8 Features of Japanese Apartments That You Might Not Expect - Blog (2022)

I used to (and still do!) dream about finding the perfect apartment in Japan.

Before moving to Japan, I became addicted to Shiawase! Bonbi Girl and watched it religiously for my future apartment search. It is a variety show focusing on young women on a budget. It has segments about DIY projects, features women living in affordable housing, and sometimes entrepreneurs planning out their businesses. But the part I was most interested in was 上京ガール (Joukyou Girl), where the TV crew would tag along with young women moving to Tokyo from other parts of Japan and in search of their first apartment in the city.

I tried to remember as many key points and tips as I could from this show in hopes that it would help me find my own perfect place in Japan.

After landing in Tokyo, I was first housed in a monthly apartment and informed that I had to look for a place on my own soon after. With the help of my aunt, I went on my first property search (way before I started working for Real Estate Japan!). Even though I thought I already knew what to expect, going through everything on my own was different and introduced me to way more things than a TV show could.

Below, I’m going to go over eight features that are unique to apartments in Japan (or have a twist that you might not expect when coming from another country!).

#1 Lofts

Lofts are something that I already knew about (and of course, lofts are also a feature of apartments in many cities where space is at a premium). Since Japanese apartments are notoriously tiny, they’re made specifically for utilizing space. When you can’t expand horizontally, you opt to make things taller. That’s why lofts are so abundant.

Lofts in other countries, I presume come with actual stairs that are built in, leading to a second floor that isn’t completely separated from the first. Lofts in Japan, especially Tokyo, however, are connected by ladders that are sometimes detachable. This feature surprisingly comes in handy, particularly when you have to make space for furniture or when guests come over.

Loft space in studio apartments can range from somewhere between two tatami mats (畳) to seven depending on the size. A tatami mat is equal to about 1.53-square meters or 16.5-square feet.While most people choose to use this space as their ‘bedroom,’ others opt to use it as a storage space instead. That makes sense if you were scared of heights, I guess!

1K apartment, with a loft, currently available for rent in Katsushika Ward, Tokyo. Total monthly cost ¥54,950. This apartment is offered through the GaijinPot Housing Service. Please click on the photo for the full listing.

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Here’s the loft space in the apartment listing above. Would you sleep here or use it for storage?

#2 Maisonette

A maisonette (メゾネット) type property is basically a unit on the second floor with an entrance on the first. A maisonette can also describe a two-floor apartment unit where the bedroom is on the second floor and accessible by an interior stairway.

I personally do not see a lot of these on the market in Central Tokyo. But it is fairly common in more suburban areas like Setagaya or Nakano.

I know there are people who dislike having their bedroom visible right away when you open the front door, so a maisonette apartment would be ideal for them. It also offers peace of mind knowing your outside shoes are far from your actual living space.

Living in a maisonette might be kind of a bother if you come home tired from a long day’s work, though. It also makes carrying larger items or appliances difficult, but if you are all right with these points, then a maisonette type property might be for you!

An example of a maisonette-style apartment currently available for rent near Hamadayama Station on the Keiō Inokashira line in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. This property is offered through the GaijinPot Housing Service. Please click on the photo to see the full listing and to contact the Housing Service for a room view.

Interior stairs lead to the apartment in the property described above.

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#3 Appliances next to the entrance

Again, with the need to maximize space efficiency, there are properties designed specifically to cater to appliance size and where they’re meant to be placed.

I personally live in an apartment where the washing machine space is right next to the entrance. While I think this might not be a huge bother to some, it may be a concern to people who are particular with their hygiene. So that’s one thing to take note of!

In many 1K and 1R-layout studio apartments in Japan, the washing machine hook-up is right next to the front door. This is a 1K apartment currently for rent near Kasai Station on the Tozai line in Tokyo. This property is offered through the GaijinPot Housing Service. Please click on the photo for the full listing and to contact the Housing Service for a room view.

#4 Washing machine outside the front door or on the balcony

While the norm is to have your washing machine installed inside, smaller (and less expensive) properties will sometimes have designated washing machine spaces outside the room, whether it is on the balcony or right outside the front door.

While this might be a concern for people wanting to avoid theft (or getting wet during the rainy season while doing your laundry), if you think you can risk it, you can save a little on rent if you look for apartments with balcony or outside-the-front-door washing machine spaces.

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Example of a washing machine hook-up outside the actual apartment. This property is a spacious 24-sqm 1R apartment for rent near Kita Ayase Station on the Chiyoda line in Adachi Ward, Tokyo. Total monthly rent is ¥52,202 per month. Please click on the photo for the full listing and to contact the GaijinPot Housing Service for a room view.

#5 No pre-installed appliances

When viewing photos online or in person, you may be surprised to find that many apartments for rent in Japan don’t come with stoves, lights, or air conditioners. The reason for this is because sometimes tenants have specific preferences and prefer to purchase on their own.

When you are inquiring about or viewing an apartment, make sure to clarify with the property management whether the property has these the features and/or appliances you want pre-installed. Otherwise, you should budget for them in your move-in costs. In general, most rental properties in Tokyo tend to have air conditioning installed already.

Bathrooms in Japanese Apartments

I think it’s important for bathrooms to have their own section for discussion! Japanese people are particular about how they bathe, and it’s interesting for people coming over to know the features common to properties here. Below are a few that you should know!

