Features of Japanese apartments – what will surprise a foreigner

8 features of Japanese apartments that we did not expect to see (some things are good to learn from them)

The story of a girl who was looking for “that” apartment in Japan.

Cindy is now an employee of Real Estate Japan (Tokyo) and the GaijinPot Housing Service which helps foreigners find their new home in Japan. She moved to Japan right after graduating from De La Salle University in the Philippines and has experienced firsthand all the challenges people face when looking for an apartment in the Land of the Rising Sun. Below, Cindy shares her story of how she searched for her dream apartment and researched the peculiarities of Japanese apartments.

When I came to Japan, I dreamed (and still do!) of finding the perfect apartment. Right before I moved, I was addicted to the TV series “Shiawase! Bonbi Girl!” and looked out for every detail in it that would help me in my upcoming housing search.

“Shiawase! Bonbi Girl!” – is an entertaining series aimed at young girls who don’t have a lot of money. It has sections on DIY projects, as well as those about women living in affordable housing and, at times, entrepreneurs who are planning their own businesses. But I was most interested in 上京ガール – Joukyou Girl – where the crew accompanied girls who had just arrived in Tokyo from other prefectures in Japan in search of their first apartment. Of course, I tried to memorize as many key points and tips as I could in hopes that they would help me find my perfect Japanese nest.

After landing in Tokyo, they put me up in an apartment and then informed me that it was only for a month and I would soon have to look for a new place on my own. Not without my aunt’s help, I made my first attempt (long before I started working for Real Estate Japan, a real estate sales and leasing company). Even though I was sure I knew what to expect, going through everything on my own was an entirely different experience where I had to face much more discoveries and challenges than what was shown on the show.

Below I will tell you about 8 features that are peculiar to apartments in Japan. You may not be surprised by them, especially if you come from another country.

Lofts. Lots of Lofts.

Lofts are something I already knew about (of course lofts are a trend in many other cities and countries where every square meter counts). Since Japanese apartments are known to be very, very small, they are designed to maximize free space. When you cannot expand horizontally, there is only one thing left to do: make apartments taller. That’s why there are so many lofts now.

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I suppose lofts in other countries have built-in stairs leading to the second floor, which is not completely separated from the first floor. However, the second levels in Japan, especially in Tokyo, are connected by stairs that can be removed. Surprisingly, this is a useful feature, especially when you need to make room for furniture or guests.

The “loft” space in studio apartments is two to seven tatami (畳) in size. A tatami mat is about 1.53 square meters. Some (and most such people) use the second floor as a “bedroom,” while others use it as a place to store things. I think it makes sense if you are afraid of heights.

2. Maisonette

A maisonette (メゾネット) is basically an apartment on the second floor with an entrance on the ground floor. A maisonette is also called a duplex apartment with a bedroom on the second floor and accessed by an internal staircase.

I wouldn’t say there are many such options on the real estate market in Central Tokyo, but this type of housing is very common in suburban areas like Setagaya or Nakano.

I know some people don’t like having their bedroom visible as soon as the front door opens – for them, a maisonette would be perfect. It also adds +1 to peace of mind, because you’ll know that your outdoor shoes are far away from your actual living space.

However, living in a maisonette can be a problem if you come home tired after a long day at work. And, of course, it’s difficult to move large furniture or appliances in there. But if these points don’t bother you, a maisonette is your ideal option in Japan.

3. appliances are close to the entrance

Again, due to the need to maximize space efficiency, there are apartments that are specifically designed to accommodate certain furniture and appliances.

For example, I live in an apartment that has a designated space for a washing machine right by the entrance. I think some people will not be bothered by this feature, but at the same time it can be a real problem for those who are obsessed with their hygiene. So this is also something to pay attention to when choosing a place to live.

4. The washing machine is located on the balcony or behind the front door

For most apartments it is normal when the washing machine is installed inside the apartment. But it also happens (especially in small and inexpensive apartments) that the place for it is outside the living space – on the balcony or behind the front door.

