You can rent an apartment in Japan through real estate agents rather than landlords. Also you can find real estate office around train station with listings of available apartments in their windows.
They sometimes advertise on signs in the neighborhood and in various publications.
[Japanese real estate companies]
The rental system of many conventional real estate companies is not very friendly to foreigner. Apartments are usually rented for a minimum of two years, which conflicts with the fact that many foreigners stay in Japan for less than two years.
In addition, most landlords are naturally reluctant to rent their apartments to foreigners who are not able to communicate in Japanese. You are also required to provide agents with information about your financial background and to have a guarantor co-sign the rental contract as another security measure, if they want. Certain conditions apply as who can serve as your guarantor. It must usually be a Japanese national with a stable financial background.
Finally, entering a rental contract with a conventional real estate company is very expensive. A number of refundable and non refundable fees have to be paid, often to totaling three to ten months’ rent, depending on the company and apartment.
Reservation fee (Tetsukekin)
Reservation fee is paid when you apply for an apartment, and before the actual rental contract is signed. It serves as a guarantee for you that the apartment is not given to somebody else, and for the agent that you do not change your mind. This is refunded after the actual contract is signed and is usually equivalent to about one month’s rent.
The deposit is used to cover eventual future damage to the apartment. The deposit minus the cost for repair is refunded when you move out. The deposit is usually equivalent to several month’s rent.
Service fee (Chukai tesuryou)
Service fee is a non refundable payment to the real estate agent in the amount of at most one month’s rent. Apartments come unfurnished, utilities are not included in the rent, pets are not allowed.
[Real estate companies for foreigners]
There are real estate companies, which specifically target Japan’s foreign community, mainly in Tokyo and other large metropolitan areas. They offer private and shared apartments for conditions that are much more suitable to the needs of foreigners, and often have staff trained in foreign languages.
Actually, they offer rental contracts for much shorter time periods and lower and fewer initial fee than conventional companies. In addition, their apartments are often already furnished, and the cost for utilities may be included in the monthly rent.