It’s well known that housing in big Japanese cities (like Tokyo) is expensive and you basically end up living in a Japanese shoebox. However, in smaller cities you can get much more for your money and enjoy a nice lifestyle at the same time. But what are the universal pros and cons of living in Japan? What are the funky features of Japanese apartments which you won’t see at home, and what are the factors you certainly won’t be missing when you finish your time abroad?
1. The Toilets
So many shiny buttons, so many colours and sounds and options. Using the toilet in Japan is like going to an amusement park. Seat warming options make toilet-usage in the winter quite an excursion, and the water-squirting buttons cater for all your cleansing needs. Automatically flushing toilets appear in some public places but I’m sure you can also have such a thing installed in your household if you desire.
2. Quiet Neighbours
Unless you’re living in a ‘Leo Palace’ type of accommodation where you’re surrounded by other gaijin, chances are that your neighbours will be Japanese, and as such, it will often feel like you don’t have neighbours at all. The Japanese are known for being quiet, reserved people, and this is endlessly beneficial in terms of housing – you’ll never hear a peep out of them. Of course the downside of this is that you, by proxy, will be the annoying, noisy neighbour… but as Japanese people are so polite, they probably won’t even make a complaint – just don’t expect anything but a less than icy glance in the elevator.
3. The Well Designed Bathroom
In some budget apartments, the bathrooms are tiny – but even in their smallest varieties, bathrooms are well designed in a way that saves space. Many Japanese toilets have the sink installed on top of the tank – the water you wash your hands with is then recycled to flush the toilet.
Traditionally, Japanese people take a brief shower before having a bath – this rinses all the dirt off your body and then you can have a nice, relaxing bath which is all about enjoyment rather than ‘wallowing in your own filth’. After your bath, the water is still so clean that you can wash clothes with it – something that is catered for with a tube linking your bathtub to your washing machine. Using public baths on a daily basis is, for most Japanese, a thing of the past, but bathing in the home has been set up in a way that mimics this convenient and luxurious experience.
1. Lack of Carpets
I like carpets – they are warm and cosy and probably just as dirty as hard flooring, but the difference is that you can’t see the dirt. In Japanese apartments with highly polished wooden floors, you can see every hair, every speck of dust, everything! No matter how hard you clean your Japanese apartment, it’s never quite perfect. Also, it seems to me from my experiences not just in Japan that Asia is a dustier place than back home. I don’t remember having to sweep the floor so much when I lived in the UK!
2. Super-safety Features
Japan is a safe place, and things are designed to work in a safe way, which is generally a good thing. But when your stove top automatically turns off the second you lift the pan up, or just randomly turns off mid-cooking because of the safety feature… that’s not so cool. In fact, it’s downright annoying and I’d rather just monitor my own safety.
3. Lack of Central Heating
Because summers can be so hot and humid in Japan, houses and apartments have been designed with summer-cooling techniques in mind. With all the sliding doors and windows pulled open, a wonderful breeze glides through the house and solves your heatwave problems. However, when it comes to the winter you are completely defenceless. Most Japanese apartments have no form of central heating at all. You might have an air-conditioning unit in one room, but as you’ll know if you’ve use these before, the heat comes at a price – horribly dry air, resulting in coughs and sore throats all winter long. You can buy plug-in heaters of various sorts, but again, this only solves the problem one room at a time, but as the Japanese are very family-oriented, spending all their time together in the same room is quite natural for them.
So while I’ve only listed three of each, it’s safe to say that there are more things to love about Japanese apartments than there are to hate. I love living in Japan – my experience of landlords is that they generally keep to themselves and just let you get on with it, something that isn’t always the case when renting elsewhere.
When you move in, it would be very strange indeed to find your apartment filthy and ill-serviced. It’s more likely that you’ll find everything has been polished to the nth degree and is brand spanking new.
On top of that, visits from servicemen to the apartment are efficient and while most of them don’t speak English, they make a big effort to make themselves understood and explain things to you. In terms of housing, Japan is one of the best places I have ever lived.