Cost of living in Japan: Housing
Friday, November 1, 2019
A breakdown of all the costs involved in renting an apartment in Japan.
Many people might be hesitant to Japan for two reasons: Low salaries, and expensive living conditions. Tokyo is often seen ranked among the most expensive places in the world, and in a recent ranking Osaka was named at number 5. However, if most people in Japan can regularly go about their daily lives, there must be a disconnect somewhere.
It’s not as expensive to live in Japan as one might think. Here is a breakdown of the true costs of living in Japan, featuring what’s likely to be your very first concern when deciding to move to the land of the rising sun.
The average rent of cities in Japan is about 36% of New York City's. WalletWyse’s 2019 worldwide rental price index, which features over 500 cities worldwide split into 49 rent tiers (the highest being San Francisco, USA at 3,500 USD, yikes) put Tokyo in the 27 tier, and Kyoto and Osaka in 35.
Tokyo is undoubtedly a thriving, convenient city, and you have to pay to live in that convenience. The rent in Tokyo for a one room apartment is almost double the national average. However, even in that price, there are fluctuations.
Average rent for a 2LDK in yen (increments of 10,000 yen) by prefecture:
(lowest) Saga/Gifu: 5.4
Check here for the average rent of each prefecture.
From a sample size of 90, we found the average apartment price in Tokyo prefecture based on distance from the train station.
Average price of 1 LDK apartment in Tokyo prefecture based on distance from train station
There's a 19% decrease between 5 and 10 minutes, a 59% between 10 and 20 minutes. A rather large difference! Keep in mind it's also going to be cheaper the farther you live from the busier districts, like Shinjuku and Shibuya. In Tokyo's busiest areas, the prices probably won't fluctuate as drastically.
Japan has an amazing public transportation system, so even if you live far from your workplace, it’s not an inconvenience. If you're farther away from your station, there will be busses available. Or, if you’re feeling so inclined, you can almost certainly bike.
To read more about the public transportation system and its origins, you can check out this IZANAU article about how it became so prevalent in Japan’s big cities.
Types of Housing
Unless you're living in the countryside, you'll probably either have a mansion (マンション), or an apartment (アパート). You'd prefer the mansion, you say? Who wouldn't! In Japan, mansions refer to apartment complexes of three or more floors, and are usually better built than apartments.
These apartments or mansions come with some specialized terms you might have heard before: 1LDK, 2DK, etc.
Here's a brief breakdown:
Number: How many bedrooms are in the apartment
L: Living room
D: Dining room
R: Room. If you buy a 1R, you get what's on the tin.
S: Storage room.
J: This stands for “Jo,” and references the average size of a tatami mat in Japan. (85.5cm by 179cm) This is usually how rooms are measured. So 6 Jo is the size of 6 tatami mats.
Heibei: 1 square meter. Recently this has become a popular way to describe rooms. 1 Jo is about 1.65 heibei.
There are a variety of sizes of apartments and houses available to due looser zoning laws than some countries, so you can find the situation that is most affordable for you.
You'll probably also have to pay key money and a security deposit, which can get pretty expensive (Can be upwards of 239,000 yen), an initial deposit (Can be upwards of 115,000 yen) depending on the cost of your rent, and you'll have to find a guarantor.
A guarantor in Japan is someone who can cover your rent if you fail to pay, and usually must be a Japanese person with a full-time job. However, there are guarantor companies for those who don't have any Japanese acquaintances, and some apartment buildings will even ask you to use those instead.
In addition Japanese apartments generally come unfurnished. So you'll have to think about basic costs of appliances like a refrigerator and washing machine and some furniture. New refrigerators can cost anywhere from 30,000 yen to 350,000 yen and new washing machines can start as low as 20,000 yen and go all the way up to 200,000 yen depending on what you're looking for. Since the turn over rate in Japan is high it is always good to look for second hand appliances through reliable resellers via Rakuten where, if you're lucky, you can purchase a refrigerator, television, microwave, and washing machine for 40,000 yen that come with warranties and include shipping! Or look through Mottainai or Sayonara Sale Facebook pages where people give away or sell all kinds of household items for extremely reasonable prices. These pages are regional so look for Mottainai [insert city name] or Sayonara Sale [insert city name] to find items closest to you. Cheap furniture can of course be bought at Ikea or the Japanese equivalent Nitori.
In Japan, it's not very common to live with roommates. Generally, people working your average 9-5 job can afford to live in an apartment by themselves. However, for those who need a slightly more affordable option, there are plenty of share houses around. Read this IZANAU article for a break down on share houses, their pros and cons, and what you can expect of the cost.
The prices of utilities in Japan are ranked at the ninth most expensive worldwide at 189.53 USD a month, but this will again vary by where you live, and how you live.
Here are some basic, average utility costs in Japan for those living alone. Keep in mind this will fluctuate depending on where you live, and of course increase with the number of people in your family.
Electricity: 5,392 yen
Gas: 3,080 yen
Water: 2,189 yen
Source: Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications
Just like anywhere else, if you plan your housing around your budget, even Tokyo can be a very easy place to live in. Location matters! Japan has an amazing public transportation system, study the area you want to be in and the train maps to see how you can get close for a lower price by living a station or two away.
About the Author
I've been in love with Japan since I was twelve years old. After studying at Kansei Gakuin University and teaching for three years under the protection of Mount Tate in scenic Toyama prefecture (where you'll find the most beautiful Starbucks in the world), I returned stateside to attend Kent State University to get my Masters in Japanese Translation. Now I've been given the wonderful opportunity to intern at IZANAU for what's sure to be a glorious summer.