Guide to Living in a Social Apartment in Tokyo
By Jami Chen | November 24th, 2021
According to Netflix, the reality show Terrace House was ranked in the top 5 most viewed reality shows in Japan. Don't we all enjoy being hooked on the dramatic love triangles and the cliché little fights? BUT, in reality, living in a social apartment is actually more wholesome and skill-building than that, plus you don’t get a “no-script and just guidelines” regarding how to live in one. Statistics show that the Terrace House effect has encouraged the housing market in Japan to open a new variety of living options, especially pursuing to be internationally amiable. As a result, social apartment/share houses in Tokyo not only became inspiring among young people, but also popular among international residents.
This guide introduces a choice of lifestyle that provides a budget-friendly, welcoming, and social networking environment that is suitable for foreigners and international students living in Japan. Maybe you want to socialize with other people from different backgrounds but don’t have enough time or the local language skills to socialize outside of work or school. Are you at a minimum or zero Japanese skills? No worries. In addition, this page will introduce to you popular English social apartment websites that are welcoming and answer all your questions, including housing rent, household policy, safety concerns, locations, household utility, provided services, privacy questions... etc.
This article is a part of our extensive series on Living in Japan and Learning Japanese.
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What is a share house/ social apartment?
As the name itself suggests, a social apartment is a type of residence that gives you a chance to experience living with other people in a rental space (except for your own room). However, don’t be intimidated by the concept of sharing a house with strangers, you get the opportunity to be in contact with diverse life experiences, learn Japanese or other cultures and languages, benefit from saving money, and enjoy a beautifully designed space.
At what age can I live in a social apartment?
As long as you are at the legal age to sign a contract in your own country, usually 18, you can reserve a place immediately (under 20 or 18 may require a written consent with your legal guardians depending on the house owner). Though some houses do have an age range limit from legal age up to late thirties, it depends on the house. For the most part, if you’re over 18, you’re unlikely to have any real issues.
What kind of amenities are there in a social apartment?
Share houses and social apartments in Tokyo are usually furnished and equipped with basic appliances such as air conditioning, washing machines, fridges, microwaves, wifi routers,...etc. Moreover, daily commodities such as garbage bins, garbage bags, toilet paper, laundry, and dish detergent, and kitchen utensils are provided and replaced regularly. Most private rooms come with at least a bed, desk, chair, and air conditioning.
Each house has its own unique features in the common area and room style. The fun part of picking a social apartment is finding an interior design that suits you without actually having to shop for decorations and pay for them. In addition, some houses provide empty dormitories with just a bed, so if you already have some furniture with you and are looking for a wallet-friendly place to stay and give you the chance to engage with other people outside of your own social circle, a social apartment can provide that too!
Why should you choose a social apartment over a regular apartment?
You get to socialize AND save money
This one is in the name - social apartment with an emphasis on the social part. After living through a pandemic, a lot of us became hikikomori (shut-ins), right? For all share houses, common areas are available 24 hours. With the 24 hours available shared space, living in a group setting can be great for making sure that you’re communicating with other people face to face regularly, engaging in activities (like games or binging Terrace House if you’re like me), and generally having people to talk to on those days you need to not be alone. To improve your communication with the locals, learning some basic Japanese sentences, vocabularies, or trending slangs not only helps you to connect with them but understands their culture.
In addition to the social and living advantages a share house brings, economic benefits are obvious for a few reasons. In Japan, unlike a guest house where people usually stay daily or traditional apartment rental that binds you in a two-years contract, residents in a social apartment are relatively more flexible about the stay duration. Secondly, it reduces the set up cost, key money, and housing agency fee. Thirdly, most of the houses are once-off contracts with English guidance. Other financial questions regarding rent and utility fee are shown in subtitle “Is it really cheaper than living alone in an ordinary apartment?''
There are A LOT OF facilities and activities
Just as welcoming any other house types, share houses in Tokyo aim to create a homey ambiance with cozy design and functional equipment such as a large TV, internet, soft cushion and sofa, compatible, and kitchen supplies. Majority of the houses have shared shower rooms and toilet facilities. Most websites provided are in English, have more than 15% of international residence ratio, and offer English speaking guidance. In addition, their search engines allow you to choose the most suitable house by location (details such as what is around the house, how far it is from the station, or what kind of attraction spots are near me are listed on their websites), budget range, and duration of stay.
