A 95-Square-Foot Tokyo Apartment: ‘I Wouldn’t Live Anywhere Else’ (2023)

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Meet the young Japanese who have decided to live in a shoe box.

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A 95-Square-Foot Tokyo Apartment: ‘I Wouldn’t Live Anywhere Else’ (1)

By Hikari Hida

(Video) Living in a tiny nyc apartment for $650 a month

TOKYO — At the end of a long day at work in the offices of Japan’s professional baseball league, Asumi Fujiwara returned to her apartment and changed into pajamas. She wanted to get in a light workout before going to bed, so she placed her vinyl yoga mat on the floor in front of the toilet, rolling it past the single kitchen burner and the one-slot toaster and toward the foot of her desk.

After a bit of stretching, she stood to get into the warrior position. Instead of extending her arms fully, though, she pulled her elbows into her sides. “I need to modify my poses or else I will hit something,” Ms. Fujiwara, 29, said.

Such is life in a 95-square-foot Tokyo apartment.

With its high property prices and the world’s most populous metropolitan area, Tokyo has long been known for small accommodations. But these new apartments — known as three-tatami rooms, based on how many standard Japanese floor mats would cover the living space — are pushing the boundaries of normal living.

A real estate developer, Spilytus, has been leading the charge toward ever-tinier spaces. It has been operating these shoe-box apartments since 2015, and with more than 1,500 residents now in its 100 buildings, demand has remained strong.

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While the units are half the size of an average studio apartment in Tokyo, they have 12-foot ceilings and an attic-like loft for sleeping. They are also stylish, with pristine white floors and walls, and with some efficient arranging, it is possible to squeeze a washing machine, a fridge, a sofa and a work desk inside.

The apartments are not for those on a really tight budget. Cheaper apartments can be found, though they are usually decades old. But the microapartments, which rent for $340 to $630 a month, are a couple hundred dollars less than other studio apartments in similar areas. And they are situated near trendy locations in central Tokyo like Harajuku, Nakameguro and Shibuya, which are generally quite expensive, with luxury boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Most of the buildings are close to subway stations — the top priority for many young people.

Over two-thirds of the buildings’ residents are people in their 20s, who in Japan earn on average about $17,000 to $20,000 a year, according to government data. (Wages in Tokyo are on the higher end.) Some are drawn by the minimal initial fees and the lack of a deposit or “gift money” — a nonrefundable payment to the landlord that can be as much as three months’ rent — for many rentals.

The small spaces work for the lifestyle of many young Japanese. In Japan, it is not customary to host guests in homes, with nearly a third of Japanese people saying they have never had friends over, according to a survey by Growth From Knowledge, a data provider for the consumer goods industry.

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Ms. Fujiwara has not even had her partner over in the nearly two years she has been living in her apartment. “This space is for me,” she said.

Many Japanese, young and old, also work long hours, leaving little time to spend at home. And a growing share of people in Tokyo are living alone, making smaller spaces more desirable. Such people are more likely to eat out, or grab one of the many premade meal options from convenience stores or groceries, so a full kitchen is less necessary.

Yugo Kinoshita, 19, a college student who works part time making beef bowls at a chain restaurant, is among those for whom an apartment is little more than a place to sleep.

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By the time his shift is over, it is an hour to midnight and he is exhausted. He eats his free staff meal, goes to a “sento” public bath and passes out the second he gets back to his Spilytus unit. His days otherwise are filled with doing schoolwork for his degree in nutrition and seeing friends.

When he does spend some waking hours at home, the box that acts as a TV stand transforms into a study desk and kitchen counter. To clean the floor, all he needs is a lint roller.

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Even after having had to bid a teary-eyed goodbye to his collection of Nike Dunks because there was no place for them, Mr. Kinoshita said that at this point in his life, “I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

For some residents, the tiny apartments offer a gateway to long-deferred independence.

Two years ago, Kana Komatsubara, 26, started looking for an apartment so she could finally move out of her parents’ home in the suburbs of Tokyo.

She wanted a recently built space, easy access to work, and a toilet and a shower in separate rooms (a common request in Japan) — all within her relatively tight budget. She was not necessarily looking for a microunit, but her search led her to a Spilytus apartment.

“Of course, the bigger the better. It never hurts to have a larger space,” she said. “This was simply the best option for me at the time.”

On a recent afternoon, Ms. Komatsubara, a nail stylist, walked a minute from her nearest subway station in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, through a narrow alleyway lined with worn-down homes, and unlocked the main door to her apartment building.

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She walked up three flights of narrow stairs — the buildings have no elevators — to her room, which was behind one of the identical burgundy doors lining the common hallway.

Inside, a tiny “genkan,” or entryway, had enough room for exactly three pairs of shoes. A 20-inch-wide hallway led to the main room, past the kitchen sink, where Ms. Komatsubara leaves a tube of toothpaste and a bottle of mouthwash.

She stores her work equipment, such as blue-light machines for gel nails and mannequin hands to practice on, in the place intended to hold a washing machine. A plastic trash bag hanging off her door knob must be taken out almost daily.

One benefit of small living, she said, is less ice cream. Her mini-fridge lacks a working freezer, so she eats less of it. That, along with her daily boxing routine, means she has gotten into better shape.

Ms. Fujiwara, the baseball league employee, was drawn to her microapartment after the pandemic began. She had been living in a shared house, but not having space to herself while working from home caused stress and anxiety.

Her smaller space has pushed her to live more sustainably, she said. “Small living has helped me think twice whenever I want to buy something new,” she added.

Yet hanging next to her sink is a stack of 40 or so brown paper cups. “I don’t have space to dry any dishes,” she said.

