One of my colleagues recently moved into a new apartment in Japan and mentioned that she had to spend an hour reviewing the contract with the owner. This is typical for Japanese apartment contracts.
It’s worth noting that Japan is a highly bureaucratic country, with a strong preference for putting everything in writing. While this has its benefits – once a deal is made, you can be fully protected by the various documents involved – it also has downsides. For example, people may be hesitant to deviate from established protocols, even if doing so might be more efficient or effective.
Rent contracts are just one example of the bureaucratic procedures that both Japanese and foreigners in Japan encounter.
The procedure of signing a contract
I’m sure you’ve heard about shiki-kin (the so-called insurance fee) and rei-kin (the so-called contract fee) when renting an apartment in Japan. These fees, along with other procedures, are clearly stated in the contract. For example, if you plan to move out, you need to inform your landlord two months in advance. There are also many minor rules in the contract, such as some places not allowing kids or pets, so families must look for a “kids ok” sign. Some places allow/do not allow animals and so on. Of course, everything is different if you buy a flat. But if you rent a flat, you have to follow what is written in the contract.
If you’re renting a flat in Japan, there is always a contract that you should read (or translate and read) carefully. Don’t neglect it just because it’s written in Japanese. The contract contains useful regulations, such as who is responsible for cleaning the air conditioner or who is responsible for repairs during the rental period.
The funniest things that are written in contracts
These contracts aren’t standardized templates. While some elements like the two-month notice period are common, most contracts are customized based on the landlord’s preferences.
During my time in Japan, I’ve signed two contracts, and the first one was particularly interesting. Since I was abroad, I had to rely on a housing agency affiliated with my university to find me a place to live. I couldn’t possibly search for flats on my own, so after a few emails, we finally had a Skype video call to discuss the contract.
During these discussions, the contents of the contract are typically read aloud, and you’re encouraged to ask questions if anything is unclear. My contract consisted of a couple of A4 sheets of paper. Can you imagine my reaction when I heard:
Don’t bring poisonous snakes to the apartment
I honestly didn’t know how to comprehend. So I asked the lady if poisonous snakes are easy to encounter in Japan. I mean I was not moving into a forest. It was somewhere near the center of Tokyo that we were talking about. And yes, a no-no rule was to bring poisonous snakes into the apartment. Apparently, the non-poisonous snakes were welcome.
Don’t bring yakuza to the apartment
After learning about the no-snake policy, I was surprised to find a clause in my rental contract that explicitly prohibited befriending yakuza members. This was the first and only time I saw such a rule in a contract. When I asked my friends, they confirmed that it was not a common practice. Later on, I moved out of that apartment and signed a second contract without any unusual restrictions.
As a foreign woman in Japan, it’s generally understood that bringing criminals into your home is not acceptable. However, it seems that my first apartment was an exception to this rule.
No pets, humans ok
I think that was one of the reasons why I eventually got married. Most rental contracts in Japan prohibit keeping pets, but it was okay for my parents to come and spend a week or two in my apartment. It was also okay for my future husband to spend the night. Being alone in a foreign city can be tough, so it’s not surprising that some foreigners buy pets for companionship. However, finding a pet-friendly apartment in Japan is difficult, and it was easier for me to have a person stay with me than to search for a pet-friendly rental.