One of the challenges of searching for property in Japan is the unique terminology used to define the size, space, and conditions of a place. Look on GaijinPot’s apartment listings for example and you’ll notice that most places are listed as “number + letters” based on what kind of rooms there are in addition to having information about the overall size.
Things can get pretty cryptic so it’s a good idea to know what the abbreviations mean when you start looking; the list below covers some of the most common and makes an excellent list of underhand Scrabble words (if you’re counting acronyms).
Japanese Room Layouts
L, D and K meaning
Stands for “Living,” “Kitchen” and “Dining” which makes up the heart of a Japanese apartment and will usually be an open-plan area of all of these combined. You’ll rarely find separate rooms with doors between your living/dining rooms and kitchen. Most apartments (and even houses) are built around a central living area that encompasses where you cook, eat and play—known as the LDK.
The number that comes before the acronym means the number of rooms separate from the LDK (basically the number of bedrooms). So a 1LDK would mean an apartment that has a living, dining and kitchen area with one bedroom as well as a separate toilet/bathroom. A 2LDK would mean that there are two bedrooms plus the living dining, kitchen part, a 3LDK would indicate three bedrooms and so on. Usually, the kitchen is part-separated from the living and dining area by a breakfast bar, wall divide or area of laminate or vinyl flooring.
1K or 1DK layout
Often in big cities like Tokyo, you’ll find places that are advertised as just “number” + K or DK, meaning that the apartment has no living space as such but just a kitchen, or dining and kitchen. These spaces are obviously smaller; in a 1K usually, the kitchen is separated from the main room as in a DK or LDK but will be tucked away near the entrance leading to the main room. 1K kitchens often consist of one burner and a sink with a small cupboard underneath.
This is the coziest kind of apartment you can find where R refers to Room and means that there is only one room from where the kitchen and bathroom are directly accessed. Generally, there will be a door to the bathroom, but you’ll often find the toilet inside the unit bath to save space. It is not uncommon to find a mezzanine or loft floor in a 1R apartment in Japan. However, beware that even though you’re given extra space, it can be extremely hot up there in the summer!
The S variously stands for “storage room,” “service room” or “free room” and usually indicates a small area that serves as a walk-in closet. The defining measurements of S rooms are not standardized so the size can range from a narrow storage space to one large enough for a small spare bedroom. In this case a 3SLDK might actually represent a 4LDK where the S can be made into another room once you’ve moved in.
Japanese Room Size Measurements
帖, the tatami counter
帖 is the size of one tatami mat (traditional woven straw mat) and is approximately 180 x 90 cm or 1.62 square meters but this varies by region. In cities like Tokyo where space is limited, tatami mats are generally smaller at 1.76 m X 0.88 m. Often the counter ~帖 will be abbreviated to just “J” and is used to measure a single room.
So a 5.5J means that the room is the size of five and a half tatami mats. A standard sized bedroom in Japan is about 6J, though this would be considered small in western homes.
Recently, a lot of young Japanese renters now prefer apartments without tatami as it’s harder to take care of. Many newer builds won’t have tatami mats at all but they may still use the measurement for rooms with wooden or carpeted flooring.
Bonus tips if you have a tatami room in your apartment
Tatami mats are not made for heavy furniture and especially not things you have to move pretty often such as chairs, etc. Replacing a tatami mat can be extremely expensive depending on the degree of degradation, the shape and the style of your mats (from ¥10,000 per mat if it’s superficial degradation). One way to avoid this is by transforming your tatami room into a 洋室—youshitsu (western-style room)—by using a ウッドカーペット (literally, wood carpet). They come in every size of tatami mat and are easily cuttable and washable.
アパート vs マンション
アパート are usually apartments found in older, low-rise buildings made of wood or lightweight steel. マンション comes from the English “mansion” but doesn’t mean quite the same thing. Although originally マンション was a marketing term for new builds that were more spacious and luxurious, the term has basically come to mean an apartment in any building that’s taller than three stories. You can find crusty old マンション just as you can find renewed, luxury アパート, although high-rise マンション buildings are more likely to have better facilities or be part of a larger complex including a playground, gyms and a reception desk.