Not long ago, the only budget-friendly way to live in the bigger Japanese cities was to squeeze into individual shoebox apartments, living on cup ramen and convenience store food. However, over the last decade, alternative forms of accommodation such as share houses are quickly rising up in popularity. Share houses, as the name suggests, are bigger apartments or dorm-like arrangements that accommodate upwards of two to about 200 people.
Share houses can either have private agreements or be owned by private companies. The prior arrangement is self-started, often by university students or young people who wish to save on rent, or live with their friends in better conditions under budget constraints. People will gather up their friends to rent and share an apartment, and manage their own property according to their own rules. This is a great way for young people to live cheaply, or get more bang for their buck by living in an apartment with great facilities with the same amount they would have paid for a dingier apartment.
Share houses owned by private companies, on the other hand, run big shared apartments, typically for at least 5 residents, and they can go as big as 200 people or so. Residents can live in dorms, where they also share sleeping quarters with other people, or in private room arrangements, where they share all other facilities but can retire back into a room of their own at the end of the day. Due to the close living arrangements, share house residents often socialize and make friends with each other, and the mix of international and local people often contributes to the greater cultural understanding and language learning for the residents.
One explanation for the rise in popularity of share houses is simple economics. Monthly rent may not be significantly cheaper than renting an apartment, but renting an apartment often comes with hidden costs. Real estate companies are notoriously opaque in their dealings in Japan, and often surprise residents when they move in and out of apartments, with vague costs like “key money” (initial fees when you first move in), or “cleaning fees” (moving out fees apparently to clean up the damage you caused to the apartment. Moreover, many people also have to buy appliances and furniture before making the apartment livable. Living in a share house can make do with a lot of these annoyances.
Another explanation is the demand for young people in Japan (Japanese or otherwise) for a more social, culturally rich living experience. Many people come into share houses wishing to learn and live with people from different backgrounds, and making friends with a wider social group. For every news bit that you hear about Japan and its anti-social, asexual and disinterested youths, there are plenty more active and curious young people ready to learn and take on the world, and the rise in share houses in Japan is but one of the signs of a vital and promising future for Japanese society.