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For those who are afraid of theft or do not want to get wet while doing laundry in the rainy season, this point can be a headache. And if you’re willing to take the risk, you can save a little money on rent.

5. The apartment is rented without appliances.

When you look at photos online or inspect apartments in person, you may be surprised by the fact that many apartments in Japan do not have an oven, light fixtures, or air conditioners. The reason: some renters have their own way of looking at things and prefer to buy appliances themselves.

When you are looking at an apartment, be sure to check with the administration to see if it has the appliances and appliances you need. If not, you have to put all of this in your move-in costs. As a rule, most rental properties in Tokyo already have air conditioning.

Bathrooms in Japanese apartments

I think bathrooms are a separate section for discussion! The Japanese pay special attention to the place where they wash, so it is not unreasonable to learn a little more details about these rooms as well. Below you will find a few of them.

6. Toilets are separated from the bathroom.

This is the most common feature of Japanese bathrooms, which may surprise many. In Japanese apartments with a certain rental price range, separating the bathroom and toilet is an unspoken standard.

If you think about it, it makes sense. You don’t want the place with the highest concentration of bacteria to be near where you wash, do you? However, this point does not bother everyone.

In some budget apartments, the bathroom will be what’s called a “block” bathtub. This is when the entire room (tub, ceiling, walls and floor) is assembled from prefabricated materials and then installed in the apartment as one unit.

7. Japanese apartments almost always have a bathtub.

The Japanese are very fond of baths. Onsen (so called hot springs) is an important part of the culture, so many Japanese like to soak in the bath to quickly relax after a long day of work. That’s why you’ll find bathtubs so often in even the smallest bathrooms.

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I come from a tropical country and always wondered why not have a separate shower stall. Turns out, there is such a thing. New homes and apartments specifically built for young, single people at affordable prices have shower stalls instead of fully equipped bathrooms – all because residents have become more focused on saving time and money rather than the luxury of bathing upside down in a tub.

8. Some bathrooms have boilers

This feature is usually found in old houses and apartments of the Shōwa era (1926-1989). The principle of the boiler is that the water is heated and runs through a machine outside the tub. And then you can choose where the water flows: directly into the faucet or into the shower head. The mechanism is similar to that found in modern bathrooms, with one exception: it’s not hidden behind the wall of your bathroom like in most apartments – it’s a separate device.

At first it can be confusing, but in fact, apartments with such boilers are usually cheaper than renovated bathrooms. If that suits you – don’t write off such options. Consider it a way to plunge into the atmosphere of retro Japan.

Features of Japanese home furnishings that are difficult for us to understand

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Every nation has its own ideas about how to organize a comfortable and cozy home. But the Japanese stand out from the crowd, they have managed not only to conquer the whole world with a passion for minimalism and rationality in the use of available goods, but also a special philosophy of life in the tiny apartment.

1. Measuring the area of an apartment

A tatami is a Japanese unit of measurement for the area of an apartment/room.

The numerical characteristic of the area of a Japanese home is traditionally not the more familiar square meters or feet, but tatami. And tatami (Jojo) – is not a measurement unit in the usual sense, and the mat (mat, mattress) has standard sizes 90×180 (1.62 square meters), although there are deviations in one direction or another.

Tatami is the traditional flooring in Japanese homes.

A reasonable question arises: “And how to determine the size of the room, if the mat does not fit? As it turns out, the answer is very simple. There is no such a room, because at the beginning of the project we put the size of the tatami and there are no half-size variants. So if the owner wants to cover the whole floor with mats of standard size, he can easily do it without any gaps and tucks.

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Interesting fact: In the technical documentation of the apartment area is also indicated in tatami.

2. Separation of space

Genkan is a hallway in Japanese homes and apartments.

