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Finding a home in Japan

With so many exciting and beautiful locations, it’s not easy choosing where to live in Japan. Our tips and advice can help.

Where to live

Expats usually live in a country’s largest cities, and this is certainly the case in Japan. Around 70% of Japan’s expats live in Tokyo, Osaka-Kobe and Nagoya, the three largest urban areas in the country, which together are home to almost half of the population.

If you want to live in one of Japan’s smaller cities or towns, there are many to choose from. And what’s more, thanks to the near death of rural communities in Japan in recent decades, $250,000 (¥2.75m) can buy you a substantial home (April 2018.) You should, however, consider the effects of rural living on logistics such as communication, jobs and travel.


One British expat living in Japan told the BBC: “Suburbia in Tokyo is pretty dull and isolating for foreigners due to its top-heavy age population”. The city’s main drawback is its overwhelming size, endless streams of people (38 million in the Greater Tokyo area) and the cost of accommodation, which ranges from high to stratospheric

What strikes Westerners, even those used to living in big cities like London, is the height of Tokyo. Even in ‘tall’ cities like New York, the bits you interact with are mainly at street level, but in Tokyo you’re always looking up. The supermarket or cinema you want may not be at street level, but on the seventh floor, above a bar and some shops, and beneath some flats. This density can be overwhelming, but there is a calmness and good humour in the people that makes it less stressful than one might think.

Tokyo is vast — like two dozen cities squashed together, all with their own personality. Young people flock to the artistic districts of Aoyama, Daikanyama, Nakameguro, and Ebisu. Those looking for something more chic and exclusive may prefer Gainemae.

Many students enjoy Nakacho, 10km (about six miles) north of downtown, for its proximity to “Happy Road Oyama”, a covered road full of fruit stalls, shopping and restaurants that give the area a “friendly, bustling vibe”.

The up-and-coming Minami-Senju neighbourhood, 18km (11 miles) north-east of downtown, has low rents due to the fact that it used to be an execution ground. As such, many older and superstitious Japanese people don’t want to live there, driving down prices for younger people and expats.

Residents agree that Tokyo’s architecture leaves much to be desired. Both houses and high-rises have to be earthquake-ready, making designs more practical than decorative. Most people live in flats or apartments where privacy is at a premium.

Architecture in Tokyo is generally focused on protection from earthquakes and economic use of space than creativity or the avant-garde.


Osaka forms a continuous urban area with Kobe, and is Japan’s second-largest port. It hosts around 120,000 foreign residents, which gives it a cosmopolitan feel. Osaka is known as the ‘nation’s kitchen’ for its fantastic cuisine; residents benefit from it being cheaper than Tokyo.


Nagoya is the third-largest urban area in Japan (after Tokyo). The city is popular with expats for its more tranquil pace of life than Osaka and Tokyo as well as the jobs in the city’s vehicle manufacturing industry.


For more than a millennium, Kyoto was the capital of Japan, and is still known for its culture and history.


This is the second most-populous city after Tokyo, with a cheaper and more relaxed pace of life. Naka ward, in the east by Yokohama port, is the most popular ward with expats.

If you have the luxury of choosing where to live in Japan, you might consider JapanToday’s list of the 10 best places to live, based on a survey of Japanese housewives:

  1. Fujisawa is a “coastal city with a relaxed atmosphere only 30 minutes from Tokyo. Natural beauty and history”
  2. Inagi City (Tokyo) has “greenery with western brand shops”
  3. Nishinomiya has “food, shopping and a great Chinatown”
  4. Mitaka City (Tokyo) has “easy access to central Tokyo, greenery and a sophisticated vibe”
  5. Matsuyama is perfect for those wanting a “laid-back lifestyle”
  6. Fukuoka City is admired for its “local food scene”
  7. Ikoma is a “Nara City suburb near to the many culturally and historically important temples of Japan’s former capital”
  8. Moriya has “modern shopping facilities”
  9. Nihama “job opportunities with local industry”
  10. Hiroshima City “kind and friendly attitude of locals”

If you have a work visa, it is often possible to get the company sponsoring you to arrange your accommodation. However, some people advise against this as it can be expensive and you have no control over where you live.

Finding a home


Here’s some advice for expats hoping to rent in Japan:

  • You need a lot of up-front cash for things such as deposit, key money, agency fees, the first month’s rent, key exchange money, maintenance fee, guarantor company fee and insurance fees. Not of these apply in every case, but they can, so be prepared.
  • Prepare all the paperwork you’ll need: passport, Japanese bank account, and your resident card. You may also need proof of residence, character reference, a guarantor, tax payment slip and/or emergency contacts.
  • Work with more than one estate agent to get the best deal.
  • Do your homework! Research prices in the area to understand what you can get for your money.

The average rent for a two- or three-bedroom flat in Tokyo is more than double the national average at $1,290 or ¥140,000 per month (October 2015). A one-bedroom flat isn’t much less.

Salubrious one-bedroom apartments in Shabuya can cost as much as $4,925 (¥545,000)  per month while some Central Tokyo and Roppongi flats come in around $1,595 (¥175,000.) It’s hard to get much in any area of Tokyo for much less than $1,300.

Top-end Central Tokyo includes two- and three-bedroom homes for around $13,305 (¥1.45m) and $19,960 (¥2.2m)  in Roppongi (though this can be more than twice the highest price in areas such as Ginza and East Tokyo.)

Buying a house in Japan

There are no legal restrictions for foreigners on buying property or land in Japan. Foreigners are only responsible for providing a written notification to the Bank of Japan within 20 days of buying a property.

There are a number of estate agencies in Japan that can help you buy or rent property. There are also agencies that specialise in helping expats find properties, including help with documentation and language, for example: and

Learning more about what you can afford in different areas of Japan will help you to decide where to live. Find out more from our cost of living guide.

(Prices correct April 2018. Conversions correct June 2018. Source:

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