Andy in Tokyo

Is Japan Expensive? Part 4: Housing and Accomodation

Jul 19th 2008

Our final post in the series covers probably the single biggest living expense: accommodation. Tokyo, and London especially have a reputation for being two of the most expensive places in the world in terms of rent, so they will be our “test sites”, as it were, for investigation today.

As in earlier posts I’m going to compare the cost of living in two areas: Southgate in north London and Kichijoji in western Tokyo. Let’s begin by finding two relatively decent-sized flats:

For Southgate, I’ve chosen a nice little place in Haddon Court (N1), 0.4 miles from Oakwood station and 0.7 miles from Southgate station:

Southgate flat - outside

For Kichijoji, I’ve chosen this imposing-looking flat in the Honcho 1-chome area, just 7 minutes walk from Kichijoji station:

For Southgate, we have the added bonus of a nice selection of photos of the inside:

Sadly, the website I’ve used to search for flats in Tokyo ( doesn’t usually post photographs of interiors. They do, however, always have a floor-plan. People often search for places to live in Tokyo by the overall size of the flat (in square metres) and their proximity to the station. The closer to a train station you get, the more expensive rent becomes.

Let’s look at the floor-plans, starting with the Southgate flat, which is 56 sq m:

And the Kichijoji flat, which is slightly bigger at 56.4 sq m:

As you can see, the layout of both is quite different. The Southgate flat has a proper kitchen, where the Kichijoji flat has a combined kitchen and living room (known as a LDK, or “living dining kitchen” – bit of a mouthful). Personally I prefer the separate kitchen offering, as watching TV while someone else (ie the wife) is doing the cooking in the same room is a pain in the arse.

One important factor to note is that the Southgate flat comes fully-furnished at no extra cost. For those who have no furniture of their own this is a great bonus. Unless you’re coming across to Japan with a company your Tokyo flat is highly unlikely to be furnished. People who have been transferred to Japan do very well in this regard, as they are usually placed in ridiculously expensive serviced flats in Azabu-Juban; for those coming across as English teachers, well, you’re not quite going to have the same level of luxury; and with some English schools you may find yourself sharing accommodation with one or two others.

But how about the cost? In basic terms, this is how much each flat will cost you per month:

  • Southgate: £964 (£225 per week ÷ 7 days = £32.14 per day)
  • Kichijoji: £926 (JPY168,000 for rent, plus JPY3,000 for management fees)

So, that’s pretty even, but! there’s one nasty surprise in store if you want to move into the Kichijoji flat: two-months rent in advance as a security deposit! Actually, this flat is much better than many others, which often require an additional two-months rent as “key money”: a non-refundable “thank  you” to your landlord, leaving you paying out a total of four-months rent before you even have your foot through the door.

With regard to discrimination against foreigners renting flats in Japan, I can’t deny that I have heard of it happening, but most of the (single) people I know who rent flats in Tokyo have managed to do so without too much trouble. Obviously it helps to know Japanese, or have a Japanese-speaking friend help you out, but it’s not impossible to do it without either of these.

That brings the “Is Japan Expensive?” series to a close for the time being. In the future I will look at the taxation system in Japan and how it affects foreign residents, but this is a very complex issue and I simply haven’t got the time to do it at the moment!

Exchange rate used correct as of 19 July 2008 (£1=JPY213.69).

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3 Responses

  1. Jon Allen says:

    Yeah, the key money is a real kicker.

    The bad news is you may have to pay it again when you renew the contract so I’m told. I’ve not renewed yet. so not looking forward to part.

    I just found your blog thanks to Jason Collin’s link on facebook.

  2. Jon,

    Thanks for the comment! And yes, that’s true about the key money. We currently have to pay an extra month’s rent every two years to cover the “cost” of renewing the contract. It’s a wonderful system, really it is.

  3. Alatown says:

    The rents may be more or less comparable (key money aside), but it seems that BUYING a modest flat (such as the one shown) is considerably cheaper in Japan. However, homes do not seem to appreciate in the crazy way they do (or did) in the UK (only land itself has real value).

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