What’s the Difference Between a Japanese Mansion and a Japanese Apartment?

By Donnie | Articles

I remember getting to Japan in early January, arriving at Narita Airport and being greeted by Ian Sensei, one of the trainers at my Eikaiwa. I also remember all of the other trainees getting to the airport around the same time. I met people from Australia, Britain, and America. It kind of felt like an episode of MTV’s The Real World except with more people…twenty-four to be exact. Well, anyway, we were told that we were headed to the training house, where would be staying for the next week or so. However, because the training group was so large, some of us were going to be housed in the “weekly mansion.” Imagine my surprise when they said I was one of the ones who would be staying in the company mansion! I puffed my chest out a bit, because I was feeling half special/half lucky. Then I started to wonder I wonder how many floors it is? I wondered where the jacuzzi and pool would be. I imagined marble flooring, balconies, spiraling staircases, sky-high ceilings, etc.. So we hopped in our ride to the mansion, and when we got to this normal-looking apartment, I thought “Why is the taxi stopping here?” I saw my trainer get out of the car, and I soon came to the sobering realization that this WAS the weekly mansion. No island kitchen? No marble floors? No. In America when you hear the word mansion, it instantly conjures images of the high-life, of celebrities, of over-the-top enormous houses. But in Japan, when I hear mansion, I know that it refers to a type of Japanese apartment.

But what exactly is the difference between a Mansion and an apartment in Japan? Well, I went to Kazusaya yesterday to try to iron out some more details on a new place, and while we were looking, I asked one of the agents what the difference was. Although he was speaking in Japanese, I did catch some of the differences. From what I understand, the biggest difference lies in the building construction. I didn’t catch the exact name of the material, but there is a difference in the types of concrete used to make mansion. As a result, mansion walls are thicker (less sound goes through the walls) and are more stable during earthquakes (that’s what I was told anyway). The apartment that I’m really considering strongly is actually a mansion-type. I don’t think mansions necessarily mean bigger. I have seen some apartments that are larger than some mansions, and vice versa. But at the end of the day, I just want an apartment I can be comfortable in.

If anyone can think of any other differences between apartments and mansions, please leave a comment below; I’d love to hear about it.

Until next time,

Donald Ash

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  • Roger Starkey says:

    The difference is in the construction.

    “Apato” is usually a prefab thing based on a wood frame up to two stories. It’s meant for short-term (~20 years) land use as an investment rental property before it’s knocked down and rebuilt. Usually the number of units will be less than 12

    “Mansion” is usually what we would call a condo. The construction will be reinforced concrete, and depending on the area the number of floors is limited only by physics. Units are intended to be sold, and the lifespan is typically 70 to 100 years, based on the latest methods. Usually the number of units will be more than 20.

    Realtors will often use the word “mansion” to refer to an “apato” just to make it sound better. But, if you’re single, you typically are in an “apato” if you rent it, and if you have a family then you might buy (or rent) a mansion.

    • Donald Ash says:

      That’s a huge help, Roger! Thank you! So, with the more stable construction, does this also mean that mansions cost more than apartments in general?

      • Roger Starkey says:

        It depends on the area. I found that a 2LDK apato was the same cost as a used 3LDK mansion when I bought the mansion in the current housing slump.

  • Ryan McGuinness says:

    I guess your mansion didn’t have an indoor swimming pool? Haha, are mansions as popular and common as they are in the States in Japan? What season is Japan in at the moment? If it is winter would it be possible for you to take some pictures of Tsukuba covered in snow, I’m
    Struggling to find images of Japanese cities with snow in them, I think it looks really beautiful from the images I’ve seen.

    • Donald Ash says:

      Sigh…unfortunately, no indoor swimming pool 🙁 . LOL. You know, I haven’t seen as many of the multi-million dollar mansions here in Japan, I guess space is a lot more limited here, so I can understand why. It’s winter in Japan, but it’s a tad warm for some reason. Honestly Tsukuba doesn’t get a whole lot of snow. In the three years I’ve been here I’ve seen maybe four or five days of snow (only two when the snow really stuck). But I hear that the northern regions gets lots of snow. If I ever can get to those areas, I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures.

  • disqus_fnwCMQDX7u says:

    When I first met my host mom, she mentioned that she and her family used to be rich (before the recession), but only had some property now. She said that one of the properties was a “mansion” that her daughters lived in. She even pointed out the building, and so I thought that she meant they owned the entire thing, not just the one unit, until my teacher explained it to me.

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