Living in a typical Japanese apartment is a unique experience for most Westerners, topped only by how unique a these apartment can be. In response to many inquiries, we’ve put together a general rundown of what furnishings and amenities you should expect in a "typical" Japanese apartment and accommodations in Japan that most teachers face.
Keep in mind that living conditions can vary greatly. The information that follows, applies to private apartments meant for single occupants. These are typically the type of furnished accommodations that Aeon, or other English schools might provide for their teachers.
1. “I heard a typical Japanese apartment is really small.”
You heard right. A typical sitting room or bedroom will be 6 to 8 tatami mats. Each mat is 3 by 6 feet. So a typical 6 tatami room will measure 108 square feet. (Click here for a conversion chart on tatami to square meters and feet.)
Once you put a television and bed in a typical 1K room, there’s only walking space left. If you will be working for a chain school, like Geos, ECC or Aeon, you’ll more than likely have a 1K or 1DK. Click here for a glossary of terms for a Japanese apartment.
2. "What can I expect from a furnished apartment?”
Newer rental apartments that are already furnished i.e. will look a bit more like this one. Note: this is a bit on the higher side or nicer side. As there is what one might say a 'proper' bed. etc. This is not typical of what a common ALT would receive.
Even furnished Japanese apartments are quite different from what is common in western countries. Basically, expect less. Commonplace dressers, vanities, end tables, are absent. Generally speaking, in a typical Japanese apartment that you will receive from a large English school will not quite look like this as most of the furnishings will go with the teacher who lived in your apartment before. Whether they got a different rental apartment in Japan or more commonly the cost of shipping it back home is greater than the value of the object itself and so they just leave it there for you. In this case consider yourself LUCKY.
Sometimes a kotatsu table will double as your kitchen table in a very tight 1K or 1DK. When we say tight we are talking about 18 square meters or so. A kotatsu table is a short legged square or rectangular table with a futon pinched between the tabletop and the frame. It drapes down over your legs when you sit under it, forming a tent for your lower body.
The best part is there is a heater built into the frame under the table to keep you toasty warm in cold winter months. (The futon is removable so you’re set for spring and summer with the pull of a futon.) If you like to eat in front of the tube, you’re set! Often your Japanese apartment's furnishings are determined by what the other teachers have left, gathered or bought before.
Typical furnishings found in a Japanese apartment will be a futon - top and bottom, bookcases, eating utensils, some cookware, a small refrigerator (remember your college days)? And a gas cooking table (like 2 Bunsen burners... (see the picture below), air conditioner, heater and washing machine. Some schools provide other amenities like televisions, microwaves and internet/DSL connections, so be sure to ask! Regarding internet and DSL, this is more an exception than the norm. Click here for a video clip of a typical Jet apartment.
3. "Will I have a bed?"
Don’t expect beds. But this is rapidly changing. Most typical English school type Japanese apartments are furnished with futons. The one that you lie on is called "shikibuton" and one that you use as a blanket is called "kakebuton".
So you’ll be sleeping on the floor. Look at it this way, it’s great for your back. You may need to fortify your bedding with another foam layer. Most department stores carry foam pads. You can even get memory foam type pads in bigger cities.
4. "How about the kitchen?"
Kitchens are not much bigger than 4 square meters. Furnishings are sparse – provided the apartment you rent is in fact furnished. If so, in the kitchen expect a small refrigerator, sink, eating utensils, cookware, teacups, water glasses, plates etc. Don’t expect blenders, garbage disposals, mixers, islands, food pantries, dishwashers etc.
Counter space in a typical apartment is very limited so you have to be organized to pull off a 5-course meal! Typical western style ovens are also unavailable. Japanese studio apartments are quite similar in layout - more here.
3. "So what about stoves and such?
Expect to have a 2 burner gas table possibly with a small (and I mean small) built in broiler. Usually used for cooking fish etc. It's about 1 foot wide or so.
This 'gas dai' as they’re called will usually be set on a small cabinet where cookware is stored. Most everything else is stored in cabinets above and below the sink. (In the picture above, the "gas dai" sits on the sunk-in part of the kitchen cabinet, next to the window.)
5.“What kind of heating can I expect?”
All apartments will have some type of heating. Don’t expect central heating and air. The style of heating can vary from electric wall mounted heaters that you operate with a remote control to kerosene heaters you place on the floor.
