Japanese Apartment Kitchens Explained

Even if you’ve been browsing apartment listings for a few weeks, you might not be prepared for what a Japanese apartment kitchen really comprises.

While the essence of the kitchen is practically the same as what you might be used to at home with heating elements, a sink, counter space, etc.; but the arrangement or space (more appropriately, the lack thereof) can take some time to get used to. Here’s some pointers to help you recognize what the deal is with Japanese apartment kitchens so you don’t have to make the same mistakes we did when moving to Japan!

It also might be a good idea to read through our essential kitchen and cooking words to familiarize yourself with some Japanese lingo!

Size isn’t everything

Kitchen size tends to be the characteristic that immediately catches apartment renters’ attention. Depending on where you have lived and the types of apartments you have rented, a Japanese apartment can catch you off guard. Space definitely commands a premium price in the dense urban metropolis of Tokyo. For some background info to help you gauge just what we’re talking about:

  • US typical studio apartment size = 46 sq m
  • Japan typical studio apartment size = 20 sq m

That’s less than half the size! One place in the apartment that can be compacted to create more “usable” space is the kitchen. It’s not uncommon to find a “mini-kitchen” style setup in smaller apartments.

Typical “mini-kitchen” in a studio 1R apartment in Japan. Photo: Real Estate Japan

Naturally, every aspect of a Japanese apartment will be smaller with dimensions like this. If you’re a seasoned home cook who likes to have counter space and work with multiple heating elements, a studio apartment in Japan is going to be a very frustrating experience. Get used to utilizing shelves and other space-saving tools if you want to make the most of a mini-kitchen. Read our tips on organizing a Japanese kitchen here! Another tip from those who have had to make due with a mini-kitchen in Japan is to head to your local 100 yen store to find all sorts of organizers for keeping your small space neat and tidy. Take a look at examples in our own staff member’s trip to a 100 yen store and see what she picked up!

My kingdom for another heating element!

When you’re browsing studio apartments in Japan you might notice that quite a number of these kitchens only have 1 heating element in the kitchen. Chances are that if you’re browsing studio apartments you’re a single apartment hunter, not a family of four, so a single heating element isn’t going to be a huge inconvenience.

It’s not uncommon to find studio apartments with just one heating element like this in the kitchen. Also note the lack of counter space – something that many foreigners in Japan have come to terms with regarding standard studio apartments here. Photo: Real Estate Japan

Although you might not be able to feed a baseball team with just one burner, most simple recipes can be adapted to work in one pan or pot. If you practice sticking to just one burner before moving to Japan you might have a leg up on making your adjustment period smoother!

If creating culinary experiences at home is a dealbreaker for you, chances are you’re going to want to look at larger layouts like 1DK and 1LDK apartments for a more full-featured kitchen area.

Some studio apartments do have compact stoves with 2 heating elements, like the one pictured above. Photo: Real Estate Japan

Heating elements are not all made the same

Most newer apartments come equipped with some form of stovetop, but the exact method in which heat is generated can differ. You can find either a gas stove, an electric stove, or an induction heating (IH) stove. Here’s a basic breakdown of the pros/cons of these heating elements.

Pros Cons
Gas stove
  • Not limited to specific types of cookware
  • Not affected by power outages
  • More difficult to clean
Electric stove
  • Not limited to specific types of cookware
  • If element is covered with glass, can be easy to clean
  • No open flame
  • Affected by power outages
IH stove
  • Easy to clean
  • No open flame
  • Limited to IH only cookware
  • Affected by power outages
  • Only able to heat the part of the cookware in contact with the stovetop

A flat cooktop like this is generally an indication of an IH stove. Although you can find electric stoves with flat glass tops as well – make sure you confirm your kitchen stove type with your agent just so you’re prepared when you move! Photo: Real Estate Japan

An example of a more modern gas stove. This unit features two burners and a small oven. It’s more likely to find a stove with features like this in a larger apartment. Photo: Real Estate Japan

Even with these differences, people can make a wide variety of delicious dishes on all of these types of heating elements. In general, it’s good to be aware of these different kitchen types (especially IH stoves, since those require specific cookware).

An empty kitchen?

