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How to Organize Your Tiny Japanese Kitchen

Cooking in a 1k apartment can be a big pain. Here are some tools to help you keep your kitchen clean and neat.

By 5 min read

The average size of a Tokyo apartment is typically pretty small, especially for single residents. For example, a typical 1K apartment (one room and kitchen) is around 25-meters. When I lived in a 17-meter place with my partner, what drove us up the wall wasn’t sleeping on a futon or a tiny balcony—it was making dinner in the one-meter-long kitchen.

My life consisted of one-pot meals, stacking cups like Jenga and appliances like our microwave doubling as a cutting board. Don’t even get me started on the no-oven situation. After moving to a bigger place, I am now blessed with a—ahem—generous two-burner stove. However, I still come across annoyances that I can’t “Marie Kondo” away.

Luckily for us, we are not alone. As this is a domestic problem, the Japanese kitchenware market has developed innovative products and appliances to cure our tiny-kitchen woes.

Attract attention with magnets

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Magnets. How do they work?

Your kitchen might be small, but it probably has a treasure trove of magnetic surfaces and the prime spot on the fridge. While mine is usually home to an impressive display of souvenir magnets, I could place several useful inventions for everything from towels to kitchen rolls.

If you have a larger fridge—lucky you—you may benefit from an all-in-one rack that can hold up to 9kg (about 20 pounds).

Hang your fruit high

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Mesh with some onions.

Organizing your kitchen doesn’t need to be bland. So why not breathe a little personality into your cooking sanctuary by channeling your inner bohemian. For example, if looking at your overflowing fruit bowl fills you with dread, then try hanging your produce with a mesh bag.

Mesh bags clear your cluttered worktops, let your potatoes and onions breathe and avoid the path of the humid-loving cockroach.

These mesh bags look stylish while also doubling as eco-friendly shopping bags. But, from my experience, you may need more than one if your other half often brings home a bushel of apples.

You can also use adhesive hooks. They won’t break the bank (prices start at ¥100) and are excellent in the kitchen. You can also hang a range of bits and bobs such as towels, spatulas and pots.

Organize up

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Rack ’em up.

An over-the-sick dish rack is hands down the best purchase I’ve ever made for my apartment (besides a memory foam mattress topper).

Finding somewhere for your oversized pots, pans and dishes to dry in a cramped kitchen is like finding a seat for the Sumida River fireworks—near impossible. True, I’ve broken a few plates doing this circus balancing act. But fear not. If there’s no room on the side of the sink, then create space above it.

While some prefer drying racks that blanket a sink (perfectly suitable for those with a larger sink), if you have a sink the size of an airplane window, it just isn’t feasible. So instead, I suggest a dish drainer that hovers above: freestanding or those with tension rods. While on the expensive side, you’ll save a lot of money on shattered crockery.

Divide and adjust

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Divide and conquer under your sink.

A person’s kitchen cupboard is akin to a black hole. In your lifetime, you’ll lose cutlery, utensils and shot glasses to another dimension. However, instead of shoving it all in and hoping for the best, we can section this void and actually find the things we are looking for with the right tool.

Until recently, there was a war under my kitchen sink with plastic bags on top of food containers inside frying pans. My saving grace was this adjustable rack from Nitori that snaked around my drain pipe and divided my cupboard into two levels.

So now, I have twice the space with no internal conflicts. You might also find a smaller—but cheaper—rack at your local 100-yen store, such as Daiso.

Utilize your gaps

Imagine your kitchen is a jigsaw puzzle. Small spaces between the refrigerator, cabinet or the empty air above the microwave have a piece that’s missing. Japanese are experts at filling these tight spaces with extra storage.

Try something like this wagon or this one from Amazon, which can easily wheel in and out. Slim storage racks like these are available even for a 10-centimeter gap. Slim-fit bins are also a popular choice as they can be kept out of sight but not out of mind. All you need to do is get out your measuring tape and see what fits.

Containers galore

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“I think I’m cracking up. Am I just paranoid?” About organizing my kitchen…

I have an unhealthy obsession with collecting snacks. Not only is this bad for my body, but it’s a disaster for my living space. With no assigned home for my bags of poifull (incredibly delicious Japanese gummies) or takoyaki-flavored potato chips, they are left out in the open as a tempting post-dinner treat.

Thus, I have invested in organized containers to keep them hidden from view. For example, this chic basket from Ikea only costs ¥1,000 and holds most of my snacks.

For the rest, I bought glass jars to fulfill my dream of living in a candy emporium. So say goodbye to overloaded cupboards with other inventions that keep your pasta neat, your rice measured, and your bread frozen and fresh.

Where to buy

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Get to shoppin’ so you can start organizin’.

If you are looking for something a bit more expensive and sturdy than what you’ll find at the 100-yen store, then check these websites to add a little bit of variety to your humble abode:

Once you’re done with your kitchen why not move on to tidying other areas of your place. From the balcony to the bedroom, what area can you never keep organized? 

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