Moving to Tokyo, especially as a student, can be an exciting and overwhelming experience all at once. Finding a place to live, even if it’s for less than a year, can add to the stress. But student dorms aren’t the only option. We’ll walk you through the different rental and temporary housing options to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
Especially when you’re only intending to stay in Japan temporarily — whether that’s a few months or a year or two — there are a few things you need to consider. For example, most regular apartments come with built-in fees like “key money”, require long leases, and come unfurnished. None of that is particularly helpful if you’re not even there for a year! So, we’ll look at the pros and cons of different accommodation types to find which one suits you.
A share house does what it says on the tin: It’s a house that is shared by multiple people with private bedrooms. Typically, the bathroom, living area and kitchen spaces are communal.
There are some obvious pros and cons to this living situation. In a share house, you have the opportunity to meet new people from in and out of Japan. The rent is often cheap, there is usually no key money or non-refundable deposits, and everything is furnished. There are also a few English-speaking and foreigner-friendly share-house companies, making it easier to move in.
The clearest downside, though, is that you don’t know who you’ll be sharing the space with. They might be friendly and clean, or they might be noisy and dirty, always occupying the common spaces.
Share houses can be a good option for anyone on a tight budget, or as a stepping stone while you are looking for the perfect place to live.
Known as 大学寮 (daigaku ryō) in Japanese, university dormitories are similar to share houses in the sense that they have private rooms with communal spaces. The main differences are that there might be a curfew and stricter house rules, and you might not get much say in the location. But most of the admin will be handled by the university, and you’re likely to be relatively close to campus if you’re a student — though not always!
Dormitories can vary widely in size and style. Some may be large enough to have bathrooms and kitchens on each floor, some may be women-only, and some may be only for foreign students. Some may include a room mate.
Although less common these days, some Japanese companies also have company dormitories or living quarters, which are often cheap or subsidized by the company.
Dormitories are a good option if you’re on a tight budget and want to meet new people in the same situation as you.
Moving on to a much easier option, Weave Place is part of Weave Living, a well-known lifestyle rental accommodation brand in Asia. Weave Place offers fully furnished apartments, with flexible leasing terms starting from one month.
While regular apartments in Japan come with multiple fees and often a one- or two-year commitment (with hefty contract cancellation fees), Weave Place does not have these requirements. There is no key money or guarantor needed, and the utilities and Wi-Fi are included in the rent.
The clear advantages of Weave Place are that you get the independence and privacy of a fully self-contained unit, but without the hassle of having to set up amenities and bills, and with the ease of moving on after a few months, if that is what you need to do. Added to which, everything can be done in English.
Weave Place is a good option for those who like their own space, but also desire flexibility in terms of lease duration.
Regular apartments are a different ballgame to using a share house or renting with somewhere like Weave Place. One of the main issues is the language and cultural barrier.
Going through a regular estate agent can be difficult for Tokyo newcomers, not only because the majority only speak Japanese, but also because many landlords will simply not accept foreigners, especially if they are students without a permanent job offer in Japan. There is also the issue of key money (a traditional cash gift to the landlord) and other moving-in fees, which are usually non-refundable deposits.
There are companies out there that help with these issues, offering English support and apartments without many upfront costs. However, there is a much higher mark-up on these apartments.
Not to bang on about the difficulties of regular apartments, but they are also typically unfurnished without any utilities set up, so you will need to buy and set up everything when you move in. This can take a long time, especially setting up the Wi-Fi.
As for the advantages, they are the same as any other private accommodation, as you get your own private and somewhat customizable space, and can feel stable knowing you have it for a while.
Overall, private apartments are probably not the best option for anyone living in Tokyo for less than a year or two, but are good if you intend to stay a while.
Renting with other people (“Room share”)
To share some of the load, you could opt to rent with a friend or other students — called “room share” in Japanese. This doesn’t necessarily deal with the language or “no foreign students” issue, but will at least help with the upfront costs once you find a place. It’s also not entirely common practice in Japan, so only some apartments will allow it.
Sharing an apartment is a good idea if you want to know who you’re sharing communal areas with and want something that feels a little more like your own space.
A common setback with this living style is that you find out things about your housemates that you didn’t need to know. Whether that’s as annoying as Diane not cleaning her dishes, or as haunting as George’s anime body pillow …
Shared Tokyo apartments are a good option if you intend to stay for at least a year, and can stand the people you’re sharing with for that long, too.
If none of these sound quite right to you, you could always opt for the lowest commitment version of them all — vacation rentals.
Vacation rentals allow you to rent a place for anywhere from one night upwards. This means you can easily rent a place for a few weeks or months with no strings attached.
However, the idea of a vacation rental is obviously to use it for a vacation, not for living in for a longer amount of time. Although it might initially seem nice that the place comes with bags of tea and pre-installed Wi-Fi, it may get a little tiring when you hit the Wi-Fi’s data limit or you want to clean up a mess but don’t have all the tools. It also gets expensive, fast.
Vacation rentals are a good option for short-term stays of a few weeks or months, or as an interim while looking for a more long-term living situation.
Best neighborhood for students: Waseda
Now that you know what kind of accommodation to look for, you might be wondering where to look for it.
Waseda is a good place to start, because it is a university district — the area around Waseda University, to be precise. This means that alongside being a lively place full of good places to eat and drink, it also has decent housing options, including Weave Place Waseda Park.
It’s not just students that can make the most of this area, though. Waseda is very central to Tokyo, near Shinjuku, making it convenient and fun for anyone on the market for a new place. It has Waseda, Nishi-Waseda, and Takadanobaba stations all within walking distance, covering the Tozai Line, Yamanote Line, Shinjuku Line, Seibu-Shinjuku Line, Fukutoshin Line, and even the local Toden-Arakawa tram line. Shinjuku’s infamous drinking hotspot, Golden Gai, is also just a 30-minute walk away, which is pretty useful if you miss the last train!
As for things to do, it is close to the calm and lovely Kanda River, which is rumored to be the stomping grounds of the man who walks his giant pet tortoise in its red booties. There are countless little cafés and and a legendarily great taiyaki (fish-shaped cake) place. Waseda is also the birthplace of abura soba, a soupless but incredibly filling hot-oil ramen. We’d say that’s pretty much all of our needs, sorted.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.