Living in Japan

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Rented My First Apartment in Japan

When you are looking for an apartment in Japan and only focus on the rent, you may overlook some things that can really improve your quality of life.

Here is some advice from our staff writers and a few things that happened to them when they were looking for their first apartment in Japan.

#1 Living near a local station means a longer commute time

Platform at Nogata Station, a local station on the Seibu Shinjuku line. Photo: Wikimedia

When I moved into my first place in Japan, I picked it based on two things: the rent and total one-way commute time to my job, which I figured to be about an hour. Or so I thought.

My apartment was about a 15 minute walk from Nogata, a local station on the Seibu-Shinjuku line, and my commute involved transferring at the terminal station (Seibu Shinjuku) to the Yamanote line.

What I failed to account for was that there are fewer trains that stop at local stations, especially later at night, when I was coming home from work. Waiting for a local train in Shinjuku or missing a train at Nogata and having to wait for the next one would add at least ten minutes to my total travel time. Ten minutes may not sound like much, but it added up over the two years I was living there.

So my advice here is to remember to calculate your true commute time from your apartment. Apartments near local stations tend to be cheaper than ones near express stops for a reason (they’re less convenient).

#2 Check the neighborhood, not just the building

Check the neighborhood, not just the building when you are deciding where to live. A construction site nearby may mean that you will have to live with construction noise for some time.

In my first apartment, I lived on the sixth floor in an eight-story building, on a fairly big street with traffic going in both directions.

When the windows were closed, I couldn’t hear the traffic at all. Street noise wasn’t really an issue, except for when it was.

There happened to be a motorcycle gang (bosozoku) that made it a habit to ride through the neighborhood at 2AM several nights a week. I don’t think there was anyone in the building or on the street who wasn’t woken up by it. It was intrusive and disturbing to say the least. This was many years ago, and motorcycle gangs are not that common in Japan now, so this is unlikely to be something you’ll have to deal with.

Anyway, I’m not sure there’s any way I could have checked to see if there would be a motorcycle gang racing by my building twice a week when I was viewing the apartment.

But here are some things that you can and should check for:

  • Are there any construction sites nearby? If so, be prepared to deal with construction noise.
  • Is the building located on a big street or near  big street? If street noise doesn’t bother you, then no worries here.
  • Are the building’s common areas (hallways, bicycle parking areas) well maintained?
  • Where is the closest supermarket and conbini?
  • Is there a branch of your bank nearby?
  • Is there a coin laundry nearby? In case you need to machine dry your clothes.
  • What other amenities (parks, sports club) are there nearby that you are likely to use?

#3 Delivery storage lockers are a great amenity

If you order a lot of things online and don’t want to miss a delivery, it’s convenient to have a package delivery locker unit in your building. Older and smaller buildings will not tend to have this amenity, but it is worth it to add it to your apartment search criteria especially if you work late or order a lot of things to be delivered.

Package delivery storage boxes are a great amenity to have in an apartment building. If you aren’t home, the delivery person will leave your package in a locker and leave the access code in your mail box. Never miss a package again!

#4 It really helps to have a garbage room in your building

Japan has some pretty detailed rules for separating garbage and when you can dispose of certain types of garbage.

A poster explaining how to separate garbage and which days of the week you can dispose of different types of garbage. Garbage collection days vary by the neighborhood you live in, but you usually have to have your garbage placed curbside by around 8AM to 8:30AM on the designated day. This poster is for Kawasaki City. Your building manager will usually display a poster like this one in the lobby of your building and fill in the days of the week (in the white circles or squares). City ward offices usually produce English versions of posters like the one above. You can also find this information on the website of your city ward office.

I never had any problems understanding how to separate my garbage.

My problem was remembering to take the garbage out on time.

In my first apartment, the garbage truck usually came around 9AM to 9:30AM. Because I didn’t start work until the afternoon and worked until 9PM, there was no reason for me to be awake by 8:30AM, which was when the helpful poster told me to have my garbage ready by.

An organized person would remember to take their garbage out the night before. This was not me. So there were a lot times when I missed garbage day altogether because I didn’t wake up in time. The bag would sit in my kitchen for a few more days. It was not a big deal, just a little annoying and honestly, a little smelly in the summer time.

A few years later, I moved. I didn’t specifically look for a building with a garbage room, but it happened to have one, and I realized how convenient it was not to have to keep track of garbage days. I could just take out the trash whenever I wanted. So this is something I would recommend when you are comparing apartments.

A garbage room or disposal area in the building is a great amenity to have because of the strict rules for disposing of different kinds of garbage.

 #5 Decide how close you want your toilet to be to your shower

In many Japanese apartments, the bathroom is a single pre-fabricated unit that contains the bathtub/shower, sink and toilet in one room.

This is an example of a unit bath where the bathtub/shower, sink, and toilet are all in one room.

Apartments where the toilet is located in a separate room are considered more desirable. If this is something that is important to you, then be sure to make it part of your search criteria.

A separated toilet unit is considered more desirable and is not always a given in studio (1K or 1R) apartments.

You may also be interested in: The other hidden costs of renting an apartment in Japan