There are 2 basic types of kerosene heaters. If you have an older type like the one to the right, you light them with a match or manually press an igniter. They’re slow to heat and often don’t burn very cleanly. In addition to this, because the face and top of them gets very hot, they're quite dangerous.
Survival Tip: If you have one of these, make sure to keep a window cracked. Better yet, on next payday upgrade to the fan forced type. The white colored one right below. Plus these things are dangerous and are actually the cause of quite a few house fires yearly in Japan.
Newer kerosene heaters are easy to use—just push a button and they light in 30 seconds or so.
They burn fairly cleanly and will heat the heck out of a typical 1DK.
Kerosene is used widely in Japan and so is readily available. Priced fairly closely to gasoline, 130 yen per liter, you can heat your Japanese apartment even in the coldest months fairly cheaply with one of these. Almost all apartments have balconies where you can store your kerosene.
6.”How about air conditioning?”
The bulk of apartments that English schools furnish for their teachers will have air conditioners. Again, don't expect central air. Instead you'll have a wall mounted air-conditioner in your bedroom or the room adjacent to it. Many of them are a bit under powered but they will easily cool the room you'll be sleeping in. This will usually be 6 tatami or 108 square feet.
Many also double as heaters meaning they are connected to a heat pump which will be placed on your balcony. Recently they are higher in efficiency so heating your apartment with them won 't cost so much. Another thing to note is in the coldest months in the more northern parts of Japan, kerosene heaters are the way to go as they simply put out more heat.
7.”I heard that bathrooms are different."
Yup. They sure are. Bathrooms are usually unit baths with a toilet and a combination tub and shower.
Sometimes, you’ll find that the toilet is in its own room. (Although in new construction that is meant for 1 occupant this often is not the case. There simply isn’t room.)
Don't expect a shower curtain because the whole room usually is a plastic insert or is tile, (including the floor), which means you’ll have space to shower outside the tub and then use the bathtub for soaking and relaxing.
Bathtubs are uniquely Japanese in that they are deep! If you love to soak, you’re in for a treat. The entire bathroom is about 2 tatami size and is often without a window. (If you have one consider yourself lucky!)
Survival Tip: One thing you need to look out for in older Japanese apartments is the traditional Japanese toilet. A “squatter” as some call them.
In newer apartments you’ll have regular western style toilets. Don't think for a micro second it would be cool to have a traditional toilet or "squatter" - most find them to be an unfettered drag.
7. “What about the closets and floors?”
In many newer Japanese apartments, the kitchen floors are tile with the sleeping rooms being tatami. Many newer 1 bedroom apartments are all laminate wood floors with exception to the kitchen.
Closets are large relative to the size of the apartment but then again you don’t have a western style bed so where do you put it? You guessed right. In the closet. So your bedroom will double as a sitting room or living room in a 1K, once you stow your futons. Typical entryway and linen closets are usually found in new and upscale construction.
8.“Do they have washers and dryers?"
If you don’t have a new Japanese washer, you’ll have a washer with an attachment that is like the spin cycle of a traditional western setup. It’s a 2 part machine. Washing machines are small with a typical capacity being one-half of what you would find in the west. Built in next to it is a spinner. It’s a small cylindrical drum that whips the water out of your clothes. Why? Because you’ll be hanging them out to dry on the balcony.
If you have newer equipment the washer and spinner are 1 unit just like a typical western washing machine. But it goes one step further. A dryer is built into it so basically everything gets done does all in 1 step. These machines are not cheap and for that reason if you are in a typical apartment offered by the JET Program or you are an ALT you won't have to deal with this. (They cost around $1,500).
However all the functions and buttons are in kanji so using it is more than a pain if you can't read kanji. In fact it's so complex that a video is needed to explain some of it. But some basic kanji that will help you out are:
Wash 洗濯 / 洗い / あらい
Fast wash cycle お急ぎ
Spin dry 脱水
Just a wash cycle 洗濯のみ
Just a dry cycle 乾燥のみ
9.“How about porches or balconies?”
Apartment houses all have balconies. Usually they run along almost the entire length of the apartment and are narrow. Usually 3 to 4 feet in width. They’re designed for storing kerosene, empty cases of beer and hanging laundry. Not really wide enough for a grill or table and chairs. Each is sectioned off for privacy.
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