Why are these apartments in Tokyo so “cheap”? — A brief primer on budget apartments in Japan

In today’s feature, we take a look at really “cheap” apartments that you can rent in the suburbs of Tokyo and briefly explain why they appear to offer such low rent.

In our property descriptions, we like to avoid using the word “cheap” to describe the apartments and houses shown on our site because the word suggests that they offer less than the value and quality you would expect out of one of the most important things about living anywhere: the place you call home.

But how can you explain apartment listings that really do appear to be “cheap”?! As in hundreds of dollars (tens of thousands of yen) less than the average listing price in the area.

Below we go over three properties as examples of certain features that can cause an apartment to be offered for less than the typical listing price in the area:

  • Unusual floor plan (non-rectangular room or room with angled layout)
  • Year built
  • Lack of a bathroom/shower facilities
  • Distance from station
  • Construction material

Now let’s take a look at the examples.

1R in Machida – ¥28,505 ($268 USD) Total Monthly Cost – Interesting Floor Plan

Total Monthly Cost:¥28,505 ($268 USD)

Total Estimated Move-In Fees: ¥61,505 ($579 USD) — No deposit, no key money, no agency fee

First up is this way below average rent 1R apartment for rent in Machida, 5-min walk from Tsurukawa Station on the Odakyu line, which is about a 36-min direct commute to Shinjuku Station.

This unit is offered through the GaijinPot Housing Service. This means:

  • No guarantor required
  • Bilingual support
  • No Japanese required
  • Utility set up assistance
  • Bilingual concierge service after move in
  • All payments via credit card and debit card (1-month security deposit is required for debit card payment)

Please visit the GaijinPot Housing Service contact page, to see how they can help you find your home in Japan.

In the meantime, let’s see why this apartment was chosen for this feature on “cheap” apartments…

This is a 2nd-floor 16.45 m² 1R studio apartment located in the suburban city of Machida, a popular commuter town for people working in Shinjuku and central Tokyo. This property has a small closet, A/C, unit bath with a shower, and dedicated indoor space for a washing machine. Even for this location and size, the Total Monthly Cost seems a bit low. One reason may be the floor plan:

Floor plan of 1R for rent in Machida. Please click on the image for the full listing! Image: Hiro Corporation

This means the living space is shaped a bit like a zig zag (or some sort of geometry puzzle where you have to solve for the sum of the internal angles). But if you can figure out how to lay out your furniture and don’t mind a small space, this property is certainly well below the average rent in Machida.

1R for rent in Machida. Please click on the image for the full listing! Image: Hiro Corporation

Average rent for a 1R, for 5 most popular western Tokyo cities (by number of foreign residents)

City or Station Average Rent
for 1R in JPY
% Difference in Rent v.
Shinjuku Station
Approx Distance
to Shinjuku Station in km
Hachioji 37,400 -63.8% 39.4
Machida 40,900 -60.4% 40.3
Kodaira 40,800 -60.5% 28.0
Fuchu 46,900 -54.6% 24.6
Nishi Tokyo 44,400 -57.1% 19.2
JR Shinjuku Station 103,400

2DK Apartment in Funabashi – No bathtub or shower and Year Built

Total Monthly Cost:¥44,000 ($414 USD)

Total Estimated Move-In Fees: ¥54,000 ($508 USD) — No key money, no deposit, no agency fee

Next up is this spacious 45.36 m² 2DK apartment for rent in Funabashi, 3-min walk from Futawamukodai Station on the Shin-Keisei line, about a one-hour commute to Tokyo Station. It is also just 8-min direct to Kita Narashina Station, which is an interchange station that will give you access to the Toyo Rapid line.

This property is spacious for a 2DK and is certainly much more space than you would be able to rent in Tokyo. It has a huge amount of storage space and balcony access from both bathrooms. It’s also in a convenient location in Chiba, with a convenience store, supermarket, (fast food) restaurants, and even a karaoke joint nearby.

