Thinking about moving to Japan? After booking your ticket, determining how you’ll make a living and packing to embark on a life-changing journey, you’ll have to tackle that less fun important question: where exactly will I live? The task of apartment hunting in Japan is daunting but with an understanding of what to look for, finding your home away from home will be a cinch.
Let’s start with the vocabulary necessary to know what you’re looking at when skimming apartment descriptions. K is used for kitchen and DK means there is a separate dining area and a kitchen. L is used for living, a room that is separate from the dining area and the bedroom. GH is for guest house, indicating they’re intended for temporary living. The numbers before the acronyms indicate the number of bedrooms the apartment will have. Almost all apartments include a bath. The toilet might be in its own room with the deep, Japanese style bath tub in a room completely tiled or molded of plastic so you can shower outside the tub before slipping in for a soak. If you’re teaching English in Japan through a school or program, you will likely be placed in or asked to pay rent for a 1K or a 1DK. A 1K is an apartment with a kitchen, most likely a bath and a single room to use as a bedroom and living room. 1DK indicates all of the above with an additional dining area. In the same token, a 2K is an apartment with two rooms, a bath and a kitchen.
In a situation where the ads mention furnishings included, this often translates to basic cookware and utensils, in addition to a futon. In most apartments, there will be a big closet you can fold up and put your futon into during the day. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a table or a couch that has been left behind by a previous occupant. Many modern apartments have air conditioning units that can cool your room. The air conditioning unit I had turned off after thirty minutes, so be careful when you go to sleep on summer nights. The stove you’ll be provided with is usually a two burner gas table that will sit on a counter. You might even have a washer in your apartment but a dryer is almost unheard of. Luckily, previous occupants tend to leave the clasps and rope they used to hang laundry out of their window with behind. Don’t leave your socks out on a windy day!
Price isn’t based entirely on size, even in the cities. The highest commodity is location, location, location! The closer you are to a train station, the higher your rent will be. As for size, a 1K apartment is usually around 20 square meters or 13 jo or tatami. A tatami is a reed mat that is measured around 1.8 meters by 90 centimeters. Not all tatami are created equal – newer apartments’ tatami mat sizes could be smaller than that of older apartments, meaning the size quoted in the ad might not match your expectations. Tatami in this case are used as a system of measurement; you won’t necessarily have tatami floors even if the size is quoted in tatami mats. To give you an idea of what’s a good tatami size, consider that a typical sitting room in an apartment is about 6 tatami, about 9 square meters, and is enough to fit in a television, a small table and a loveseat. While location is a key factor, you do need to keep an eye on size. As little as one or two tatami mats more could knock the price up by a hundred dollars.
Perhaps the most important thing to know is that a mansion is not a mansion. While it may be exciting at first glance to find a cheap mansion to rent, the reality is that you’re looking at an apartment in a concrete or metal-framed apartment house, not one of Oprah’s forgotten estates. Good luck and happy hunting!