HOW TO: Search for an Apartment in Japan - Part 1

We recently moved about half an hour away from where we lived for the past three years, in Shimada, Shizuoka. It was bittersweet to leave the apartment, as excited as I was for a change and the new chapter in our lives.

Bye bye, old apartment...

That apartment was where my husband and I first moved into together after we getting married and spent those first years of our life together.

We brought our baby daughter home to that apartment.

It was also the place I was sick with labrynthitis for many months, trapped inside most of the time. The place where Surviving in Japan was born. The place I've lived the longest since I left home after high school almost 10 years ago now (has it really been that long!?).

But I knew the day would come to leave, and after weeks of frantic searching for apartments, only to have the good ones sometimes snatched up within half a day of being posted online, we found a nice one in a quiet neighborhood. We also didn't experience any problems considering that we're both American. I had heard about said problems, but no one seemed to not want to rent to us... In fact it seemed the opposite.

We'll be posting things related to moving over the coming months, but I won't throw everything all up at once as I don't want to wear out those who aren't moving and don't plan to move anytime soon.

I should also stress that unless you find an English-speaking real estate agent (it's possible, particularly in major cities) or have someone help you with the process, some aspects might be difficult (or impossible) to handle without much Japanese, unfortunately. But I'm hoping some of you will have experiences about that to share relating to the relevant posts as we post them.

But for today, let's look at how you can start your apartment search in Japan.

How to Find Apartments

1) Seek out a real estate agent to look for you. Some agencies are available across Japan, such as Able (エイブル) or, (these aren't recommendations, just a couple I know of) while others are region-, or city-specific. Aside from asking any folks you might know in the area, you can search for  不動産業者 plus the city (in Japanese) you plan to move to for potential real estate agents in that area.

James recommended the real estate agency UR (available nationwide, but more so in certain regions):

"The largest network or danchis, foreigners welcome, no key money, all you need is a three month deposit. The other nice thing about UR is that, usually, they are quite low rent. I've got a nice spacious 4LDK in Nara for less than 100,000 yen a month. They're setup to appeal to young families and old people."

And if you're looking for a home in Tokyo, Nagoya or Osaka and want English support, you might try Japan Home Search.

2) Search on apartment listing sites. These usually contain listings from different real estate agents, but I found this to be one of the best ways to look for an apartment and also to know the main real estate agents in our area. I searched these obsessively and what I like best is that that you can adjust the search preferences, such as price, size, number of rooms, age of building, among other options (which we'll explain how to do in another post).

Some of the best/largest sites include, in order of ranking by kuchiran:

1) Suumo(スーモ)賃貸
2) アパマンショップ (tied)
4) アットホーム web (tied)

There are others on the list, some specifically real estate agents with listings on their websites, and there are several reviews for each (in Japanese). 

I tried some of the above, plus a few others, and personally found Suumo and HOME's to be the best for our area in terms of selection, but as they all have slightly different listings (some places you'll see the same thing listed several times), it was worth checking them out individually. You can also sign up for notification emails based on particular preferences for apartments so you get an email when a new listing under your criteria shows up.

To start your search, a few words you need to know right off the bat:

Japanese Hiragana RomajiEnglish
賃貸ちんたい  chintai rentals
賃貸物件ちんたい ぶっけん chintai bukken rental property
アパート - apaatoapartment
マンション -manshon apartment (large building)
一戸建ていっこだてikkodatedetached house
不動産屋ふどうさんやfudousanya real estate agent
不動産ふどうさんfudousanreal estate
借りるかりる kariruto rent/lease

What's the difference between an "apaato" and a "mansion"?

A "mansion" is not a giant, fancy building as you might infer from the word, but just a large, multiple-story (three or more usually) apartment or condo building made of reinforced concrete, steel or a combination of the two. One example is in the picture at the top of this post. The walls are obviously thicker, so sound doesn't carry as much (although that doesn't seem to apply to the elephants children living above us now...) You'll see these under 賃貸 or 賃貸物件 for apartment rentals (so you aren't looking at buying a condo!)

An "apaato" is usually only two to three floors and made of wood or lightweight steel (which means sound carries more). They remind me a bit more of townhouses. Sometimes they are two-story single units with maybe four to eight units per building (depending on how big the building is). There are variations, of course.


All right, over to you. For those of you who've moved in Japan, how did you find your apartment/house/place you're living in now? What real estate agency did you use? Or which listings websites did you find had the best selection?

Coming soon: How to use apartment listing sites and a list of other topics related to the moving process!

Pension Enrollment and Lump Sum Payment Questions

When it comes to the pension system in Japan, did you know that either your employer enrolls you (Employees Pension), or you need to do it yourself? In last week's Lifelines Steve asked whether enrollment automatically happens 36 months after you arrive in Japan, and questions about the lump sum payments.

Short answer: You aren't automatically enrolled in a pension scheme unless your employer handles this for you.