#6 Toilets separated from the bathroom (bathtub/shower room)

This is the most common feature of Japanese bathrooms that many people may be surprised by. It’s standard for apartments in a certain rental price range in Japan to have the bathroom and toilet separated.

Example of a bathroom in a Japanese apartment.

Example of a toilet room (separated from the bathroom pictured above)

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If you think about it, it makes sense to have them apart. You don’t really want the space where you’re dirtiest to be right next to where you clean yourself. That’s why there are separate rooms for them! However, not all people are bothered by this.

In some budget apartments, the bathroom will be what is called a unit bath. A unit bath is a bathroom in which the entire room (tub, ceiling, walls and floor) is pre-fabricated and then installed as a unit in the apartment.

#7 There is (almost) always a bathtub

Japanese people like to take baths. Onsen (hot springs) are a big part of the culture, and people generally like to soak in the tub at night as quick relaxation after a long day’s work. That is why you’ll often see bathtubs crammed into the tiniest bathrooms.

Coming from a tropical country, I’ve always wondered why they don’t just make single shower units but that’s actually not true.

Newer buildings made specifically for young, single people at accessible price points have shower stalls installed instead of full bathrooms, as tenants have started to prioritize saving time and money over the luxury of soaking head to toe in a bath.

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Example of a Japanese apartment with a shower stall but no bathtub.

#8 “Balance kettle” bathtubs

This is a feature commonly found in older (Showa-era) houses or apartments. Basically, water is heated up and flows through a machine outside the bathtub. You can choose whether the water flows directly to the faucet or to your shower head. This is basically what we already have in modern bathrooms except in a completely separate mechanism (that isn’t hidden behind your bathroom wall, as in modern apartments).

While it might be confusing at first, properties with balance kettles typically go for lower than ones renovated bathrooms. If this is something you’re okay with, then it’s definitely something to consider. You’ll also get to experience ‘retro’ Japan!

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These are apartment features that I think are unique to Japan! I’m sure there are still other points that I missed, so please leave a comment below if there are other features worth pointing out!

Cindy works for theGaijinPot Housing Service, helping foreigners find their home in Japan. She relocated to Japan after graduating from De La Salle University in the Philippines. Read Cindy’s self-intro to find out what brought her here!

Lead photo: iStock


FAQs

What does an apartment look like in Japan? ›

So it's basically a one-bedroom apartment it's just a one-room apartment really. And it's you know

Do all Japanese apartments have bathtubs? ›

Bathtubs In Japanese Homes

The majority of Japanese homes and larger apartments have separate rooms for the toilet and bathtub, and only the room with the bathtub is called the bathroom.

Do some Japanese apartments not have showers? ›

Showers are taken in the bathtub in these bathrooms. This layout isn't common and is particularly uncommon in modern apartments and larger Japanese apartments. Some Japanese apartments do have the sink, shower, and bath all in the same space. It's normal for there not to be any windows in bathrooms in Japan.

Do all Japanese apartments have balconies? ›

Almost all Japanese apartments come with a balcony—yay! You might have noticed that your neighbors mainly use theirs for only one purpose though: drying their laundry and airing their futons. Your balcony can definitely turn into additional storage space for things like your luggage or other seldomly used items.

Do most apartments in Japan have air conditioning? ›

Most Japanese households do have air conditioning — about 90%, the same as the US — but it's used slightly differently. The most popular model in Japan is a “mini split” system of separate, ceiling-mounted units that are individually controlled.

What is a typical Japanese house like? ›

Minka, or traditional Japanese houses, are characterized by tatami mat flooring, sliding doors, and wooden engawa verandas. Another aspect that persists even in Western-style homes in Japan is the genkan, an entrance hall where people remove footwear.

Why don t Japanese use showers? ›

Showering differs from bathing in that you take a shower to wash yourself whereas bathing is supposed to relax you. Known for their punctuality, the Japanese prefer to relax and clean themselves well the night before so they can spend less time getting ready in the morning.

Why are Japanese apartments so small? ›

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.

Do Japanese take a bath everyday? ›

Many Japanese people take a bath more or less every day. In some parts of the world, people may refer to showering as “taking a bath,” but not in Japan. In Japan, simply showering does not count.

What is a 1K apartment in Japan? ›

LDK is an abbreviation frequently used in the world of Japanese real estate to describe apartments. It stands for Living, Dining and Kitchen area, and is preceeded by the number of rooms. Some examples are: 1K = one room apartment with kitchen. 1DK = one room apartment with dining and kitchen area.

Do apartments in Japan have bathrooms? ›

There are at most 2 or 3 condo-type buildings in Tokyo where 2 bathrooms are standard in all apartments, and these apartments are priced at the higher end of the market. In fact, 99.9% of current apartment listings in Tokyo's 23 wards have just one bathroom.

Do Japanese apartments have beds? ›

A typical Japanese apartment is often not equipped with a bed. This is because Japanese people tend to sleep on futons, so a bed is not always necessary. So if you are renting a room without a bed, you will need to either buy your own bed or get into the habit of sleeping on a futon.

Do most Japanese live in apartments? ›

While you will mainly see single-family homes in the more remote suburbs and in the countryside in Japan, in more central city areas the majority of people will live in apartments that are often not much larger than 60m2, or even smaller.

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