Along with divorce and bereavement, hikkoshi (引っ越し, moving house) is widely considered one of the most stressful experiences a person can go through, and adding an unfamiliar language to the mix can be enough to drive the best of us bonkers. It doesn’t help that in Japan fudōsanya (不動産屋, estate agents) and ōya (大屋, landlords) have a pile of infuriating and expensive customs; simply renting a place to live here can take almost Spartan stamina.
Perhaps the most painful element of finding a new home is reikin (礼金, or key money), a nonrefundable wad of cash usually equal to two months’ rent that most ōya demand you to pay as a “gift” when signing a keiyakusho (契約書, contract). Think of it as reciprocating their great generosity in letting you give them rent every month from now on. Feeling stressed yet?
Many ōya also expect you to pay kōshinryō (更新料, a renewal fee) when renewing a lease, so even staying put can be costly. However, these days you can find many koushinryō nashi no ie (更新料なしの家, homes with no renewal fee).
You’ll also likely have to fork out shikikin (敷金, a deposit), which usually amounts to two months’ rent, though it is easier to barter this down than it is with reikin — depending on your kōshō (交渉, negotiation) skills. In theory, you are entitled to get the shikikin back when you leave a place, but the ōya is allowed to dip into it to pay for repairs needed due to neglect by a kyojūsha (居住者, tenant). This can add to your irritation, since ōya are notorious for trying to keep all of the shikikin. They may try to use a big chunk of it for kurīningu (クリーニング, cleaning), but this is illegal — regardless of what your contract says. For advice on legitimate uses of shikikin, consult your local shōhi seikatsu soudan sentā (消費生活相談センター, consumer center).
Remember to ask your ōya for a meisai (明細, itemized statement) of all the costs they intend to take from your shikikin. Be prepared to argue! The tenant is not expected to pay for shizen shōmō (自然消耗, normal wear and tear), so stand your ground. Kurīningu is usually covered by a separate fee paid before you move in.
You will probably not deal directly with your ōya but with the fudōsanya where you first found your home. You will usually have to pay them a chūkai tesūryō (仲介手数料, agency fee) equal to a month’s rent. Don’t forget that you’ll also need to pay your first month in advance, so in total you’re looking at an initial outlay equal to six months’ rent, most of which you will never get back!
When you visit the fudousanya, you will be handed an ankēto (アンケート, questionnaire) to determine what kind of property you’re after. Questions will include the required hirosa (広さ, size) in heibei (平米, square meters), or jō (畳, tatami mats), and the preferred madori (間取り, arrangement of rooms). At least this last one is easy: 2LDK means two bedrooms, a living room, dining room and kitchen; you can work out 1K or 3DK from there. Beware the distinction between an apāto (アパート, lower-grade apartment) and manshon (マンション, higher-grade apartment) — the latter should be more solidly constructed, and more expensive to rent.
You will likely also be asked a barrage of detailed personal questions: job, salary, marital status, how long you intend to stay in Japan, and so on. If at all possible, resist the urge to scream, “Sensakuzuki! Sore wa puraib?to na kotoda!” (「詮索好き！それはプライベートな事だ！ 」, “Mind your own business, nosey!”); it might seem relentlessly impolite, but most of these questions are standard for Japanese, too.
You will also need a hoshōnin (保証人, guarantor), who may be an employer, a friend or relative — pretty much anyone who is permanently based in Japan. If you are unable to pay your rent, it will default to them, though legally the ōya will still need a saibanshomeirei (裁判所命令, court order).
When moving day comes around, you’ll probably need a hikkoshiya (引っ越し家, removal company). You will need to work out the ryō (量, volume) of your belongings first to get a quote. Options range from full packing and unpacking service to delivery only.
When the dust settles, you could greet your rinjin (隣人, neighbors) with a bowl of hikkoshi soba (引っ越しそば, moving-in noodles), an old-fashioned tradition that takes advantage of the word soba’s other meaning of “next to.” This is not a common practice in the busy modern world, but who knows, it might spare you complaints over the noisy business of arranging kagu (家具, furniture).
As for the lingo for buying a property, that’s a whole different story. By now you’re probably dying to think about something less stressful, anyway — you know, like divorce or bereavement.