Buying a house in Japan

I’ve never bought a house in Japan, so I can’t give you all the details you’d need to actually buy one, but I can share with you what I’ve learned from friends who have bought houses here.

First, houses here don’t really go up in price. They’re like cars in that usually they depreciate as time goes by. Reasons for this include people wanting the latest in their homes so they usually buy an old home and then just tear it down to build a new one. Some people are starting to warm to renovating, but I think it’s still more common to tear down and start over on the land.

Houses are also usually shoved right next to each other. That means you might be able to stick your hand out the window and literally touch your neighbor’s house.

The current trend is also to limit outdoor space to sometimes just a driveway. The closer to a city you get, the more this proves to be the case, especially for new builds.

Why, then does anyone even buy a house here?

I think the main driving forces are two factors.

  1. Eventually you will be able to pay off the mortgage, usually around retirement, and then you can feel more secure knowing you’ll have a roof over your head in retirement.
  2. Rental apartments here are known for having thin walls. Condos also have their own set of rules they expect you to follow. This can all be suffocating as societal rules here are pretty strict all on their own, and living in a rental or in a condo means those rules follow you home. Living in a house means you don’t have to worry about bothering your neighbors when your kids jump and run around inside or about playing music too loudly and whatnot. You can also design your house however you want (depending on what you can afford).

If you want a bigger house with more outdoor space that won’t set you back millions, I recommend the countryside. One of the major drawbacks is being far from the comforts of a city, not the least of which being medical facilities. Something to keep in mind.

Another option is buying an abandoned house. With the fallen birth rate and declining population, Japan has a huge problem with “akiya” (literally “empty house”), and you can usually get a really good deal on one. Akiya come with their own set of problems, however. I think if you want to look into getting one, I would recommend watching videos like this one to learn more:

I loved watching this guy renovate his own akiya on his videos.


Taken from Yahoo Japan’s earthquake information site.

Japan has a long history of living with natural disasters. The nation has to contend with typhoons, volcanic eruptions, tsunami and earthquakes way more than any country should have to.

Last night there was yet another big earthquake here. The recent trend for these major earthquakes, for some reason, is for them to occur late at night. This one struck at around 11:30 p.m.

Where I am, I first got a notice on my phone that there was an earthquake up north in Miyagi Prefecture. I didn’t think much of it, though. Earthquake notifications grace my phone so often I react the same way I would to a weather forecast. It has to be a big earthquake to really grab my immediate attention.

A few minutes after the notification, however, the power went off in my place. That’s never happened before. I was suddenly thrown into complete darkness and utter quiet.

Then the ground began to shake. It feels like you’re on a table that someone is strong enough to move back and forth in a swaying motion.

The earthquake lasted about a minute, with the swaying of the ground gradually slowing until it came to a stop.

The power didn’t come back on, though. I found flashlights and checked around the place for any damage. Finding none, and breathing a sigh of relief, I picked my way through the dark and silent home until I got to the front door. I wanted to know if the entire area was affected by a power outage or just me.

Darkness greeted me outside, and a kind of quiet I hadn’t expected. I was assuming I’d see other neighbors out curious like I was, but it was like everyone had been abducted. I started thinking about zombie apocalypse movies that I think must have scene likes this. The quiet, the dark, the lack of nightly sounds like people coming home late from work. There was nothing. I quickly went back inside.

It’s amazing how events can completely change your train of thought. Not twenty minutes before, I’d been about to sleep, thinking about the day ahead. Now, I was wondering if the power would ever come back on, if I would need to evacuate, if I had enough dry food to survive, cursing myself for not buying more bottled water. Would there be a bigger earthquake? The swaying earthquake could’ve just been a prelude to the main destructive symphony.

Luckily, so far, where I am seems fine. The power came back on at 4 a.m. Everyone here is going about their lives like nothing even happened last night. I think maybe people living here are just so used to natural disasters that it has to be catastrophic to bring their lives to a halt.


So many events in life can be like a body slam into an alternate timeline. One second you’re doing all right in a relatively peaceful reality, the next you’re in complete survival mode. It made me think of how so many people in the world have had this happen to them, and how the two modes (what I like to think of as “Thriving mode” and “Survival Mode”) can be switched so abruptly.

Before you buy or rent in Japan

If you have plans on living in Japan long-term, there are a few things I think might be worth considering before making any solid plans.

Everything here is tiny compared to America

  • The average apartment and condo here has one bathroom; the average house has one and a half baths.
  • Counter space is usually one small counter, and that’s if you can make the space for it.
  • I’ve never seen a walk-in pantry here, though I’m sure they exist somewhere.
  • There is no laundry room that I’ve ever seen. It’s usually part of the whole bathroom unit (outside the shower room area).
  • Don’t expect to have a massive fridge. The best you can hope for is maybe what would be considered a small fridge in America.
  • Walk-in closets here mean you get to step into the closet and stand there while you look at your clothes. There’s no real walking around in the closet, despite the fact they’re still calling it a walk-in closet.
  • Storage space can be scarce. Some of the older builds especially somehow don’t see the need for things like an extra closet to store things like vacuum cleaners. Be prepared to get creative and scale down your stuff.

It can be hard to find a place to rent/buy if you’re a foreigner and not married/dating a Japanese person

  • Most landlords and real estate people in Japan, especially in places where foreigners like to live like Tokyo, are incredibly wary of foreigners. They see on the news that we’re all alike in that we like to be super noisy, wild and inconsiderate of those around us. They think we’ll waltz into the property, trash it and just dance back to our home countries.
  • I’m sure there have been some people who have done this, and I hate these people because they make it harder for the rest of us foreigners to live here. I hate how Japanese people just group us foreigners all together, too — if one of us non-Japanese does something wrong, it must mean all foreigners are doing it.
  • If you don’t have a Japanese spouse/significant other, things are going to be hard for you. You have to have a guarantor to do much of anything like renting. If you have a Japanese company sponsoring you, they might be able to help. Otherwise, you can see if the ward office/city office is able to help you figure it out.
  • Bring a Japanese friend with you to the real estate agencies. The agent will likely talk only to your Japanese friend, but they might be more willing to let you stay somewhere, too.
  • Having a permanent residency visa goes a long way in buying a house/condo, though it’s still not easy. Be prepared for lengthy red tape.

Buying a house or a condo is like buying a car

  • While in America perhaps you can buy a house/condo and see the value go up as you put time and effort into renovations and such, in Japan people usually want to have a completely new build. That means houses/condos depreciate over time like a car. The land the house sits on could potentially go up, but the house probably won’t.
  • People usually tear down the house when they buy it and build a new one on the property.
  • There is a small but growing trend of people renovating houses, but it’s still not super common, apparently.
  • Condo renovations are a thing, but that doesn’t mean your condo will go up if you’ve renovated it recently. People want to re-do things to their own tastes, and they take that into consideration when giving you a price.

Expect a lot of up-front costs

  • Whether you plan on renting or buying, expect to have at least one month’s rent/payment saved up. At least. It all depends on the property you’re looking at so be sure to read the fine print (usually in Japanese) or ask the real estate agent for all the possible costs involved.
  • Up-front costs include insurance, taxes and paying your real estate agent. Rentals also want one month’s rent as collateral for any damage you might do to the rental.
  • Taxes on houses can be apparently quite abhorrent so keep that in mind when thinking about a house.