As anyone who has moved into a new house in the major urban areas of Japan you know it costs a lot of money. One of the biggest expenses is, “Key Money” (reikin). Key Money is a bribe, usually about two months rent; you have to pay to the landlord thanking him for letting you move in. Key Money has its roots in the aftermath of WWII.  World War II firebombing levelled most of Japan producing a major post-war housing shortage. Back then you actually needed to pay a bribe to get any sort of shelter. Now thanks to the Americans it’s become part of Japanese culture. What defies logic about Key money is: in most countries a bribe is to make life easier, not so in Japan. In addition to the bribe you have also provide a guarantor, someone who will pay the rent for the duration of the contract in case you lose your job or get sick.  Here is what defies logic: WHY would a landlord care about a tenant who pays the initial bribe but then doesn’t pay his rent. It makes sense to accept the money, if the tenant can’t pay … kick him out! A new tenant comes you get another bribe, if they can’t pay rent, kick them out! A good business model would be to have as many new tenants as possible to obtain maximum amount of Key Money bribes! Instead the Japanese system makes it as hard as hell to move into a new domicile.

Q – Do Japanese not like money? Or is it they just don’t like fiscal irresponsible people?

No as it turns out there are really strict tenant laws dating back before the War to protect soldier’s families who were away at war. I’ve read that it can take up to year to evict tenants who take it to the courts but I’ve talked to real-estate people who say it has changed to upwards of six months. Either way it makes sense for a landlord to be careful about whom he rents too.

If you like this then, you should check more from the “Japan ain’t so fucked up” series:

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