Apartments in Hokkaido

--By Graham Hill 

Inflation has been in the news a lot lately. For many of us, what we pay to cover our basic life expenses takes up a big part of our income each month. Since it is probably true that rent for an apartment in your city is going up (and won't come down any time soon), relocating to another city (and perhaps another country) could be an option that might help you reduce your monthly cost of living expenses. At Find Hokkaido Agents, we have a lot of experience with apartment rentals in Hokkaido. In fact, we have helped many foreigners find an apartment in Sapporo. In this post, we will give you some very good reasons why you too might be able to save a lot of money if you could find a way to move to Hokkaido.

Apartments in Hokkaido

We are living in a modern era, where we are all connected by the internet, and play our roles in an increasingly global economy. Based in part on the increasing emphasis on the work-from-home phenomenon, you may have increasing global competition in terms of employment. But these global trends cut both ways; even as companies can attract talent from all over the world, a modern lifestyle means we have more choices about where we live. And you may be able to reduce your cost of living if you can consider global options. In this post, we'll talk about the price of rent in Japan, and in particular, about the cost to rent an apartment in Hokkaido (the northern island of Japan), with a focus on three important cities in Hokkaido; we'll look at apartments in Sapporo, Otaru, and Niseko. But first, some international comparisons.

International Rent Prices in 2023

Before we get to Hokkaido apartments, let us start with some examples from 2023 of apartment rent prices for international cities. Basic online research will show that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is about $3000 a month. On the other side of the United States, the average one bedroom in NYC rents for around $3,300. Across the pond in London, the average one-bedroom rents for around $2,600 (or £2,100). And for an example from Asia, average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in central Singapore is about $3,300 (SGD $4,500). That gives us a basic idea of monthly rent for an apartment in some big cities around the world. Life in a big city can be expensive, but not all cities come at the same cost.

Apartments in Sapporo

Sapporo (or as the Sapporo experts at ICHIBAN NO MACHI like to say, "the best city in the world") is a great example of a big city with below average costs. Let us show you what you might get for your money in Sapporo. The average one bedroom in Sapporo (1 LDK) rents for close to $340 per month (¥50,407). That is less than 20% of what you might pay in monthly rent for some of these other cities. It is true that apartments in Japan are smaller than in most western cities, so if you add an additional $100-$200 to your budget, you could expect a bigger, nicer place (and maybe closer to the nearest train station), and still only spend the equivalent of about $500 per month. If you could expand your budget to $450 (¥65,428) per month, you could find a decent two-bedroom apartment in Sapporo (2LDK). Again, add a little extra budget, maybe up to $600 in monthly rent, and you could have a relatively nice two bedroom in a better part of town. (With that said, Sapporo is clean and safe, and almost every part of Sapporo is a pretty good part of town).

Moving to Hokkaido

If we have you excited about the lower cost of an apartment in Hokkaido, next you'll have to think about moving here. While immigration has been in the news internationally lately, moving to Hokkaido takes a little effort and planning (and approval from the Japanese government). Sapporo is the fifth largest city in Japan. It has a population of almost two million people. It is a real city (not a "tourist town"), and foreigners that don't speak Japanese may find some challenges finding work (and visa eligibility) here in this part of Japan. Some big western companies like Amazon do have corporate offices in Sapporo. The low cost and high quality of life might also make Hokkaido a good place for an entrepreneur to establish a new company (and thus become eligible for residency). And some remote work possibilities create new opportunities for employees to live in a great place like Hokkaido, even if your corporate headquarters are elsewhere in Japan. In addition to work, there are other visas available that could allow you to move to Japan. Certain cultural contributions (like artists) are eligible for special visas. If you can study Japanese full-time (about 20 hours per week), you can easily get a student visa that would allow you to live in Japan for up to two years (and perhaps use that time to find a full-time job). And of course, spousal visas are another avenue to life in Japan. Both immigration and work opportunities can present challenges for newcomers, but modern life is increasingly accommodating to an international lifestyle.

Short-term Apartment Rentals

Even without a long-term visa, visitors from many countries are allowed a 90-day tourist stay in Hokkaido. That is enough time to explore Hokkaido (perhaps multiple cities), to talk with visa attorneys, and to meet with (or apply to) schools and jobs. If you are coming to Hokkaido for a short stay, of course you can stay in a hotel or an Airbnb (what the Japanese call minpaku). But if you would like to save some money, a short-term furnished apartment is usually considerably less expensive than most Airbnb stays. While the rates for a furnished apartment are higher than a regular long-term apartment lease in Sapporo, you will almost always get a better value with a short-term apartment rental versus an Airbnb.

Other Cities in Hokkaido

While Sapporo is the biggest city in Hokkaido and has the greatest number of available apartments (and jobs, for that matter), there are other cities worth considering. Niseko is perhaps the second most "famous" place in Hokkaido. Niseko attracts a lot of attention for both its amazing snow and its real estate. For the peak winter season, Niseko attracts tourists from all over the world. And while it is a uniquely special part of Hokkaido, there are very few apartments for rent in Niseko at reasonable rates (which is a local challenge for visitors each year). While there is a tremendous level of service for wealthy foreigners looking to buy real estate in Niseko, for modest budget, it is disproportionately hard to rent an apartment in that region. For more practical cities, Otaru is a small city on the west coast of Hokkaido. It is smaller than Sapporo, has fewer available apartments, and based on the relatively limited supply, apartments in Otaru can be as expensive as Sapporo (but you would live close to the beach). Hakodate is the most southern "big city" in Hokkaido. The shinkansen from the main island of Japan currently ends near Hakodate, but will continue through to Otaru and Sapporo sometime after 2030 (bringing new visitors to that part of Hokkaido, and probably new jobs as well). Apartments in Hakodate would be even less expensive than Sapporo. Further inland, Asahikawa is a relatively big city in Hokkaido that has a university and other infrastructure, and there are plenty of apartments for rent in Asahikawa.

A Plan to Find a Good Apartment in Hokkaido

To begin, a short term furnished apartment is a great start and will provide a place where you can be comfortable while you work on the rest of your plan. Short-term apartments are fully furnished, and rental terms are flexible and don't require a long commitment (but are still less expensive than Airbnbs). After you have a visa that allows you to stay in Japan for an extended period of time, you can then work with a local Hokkaido real estate agent that will help you find a long-term apartment for rent in Sapporo (or some other city). If you do not speak English, there are bilingual agents that can help you find an apartment and complete a lease (we are happy to make introductions to real estate agents in Hokkaido, that is our specialty). Even if you try to make some appointments before you arrive, it will take some time to create a relationship with your real estate agent, for them to find some available apartments for rent in Hokkaido that meet your needs, and to arrange a time for the agent to show you those apartments. During that time, you will need a place to stay, and a short-term furnished apartment is a good plan, and is less expensive than other options. From the comfort of that kind of apartment, you can take your time and find a place that works for you. As you find a place you like, and your lease is accepted, it will still take some time for you to find the basic needs for that apartment (including a refrigerator, a washing machine, basic furniture). It will be nice to have time to do all that as you are living comfortably in a furnished place. After you get the basics set up in your new place, you can move into your home.

Life in Hokkaido as a Foreigner

Hokkaido is a special place and attracts thousands of foreigners each year. And for those that can put together a plan to build a life in Hokkaido, it is not only a beautiful place, but is also very affordable by international standards. When the time is right, Hokkaido might be right for you. And when you are ready, finding an apartment in Sapporo is more than possible, and will probably help you save a lot of money.

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