The Great Japanese Housing Scam
April 21, 2014

The Great Japanese Housing Scam

I am coming to realize that in terms of residing there, Japan is set up for two things. The first is living in Japan forever from start to finish; the second is visiting on a short working holiday for a year or so. Anything in between is beset with frustrations and difficulties.

Not least of these is the accommodation situation. If you come to Japan as an English teacher, which is how most Westerners end up living in the country, your first year will be a breeze, admin-wise. Your school will usually arrange your apartment for you, and your tax and health insurance will be extremely low. If you enjoy your experience and wish to stay longer, though, then things get a little complicated.

The cost of tax and health insurance shoots up in year two. This may also be around the time you want to get out of the rabbit hutch you have kindly been provided to live in short term (even if it is a rabbit hutch with a fancy electronic toilet) and get your own place. For this privilege, you will pay the new landlord or agency at the very least a thousand dollars (yen equivalent), but more like a few thousand, for no good reason at all. Reikin, translated as “gratitude money,” is a system that began after World War II when places to live were scarce. The argument for the system apparently being “if you don’t want to live in a field, pay us handsomely.”

This money, which is equivalent to one to three months’ rent, but can be as much as 6, is a one-time payment that is not rent, deposit or any other justifiable fee. It is simply for the landlord to pocket. It is never returned.

Then, there is the ‘cleaning fee.’ This was around 400 dollars in the apartment I just obtained. It is paid at the beginning of the contract to be used at the end to clean up after you for the next tenant. This means that the tenant before me, who just left, will have paid their 400 bucks to the renting agency previously. Yet, despite this very generous budget for cleaning a small apartment, there was still grease in the cupboards and around the cooker, dust in the closet, and slime in the bathroom. It looked for all the world like the agency had taken the large cleaning fee and then got someone’s reluctant teenage son to do the job for ten bucks.

Not a bad idea, really, except that it is not dissimilar to a scam. I would complain, but they discounted my cleaning fee, as a kind offer to entice me to go with their agency. But actually, what that now seems to mean is that they kindly agreed not to swindle money out of me (well, any more money after the reikin). This isn’t really a perk, although I did agree to sign up with them because they were offering perks. That means they still owe me a perk. I doubt I’ll ask for it though, we are British and Japanese, so we’ll just keep nodding and smiling at each other while complaining or swindling quietly behind the scenes.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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John is a freelance writer from the UK, currently living in Japan and thoroughly enjoying their food and whiskey. His first novel, Three Little Boys, and his travel book, Following Football, are currently available on

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