- Life & Culture
Japan Apartment Sizes: How Small are Japan’s Living Spaces?
In cities all over the world, city planners, landlords and governing bodies are under increasing scrutiny from the public regarding apartment and flat sizes, in relation to rising rent prices. Japan is no exception.
Despite cities like New York and London offering ‘studio’ apartments with floor plans consisting of a single box room, there has always been a fascination with Japan’s (particularly Tokyo’s) tiny living spaces. This interest is not without merit, some of Japan’s living spaces truly are tiny, as you’ll see further into this article. But, just as in any other country, the size of Japanese living spaces is a spectrum.
Just how wide and varied the spectrum is, is the question.
In this blog post, we take a closer look at Japan’s apartment sizes, the hierarchy of apartment layouts, why they are the size they are, rent prices, and more.
The average apartment size in Tokyo
In a study conducted by Japan’s House and Land Survey in 2019, the average floor plan of an apartment in Tokyo is approximately 65.9 square meters. Of the 65.9 sqms, only 41 sqm accommodates living space, such as a sleeping area, kitchen, and dining and leisure area.
There is a hierarchy of apartment layouts available in Japan, differing in size, but, arguably, not much, in some cases:
- R = a single room
- L = includes a living room
- D = includes a dining area
- K = includes a kitchen and cooking area
So, for example, you could see a rental listing for a ‘1R’, which would be an apartment with a one-room floor plan, or a ‘2DK’, which would be a two-bedroom apartment with a separate dining area and kitchen. The more letters you see on a rental listing, the more spacious and accommodating the apartment is likely to be.
The thing is that the amount of small-sized apartments in Japan greatly outnumber any other size.
Why are Japanese apartments so small?
There are multiple factors contributing towards Japan’s generally small apartment sizes; high rent prices, population density, Japan’s karōshi culture, and historical housing shortages. These factors cross over, influence each other, and are the causation and result of each other. Let’s try to break it down.
High rent prices
Japan’s rent prices are among the highest in the world, and this is mainly due to the high demand for housing in urban areas.
As a result, developers are forced to build smaller apartments to keep costs down, and landlords are more likely to rent out smaller units to increase their profitability. Additionally, Japanese renters are generally more willing to accept small apartments, due to the high cost of living in urban areas.
Japan is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and this has put a strain on the country’s housing infrastructure. With limited space to build, developers have resorted to building smaller apartments to accommodate the growing population. Additionally, smaller apartments allow for more people to live in a given area, which is essential in densely populated urban areas.
Japan’s karōshi culture
Japan has always been recognised for its high productivity, and the cultural importance placed on positive work ethic. Termed ‘karōshi culture’ (hustle culture) in modern times, Japan’s cities favour long working hours, and this has led to a culture of minimalism, where people prioritise work over material possessions.
This culture has led to a preference for small, functional apartments that are easy to maintain and require little upkeep. Additionally, small apartments are easier to clean and organise, making them more practical for individuals with busy schedules.
Historical housing shortages
Japan experienced a severe housing shortage after World War II, and this led to the construction of small, affordable housing units. While Japan’s economy has since recovered, the preference for small apartments has remained, and developers continue to build smaller units to meet the demand of the ever-growing urban population.
Smallest apartments in Tokyo
Japan, and Tokyo especially, is famous for its innovative response to public housing needs in the form of some of the smallest apartments known to the modern world.
Here are some examples of the smallest apartment types in Tokyo.
The popularity and widespread adoption of micro-apartments occurred in Tokyo to cater towards the younger generation. Many young adults flock to Tokyo for higher education, and job opportunities, keeping Tokyo’s population at a bustling level.
As the next generation of individuals begin carving out a future for themselves in one of the most expensive cities in the world, it’s no surprise that they’re a little short of cash. Micro apartments provide an affordable opportunity for young adults to find their feet in the neon city, whilst still being able to afford other essentials.
Most micro apartments are around 95 square feet, with enough space for a desk, tiny living area, equally small kitchen, bathroom, and elevated sleeping area.
A more controversial living option in Shibuya, Tokyo, are the infamous ‘coffin’ apartments. At a glance, these uniformly stacked apartments could easily be mistaken for lockers, or safe boxes, but, on closer inspection, you’ll see that people actually live inside them, and have been since the early 2010s.
In 2013, residents could expect to pay ¥55,000 (£400/$600 US dollars) a month to live in a space just over 8 feet (2.44 m) long, and around 4–5 feet tall. None of the apartments have windows, and tenants share communal amenities such as bathrooms and washing facilities.
The demographic of these geki-sema (extremely cramped) share houses predominantly consists of young professionals. For many young people attempting to make it in the capital, through one mode or another, coffin apartments are all they can afford. But, for a group of people who spend most of their time at work and outdoors, sacrificing living space might be worth it to stand a chance at competing in the neon city.
Now, a building you may well recognise! The funky Nakagin Capsule Tower was built in Ginza, Tokyo, in the 1970s, designed by Kisho Kurokawa as a contribution towards the Japanese Metabolism architectural movement.
Demolished in 2022, the building used to hold a total of 280 self-contained capsule apartments, split over two interconnected concrete towers. Each capsule measured 8.2 ft (2.5 m) by 13.1 ft (4.0 m), with a window and small office space and living room.
However, due to the maintenance neglect, the capsules deteriorated over time. Until, in 2007, 80% of Nakagin Capsule Tower’s residents approved the building’s demolition. Most voters cited poor living conditions, concerns over asbestos and concerns over earthquake resistance.
There were attempts to raise funds to save the iconic building, and campaigns to preserve it as a historic landmark, but with an estimated renovation cost of ¥6.2 million per capsule, the public’s efforts were unsuccessful.
While high rent prices, dense population, hustle culture, and housing shortages have contributed to the prevalence of small apartment sizes in Japan, it’s essential to note that there are also cultural and practical reasons why small apartments are preferred. Nevertheless, developers and policymakers need to address the issue of small apartment sizes to ensure that residents have access to safe and adequate housing.
Here at Interac, we arrange spacious and accommodating housing for our Assistant Language Teachers (ALTs), in their Japanese city of work. As moving to a new country can be daunting at first, we even help our ALTs connect their utilities, and other essential services, to make the transition to life in Japan as smooth and as pleasurable as possible.
If you’re thinking about becoming an Assistance Language Teacher (ALT) in Japan, get in touch today to find out more about housing opportunities across the country.