Tokyo Housing Considerations from My Living History

I have spent more time at home since last year after COVID-19 emerged. I am currently living in a 2LDK (almost 55 sqm) apartment with my husband on the edge of Tokyo. 2LDK for two people is not too small, however, we feel a bit inconvenient when both have to work from home. Because we don’t have any desk for study/work, having just a dining table in the living room. The table is not large enough to share and it is not a good idea to sit together when we have online meetings respectively. Therefore, one uses the dining table in the living room and the other has to stay in another room with a low table. Especially, using a low table is very tiring to sit on the floor directly and to keep working in remaining the same posture for long hours. So, we are now thinking about how we can change the living environment better and I am just wondering whether I should change the layout of my apartment and buy a portable table and chair.

As you know, Japan is a small country, and especially it is difficult to have larger space of housing in cities like Tokyo with a high density of population. Rent fee and/or houses for sale almost double compare with the same size of the area in local cities. After changing working environments such as work from home, many people living in the cities are considering moving out to suburbs or local areas to get larger spaces. Probably, we no longer need to commute to the office every day and we don’t need to live near offices in the center of cities by paying high rent.

Symbol of Modern Life in Suburbs of Cities in 20th Century
– The Housing Complex –

Anyway, I would like to talk about living conditions in Tokyo by looking back on my living history this time. My family has 5 members including me and my father was an average office worker who is retired now (My mother, unfortunately, passed away the year before last). We have been living in a 2LDK housing complex in a suburb in Tokyo for 20 years. During the high growth period in the 1970s, many housing complexes were built in suburbs and our housing was also one of them. Sharing 2LDK space with 5 people (+ my grandmother for 2 years) was very hard and we often changed room layouts according to our living stages. When 3 children including me were little kids until primary school students, 3 of us (+ grandmother ) shared a 1 room of 6 tatami mats with 3 desks, 1 bunk bad and 1-2 set of the futon. After I became a middle school student, my mother created a private space for me by dividing a living room in half. I clearly remembered that she partitioned the room by putting a chest of drawers and a dressing table. It was a very tiny space with 2.5-3 tatami mats, but I was really happy to get my first private area even just having my desk and a foldable mattress. When my brother grew up, I exchanged the space and shared a 6 tatami mats room with my sister again, and finally, my parents gave him their room because he was too big to stay in the tiny space. So that, my mother spent most of her time in the dining room other than going to a part-time job and sleeping in the living room. All of us couldn’t keep any privacy, but somehow we managed to share the limited spaces among us comfortably as much as possible.

Thinking now, I should have moved out to the private apartment after start working, but I could not afford to pay the high rent fee of an apartment in the center of Tokyo. Because the average monthly rent fee for 1 room apartment with 20 sqm in Tokyo is almost 700 – 800 USD, I don’t know whether it is affordable or not for you, however, the sharehouse/room system was not so expanding 20 years ago here and the low payment of incoming employees is not sufficient to cover the rent fee, besides, to save money for studying abroad.

When I was 25 years old, my parents finally bought a two-story house near our housing complex and we moved out! According to my father, my mother was really eager to have their own house, so she had kept saving money for years while our living in our small housing complex. (Actually, I didn’t notice her intension at all…) Of course, you know, a house in Tokyo is not large compare with other regions in Japan and other countries. There is a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, a bathroom / 2 toilets, 4 bedrooms, and a tiny garden altogether.  I was very excited to get my complete private room and the house brought all my family members great happiness. Especially for my mother, she must be so glad to stay there until the last moment. However, the housing complex where we live is my “home” even after so many years somehow. I often dream of the housing complex ever now. Unfortunately, most of these housing complexes are getting deserted in these 20 years and residents are aging. So, we have to think about how to invite younger generations there before going to ghost towns now.

After all, I have lived in our new house for 5 years or so, then I stayed abroad for a few years and moved out to the apartment in the center of Tokyo due to my work soon after coming back to Japan.

Japanese Housing Customs When You Rent

My first rent housing was a 1DK room of 32 sqm on the 1st floor of a reinforced concrete two-story apartment in a small town in Tokyo. It was 10 minute-walking away from the nearest station and has local shopping streets in the neighborhood. It was one rank higher than average rooms of 750 USD monthly rent, and walk-in closet and 42-inch plasma TV furnished (Normally, TV is not included!!) were unique and a big deciding factor for me. When you rent a room or apartment in Japan, it is usually not furnished anything, so you have to prepare for all of your furniture other than the kitchen, bathtub, washbasin, and toilet by yourself. In case you rent a room in share/guest houses, all furniture like desk, bed, drawers, even wifi connections tend to be included. (By the way, my British friend in Germany told me that she had to prepare for the kitchen by themselves in her apartment and she spent a week or so without it because installation of the kitchen was not in time!)