Some houses not only provide events to create new opportunities to interact with others, but also host activities of various traditional Japanese cultures that allow participants to enjoy the true 日本的 (Nihonnteki/Japanese style)!
Apart from being international, many houses are dedicated to having a more multifunctional space with smart-designs and full of appliances in the shared office, roof top, open kitchen with bar tables, laundry services, game rooms, soundproof theaters...etc. To enhance the tenants' living conditions, a lot of social apartments hire management staff to help with the maintenance, including cleaning the shared space, washing bed sheets, fixing broken facilities, handling commodities like toilet paper and hand soap in the common area, but washing dishes is excluded.
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But living in a social apartment is not without a few drawbacks…
You may find sharing spaces with other people uncomfortable, and that is probably the major drawback of people who live in a social apartment. That is why researching the most suitable house for you is important. But, don’t worry, the next section will take you to explore and compare diverse house types to find your match!
Generally, inhabitants of social apartments don’t mind having intensive daily interaction in their free time at their own house. You will, however, meet lots of different kinds of people who maybe can be a little fussy about cleaning or being left alone. Sharing a common living room, kitchen, and even bathroom (some houses provide private bathrooms too) is not a problem for everyone but, again, some people might be very vocal about how things should be maintained. Make sure to be ready and flexible for that before considering moving into one!
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind before you make the move into a social apartment.
- There might be a little less privacy than you’re used to: People who are uncomfortable with a fixed social space should be careful because you must be ready for a reduction of privacy when you are not in your own room. Questions regarding privacy can be found in section“ Is privacy a problem if you live in a social apartment?”
- People tend to come and go: Housemates may change regularly, and you may need to get familiar with a new housemate all over again. (But you’ll exchange LINE details early so you can stay in touch with all your new friends!)
- You won’t be able to add your own flavor to shared spaces: In other words, all furnished houses forbid redecorations.
- You’re going to have to be hyper-aware of noise: Be aware that noises may transcend through walls, it is possible to find yourself constantly asking people in the common areas to keep down their voices. If you lived in Japan, you would have noticed that the streets are pretty quiet and being considerate of those around you - especially in terms of noise - is expected.
- You might not get what you want exactly when you want it: You may need to schedule time for laundry, shower, and cooking because, unlike living by yourself, other people have to use those facilities too.
- There are rules when it comes to inviting friends over: You’ll have to check the rules about inviting friends over, or staying overnight. You or your partner might be better off finding a nice hotel or love hotel if you’re planning a romantic night in. Check out our Ultimate Guide to Love Hotels in Tokyo here!
Although the majority of the houses may not address the above mentioned cons specifically, and conditions vary from apartment to apartment, it is important to do your research and make sure that you’re on board with all the rules before making a decision.
How and where can I find a suitable social apartment for me?
To find a suitable share house for yourself, the first step is to know your budget. In a social apartment, a single room, bed-included dormitory is at least 20,000 yen. So… for a regular or fancier room, at least a 30,000 yen or higher fund is required. But don’t worry, all of them provide discounts for a long-term stay plan, and for some houses you can invite others in to share the rent.
If you consider the setting cost of living in an ordinary apartment, it seems like a reasonable price, no? Plus, unlike usual apartments, your rent rises if you live closer to a station. Almost all share houses agencies provide properties near a station. In fact, it is one of their selling points. The provided links below are all the most foreigners-friendly, modern fitting, and welcoming social apartments one can find in Tokyo!
Visit their pages to apply!
If you are in the market for a higher quality room with a few more modern conveniences, the price will likely be more expensive, depending on the size and style. However, the cheaper ones that cost below 40,000 yen (average price) still guarantee you a complete housing environment and everyday commodities, you just have to move in with your personal use items such as toothbrushes, books, clothes, kata-age potato chips...etc.
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What do you need to know before moving into a social apartment?
