Common Obstacles To Housing In Japan For Foreigners: The Application Process (Part 1 of 2)

It’s now the year 2018, and the amount of foreigners relocating to Japan is higher than ever.  But in spite of this, it remains staggeringly difficult for many of them to successfully secure domestic housing.

Just why is it still so difficult for foreigners to rent in Japan, and what are some common potential obstacles during the application process?


  1. Unpredictable Responses When Applying For Rental Housing As A Foreigner In Japan
  2. Steep Difficulties Associated With Language Barrier
  3. The Resident Card & Restrictions On Overseas Applications
  4. The Japanese Emergency Contact: An Additional Foreigner-Specific Requirement
  5. The Future Direction Of The Japanese Rental Housing Market?


  1. Unpredictable Responses When Applying For Rental Housing As A Foreigner In Japan

As a foreigner-specialized real estate agency, FREA deals almost exclusively with foreigners seeking rental housing in Japan.  In accordance with our mission to put as much selection as possible within reach for foreigners, we search for properties meeting desired criteria from all active listings in Japan—not only the ones managed by companies actively targeting foreign clientele.

Naturally, this method is not without its added bumps.  Properties where the landlord has already expressly denied leasing to foreigners are still in existence in Japan. Possible reasons could include unfavorable past experiences with foreign tenants or hearsay on such from other landlords, but as the specifics are not disclosed it remains a difficult barrier to tackle. 

Even when a landlord is open to considering a foreigner tenant, they might still bend the application priority in favor of a more typical Japanese applicant who comes along at a similar time.  This possibility may occur more frequently during peak relocation season (primarily February-April), which brings a surge of Japanese applicants competing alongside foreigners for available housing.


  1. Steep Difficulties Associated With Language Barrier

While a growing portion of rental listings are more open to considering foreigner applicants, the vast majority of them still require a sizable amount of Japanese ability.  Some property management companies even specifically demand reading/writing ability.  In these cases, the landlord and management (quite understandably) heavily prefer a tenant that they can communicate with directly, which unfortunately reduces the available options for non-Japanese speakers to only a fraction of options. 

Even in the cases of corporate contracts made through a Japan-established company who also have native Japanese staff to act as a communication channel, many places are still reluctant to consider a tenant who doesn’t personally understand Japanese.  The primary concern in these cases is the potential need to urgently contact the tenant during emergency situations.


  1. The Resident Card & Restrictions On Overseas Applications

Some of the difficulties also tend to be encountered primarily by those initially arriving to Japan.  The most glaring one is the lack of a Resident Card—this acts as the foreigner’s official, government issued photo license in Japan—which is mandatory for submitting lease applications. 

The catch? A Resident Card is issued ONLY upon physical arrival in Japan with an active entry visa (typically they are printed when passing through Immigration at International airports, although some circumstances may cause a delay in receiving the card).  This is a common source of frustration for incoming foreigners wishing to have housing squared away prior to arrival. (Corporate housing contracts signed through an employing company, however, can sometimes bypass this requirement during the initial screening process.)


  1. The Japanese Emergency Contact: An Additional Foreigner-Specific Requirement

Non-Japanese applicants are required to provide some additional supplemental information with their submission: the Japanese emergency contact.  The emergency contact is intended as an extra security measure for if the landlord and/or property management are unable to establish contact with the tenant themselves.  This individual must either be a Japanese national or someone who has obtained permanent residency, and also speak Japanese.

This seemingly minor requirement actually poses a significant barrier for many applicants, most of all incoming individuals.  Naturally, most foreigners arriving in Japan for the first time are unlikely to readily have a domestic emergency contact on hand. 

Many working applicants resort to trying to convince a workplace manager or coworker, who are often reluctant to provide information as they are unfamiliar with this “emergency contact” requirement and often mistake it as being similar to the much weightier financial “guarantor” role.


  1. The Future Direction Of The Japanese Rental Housing Market?

These are some of the major barriers we see most frequently in the current rental housing market for foreigners in Japan.  Although the housing environment has certainly become more open to foreigners in recent years, many of these application aspects still leave much to be desired. FREA is currently in the phases of actively working towards the development of resources targeted at helping to alleviate a number of these significant difficulties for incoming foreigners.

This article discusses application-related issues specifically, but in our next article, we will shift out focus over to common difficulties that arise after passing the housing screening process, many of which we are also focusing on improving for foreigners in Japan.