Besides, we have a bit strange customs when you rent an apartment or house in Japan, you need to pay the security deposit and key money respectively for 2 months rent other than monthly rent fee when you signed contract. The security deposit will be refunded when you move out according to the degree of dirt in the room, however, key money means a kind of “Thank you” reward for your landlords, so that it will never be refunded. In addition to this, we usually renew the contract every two years and we need additional 1-month rent called “renewal fee” other than the rent fee. I heard that the customs around housing in the western areas of Japan are different from these, but these customs are often annoying us. I had lived there for 5 years and it was really comfortable living alone for me, but I decided to move out to my present apartment to share larger spaces and lower rent fee with my boyfriend at the timing of his contract of apartment terminated (Then, he became my husband a few years later, after all).

We have lived in the present apartment for 10 years. The building and equipment were not new and fancy because it was built almost 25 years ago. However, the inside of the rooms was completely renovated when we move in and we don’t feel any inconvenience to live there so far. Here is the edge of the center of Tokyo, so that the neighboring area still has lots of green. There are family-owned farms near my apartment so that we can often get fresh vegetables from them. We are really fond of the environment and atmosphere. One of the big reasons why we like to live here is its lower rent fee compared with others in our residential area, and we just paid a month rent for security deposit and key money respectively, above all, we don’t need to pay any renewal fee. This is because our landlord is probably generous and not so interested in money-making. We are happy about the situation and we would like to change room layout for work-from-home style without moving out.

Lots of Unique Options for Housing Nowadays

Nowadays, there are many interesting housing options, and I will introduce some examples which I would like to try if I were alone (It is not directly related to “work from home”)

Traditional Apartments near or Just on the Public Bath

This type of apartment is traditional style and has rooms with a toilet but without a private bath. Instead of covering these disadvantages, there are Japanese public baths of a few minutes walking distances or just below the apartment, sometimes the rent fee is included in the basing fee of the public baths. The room sizes are between 4.5 and 6 tatami mats and the rent fee is almost half of ordinary 1K/1DK apartment. Besides, you don’t need cleaning of the bathtub. Recently, I heard these traditional apartments are popular among the young generation. I am a hot spring and public bath lover so that it is suitable for persons like me. Should I consider renting the room for my remote workspace??
*Reference information: Tokyo Sento Fudosan (https://tokyosento.life/) *Japanese only

Sharehouse with cats

Sharehouses/apartments are now well-known and popular among the’20-the ’30s. Although you need to be cooperative with other share mates, all furniture and equipment are inclusive so that you can instantly live there without any housing customs which I mentioned above. Some sharehouses/apartments have specific features like tech-gears, golf-lovers, and international exchanges. The one which I am fascinated with is the sharehouse/ apartment with cats. They are rescued cats and don’t belong to you but the housing/apartment. You have to share the cost of food, sanitary and other materials for them with other residents, but it seems a nice trial if you are considering living with a cat. In case you want to be a foster parent for them when you move out there, you can take one of them after an agreement with the operating company of the houses/apartment. (Of course, you are obligate to take care of him/her throughout life.)
*Reference information: Shippo Fudosan (http://www.shippo-fudosan.com/)*Japanese only

Collective House / Apartment

This is the concept that originally emerged in Sweden and has gradually been accepted by people who prefer to belong to the social community in Japan. There are a common kitchen, a common living room, shared garden in addition to resident’s private rooms, which seems just in-between a sharehouse and a private apartment, and the residents consist of a wide variety of ages and structures such as a family with kids, empty nesters, single persons, etc. Its biggest advantage is to touch various values from diversified members and to cooperate and communicate with each other more closely. You may not feel isolation which sometimes people have when you live in big cities. Especially these days, it’s been a long time since we had a clear family and lives alone without communication with relatives and neighbors. People who consider bonding with others is more important are increasing after Great East Japan Earthquake. You will be asked to attend resident’s events to check the atmosphere or to take interviews with other residents before moving in, however, I suppose this type of living style gives us a sense of security under such an uncertain society.
*Reference information: Collective House Kankanmori (https://www.collectivehouse.co.jp/en/)

Subscription-type Guesthouse

This is the new concept of housing and you can live wherever you want once you pay around 400 USD as a monthly subscription fee. Originally, the idea was for proceeding with the effective use of vacant houses and holiday homes in Japan. The operating company possesses various kind of guesthouses all over Japan (Actually each property’s landlord make a contract with the company to use their subscription platform and end-users can stay there if there are room vacancies of registered properties, which means users can live multiple places like traveling. All furniture, cookware, and tableware were already equipped, so all you do is just go and stay there with your minimum belongings. With the spread of work from home, some people use this housing subscription as their workation (a coined word: Work + Vacation), or even move out of their apartments and hop around where they stay according to their mood. This is also the new style of housing trends In Japan and I am also interested in the system.
*Reference information: ADDress (https://address.love/) *Japanese only   

So, what did you think about our housing situation here? I am very glad if you are interested in the topic and it works for you in case you come and look for your housing here. 

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