For the Japanese it is very important to divide the dwelling into the inside of the house and what should be left outside. In other words, no person should go inside the house with outdoor shoes, but in most cases leaving sandals/sneakers, etc. outside the home is not an option. In order to separate the interior space, the Japanese have invented a special hallway – (genkan). It is usually a tiny space at the entrance, located at a level lower than the floor in the rest of the dwelling. In this way, the owners seek to emphasize that the genkan is a separate area.

In Japan, a careful delimitation of the home area and the street is welcomed, even if it is an apartment.

3. no central heating

The complete absence of radiators of the heating system is a distinctive feature of the Japanese home.

Looking at photos of Japanese apartments, it is always striking that there are no radiators. Many people think they have invented something special by installing them in the walls or floors, but this is not true. As it turns out, there is no concept of central heating, gas or hot water supply. The only exception is Hokkaido Prefecture, where harsh weather conditions prevail.

The Japanese heat their homes with the help of air conditioners or heat pumps.

The rest have to get by on their own, filling their homes with various heating equipment and items, as well as water heating equipment. Most often, the Japanese use air conditioners and convectors (electric, oil and kerosene), but there are also such “wild” ways for Russians as heating with gas installations in the form of cylinders attached to the facades of houses.

Individual gas equipment inspires particular horror in foreigners.| Photo: chiguxile.hatenablog.com .

Individual gas equipment inspires particular horror in foreigners.| Photo: chiguxile.hatenablog.com .

A number of outdoor cylinders have a truly intimidating effect on the uninitiated person, but this equipment is no more dangerous than the centralized gas supply, because personal installations are equipped with all the necessary security systems and “smart” technology. So the homeowner has only to make his schedule in the system, and she herself will turn off the gas, electricity or kerosene when everyone leaves the apartment, and an hour or two before the return of the owners home will turn on the heaters.

A table with a heated kotatsu comes in handy for organizing a meal, as well as for rest, and for work.

And this is how pets are kept warm in countries where there is no central heating, and where it is available.

And this is how pets are kept warm in countries where there is no central heating and where it is available.

During the off-season, the Japanese try to use less expensive ways to heat pets. It can be electric blankets, electric mats or a traditional kotatsu table, under the lid of the tabletop which heating system is built in, and a warm blanket is attached around it. This ingenious device has been used for centuries by Japanese families to warm themselves at the communal table on cold evenings. During warmer seasons, when it is possible to save on energy resources, the Japanese prefer to sleep in warm pajamas. So we can consider that this nation has become a trendsetter in the creation of warm underwear sets, especially popular among children and young people, because in most cases they depict their favorite anime or cartoon characters.

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4. saving space and resources

The Japanese are noble economists who prefer rationality and functionality to pomp and fashion. Not surprisingly, very little space is allocated for bathrooms and toilets in their apartments. Hence the maximum compactness of sanitary equipment, which in turn is equipped with a variety of “smart” technologies. Special attention deserves the arrangement of tiny toilets, where a “smart” toilet is installed, in which the cistern is installed a hand washbasin. Not only is it rational and convenient, because it is most correct to wash your hands in the toilet, so it also saves on water, because it does not go down the drain, and in the cistern.

Multifunctional toilet bowl - convenient, practical, economical.

Separate toilet circles in Japan – it is a universal equipment, which is equipped with a heated seat, controlled by remote control (not unimportant in unheated rooms). It also has built-in lighting (sometimes music), a motion sensor that allows you to raise and lower the lid of the toilet bowl automatically. Built-in systems allow you to control the pressure and water supply of the desired temperature for hygienic procedures, as well as managing the automatic flushing and deodorizing functions.

Thanks to such inventions, our lives have become easier.

Considering all of the above, it is not surprising that Japan is ahead of the world in the development of home appliances that have controllable autonomous heating functions. Thanks to Japanese inventors, we have automatic washing machines, dishwashers, underfloor heating systems, and much more, which greatly simplifies our everyday life and saves time, money, and nerve cells.

Japanese inventors, designers and engineers are concerned not only about improving the quality of life, they pay special attention to the comfort of those who travel by land. You can find out what they do to attract tourists on sightseeing trains here.

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