monthly rent and then in turn rent it out to the company employees. Hence, it assumes full responsibility for dealing with those problems, as well as insurance and liability.
The reason that a company will arrange for the accommodation of its foreign employees is because Japanese landlords and/or real estate agents don’t wish to deal with foreigners directly regarding any problems. One may immediately assume that this is due to racism, but that is not usually the case. The biggest difficulty is communication. It would be fair to say that most foreign workers entering Japan for the first time cannot speak Japanese well, if at all. Most real estate agents and landlords cannot speak English fluently, if at all. Hence the language barrier.