If you’re browsing apartment listings, there’s a chance you might see a photo of a kitchen with no stovetop in it whatsoever. Some landlords in Japan prefer not to deal with maintenance and upkeep for kitchen appliances, and thusly it falls on the renter to provide their own stove. This usually means the apartment will be slightly cheaper than similar counterparts including a stove.

It’s not uncommon to find apartments that are not equipped with a stove. In the example above, the lower counter to the right of the sink is where you can fit a stove. Photo: Real Estate Japan

You can purchase a stove at most major appliance stores (Bic Camera, Yodobashi Camera) and even online through retailers like Amazon and Rakuten. There are some things you will absolutely need to double, triple check to make sure your new appliance can be used in your apartment:

To the right of the sink you’ll see a typical gas burner appliance installed in a kitchen. Photo: Real Estate Japan

You can also get IH stovetops in this case as well if that’s more your speed. In general, using an IH stovetop means you won’t have to worry about hooking up your stove to the gas so if you’re planning on moving you can have more flexibility (not locked into city gas or LP gas). Most likely, however, you’re going to find an apartment first and then sell or change your stovetop to fit that apartment, rather than the other way around.

Refrigerator

Another appliance you might be surprised to find missing in your rental apartment is a refrigerator. In some countries it’s common for landlords to include refrigerators or other large appliances in rental units. In Japan it’s a bit of a mixed bag. You might find mini-fridges included in budge apartments, which is a nice bonus for those only planning on staying in Japan for a year or so. But chances are that a rental unit will not include a refrigerator in the kitchen. Always double-check with your agent!

Wall or no wall?

The classic start apartment in Japan is a 1R layout, which is basically a studio apartment where there is no wall between where you cook, eat, hang out, and sleep. This can lead to a cluttered living/cooking space, not to mention kitchen smells hovering about your entire living space.

If this is a concern, you may want to opt for a 1K layout, instead. In the abbreviation 1K, K stands for “kitchen”. Basically, this is a one room studio apartment with a kitchen that is usually separated from the other room by a wall.

For a detailed explanation of the differences between 1R, 1K, and 1LDK apartments please see this article. 1R, 1K, 1DK, and 1LDK: What’s the difference and which should I rent?

Traditional Japanese kitchens

You will almost certainly never see a traditional Japanese hearth (囲炉裏、いろり) in an apartment. But seeing as we’re on the topic of explaining Japanese kitchens, we thought it’d be neat to show off what a traditional Japanese kitchen can look like.

A type of traditional Japanese hearth. Photo: Real Estate Japan

This fire pit was used to heat the house, boil water, cook, and can also provide heat in damp/cold days to dry clothes.

Example kitchens and listings

In order to get familiar with what kinds of kitchens you’ll see at different price points, here’s a few examples that we think will give you a good idea of what to expect. There isn’t any set standard linking apartment layout or size to kitchen type though, so it is possible to find spacious 1LDK apartments with small kitchens.

1K apartment for rent in Yokohama City, Kanagawa – ¥53,000

Photo: Real Estate Japan

Photo: Real Estate Japan

At the budget end of apartments you’ll most likely encounter single heating element mini-kitchens. Definitely enough for a single resident preparing simple dishes, but the lack of space can be a little frustrating for those who like to do meal prep or for couples. Practically all 1R apartments, and some 1K/1DK apartments, will have a small kitchen with just one heating element.

1DK apartment for rent in Taito Ward, Tokyo – ¥94,000/mo

Photo: Real Estate Japan

Photo: Real Estate Japan

This unit built in 2018 has a more modern look and feel. It’s a little more common to find multiple heating element stoves in 1K and 1DK apartments, but there are larger apartments that still come equipped with just one heating element. Note that there is still a lack of dedicated kitchen counter space. In most cases, renters will buy a cutting board that extends over the sink for usable counter space.

1LDK apartment for rent in Chofu City, Tokyo – ¥153,625

Photo: Real Estate Japan

Photo: Real Estate Japan

A 1LDK apartment should be spacious enough for multiple heating elements and counter space. This should give you plenty of room for preparing meals and storing other appliances (rice cooker, toaster overs, juicers, etc.). A kitchen of this size can also be comfortably shared by a couple, making evenings in that much more cozy and relaxing.


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