There's more to that, though, which you can find here:

No automatic enrollment in pension system | Japan Times

25 Japan Links You Might Want to Check Out - Aug 28

Sulfur pits in Hakone (Owakudani)

Howdy all! We're back with some more Japan-related links from the past couple weeks. Enjoy!

Living in Japan

Cheap Internet When Staying in Tokyo (Tokyo Cheapo)

Nine power firms to trim electricity prices in October (Japan Times) - Less money to pay, yay!

Japan yens for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups  - My favorite line, "addicted expatriates accounted for some of the sales". That said, according to this article Reese's are here to stay.

Foreigners get home for elderly (Japan Times) - So, the caregivers speak languages other than Japanese. A good thing, I think.

Check with school, kids before posting videos of children online (Japan Times) - For all you teachers out there taking photos of all your school events and students and posting them on Facebook or blogs, you might want to read this.

El Nino likely to last until winter, Japan Meteorological Agency says (Japan Today) - Could we have a warmer winter? Please, and thank you. (I'm sure all you winter-lovers will be shaking your heads in disagreement at this.)

Rolling blackouts this summer averted by public power-saving efforts (Japan Times) - That's probably somewhat obvious (the why part), but it seems overall electricity usage has been lower than peaks in 2010.

Japan fifth in Bloomberg healthiest countries rankings (Japan Times) - Not just based on diet, of course. What do you think? Does Japan deserve to be ranked so high?

HOW TO: Apply for a Credit Card in Japan

Editor's note: This post is the second part in our short credit card series. The first post explained how to find a credit card, with a brief poll for those who've tried to get cards or have been successful. You can, of course, apply for credit cards in person (such as at stores, banks, etc.), but you'll usually need to be able to read and write in kanji. Today David is going to walk through you how to apply for a credit card online. 

Of course, the application may vary a bit by card, but the information asked for is generally the same.  
- Ashley

Editor's note Nov 8, 2012: The credit card ranking site we previously linked to now appears to be down and not working. Unfortunately we will have to do screenshots over for a new site, so if you do apply via a site, use the screenshots below as a basic guide for the Japanese and translations. You can search for クレジトカードランキング for sites or try the credit card section on


So you've found a credit card that you would like to apply for and you've made sure that you meet the qualifications. Now let's look at how you can actually apply for a card (online). 

HOW TO: Find a Credit Card in Japan

Editor's note: This topic has been a long time coming. Several of you have wrote in asking what we know about credit cards in Japan, have we been able to get one, which ones are recommended, among other questions.

As we just recently moved, the costs of said moving were on the high end of things (enough for me to end up in tears more than once, because ya know a teacher's salary isn't anywhere close to "we're doing well"). So I suggested to David (husband) that we get a Japanese credit card, just in case.

And in case definitely happened. But on the bright side of things, we were approved for a few cards we applied for, the Rakuten card, the J-West card and the Luluca card (specific to Shizuoka). We initially applied for the Life card but weren't approved.

After talking with different people, it seems that some people are able to get certain types of cards easily, while others haven't been able to get any cards. So we ran a poll to get your answers - you can find the results here.

Words to Know

Japanese Hiragana RomajiEnglish
人気ポイントにんき ぽいんと ninki pointo Why it's popular
年会費 ねんかいひ nenkaihiYearly membership fee
ETC 専用カート ETC せんようかーどETC senyou kaado ETC Card
発行期間はっこうきかんhakkou kikan Time till card issued
海外旅行保健かいがいりょこうほけん kaigai ryokou hokenInternational Travel
国内旅行保健こくないりょこうほけん  kokunai ryokou hokenDomestic Travel
ショッピング保健しょっぴんぐほけん  shoppingu hokenShopping Insurance
利用限度額りようげんどがく  riyou gendo gakuLimit
付帯保健ふたいほけん  futai hokenSupplementary

When we were looking at different credit cards to potentially apply for, we discovered a credit card ranking site that I'll use as an example in this post.

Editor's note Nov 8, 2012: The credit card ranking site we previously linked to now appears to be down and not working. Unfortunately we will have to do screenshots over for a new site, so if you do apply via a site, use the screenshots below as a basic guide for the Japanese and translations. You can search for クレジトカードランキング for sites or try the credit card section on

31 Worthwhile Japan Links From the Past Two Weeks - Aug 12

He makes me want to laugh. Laughing is good!
Fake 500 yen coins, another Wendy's, advice for pet-owning apartment seekers, some fun recipes, a real-life sushi train amusement park ride, the other languages used in Japan, and more in this edition of Japan links.

Hope you're all enjoying this hot summer and take care!

Living in Japan

The size of your dog could depend on your landlord (Japan Times) - Some useful info for finding an apartment if you have a pet. And just fyi that we'll have lots of "how to find an apartment" posts coming up soon!

New foreigner IDs now bear minister's signature (Japan Times) - Those who may have gotten their new resident cards right away might want to read this.

