“What I really wish is that I’d known about this kind of place when I first came here as a student,” says Ryan, gesturing at the ridiculously stylish open space lounge-kitchen that looks like it should be the set of a hip, NYC-based sitcom.
Ryan and his colleague at Global Agents, Zacharie, are taking me on a tour of their newly opened social apartment in the picturesque “coffeetown” of Kiyosumi Shirakawa, a formerly working-class neighborhood on the Sumida River that’s quickly becoming every cool Tokyoite’s favorite weekend retreat.
World Neighbors Kiyosumi Shirakawa is the most recent addition to the company’s pioneering social apartment portfolio. It’s an immaculately designed, cleverly integrated complex of surprisingly affordable private apartments and public spaces that create not just a place to live but a desired lifestyle — a lifestyle that you thought was previously out of reach in one of the world’s most expensive cities.
“A lot of people think our photos are photoshopped because it looks so good.”
“Share houses have really boomed within the last year in Japan. I think people are starting to realize the possibilities of cultivating a fulfilling shared lifestyle in Tokyo,” adds Zacharie. “Just because you can’t afford to live this way by yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t do it within a community.”
As we explore the sleek share office, go up to the 10th floor bar, discuss plans for the rooftop terrace and sip silky-smooth lattes in the public laundry-cafe next door, it becomes clear that World Neighbors Kiyosumi Shirakawa is revolutionizing the concept of share housing in Tokyo. Need more convincing? Here’s a breakdown of exactly how they’re doing it.
1. They’re making great apartments affordable
Discounts apply depending on the length of your contract. Both furnished and unfurnished rooms are available.
So how much is an apartment? Furnished 1K apartments with a private kitchenette and bathroom run from ¥90,000 to ¥110,000 per month. This includes use for you and any guests of the communal kitchen, lounge, office, laundry room, cafe, bar and terrace. You’ll pay a deposit and a (super cheap) guarantor fee of ¥20,000. For short-term plans, utilities are fixed at ¥10,800 per month while tenants on the one or two-year plans only have to pay for their electricity. There’s no key money or brokerage fee to move in, and discounts apply for long-term contracts. The rent also includes a ¥5,000 monthly credit to use in the cafe.
“We try to keep initial costs low,” says Ryan. “The costs of moving in Tokyo can really pile up and you can end up paying six months rent just to move in.”
2. They’re getting rid of all the bureaucratic BS of moving
Applications from overseas are totally possible, and hassle-free, since it’s all done online.
Global Agents recently moved their application system online which means that you can apply for and manage your contract all from your computer. Required documents have been streamlined to the fair minimum – passport and residence card only (some extras might be necessary depending on your situation) – so no need to go hunting for tax slips, personal statements, or references. Not to mention all the money you’ll save not having to photocopy documents a million times.
Once your application has been reviewed, they’ll email you an invoice after which you’ll sign the contract and get the keys the same day. The time between application and moving in takes about seven to ten days. Obviously, this takes longer if you’re overseas — because, yes, you can apply from outside of Japan too!
The genius part is that you can keep up to date with all your bills, the status of your contract and any other important notices through their online system. You can also get in touch with the managers if there’s an issue as well as reach out to other tenants.
3. They’re enabling tenants to live a high-quality lifestyle
Live the life you want to live with the most innovative products.
Global Agents also collaborates with interesting startups, and more established companies, so that tenants can experience an affluent lifestyle without paying the price. Want artwork for your new pad? Art Stand lets you rent creative pieces for under ¥2,000 a month. Need to update your wardrobe? The hugely popular subscription fashion service Air Closet will deliver to your door.
Each of the communal spaces is stocked with awesome products there to facilitate communication, creativity and enjoyment. Getting work done is easy in the shared office where Wi-Fi, printer/copier and Dyson desk lamps are provided. In the adjacent kitchen-lounge, the hub of the apartment, a big screen Apple TV hangs above a billiard table so you can watch Netflix while you make the world’s best toast — literally, they have that $200 Balmuda Toaster in the kitchen which normally you have to wait three months for.
Don’t want to cook? Head next door to the trendy Laundry & Cafe where you can sample deli sandwiches with the locals while you wait for your clothes to dry in the laundry room. There’s even a free (yep, you heard that right) laundry service offered to tenants twice a month. Leave your clothes in the designated laundry bag and get it back clean and neatly folded. It’s basically like having your own personal butler – Batman eat your heart out.
The tenants of World Neighbors Kiyosumi Shirakawa breaking in the rooftop terrace at their opening party.
The elegant bar upstairs lets you live out your bartender fantasies as you mix up BYOB cocktails and offer them out to the other residents. Just across from the bar is the roof terrace where tenants can host outdoor barbecue parties with the Tokyo Skytree in full view.
4. They’re breaking down walls to get us to socialize again
We’ve all heard of the rent-a-friend agencies, the cuddle cafes and the virtual girlfriends. One thing’s for sure, Tokyo can be a lonely place.
“When you come to Tokyo, it’s like, there’s so many people around me but I know no one,” says Ryan.
Global Agents is all about tackling that problem. At World Neighbors Kiyosumi Shirakawa, socializing is facilitated but not forced. The entire residence is purposely built to encourage interaction and communication. There’s no barrier to sociability; tenants can invite friends over, organize events and explore the city together.
“We try to get rid of walls as much as possible”
“That’s a real big influence for us; seeing the need in the Tokyo metropolis for some sort of interaction. I mean, the reason that we exist is to create spaces for people to gather. We try to get rid of walls as much as possible — that’s a huge part of our design philosophy.”
Currently, the demographic of tenants across the different social apartments is around 80% Japanese, 20% non-Japanese. For foreign people coming to the city, this is a genuinely fantastic option to get to know Japanese culture and make friends.
“It’s hard to make Japanese friends in Tokyo. Here you’re living with mostly Japanese people and they all want to talk to you. So you can practice Japanese, and they can practice English,” says Ryan.
“We have a reputation for providing the best communities you can find,” adds Zacharie. “I would say you only find good people here. Everybody‘s friendly, everybody wants to live in this kind of environment.”
From the official Facebook and Instagram for social apartments, it seems like there are events happening all the time. Last year, the company hosted a big barbecue in Odaiba, food served by one of their residents who’s a Brazilian chef in Roppongi. Tenants themselves organize all kinds of parties; Christmas, Halloween, birthdays and the “just-for-no-reason nabe party,” laughs Ryan.
5. They’re supporting tenants to achieve their goals and ambitions
Over 6,000 people have experienced living in a social apartment in more than 50 different locations across Japan. Each has their own reasons for choosing a shared environment but there’s one common motivation: wanting to improve their life.
According to an in-house survey asking if people were able to experience some kind of change in their life after living in a social apartment, 8 out of 10 people answered “yes.” Recently, they’ve had quite a few soon-to-be graduates move in who are looking for inspiration as they go through the intense process of shukatsu, or job hunting.
“One girl got chatting with another guy who works for a PR company and ended up interning there. Now, she’s decided for sure that she wants to work in the industry,” says Ryan.
“There’s a lot of individual stories,” says Zacharie, as he greets a tenant who’s come to the kitchen to make dinner. (It seems like they both know everybody who lives here on a personal basis).
On my way out, I’m wondering how I can justify moving out of my current place after only two months to come here.
“We don’t make properties, we make culture,” they both agree, waving me off from the open doorway as tenants hang out on the steps chatting to each other about a party that’s happening later.
Yep, that’s one culture I’d definitely like to be a part of, I think, and start writing an email to my landlord.