The rules of the house
The house rules vary depending on your choice. Generally, you will learn more about the details once you make a reservation, and the house owner will list out everything you need to know before moving in. For a house where the company doesn’t provide the maintenance group, dwellers are the ones who set rules. Including trash recycling, purchasing common consumable goods, designated areas for smoking, clean-up rotation, and so on. There’s no curfew for every share house, but respecting your housemates’ sleep quality when you come home late should be an expected courtesy.
For the ones with provided cleaning crew, taking care of your own private space and preventing disarray in the public area should be kept in mind. Some houses allow you to invite friends over but no overnight stay, while others have different rules for non-dweller sleepover, again, determined by each property. Once you reserve a house, you are unable to change from one room to the other, but some houses provide a pre-reservation system that allows you to move to a new room in the house without extra cost as long as the one you set your eyes on is available, although you may need to discuss the details when signing up a contract. Almost every house permits overseas reservation and as soon as you are available, you can move in anytime. The best part, some social apartments provide free stay for you to test the waters, and every house provides a pre-stay house guide tour. It is recommended that you visit the house first to weigh the pros and cons to help you find the room and atmosphere that suits you best.
Moving out before contract day
If you want to move out before the contracted day, at least one month in advance notice is required. The majority of the houses provide short-term (days, weeks, and months) stays, so if you are just in for the experience, that is no problem at all. However, there is a chance that you may not get a full-refund after the reservation is locked in. You should absolutely remember to communicate with the company or the house regarding the inquiries on early move-out and refund before a contract. everything is alright.
Can I move in with a partner, my plants, and my pet?
Unfortunately, moving in with a partner (some do allow 2 people sharing one room, but both need contracts), a pet (due to allergies-related issues), or your plants are not typically acceptable. Only a small number of houses allow these options as an effort for ultimate and safe social surroundings. Usually, you are not allowed to move in with large-sized furniture such as a sofa, dresser, or a study/work desk because all of the houses have provided them in the private room or common spaces. But, some houses and dormitories do accept such a request.
Is it really cheaper than living alone in an ordinary apartment?
One of the most frequently asked questions of a share house comes down to the actual financial benefit it brings. Here are some reasons how we can actually save money from living in a share house
From my own experience and a few international friends of mine, oftentimes, regular apartments charge higher fees for foreigners living in Japan. For example, doubled deposit fee, or complicated procedures such as requiring a local guarantor or back-and-forth contract signing process which adds up the cost and challenge. It can be a painful burden especially for new entries who do not have enough social networks to consult with.
Cost analysis between private apartments and social apartments
By law, deposits will be held throughout the term of your lease in Japan, for a private 1R (one room) and 1LDK (one room plus living, dining, and kitchen), it is usually equivalent to 1-2 month of your rent. In addition, key money is partially refundable, and a rental commission is not refundable.
For your first month, you are also expected to pay up to 6 months rent at once, which may cause more than 660,000 yen (an average apartment rent is about 110,000 yen monthly)! To see how choosing a share house may make your life easier, firstly, it has a low initial cost, including deposits, key money, rental commission, and no furniture set-up and appliance cost. For instance, social apartments provide cheaper deposits, while many don’t ask for deposits, key money, and agency fees for both long-term and short-term stay.
There may be some cheaper private apartments that don’t ask for key money, a co-signer, or deposits, but the quality is usually lower than those that do, or the contracts are unclear or not secured. Since you will be sharing common spaces with others, sometimes, maintenance fee is required and is separated from your rent. Combining both of these charges, it is still cheaper than renting a studio or 1LDK in Tokyo. For example, monthly rent, deposit, utility bills, and maintenance combined for a share house is about 50,000 yen to 70,000 yen, but for a studio room or 1LDK, it is at least 110,000 yen (plus it is not furniture included)!
The other stuff you’ll pay for outside of your rent
What is included in the utility costs exactly? Most share houses in Tokyo separate rent and utility fees. Utility fees are pre-set up expenses including water, gas, electricity, sewage, heating, disposal, laundry, dryer, and internet, so you don’t have to trouble yourself to arrange them. Normally, utility bills range from 7,000 yen to 10,000 yen on average. Some houses cover maintenance fees in the utility bills including clean-up for the common space and supplying everyday commodities, some separate maintenance fee with utility charges, and some with no maintenance services let the dwellers decide on these matters. As for a private bathroom and toilet, they charge you based on usage.
