Home Sweet Home (Life in 54 sq. meters)

The upside to this leg injury is that I am finally getting to spend some solid quality time in our (hard-won) new apartment.


Sleepy Saturday resting my knee in our living room.

One of the first questions people asked upon learning that we were moving to Tokyo was, “Where will you live?” To which we had to answer (faking more confidence than we actually felt), “The school will put us up in a hotel for two weeks, while a real estate agent helps us find an apartment.” But in the end, the process went much more smoothly than we might have imagined. (Well, give or take a hole or two in the ceiling that drips water from time-to-time, and ongoing struggle over the dearth of bicycle parking space.)

A few months before we arrived, we received an email from the agent with a looooong questionnaire regarding our housing preferences. Here are a few things that were on that  list:

  • Area of where you wish to live
  • Walking distance from the school
  • Required space (in square meters)
  • Age of the building
  • Monthly budget (including management fee)
  • What you would like to avoid such as ground floor, tatami room, etc.
  • Priority (area, size, monthly rent, age of the building, etc.)
  • How many years you have lived in Japan
  • Japanese language ability
  • Nationality

Now, imagine you are moving halfway across the world to a massive metropolis with which you are marginally familiar. How many of these questions could you answer with reasonable clarity? (And for those of you involved in/aware of fair housing laws in the U.S.: what does nationality, language, etc. have to do with it?)

…If your answer was, “I have no idea even where to begin,” then you know more or less how Tomo and I felt. So over the course of the next few months, we did *a lot* of research. And reached out to everyone we ever knew (and some strangers) who had lived in Tokyo.

And this is what we learned:

  • The closer you live to a train station, the more expensive your housing will be, but also exponentially more convenient.
  • Ground floor apartments are likely to turn into a damp, muggy, moldy swamp.
  • Rooms are measured by the number of tatami (reed sleeping mats) that would fit in them. A standard apartment bedroom will be around 6 tatamis, or the approximate size of 6 people sleeping on camping mats, toe-to-toe and side-by-side.
  • The age of a building matters because earthquakes (See Tremors (A meditation on earthquake preparedness)). 
  • Many landlords refuse to rent to foreigners because we are notoriously loud, uncouth, incomprehensible/uncomprehending, and not willing to follow basic rules and regulations (i.e. no sand in the elevator, no bottles thrown off of balconies, no turning your second bedroom into an AirBnB to fund your rent). It is completely legal to have a “no foreigners” policy.
  • I suspect that the type of foreigner/what nationality you are also affects where you can live. (This is anecdotal; I would have to do more research to confirm.)
  • There is a series of abbreviations to indicate layouts: “LDK” means it has a living room-dining room-kitchen (usually as one room); “SDK” means storage space and a dining room-kitchen, and so on.
  • Living rooms are not a guarantee, and in fact the agent was surprised at how attached I was to having one. (And everyone was surprised at to what degree couch=home for me.)
  • Move-in is a massively expensive endeavor. Apartments routinely charge:
    • 1-2 months’ rent worth of “key money” — this is non-refundable, and its destination is not entirely clear to me
    • 1-2 months’ deposit (standard cleaning fee is 1000 yen or approx $10/square meter upon move-out, the rest is refundable)
    • 1 month “thank you” fee to the agent who helps you
    • Approx. 10% rent “management” fee (this is monthly)
    • +1 month’s rent

…And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Once we had filled out our questionnaire, over the course of the next couple of months our agent would send us pictures/stat sheets on apartments from time-to-time. None of these would actually be available by the time we got here, but he wanted to get a sense of our tastes. A few weeks before we left Oregon, we made a plan to meet with him the day after we arrived and look at which apartments he had in mind for us, now that he knew more or less what we were looking for.

The apartment that we ended up choosing was the second one we saw. We saw three apartments that day, and more in the following days and weeks, as well as madly searching internet housing sites, and this one was far and away the best option for us, all told. (Apparently our answers did give a sense of who we were, after all.) Our budget limited us, so we had to give up some conveniences, but ultimately we would rather spend money on travel than rent.

So what did we end up with?

We are living in a 6th-floor apartment less than 15 minutes’ walk from my school, most of which is along a cherry-tree lined canal. The entire southern and eastern sides of the apartment is wrap-around windows, so we have sweeping views of the roof-and-tree tops of our neighborhood, as well as an intimate view of the comings and going of the vicinity’s raven population.



This is our building, from the outside.


The view from the LDK down the hallway to the front door.

The first door on the left leads to the sink and bathing rooms. The door further down, on the right, is the toilet room. (This is very common in Japan.) The other door is a closet. Our closet space is the envy of our friends here. Note that the entryway has a different textured floor than the rest of the apartment: that is where shoes go.


Bedroom #1, before move-in. Note sliding door that effectively becomes a wall between bedroom and living room, or makes it one large room.


             Bedroom #1, after. Ikea and Nitori furniture hand-built by yours truly. This is before we figured out that our suitcases fit under the bed, if we lifted it up.


With our dear friend Rachel (another Oregonian-Japanese international teacher who I dance with back home), celebrating Fall Equinox on our new couch.              Note bedroom #1 with door open behind us.


Our teeny-tiny kitchen before move-in.


Our teeny-tiny kitchen today.


Bedroom #2 (aka Sereno’s room/our office). We’ll have this furnished by the time he comes in December. 🙂 (Yippee!)


Bedroom #2, view #2. Note clothing rack. (We did pick up a dryer, which is rare here, at the local “recycle shop” — similar to St. Vinnie’s — but hang-dry most of our clothes.)


It’s hard to get a complete shot of the sink-and-bath rooms.


Here’s a close-up of our sink-cum-laundry room today.


Me demonstrating the length and depth of the (Japanese-style) bathtub.


The canal near our house

That’s all for now! Please feel free to post questions, comments, or topics you want me to cover below. Thank you for reading! xo


…And in case you really like to geek out on housing (this is a pastime bordering on obsession in my family), here is a walk-through we filmed while we were trying to decide which place to choose:



2 thoughts on “Home Sweet Home (Life in 54 sq. meters)

  1. I love this! (For some reason I can only see 2 of the pictures.) It’s really fun learning about this process and how you’re settling in. Also, I’m still not used to the time difference so I’m sorry I missed you this weekend. Shall we make a date??


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