Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tenant in Japan

Japan was famous in the Eighties for the sky-high price of its real estate. It was often said at that time that the 3.4 sq.km of the imperial palace in the center of Tokyo had more value than the whole Californian real estate. More serious statistics were showing than the value of the Japanese land was four times higher than the one of the United States, although the area was 100 times smaller and the population only half. Prices in Tokyo are more reasonable today. They are comparable to, and often lower, than prices of comparable metropolises. Japanese real estate is however very specific in some respect.
Japanese properties fall into three categories: detached houses (一戸建て)????, "apartments" (Apatoアパート) and manshions (アパート). In large cities, there are many houses, even in the expensive place, but they are built on very small plots, usually entirely built with no garden left. Your host remembers visiting a 2-storey house of 45 sq.m, built on a 25 sq.m plot. The space between this house and the following one was around 20 cms. The structure of these houses is often made of wood, or a light metal reinforcement, with very shallow foundations. They are the most dangerous in the event of earthquake. More luxurious houses are sometimes built in reinforced concrete, and are safer.

Apartments are collective houses with a light metal or timber structure. They are usually 1 or 2 storey high, and are split in several individual flats. The least refined ones often look like modular offices on construction sites, with basic dirt premises. European people usually find it sad to live in such a building, which seems close to a shantytown. However, apart from the weak soundproofing, these apartments, often recently built, offer a better living conditions than some old wet and squalid European buildings.
Manshions are concrete flats, sometimes built in an eccentric style. They have most of the time 4 to 8 floors, but since ten years ago, high-rise apartments of more than 10 floors are also built. Contrary to most European buildings, the staircase is on the outside of the building, and access to the apartment is from the outside. An individual apartment is reached by an external terrace. The walls are most of the time covered with false tiling made of fiberglass, a distinct Japanese feature. One often says that these coatings are design to last around 20 years, then, they will age very quickly.
Whether for an apartment, a house, or a "manshion", the plan is expressed by a combination of the following signs:
  • a figure indicating the number of "rooms". Those can be covered with wood flooring or tatami mat, and can be used as living room, office or sleeping room;
  • LD (living room dining): to indicate that the apartment has a large room (20 sq.m or more) that can house at the same time a dining table and a sofa corner;
  • D (dining): to indicate that the apartment has a dining room;
  • S: to indicate a small size (around 5 sq.m) room that can be used as a cloakroom.
  • K: to indicate that the apartment has a kitchen. It has generally a small size (3 to 5 sq.m)
A 40 sq.m apartment of 2DK layout can thus be used in a sleeping room, a living room, a kitchen and a dining room. An apartment of the same size with a 1LDK layout offers, in addition of the sleeping room, a large room used as both living and dining room.
To rent a place, you may have to dish-out around 6-months worth of rent when you move in:
  • 2 months of "reikin" (礼金) or a gift to the landlord. This sum is supposed to compensate for the cleaning of the apartment. Very often, the walls are repainted and the tatami mats are changed before you move
  • 2 months of refundable deposit (shikikin敷金), from which any damage to the propery will be deduced when you leave. Without having caused any damage, your host was deduced around 80,000Y (500 Euros) from his guarantee for the small wear and tear in the flat
  • 1 month of commission (tesuryo手数料) to the estate agency;
  • the first rent
Renting a flat often requires a guarantor (hoshonin保証人). He or she will guarantee the payment of your rent if you fail to do so. Japanese often requests this service from a family member. Foreigners working in Tokyo often ask their company to act as a guarantor. Landlords are sometimes reticent, because it is more difficult for them to compel a company to pay in case the tenant is late. The more simple solution for a foreigner, but also the most delicate is to require his boss, or the head of human resources of the company, to be a guarantor on a purely individual basis. When looking for a guarantor, you should remind this is a very big commitment in Japan, and there is no miracle solution.
Rent are often on par with major European or Amercan metropolises. They vary with location. As an example, we will travel around the Chuo line (中央線) which goes through Central Tokyo from Tokyo station (東京) to Shinjuku (新宿) before heading east to the endless Tokyo suburvs until it reaches Takao (新宿) 53 kilometers further, at the foot of the mountains.
From Tokyo to Shinjuku, the rents stay around 220,000 Yens (1400 Euro) per month for a 50m2 flat. However, there are few properties on offer, as Tokyo center mainly consists of ministries, offices and shops. As soon as we reach the suburbs, the price falls to approximately 150.000 Yens (950 Euro), and remains constant until Musashi-Koganei (武蔵小金井), 20 kilometers east of Shinjuku. The price is a little higher in Kichijoji (吉祥寺), a popular area with direct trains to Tokyo two main stations. Further, the price falls to 80.000 Yens (500 Euros) in Nishi-Hachioji (西八王寺) 37 kilometers from Shinjuku. Properties offered in the most remote suburbs are often older. .
In the same area, prices also vary according to the distance from the closest train station. Japanese people try to reduce commute time as much as possible. Thus, 10 additional minutes of walk to reach the nearest station can significantly reduce the price of an apartment. An 50 sq.m flat in the peaceful suburb of Gakugei-Daigaku (学芸大学) (10 minutes of from Shibuya 渋谷dans a major hub in central Tokyo), rent is 165,000 Yens (1030 €) in the vicinity of the station, but 150,000 Yens (930 Euros), 10% less, for an equivalent property located 15 minutes by foot from the station.
Prices also vary with the age of the building. This is the common Japanese leaning for new products, which make them buy a new car or mobile phone much earlier than in the West. But living in a recent apartment is also a guarantee of safety, as earthquake-proof construction standards improved with time (main updates in 1924, 1950, 1980, 1998). Close to the station of Gakugei-Daigaku, a 40m² property will rent for 110000 Yens (690 Euro) for a 40 years old building, 135,000 Yens (850 Euros) for a 15 years old building , and 155,000 Yens (960 Euro) for a 5 year old building.
Real Estate agencies (不動産屋さん) usually offer an excellent service. The market is sometimes favorable to the tenants. Certain areas of Tokyo have started to depopulate. Meguro ward had a population of 300,000 inhabitants in the Sixties, but only 240,000 now. There are many vacant flats, especially in older buildings, or in an inconvenient location further from the station.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

はじめまして、akaと申します。
Japan Forums というところから来ました。この文章を英語で書こうと思ったのですがめんどくさいので日本語で書きますw 
ところで、上記のサイトに打ち水さんは「日本のちょっ と渋い所が好きです」と書いていらっしゃいましたが、具体的に言うとどういうところなのでしょうか?

Uchimizu said...

はじめまして。

日本で渋い所がいろいろあると思います。東京でたとえば神保町の喫茶店でゆっくりするのは楽しいと思います。