Heat victims soar to new July record (Japan Times) - It's almost surprising to me that this continues to be in news every other day...

Identity fraud cases on the increase in Tokyo, police warn (Japan Today) - I can't believe most of these happen in person.

Counterfeit 500-yen coins circulating in Tokai (Japan Today) - So be careful if you live in Aichi!

85% of Japan's schools can survive upper-6 temblor, leaving 3,545 that can't: survey (Japan Times) - This makes me glad we live in Shizuoka, but then again, we are still expecting this next "big one"...

January-June deaths in Japan expressway accidents soar (Japan Times) - I seriously hate how truck drivers often tail us when driving. Scares me. And having one of those "baby on board" stickers doesn't seem to do much either.

HOW TO: Use Your Dehumidifier in Japan

Forget what I said about it being relatively dry and pleasant around here... Today the humidity took a big jump with sporadic thunder and showers. So those dehumidifiers will come in handy after all!

Now that you know what type of dehumidifier to get, or at the very least, what to look for, let's talk about how to use it.

Unless, of course, you enjoy pushing buttons at random until the machine does what you want. No judgement here, I did the same thing for a while a few years ago! The joys of being functionally illiterate, right?

Here's a lovely picture with the English translations for your reference, and I've also added a chart below if you want the complete breakdown of each kanji or to copy/paste the words.

dehumidifier, Japan, how to use, Japanese, translation

How to Manage Afro Textured Hair in Japan

For those of you lovely ladies (or gents) living in Japan who might be struggling to take care of your Afro textured hair, I have a couple helpful videos to share with you today (shared with me by readers of SiJ). And if you haven't already, you might also be interested in reading 4 Tips to Maintain Black Hair While Living in Japan, from Amanda of Whoa...I'm in Japan?

Some technical difficulties

Hey everyone, looks like we're having some technical difficulties with the how-to guides link, but rest assured the page is still there. You can find it here:

Surviving in Japan How-to Guides

Hopefully we'll have this fixed right away!



Can you keep your visa if you leave your job? Answer in latest Lifelines

If you've ever wondered whether you can keep your visa if you quit or lose your job, the answer isn't necessarily black and white. I've heard some people say that the visa is yours to keep, but that isn't always true, although it can be for some people.

Read the answer, plus an answer on if there's a maximum hour work week for those with Instructor visas, here:

How would changing jobs affect my visa? | Japan Times (Jul. 31, 2012)

A Guide to Dehumidifiers in Japan

Japan, dehumidifier, how to find, Japanese, compressor, desiccant, humidity

I don't know about you, but the last few days in Shizuoka have been on the drier side of things, for Japan at least. Still humid, but hovering around 60% during the day instead of 70-80% or so.

But that aside, we all know the humidity rises during Japan's summer season. And though you might use an air conditioner (either the air conditioning or dehumidifying function) if you have one, a dehumidifier 除湿機 (じょしつき, joshitsuki) can be a useful little machine, either to help take moisture out of the room for whatever reason (or the bathroom, closets, etc.) or to dry clothes, especially if you can't or don't hang your garments outside to dry or the weather is just, drowning your balcony.

If you can't read Japanese, going to the electronics store might be slightly overwhelming when trying to figure out exactly what you want (more so if the salesperson is trying super hard to convince help you pick something out in a mix of English and Japanese). So here's what you should know about these handy machines, including the types, advantages and disadvantages to each, and various important specifications, such as how much space it can effectively dehumidify or the wattage used.

Help for Curly Hair in Japan

Some of you may remember a Q&A we had a while ago about where to find a hair diffuser in Japan. Claire wrote in to say that she was able to buy a hair diffuser for less than 2000 yen at the hair salon Toni & Guy (found in various prefectures throughout Japan).

She also suggested a salon whose owner is familiar with how to work with curly hair, for those able to travel to Tokyo:
For anyone with curls in the vicinity of Tokyo, I found a wonderful salon - Nepenji in Ebisu. The owner, Kiyoko, is fluent in English and trained at the Devachan salon in New York, which specialises in curls. She not only gives me the best haircuts I've ever had (as in, I want to bring her back to England with me whenever I eventually leave!) but she has completely revolutionised my hair regime. My hair is in better condition than it's ever been before and she's the first stylist I've ever met who I feel completely relaxed with (haircuts for me often equate to trauma, esp. in Asia, but she just KNOWS what to do!). They also do amazing treatments and sell Deva (sulfate-free) products, which Kiyoko gets sent over from NY. 

If you've got curly hair and have any tips, suggestions or places to share, let us know in the comments!

Ali echoed Toni & Guy:
I totally agree with the Toni & Guy suggestion. I have naturally curly hair which I then perm to make even curlier, and Toni & Guy in Hamamatsu was the best place for me. They really understood my hair, and my hairdresser even spoke a bit of English (although I think that guy has left now). As for products, I found it quite hard to get good serums, but there were some you could find in the larger drugstores.