Housing in Japan: Apartment or Share House?
By Eric Burton
It’s almost that time of the year. Although we still have two months of winter left, spring will be here before you know it. The end of the public school and fiscal years in Japan. A time of transition, new jobs, and for many new apartments.
I am currently on the look out for new work opportunities away from my current location, while simultaneously searching for possible places to live. Yet I still haven’t decided if I want to live in a share house (also known as a guest house) or an apartment. I’ve been in both types of living situations in Japan, and enjoyed the experiences.
Some of my friends swear by the affordability and convenience of share houses; others say an apartment is the best way to go. Maybe writing this article might help me—and those of you also searching for housing—decide on what’s best.
Pros of Share House Living
Moving in Japan is particularly difficult because of all the upfront fees. For my current apartment, I paid the equivalent of three months rent to acquire the space before even moving in. For most share houses, all that’s required is a down payment to the first months rent, and I could very well move in the next day.
In addition to cheap upfront costs, rent for share houses is all around cheaper than rent for apartments in the same neighborhood. Utilities are also often included with the rent (as in the rent doesn’t fluctuate with utility use). To put things in perspective, I pay about the same for my nice apartment in the southern Ibaraki countryside as I paid for my share house when I lived in Tokyo a few years ago. And I’m not talking about the western area far away from the city’s center.
Most share houses are fully furnished with a bed, desk, and a closet or drawer for clothing. The kitchen, showers, and living area are usually shared. With all of these things readily available, moving in is as simple as opening the door to your room.
Cons of Share House Living
If you like to sing in the shower like me, you might end up becoming the house annoyance. In a communal living space you have to be more aware that you share the space with others. Likewise, you can’t choose your housemates. Everyone has their own lifestyles; everyone is on different schedules. Clashing is possible.
Space is already at premium in Japan. Share house rooms are generally smaller than one room or 1K apartments. This is probably because the kitchen and shower are in separate areas though. Still this is something to consider if you are moving with a lot of things (e.g. musicians).
Pros of Apartment Livng
Apartments are literally everywhere. While riding on various train lines in Tokyo, one can see high rises scattered in the distance. So if you are set on living in a particular area, it’ll be much easier to find an apartment than a share house.
Also, since there is such a wide selection, provided you search hard enough, you could find something affordable in a not so affordable area. You got to be persistent, but I know friends who have done it.
This in my opinion is the biggest benefit of having your own space. You can wake up and not have to worry about someone already using the stove to make breakfast. You can wash clothes on your time, not when your housemates decide to take their clothes out of the washer. And you can sing in the shower; free of embarrassment.
Cons of Apartment Living
Although this is slightly changing in the real estate scene for foreigners, there are some fees that need to be paid prior to moving into an apartment. Paying these fees—like key money, first months rent, cleaning fee, etc.—may seem to be a bit exorbitant for a foreigner renting in Japan for the first time, but it’s just how things are over here.
I say this for most apartments. You can find apartments some well furnished apartments, but the rent is often higher for these places. I put this on the list because I’m sure it is probably on the minds of short-term residents. No point in dropping a couple man in Ikea if you won’t be in Japan for a few years or more, right?
These are the pros and cons of the two most common living situations for expats in Japan. Of course there are always a few outliers and exceptions in the bunch. So if you’re looking for something very specific, keep looking. You might just find it.
To start your search head over to GaijinPot Apartments for a wide selection of affordable apartments and guest houses. If you’re worried about the langauge barrier check out the Bilingual Brokerage Assistance service.