Getting an apartment in Tokyo can be really expensive, but there are new options that can be cheaper and much more exciting.
You’ve begun your research on finding an apartment in Japan and have scrolled through thousands of pages of real estate websites. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Moving to a new place in Japan can be a massive hassle, with ridiculous moving in costs and the possibility of being rejected just for being foreign (though this usually isn’t as much of a problem if you speak Japanese). Fortunately, there are easier options than that 20 square meter 1K that you are eyeing two stops away from Shibuya.
Another Option: Social Apartments in Japan.
The rise of Social Apartments is the direct result of the high cost of renting your own place, and the loneliness some people experience in the big cities. According to some articles, Japan is considered one of those most lonely countries in the world. Different companies such as Social Apartment and Oakhouse have seen the problem and are trying to address the issue. With more than 30 locations throughout the 23 wards of Tokyo and beyond, these companies are creating great environments for locals, and expats alike.
If you take a look at some of the photos of these places, you might expect it to be more expensive than a tiny 1K, right? Actually in some areas of Tokyo you can get into a social apartment for much less than getting even a small place (with no kitchen). You are going to have to pay extra to live around the Yamanote Line, no way around that, but some social apartments and share houses get you closer to the city (where the real fun of Tokyo is) and when you calculate the cheaper move in costs it can really balance out.. Not only could living in a social apartment in Tokyo (or another big city) save you some cash, but it also allows you to network with young people who, like you, are looking to make new friends. We wrote an article about making friends in Japan, but moving into a social apartment is another great way to make close friends.
Get into the nitty gritty
These social apartments are still companies and need to make money to survive. When visiting the various company’s websites, you will sometimes see a move-in calculator that helps you calculate the exact expense it will take to move into their various locations. Add the guarantor fee, key-money and deposit, you are looking around the same price (though often less) as it would be to move into a normal apartment in Tokyo. What you will see differently at many of these locations is a set utility fee, which makes sense since most of the general living spaces are shared. This number, for the most part, is not variable and you can rest assured your monthly payments will stay more or less the same.
Like an apartment, there are various leases that you can sign and this can impact the price. Depending on how long you decide to sign, you may be qualified for a discount. In particular, Social Apartment has deals from time to time that offers a cheaper monthly rent if you sign a 2-year lease. Couple that with a no key-money campaigns, then you are looking at a pretty nice move-in fee. Unfortunately, these campaigns usually do not include their most popular locations and are not active throughout the year, so you may need to periodically check your favourite location and be willing to wait.
How social is social?
How will you know the people you will be spending time with? The honest answer is, you won’t. Jumping into a living space and not knowing who you will be living with might turn some people away, but for a lot of people it might be the best way to live here.
You have to keep an open mind about a lot of things as you will learn very quickly that your living habits at home might not be appreciated in Japan. Your housemates probably also want to meet new people, but might come from all different kinds of backgrounds. Learn to embrace their different cultures, practices, and maybe even pick up a new hobby or two.
Another great aspect of social apartments is the arranged meetups that you can attend that will allow you to meet even more people. Browse through the various social media platforms for these companies and you will be able to peek into the lifestyles and personalities of the current tenants of these social apartments. Depending on what you are looking for, you may be able to determine which company, and which location to choose from. If the photos don’t provide the answers that you are looking for, most will also be able to chat with you in English, and answer any questions that you might have in regards to the process of moving to a social apartment.
Things to consider
There are many pros to living in a social forward environment, but as with all things, there are some negative factors. Not everyone will appreciate the shared living spaces. While some do not mind sharing a bathroom with your peers on the floor, others might find that uncomfortable. There may be moments where the showers or toilets being used, and you will need to travel to another floor to use it, or the kitchen might be used so you will have to wait to cook your own food. These are valid concerns and some apartments have been able to work these into their plans by having private bathrooms and small kitchen within your room. Bear in mind that these places are usually more expensive.
Another factor is the living spaces. Living spaces in Tokyo are small, very small. Now subtract the bathroom and kitchenette from your average 1K, now you’re looking at your average square feet (meter, depending on where you are from) room that you will be living in for the next few years. Without a doubt, this is a small living space. It is just enough for a bed, your clothes and maybe a small desk. However, that is the whole point of the social concept. The room is meant to be small because you are not meant to spend a lot of time in your room. Go into the shared space and hang out with your housemates. Is it for you?
Personally, I love the idea of a social apartment as I am an introvert and meeting people can be more difficult for people like me. Being in an environment that encourages communication and collaboration with your peers will definitely help you to find a fun group of friends. If this sounds like something you would enjoy, I personally recommend it.