Japan Cost of Living - Apartments

“Nihon takai ne” (Japan’s expensive ya know) is what you will hear the natives say when referring to the unbearable living expenses.

Just a quick Google search will show you that Japan’s Tokyo and Osaka are typically in the top 5 expensive cities in the world. Well just how bad is it? Its not a horrible but its no cake walk either. Let’s take up some items.

But in order to discuss this topic intelligently we have to dispense with the generalities and get right down to the facts. Let’s begin.

You can’t say in one fell swoop that all rent is expensive in Japan. You can in fact get a small 1 bedroom studio apartment in Osaka for $300 a month, and nothing ghetto either. See for yourself:


Granted its a pretty small apartment. You will find Japanese apartments MUCH smaller than American ones. A spacious living room is rare, you’d find two small rooms instead of one big room.

As you already know, the further you go outside the city the cheaper it gets, and in Japan it is no exception. This is most clearly seen in Tokyo where you can pay $1500 for a small but new & modern apartment in the city, and pay $900 for the exact same apartment 20 miles out.

A major consideration in the price is new and old apartments. In the USA we generally have new apartments, and even old apartments (from the 70s) aren’t too bad.


However in Japan there is a STARK difference between a ‘new’ apartment and an ‘old’ one, you feel literally like you’ve gone from 1920 to 2000. Old apartments have rice mat floors (tatami) wood frame, sliding paper doors, Japanese toilet (ugh!), kitchens with no more than a metal basin for a sink and a faucet sticking out of the tiled wall. No bath, only shower. You may get lucky and get a ‘square’ bath, which is just big enough to sit in. In order to heat the water a gas-powered boiler will be nearby, which you will have to ignite and shut off when you’re done. Only when you get a ‘new’ apartment do you have the luxury of a full bath and no-hassle heated water.

It goes for the kitchen sink too. If you want hot water in the kitchen you’ll need a water boiler setup. Its NO WONDER why these old apartments run CHEAP compared to their newer counterparts.

It goes without saying that the old apartment does not have an oven or a stove, you will have to purchase a single gas burner and place it on a counter top. You may get lucky and there will already be one, or a ceramic 1 burner but you will NEVER and I repeat NEVER find an apartment with an oven.


Aside from age there is an even bigger consideration in the price of the apartment and that is convenience. Meaning how close is it to a subway or train station?

Expect to pay several hundred dollars more to be near a train station. People get around this by taking a place that is cheaper and further away, and then riding their bike 10 minutes and leaving it at the secure bicycle parking lot which accompanies most train stations in Japan.

Size, age of the building, convenience and location in regards to a metropolitan area are the determining factors in your apartment’s rental fee.

With that said, if one is clever and looks hard enough they won’t have to end up spending an arm and a leg on their housing. $600 USD a month can get you an acceptable 1 bedroom apartment (not an oldie), within a 10 minute walking distance of the nearest train station, and probably be at the edge of the city limits. This runs true for Tokyo, Osaka, Yokohama and any other major metro area.

If you are in a smaller city expect to pay less.

Not bad huh? As you can see its not too expensive at all. Housing only becomes expensive if you want it American Size… and in that case you will be spending both arms and legs.

Let’s take a case by case study:


Study 1 – Tokyo Otsuka

Otsuka is on the JR Yamanote line and is well off the beaten path but still in ‘central’ Tokyo. It is one of the most boring places to live in Tokyo and the area is nothing special to offer. It used to be a Yakuza strong hold but not anymore, there are however several whore houses. However the area is relatively safe.

Case 1 – Otsuka Apartment, 5 minutes from JR station, Cost: $480 a month. 1 Bedroom with small kitchen and tiny bathroom. (1969) This is as low as you want to go. There are cheaper apartments but you’re going to get some really horror, old Japanese bathrooms, rust, etc etc. So let’s consider this apartment your lowest level.



Case 2 – Otsuka Apartment, 3 minutes from JR station, Cost: $890 a month. 1 Bedroom with small kitchen and tiny bathroom. (2003) As you can see from the pictures this unit is a TERRIFIC upgrade from the last. Just look at that kitchen and bathroom. This one comes with a gas burner. This is a big plus. However its getting pricey at $890. Least we forget it is a 3 minute walk from the train station. You could shave off $100-200 of that off if you got an apartment a 20 minute walk away. Also notice the 30 year age difference between case 1 and case 2. This is playing a major role.



Case 3 – Otsuka Apartment, 5 minutes from JR station, Cost: $1500 a month. 1 Bedroom with small kitchen and small bathroom. (2006) The pictures say it all on this case study, really there’s nothing I need to say.



Study 2 – Tokyo Akihabara

Tokyo’s center for electronics and comic culture, its also just two stops away from Tokyo Station proper, making right in the center of the action.

Case 1
Location: Akihabara
Station: 12 minutes from JR Akihabara
Unit: 1 bedroom, kitchen, small bathroom
Year: 1981
Fee: $581

This unit is a STEAL notice how new everything is, it rivals Otsuka Case 2, and this unit is in CENTRAL TOKYO. Now how about that?


Case 2
Location: Edogawa
Station: 34 minutes from JR Akihabara (its way out there! But fear not its within 12 minutes of a Edogawa JR station)
Unit: 1 bedroom, kitchen, small bathroom
Year: 2001
Fee: $814

Take a look at the size of this unit. It may not impress you but this is a VERY large room by Japanese standards. Consider this a steal. (coming in at 30square meters) Also notice that little island with the sink and gas burner, that is the Japanese concept of a kitchen. I kid you not.


Case 3
Location: Akihabara
Station: 8 minutes from Asakusa-bashi Station (maybe 20 min from JR Akihabara)
Unit: 1 bedroom, kitchen, small bathroom
Year: 2008
Fee: $1100

Consider this kitchen large and the bathroom as well! By Japanese standards it is. This apartment is pretty hip, the bathroom and kitchen are very high quality, top of the line, and the square footage isn’t too bad.


Study 3 Tokyo – Downtown Tokyo

Case 1
Location: Downtown Tokyo
Station: 3 minutes from Takaracho Subway, 15 minutes from Tokyo JR)
Unit: 1 bedroom, kitchen, tiny bathroom
Year: 1958
Fee: $622

This was a very good renovation considering the age of this property. But notice there are only 6.5 square meters… TIGHT! But what can you expect its ONLY $600 and it is literally a short walk from Tokyo JR station and its very nice inside! It’s a STEAL!!!


Study 4 Tokyo – Shinjuku

Case 1
Location: Outside Shinjuku
Station: 26 minutes to JR Shinjuku, 13 minutes to JR Chuo-sen Nakano Station.
Unit: 1 bedroom, kitchen, small bathroom
Year: 1979
Fee: $455

Twice the square meters of the Downtown Tokyo and almost $200 less, and walking distance of the heart of Tokyo (Shinjuku). What’s the catch? It is an old style apartment with an old kitchen but a decent bathroom, no old Japanese toilets here, praise the merciful lord. This place is a STEAL!


Final Thoughts

Notice how none of these apartments came with appliances let alone a fridge or oven. Your on your own. This is one of the factors that makes Japan expensive.

Related Pages

Don't Study Japanese

Until You've Read Our Free E-Book

Japanese is hard enough already, don't make it harder on yourself by making these same six mistakes over and over! Read our free e-book and get an edge.

Find out how to speed up your study, get motivated, study the right way, and be less confused!