How do I apply for a social apartment? What do I need?
The websites we provided above ask for similar documents for processing the reservation and contract signing. It is usually your passport, residence ID card, Japanese visa (no restriction on visa type), and a recent photo of yourself.
As for the reservation procedures, each property has their own contract process, for details, please refer to the provided websites. Reservations are carried out online, some provide online contract signing, but most of them are in person.
Unfortunately, you don’t get a discount as a student, but some long-term yearly duration plans offer price reduction for deposits and rent. A contract usually takes about one hour to one and a half hours to process, usually one-off. It seems bearable compared to a private apartment which takes a longer time on paying application fee, proof of your financial ability to pay rent, looking for a guarantor...etc.
Before making a reservation, you can ask for a visit to see what the place is like. Every share house and social apartment will provide a tour guide which gives you an image of what it is like to be living in one and what you can expect in terms of facilities and housemates.
Useful Japanese phrases you will need in a social apartment in Tokyo
Here are some phrase suggestions to communicate with your agency and housemates in Japanese. A lot of times, google translation doesn’t interpret what you are trying to convey, so, speaking basic Japanese may be a convenient skill to interact with the locals.
Talking with the agency
Can I get help with…
...手伝ってもらえませんか (tetsudatte moraemasenn ka)
Where is the nearest station and supermarket
すみません、一番近い駅とスーパーはどこですか (sumimasenn, ichibann chikai eki to supa wa dokodesu ka)
Do you have any recommendations for restaurants (park) (places to go visit) nearby
この辺で、おすすめのレストランと公園と観光名所がありますか (konohende, osusume no resutoran to koen to kanko meisho ga arimasu ka)
Is is possible to move out early
(hayame ni hikkoshite mo idesu ka)
Do you speak English
(eigo de hanashite itadakemasenn ka)
Could you wait for a moment, I will get someone who speaks both Japanese and English to translate for us
(chotto matte kuremasenn ka, tsuyaku dekiru hito o tsuretekimasu )
Can you speak slower and explain one
(moichido yukkuri hanashite itadakemasen ka)
Talking with your housemates
Could you turn the volume down a little/could you be a little quiet?
(oto o chisaku shite itadakemasen ka/ koe o shisaku shite itadakemasen ka)
May I join you guys?
(naka ni haira sete itadakemasen ka )
Would you like to go for a walk?
(issho ni doko ka de sanpo shimashou ka)
I have a question…
(chotto kikitai nodesukedo...)
This is useful, where do you get this
(kore ga tsukai yasuidesu ne, doko de kaimashita ka)
Could you teach me how to use...
(tsukaikata o shiete moraemasen ka)
Know anyone who has passed N1?
Want to escape the teaching trap?
Is privacy a problem if you live in a social apartment?
For this question, yes and no. Although privacy for your own room is guaranteed, as you enter the common area, you may feel less free to be yourself than when you are completely alone in the room. Of course, less free in a private sense such as walking around topless, sprawling out on the sofa, or playing music at full volume and dancing like nobody’s watching (because someone might just have to watch). Naturally, being in the shared space, you meet other residents and respect each other’s uses of the area.
Some of the suggested websites include female-only houses, for example, SAKURAHOUSE, TOKYO SHAREHOUSE, OAKHOUSE, it doesn’t make the house cheaper or more expensive, and like other gender combined social apartments, appliances and utilities are given. There are also non-smokers only houses, more details can be found in share houses' websites.
For some of us, social apartments are absolutely the way to go in terms of meeting people, speaking Japanese regularly, and self-improvement. For others, a regular apartment with your own space is the most important thing. It depends on your living preferences. Ask yourself questions like “what are my priorities when selecting an apartment?” Is this really a good fit for me? How long do I want to stay? What am I looking forward to the experience? What am I worried or anxious about? Are there any deal breakers? Would the disadvantages of sharing a house be a problem for me? Although the answer of which gives the more ideal result is subjective, it is certain to say that a social apartment is superior in terms of saving money and building social networks.