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She and Ms. Komatsubara both wish they had more space for clothing, which they neatly hang in their lofts. Ms. Komatsubara goes to her parents’ house at the start of every season, most recently to swap out her crop tops for sweaters.

Both women gave up having washing machines — they are expected in most Japanese apartments — in order to use the space more efficiently, and they instead go to a coin laundry once or twice a week.

Mr. Kinoshita does have a washing machine, but with no dryer, he hangs his wet clothes on the railing where his curtains should be. He also can’t do some of the homework for his nutrition degree at home, because his kitchen is too small.

Ms. Komatsubara has decided to move on from her apartment — because she wants something even cheaper.

“As I’ve grown older, my requirements, what I want out of an apartment, has shifted,” she said.

FAQs

How much are Tokyo tiny apartments? ›

The apartments are not for those on a really tight budget. Cheaper apartments can be found, though they are usually decades old. But the microapartments, which rent for $340 to $630 a month, are a couple hundred dollars less than other studio apartments in similar areas.

How much does it cost to live in an apartment in Tokyo? ›

Tokyo is the most expensive city in which to rent. Prices in the capital range from a single room in shared housing for about 20,000 JPY (190 USD) per month to over 150,000 JPY (1,400 USD) for a private apartment. The average amount for a two-bedroom unit is a little over 200,000 JPY (1,870 USD) monthly.

What is a 2K apartment in Japan? ›

"2K" usually denotes an apartment with two bedrooms and a small kitchen, but some landlords or agents may use the term to refer to something more like a 1DK (in which the kitchen is part of the smaller "bedroom"). After this, you have 2DK, 2LDK, 3DK, 3LDK, etc.

Can foreigners rent an apartment in Japan? ›

In order to apply for rental housing, you will have to pass a background check. This background check is required regardless of whether or not you are a foreigner, Japanese, making an individual contract, or making a company contract.

What is a 1K apartment in Japan? ›

1K = one room apartment with kitchen. 1DK = one room apartment with dining and kitchen area. 1LDK = one room apartment with a living, dining and kitchen area.

Why is Tokyo rent so low? ›

The Benefits of Flexible Zoning

Height,is a key factor in increasing affordability due to very high land prices. This approach has helped make Tokyo a relatively affordable place for a city of its size and type. For example, the price a 2 bedroom apartment rental is over 40 percent less than what it is San Francisco.

What salary do you need to live in Tokyo? ›

Whilst the median salary is a very livable 545,000 JPY per month, the data for foreigners is a little bit different. Let's look at average salaries for 2020. Male av.
...
Average Japanese Salary, Before and After Tax.
Annual Taxable IncomeTax Rate
< ¥1,950,0005%
¥1,950,000 – ¥3,300,00010%
¥3,300,000 – ¥6,950,00020%
3 more rows
Mar 8, 2021

What is good salary in Tokyo? ›

The average monthly salary for employees in Japan can range from approximately 130,000 JPY (1,128 USD) to 2,300,000 JPY (19,963 USD). Note: The upper range of salaries is the highest average and not the maximum salary Japanese people earn.

Is it cheaper to live in Japan or America? ›

The average cost of living in Japan ($1171) is 45% less expensive than in the United States ($2112). Japan ranked 43rd vs 6th for the United States in the list of the most expensive countries in the world.

How much is an apartment in Japan in US dollars? ›

AVERAGE LISTING PRICE OF AN APARTMENT IN JAPAN BY PREFECTURE
RankPrefectureApril 2021 Average Listing Price in USD @ 110 JPY = 1 USD
1Tokyo511,091
2Kyoto303,636
3Okinawa295,182
4Kanagawa271,455
40 more rows
Jun 26, 2021

Is buying an apartment in Tokyo a good investment? ›

Steady investment income and estimated gross yields

Tokyo investment properties offer very steady investment income in a stable legal, political and economic environment. However, buyers of investment properties in Japan should not expect appreciation in asset values.

What are bedrooms called in Japan? ›

寝室 Shinshitsu

Is renting a girlfriend normal in Japan? ›

Yes, you can officially 'Rent A Girlfriend' in Japan. This is Puchikano, a Japanese website where you can rent your very own girlfriend for a day and take her on a date just like in the anime.

Is living in Japan hard for foreigners? ›

Living in Japan can be an easy, exciting adventure, so long as you remember to study up on the language and social etiquette before jetting off into the land of the rising sun.

Why do Japanese not rent to foreigners? ›

They also fear that a foreign tenant could up and leave without paying their rent, leaving them in the lurch. Another fairly understandable concern is that foreign tenants are less likely to stay long-term. Landlords prefer to find a good, long-term tenant than go through the rental process every couple of years.

Why are Japanese apartments so tiny? ›

In general, Japanese apartments are significantly smaller than those in the U.S. Why? Because Japan is a much smaller country, and much more crowded (depending on where you live)… there's physically just less space for building.

Is housing in Tokyo cheap? ›

Some of the world's most expensive land can be found in central Tokyo, which contributes to its reputation of being an expensive city. However, rent can vary from cheap tiny apartments of around 10 square meters to exorbitantly priced luxury apartments in prime districts.

How much is a condo unit in Tokyo? ›

The average price of a newly built condo unit increased 2.9% in 2021 to 62.6 million yen ($550,000) across the greater capital region. The record set in 1990 was 61.23 million yen. In Tokyo's central 23 wards, the figure jumped 7.5% to 82.93 million yen, topping 80 million yen for the first time in three decades.

Are apartments small in Tokyo? ›

In the eye of the international community, this may seem small but compared to other populous cities such as Hong Kong or New York, this average floor space is reasonable. The floor space of an apartment in Tokyo is approximately 65.9 sqm on average.

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