Finding a place to live is just one of those realities of life, one of the basic human necessities. I remember seeing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in school and if I recall it right, shelter is among the most important human, physiological needs (food, water, shelter, etc.), right at the base of the pyramid:
What passes for “shelter” truly does vary from person to person. Here in Japan, as in most modernized countries what are the main options? Generally, you can rent or you can own. For most foreigners living in the Land of the Rising Sun, renting is by far the most common living arrangement.
Why? Well it could be any number of reasons. Most foreigners can and do end up going back to their home countries and my guess, renting is a far more flexible way to live if you’re not sure about how long you’ll stay.
As far as renting goes you can go with an apartment, a guesthouse, or a share house.
I’m pretty sure everyone is familiar with how apartments work. The bare bones of it:
1. you rent a unit/living space for a monthly fee (from a landlord, a company, or a company acting on a landlord’s behalf) and
2. you pay for all of your own amenities/utilities.
With a guesthouse, you live in a shared space with multiple residents for a monthly fee. You share kitchen space, bathroom space, and generally have your own room. Utilities are divided amongst the residents.
A Japanese sharehouse, from what I gather is really not all that different from a guest house. Generally, three or more individuals (or couples in some cases) will share a living space, in this case an actual house.
As the name implies, sharehouses are all about, well…sharing.
At the sharehouse I lived in, eight people* shared a washing machine, two bathrooms, a shower/tub, and a large kitchen. This was coupled with (as in the guest house situation) shared amenity: internet, gas, electricity and water. This can really keep you on your toes if you like to blast your air conditioner during the summer or run your heat constantly during the winter.
Low Move-In Costs: I’m just going to tell you like it is. If you need to move out in a hurry and you don’t have tons of cash on hand for key money, you may want to consider a sharehouse. I DID NOT PAY KEY MONEY AT A SHAREHOUSE! You know how some apartment companies will say “no key money” but get you on some other fee (i.e.-the cleaning fee (wtf), agency fee, or something similar)? The sharehouse cost very little to move into and the fees were VERY straightforward.
I want to say I moved in just before the middle of the month and for the deposit & the prorated rent for January, I paid just under 70,000 (about $700)which is chump change compared to the more than 200,000 (about $2000) I paid to get into my last apartment.
No Waiting: If you find a sharehouse room you like, and you’re prepared, you could LITERALLY move in tomorrow…I’m not kidding…T-O-M-O-R-R-O-W!
No Buying Appliances: Every sharehouse that I visited, even the duds, had a television, at least one, central refrigerator, lights (which some apartments don’t come with), stove/gas stove (which some apartments don’t come with), and a big screen tv in the living area.
Diversity: The Ouji Sharehouse consisted of three Japanese men, one Japanese woman, one Korean man, a couple (one man Switzerland and the woman was from Iceland), and one American (me). This gave me ample opportunities to make a diverse, new group of friends, and chances to really practice my Japanese.
Great Space for the Money: I’m not sure about Leo Palace apartments because I’ve never been in one, but I hear they can be quite small. However, the sharehouse I stayed in provided me with ample living space.
I had room for a semi-double bed, my electric piano, a table, and even space to exercise in my room. The house was big enough so I never felt like I was “right on top of” my other sharehouse mates.
Great Staff: One of the big turn-offs for me with renting a standard apartment on my own (through Kazusaya) were the hidden fees. Agents speak to you in the honorific style of Japanese, keigo 敬語, even when you ask them not to. I never felt like Kazusaya was being 100% straight with me.
At the sharehouse, however, I felt company did a good job of letting me know everything that was happening, how much I had to pay each month.
The staff was professional, but not stuffy professional. It was much easier to get questions answered, and feel comfortable about what I was paying & when I was paying it.
Sharehouse Parties: The sharehouses would come together for parties as well. The one I went to was a lot of fun, not to mention the food was fantastic!
Every living situation has it’s cons and sharehouse living is no different. This wouldn’t be the Japan Guy if I didn’t tell you the both the good and the bad. Here are a few cons that I found with sharehouse living.
Privacy: Although you do have your own room with a lock and key, you have to let staff members know if someone stays for longer than one evening. The staff will then inform the other sharehouse mates.
In addition, I was also able to hear through the walls. If people were talking on the phone, laughing in the living room downstairs, or even arguing, you can hear it.
Messy Roommates: This was the biggest problem I ran into at the sharehouse. When I first got there, I would take out the trash when it was full, clean the counters when they were dirty, toilets, etc..
The reason I did those things when I got there was because there was no cleaning schedule, initially; it’s better not to live in a mess. However, even once the chore rotation was established, quite a few sharehouse mates wouldn’t clean up after themselves at all!
There was a time where I didn’t empty the trash at all just to see if somebody would do it. It also wasn’t my chore assignment.
Do you know the trash didn’t get emptied for 12 days straight?? And I’m the one who emptied it then! Every person knew where to take the garbage out (literally a 20 second walk from the sharehouse’s front door), but nobody was doing it. That was until one new sharehouse mate came in who was just as concerned with cleanliness as I was.
Isolation: There were moments in the sharehouse, quite a few of them, where it felt like people were keeping to themselves.
I tried to be friendly with everyone, but I felt like people hung around who they were most comfortable with, and I guess that’s only natural.
Some Saturday mornings I’d wake up early in the morning (around 5am) to run. I would wake to the sound of all of the Japanese housemates in the living room laughing and talking after having stayed up all night together.
That always made me feel like I was a bit of an outsider, but you can only do so much. Every sharehouse is going to have a different vibe, and a big part of that vibe is how each person connects with one another.
As you can probably see, the pros outweighed the cons for me, and if you’re looking for a relatively easy living situation, give Japanese Sharehouses a thought.
In a couple of posts we’ll talk a bit more about sharehouse living and let you see exactly what a sharehouse looks like.
Until next time,
Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
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