Why was this apartment chosen for our feature? Let’s check out the floor plan:

Please excuse the kanji, which have not been translated into English, but if you look long enough, you’ll notice that something seems to be missing. That would be a bathroom. By that we mean a room with either a bath tub, shower, or both.

That is correct: if you rent this apartment, you will have to make do without a bathroom.

In the neighborhood where I used to live (in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo), I used to see people walking to the public bath in the evening. These facilities charge a few hundred yen for use of a steaming hot communal bath, so this may be an option near this property. Or you may have to sign up for a gym membership and use the shower after you work out. Sponge bathing at the sink is also always an option!

This type of property (which lacks a bathroom) is rare among recently constructed buildings but you will occasionally see it in older properties (this particular building was built in 1962, and may have been earthquake retrofitted since then). In general, properties built after the 1981 earthquake building codes were implemented tend to be more desirable (because the building code was made more stringent that year, following the 1978 Miyagi quake). Older properties that have not been renovated or properties built before 1981 that have not been earthquake retrofitted tend to have lower average rents.

For the full listing, including photos, please see the property detail page here: 2DK apartment for rent in Funabashi.

Furnished 1K Apartment in Hachioji – Room sharing up to 2 people OK – A bit far from the station

Total Monthly Cost:¥42,550 ($400 USD)

Total Estimated Move-In Fees: ¥42,550 ($400 USD) — No key money, no deposit, no agency fee

1K apartment for rent in Hachioji. Room sharing (up to two people) ok! Please click on the photo for the full listing and to get in touch with the agent. Image: Sumaino Seika

Next up in today’s feature is this furnished 20.28 m² 1K apartment for rent near Nishi Hachioji Station on the JR Chuo line.

From Nishi Hachioji, it is about a 50-minute direct ride to Shinjuku Station, but one thing to keep in mind when you are reading property listings is the distance from the property to the station. In this case, the description reads: “7 min. walk to めじろ台一丁目 bus stop, then 12 min. by bus to Nishi Hachioji Station”. This means that you have to add 19-minutes plus the time you are waiting for the bus onto your commute time. Your total commute time (just to Shinjuku) could realistically top out over an hour and a half, each way.

Construction Material

Another reason a property may be listed for less than the average rent in the area is the construction material.

In terms of earthquake resistance, steel-reinforced concrete (SRC) buildings are the most resistant, followed by reinforced concrete (RC), then wood construction.

“Manshon” (マンション) (modern condominium buildings) in Japan are constructed of SRC, RC, or steel frame. “Apato” (アパート), however, are generally two-story multi-unit residential buildings that are constructed of wood or light-gauge steel (as in the example of the 1K apartment above in Hachioji).

Apato building constructed of light-gauge steel. Photo: Sumaino Seika

Steel-reinforced and reinforced concrete buildings also offer superior insulation against heat and cold and noise. Wooden and light-gauge steel buildings rate lower on these points.

These factors are really worth considering when you are choosing a property! You may think that you are “saving” ¥10,000 a month by choosing a less expensive property but end up paying the equivalent amount in your electricity bill in the winter.

Noise can also lower your quality of life, and once you move into an apartment, it is very costly time-wise and financially to move again. For more on what it’s like to deal with noisy neighbors, please see: How I dealt with my noisy neighbors in Japan (Kind of)

In conclusion, there are many, many factors that go into how rent for an apartment is set, but the five above are some of the main reasons that an apartment’s listed rent can appear to be “cheap” when compared to other properties in the neighborhood.

When you’re looking at apartment listings, pay attention to the details to try to avoid as many surprises as possible. And if you have any questions, your best bet is to ask your agent for help. They are there to help you find the apartment that’s right for you; and that apartment may not be the one that has the lowest monthly rent.

You may also be interested in:

How to rent an apartment in Japan as a foreigner

How to rent an apartment in Japan from overseas

What documents do you need to rent an apartment in Japan?

Translation of Japanese apartment lease application

How much you should budget for move-in costs to rent an apartment in Japan?

What Japanese real estate agents want foreigners to know about renting an apartment in Japan

Average rent in Tokyo

Japanese Apartment Layout Terms

Lead photo: iStock