Finding an Apartment in Tokyo: A Mafia Story

Advertisements for apartments in Tokyo
Advertisements for apartments in Tokyo
Typical advertisements for apartments in Tokyo.

It was time

My story begins during what the locals call tsuyu (梅雨), the rainy season that marks the beginning of the sweltering Japanese summer. The literal translation has a romantic ring to it: “plum rain,” as if the season reminds one of the sweet taste of summer fruit.

The local path

There are a bunch of ways to find an apartment, but in most cases, if you want something nice, you’re going to have to go through an agency. It’s a jungle out there: dozens of agencies to choose from, each with varying degrees of access to real-estate.

The fees! THE FEES!

Big Mike wasn’t built like most Japanese men. He stood close to six feet, with broad shoulders and enough body mass to wrestle a black bear-and come out on top. Every time we met, he carried with him a thick leather bag, bulging at the seams from his massive laptop and a mountain of documents. The thing must have weighed at least a dozen kilos. And remember, he was lugging that thing around during tsuyu. Needless to say, if we walked more than a couple minutes, he’d be drenched in sweat from head to toe.

The horsemen of the Tokyo rental apocalypse

When Big Mike showed me an apartment I actually liked, here’s how our chat went. Just for you, I’ve converted yen into dollars and translated from Japanese to English.

Example of the initial cost to move into an apartment with a rent of 155,000 yen per month (about 1400 dollars)
Example of the initial cost to move into an apartment with a rent of 155,000 yen per month (about 1400 dollars)
Example of the initial cost to move into an apartment with a rent of 155,000 yen per month (about 1400 dollars). This place doesn’t have key money. From top to bottom, an extra month of rent, the deposit, “thank you” money, the agent fee, the insurance company fee, the disaster insurance fee, and the emergency support fee.

A few more extras

In the end, I didn’t end up getting that first flat Big Mike showed me. I got one that was only slightly more expensive, but had no reikin. A lot of people here will judge your flat by the rent, wondering, “Why would you choose 1450 a month instead of 1400?!” without thinking that 50 bucks more a month to avoid 1400 upfront in reikin can actually be a lifesaver.

Travel | Humor | Language | Society. Writing out of passion. Tokyo-based polyglot with a degree in human rights. Find me on Twitter and Instagram @alexstwrites.

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