If you’re coming to start your new life in Japan right out of college or in your early twenties, you might not have the luxury of being able to choose a mid-range apartment when you first arrive.
This is because budget apartments will most likely be the easiest and least expensive when you first get to Japan. But, if you’ve spent a year or two in Tokyo and you’re looking to move into something more comfortable, it’s good to know some of the key features in apartments that are one step above entry-level properties.
These recommendations will give you an insight for what to look out for when you’re ready to make the jump from a budget studio apartment to something with a little more space and comfort!
#1 Kitchen space
This criteria might only apply to those who enjoy spending a little time preparing their own meals, but the difference in a spacious kitchen and a cramped kitchen is night and day. Who knows, maybe the one thing preventing you from making your own healthy meals at home has been a cramped cooking space!
The above example might still seem like not a lot of space, but for a 1K apartment, this is a nice improvement. Studio apartments are often so cramped that there isn’t any space between the sink and the stove elements. Of course, the larger the apartment, the larger the kitchen in general. The extra shelves above the sink are a nice bonus.
For comparison, here is what a kitchen in a budget 1R typically looks like:
#2 2nd-floor or higher
There are a few reasons to stick with a first-floor apartment: they tend to be less expensive and they’re generally more accessible (no need to use stairs or elevators). But, those on the first floor will inevitably have to deal with things like street-level noise, increased chance of insects/pests, and perhaps less privacy from passers-by. Regarding less-privacy: it’s true that you can just close your windows and draw your blinds, but then you won’t have any natural light or airflow through your apartment. For these reasons, it’s generally a good idea to search for apartments on a higher floor for you own comfort and peace of mind.
The above example is also a pretty clear picture of the difference in natural lighting depending on which floor you live on.
#3 Double-paned windows
This is a difficult criteria to search by, but you might want to ask your real estate agent when you’re interested in a room viewing. In Japanese this is referred to as ペアガラス (peagarasu, lit. “pair glass”) which is part of the larger category of 省エネ窓 (shou ene mado, “energy saving window”). Newer units (2017 and later) tend to be constructed with these materials in mind, but not always. They offer renters with more efficient heat distribution and greater noise insulation in their apartments. This means you won’t lose excessive room heat through the window in winter, and that summer sun doesn’t turn your room into a greenhouse. This also means that you’ll be using your AC less, and saving a bit more on your electricity bill.
#4 Delivery box
Online shopping is becoming increasingly common in Tokyo, but there are times when you won’t be at home to accept a delivery (or maybe you are home, but in the shower or listening to music or otherwise unable to hear the doorbell ring). In such cases, the handy delivery box (seen above to the right of the picture) is a very welcome feature to have. Depending on the contents of your delivery (some items still require a signature), the delivery person can just leave your package inside the delivery box for you to receive at your leisure.
Essentially, this is a gate (or door, or even glass doors in some larger complexes) that has a mechanism that automatically locks after it is closed. This is a boost in security as the only people who can then enter the building to get to apartments are those that live in the complex.
Auto locks also generally come with a video intercom so that you can see the person dialing your number and decide whether to open the door. It is a great security feature to have, even in a country as safe as Japan.
Especially with the increase in companies exploring telework options, having an internet-ready apartment is a pretty big boost to livability. If your apartment comes with broadband internet, that’s one less utility bill to worry about (and also if your building isn’t wired for internet you’d have to wait for a technician to set it up).
If you look at the example above, at the bottom right corner of the picture you’ll see an outlet with an ethernet port and built-in wireless router.
#7 Dedicated garbage space
When you’re moving up to a more comfortable lifestyle, you’ll want to look for small perks like a dedicated garbage space (called a senyou-gomi-okiba or just gomi-okiba). You might think “I’ve always just placed my garbage on the street and never had a problem,” which if that’s the case then congratulations on your great luck. But having a dedicated garbage space means you won’t even have to worry about the garbage schedule, all you have to do is bring down your garbage (make sure it’s properly separated of course) and put it in the correct area at any time of day, not just on garbage day.
#8 Bicycle parking
Depending on your preferred method of transportation, this may or may not rank highly in your apartment search criteria priority. But, as a fairly recent convert to the convenience of bicycles in Tokyo, let me speak from experience in mentioning that having a bicycle is better than not having one. It makes running errands so much quicker, and will increase the shopping options you have nearby (you can go a lot farther in a 5 minute bike ride than you can in a 5 minute walk). It’s also a good way to get outside and stretch your legs a bit!
There are other things one might want to keep in mind when looking for a new apartment in Tokyo (city gas vs LP gas, distance to nearest station, can the apartment be utilized as a home office for telework, etc.), but these 8 items are good to keep in mind to start.
Lead photo: Tokyo, iStock