If you’ve moved to Tokyo from a country with a lot more house space, you might be used to storing infrequently used items in your garage or even a garden shed. Now that you’re living in an apartment the size of a Western kitchen, you probably appreciate the value of every square foot. If you don’t need an item that is taking up space, you should consider either recycling or disposing of it. If you can’t bear to part with it, or you need a temporary place to stow all your gear, then a trunk room (self-storage unit) is what you’re looking for.
What is a trunk room?
The term “trunk” is an old-fashioned word for a piece of luggage or a storage container for your clothes and personal effects. Victorian homes typically had a room specifically for storing those trunks—hence, trunk room—but you don’t need an 18th-century-style pirate’s chest to use one of these storage services. Essentially, you’re paying for a space with a lock on the door, with additional security usually in the form of alarms and surveillance cameras attached to the premises, and 24-hour access.
Although some facilities are purpose-built, most come about to occupy unused space in older office buildings or vacant lots. Consequently, there are two main types: indoor and outdoor. The outdoor facilities usually consist of stacked containers with roller doors, so they are a little more exposed to the elements.
Because they’re a way for property owners to make money from unused space, and there’s a lot of that in Tokyo, there’s almost certainly a trunk room within 5 minutes of your residence no matter where you live in Tokyo, even if you’re unaware of it.
Some operators may also advertise “rental garage units”, which can be used just for storage, but they’re basically for parking cars and can be quite pricey.
How to choose a trunk room
The main considerations for choosing a storage unit are size, location, price, and access. How you weigh these up depends on what you’re storing, for how long, and how often you plan to access the storage unit.
In general you’re likely to find larger storage units at the stacked container type locations on the outskirts. If you’re just looking to store some documents, indoor locations usually have a wider choice of small units. Indoor units also often have a height that is lower than the ceiling—usually about 2.1 meters (about 6′11″ ft).
Location and price
These things go hand in hand and it’s just like what you would expect if looking for an apartment—except with a lower chance of being rejected because you’re a foreigner. Locations near big, popular stations offer poorer value than trunk rooms on the outskirts or in industrial areas.
If you want to store large items like furniture or machinery, indoor units might not be practical. Often you will have to deal with elevators, doors and corridors to get to your unit. However, the stacked container type units will often allow you to drive your car right up to the unit and unload your sofa directly into your unit.
Likewise, if you are storing books or papers, you might prefer not getting rained on when accessing your items.
Outdoor storage units (and some indoor ones) may not be climate controlled—virtually any item can detoriate in the extreme heat and humidity of a Tokyo summer!
New facilities and sites with lots of empty units often run “campaigns” where you can get a significant discount. If there are none available at a certain location, ask about other locations nearby.
Most trunk room operators will give you a tour of their facilities before you sign up. You should take them up on this. You can see if the facility is in good repair and also check the configuration of the units. For example, a 1 sq m unit can be 1 m by 1 m or it can be 2 m by 50 cm. Depending on what you’re storing, this can be important!
Signing up for a trunk room
Most operators will require a deposit of at least one month and payment of the first month up-front. The most commonly accepted payment method seems to be credit card. You may be able to set up an automatic payment through your bank, but this may be conditional to a credit check by the storage company. They may also ask you to sign up to a payment insurance service for a small extra fee.
How much does a trunk room cost?
Costs vary widely depending on location and unit size. The figures below are a rough guide. Also, sizes are rarely uniform and are often confusingly measured in Japanese area units such as “jō” and “tsubo”. Jō is the unit indicating one tatami mat, while a tsubo is two tatami mats. Tatami mat sizes vary by region, but for conversion purposes, one jō is 1.653 sq m (17.79 sq ft), and one tsubo is 3.306 sq m (35.58 sq ft).
Converting those to more familiar units, here is a rough starting price (most will be more expensive).
- 1 sq m (10.8 sq ft): From ¥3,800/month
- 2 sq m (21.5 sq ft): From ¥6,600/month
- 4 sq m (43 sq ft): From ¥11,000/month
Due to their ubiquity, trunk rooms are a buyers market, so there are lots of specials and campaigns that may reduce the price of the storage unit. Don’t be afraid to ask for a discount on the price of the unit. Another tip for getting a cheap unit is to ask if they have any strangely shaped units. Units with unusual dimensions are less popular and are often cheaper.
Self-storage units in Tokyo
None of the big trunk room companies have English websites, but if you have a basic ability to read Japanese and you can identify the areas and kind of unit you’re interested in, then get on the telephone.
The fees at Hello Storage consist of a monthly admin fee (usually the same no matter what size the trunk room) and then a monthly fee which varies depending on the size. Their storage facilities are a mix of indoor and outdoor container storage facilities. Facilities with lots of empty units often have “campaigns” that allow you to sign up for half price.
Hello Storage has 579 facilities in Tokyo, 245 locations in Kanagawa, 290 in Chiba, 258 in Saitama, and thousands more from Hokkaido down to Kagoshima.
Kase Rental Box
Kase Rental Box has more than 450 locations throughout Tokyo, 690 locations in Kanagawa, 150 in Chiba, 165 in Saitama and thousands more throughout Japan. Although they have some indoor facilities, their speciality is outdoor container type self-storage.
Literally “happy storage”, Nikoniko Trunk is one of the cheapest and largest storage companies in Japan. As of writing, they have 421 locations in Tokyo with (tiny) units from as little as ¥1,653/month.
Quraz is a mid-size operator, with 47 locations in Tokyo, 6 facilities in Kanagawa, one in Chiba, and about a dozen more locations spread throughout the country. They have an English info page on their website and reportedly offer email support (only) in English.
Sea Trunk Room
Sea Trunk Room is a smaller storage provider that has mostly indoor storage units in convenient locations throughout Tokyo. As of writing, they have 16 locations in Tokyo. Their website says that you can contact them in English, Cantonese, or Mandarin.
Trunk Room Tokyo
Trunk Room Tokyo is managed by a foreign resident in Japan. Although their website is in Japanese, they can provide support in English. Compared to the others, they don’t have many options though, with locations in only eight Tokyo wards and cities.
Is a small operator with only 10 locations in Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Ibaraki, but the facilities look clean and sparkly modern. Prices are in the middle of the market.
Disclaimer: We’re not able to test all of these companies so your experience and mileage may vary. Tokyo Cheapo does rent a trunk room though, so we do have some general experience!