Short-Term Housing in Tokyo

Posted: June 3, 2011 in guides
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This summer, I have found myself in the happy situation of looking for short-term housing in Tokyo. While poking around on the internet, I was surprised to find that no one has written a comprehensive guide in English on how to do this, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I’d like to begin with an explanation of this guide. First of all, by “short-term,” I mean a period of time ranging from one week to three months – or the length of a short research trip. Second, by “in Tokyo,” I mean either on or inside of the Yamanote loop line. (My own searches have focused on the neighborhoods in central Tokyo close to the Imperial Palace and the National Diet Library.) Third, by “housing,” I am referring to furnished or semi-furnished apartments with utility fees included in the rent. All of these apartments can be booked online. Finally, what I’m writing is based on my own experiences as well as the experiences of my friends, who are mainly grad students; we’re not really tourists or back-packer types.

With all of that in mind, here are six options listed in order of the least expensive to the most expensive:

Sakura House

Many of the properties listed by Sakura House are closer to hostels than apartments. Furnishings are minimal, and kitchens and bathrooms are shared. The general floor plan is a suite with sizeable common areas and very small individual rooms. From what I have heard, the buildings are often run-down, and there are few windows and little natural sunlight. Sakura House has tons of rooms available for rent, however, and many of them are located near the large entertainment districts of West Tokyo, such as Shibuya and Ikebukuro. Also, the internet at these properties seems to be really quick and reliable, which is something of a luxury in Tokyo. Sakura House does have a few one-bedroom apartments with their own kitchens and bathrooms, but such apartments are significantly more expensive than they would be when rented from another realtor. If you don’t mind roughing it a little, Sakura House is convenient and affordable, and I have friends who swear by it.

Weekly Mansion Tokyo

If you’re traveling alone, Weekly Mansion Tokyo offers affordable studio apartments all around the Yamanote line, and they’re always offering significant discounts at multiple properties. These apartments are fully furnished and include their own kitchen, bathroom, refrigerator, and air conditioner. The problem is that they’re really, really small. Seriously, fourteen square meters is not enough room for an adult and her suitcase. The bathrooms are claustrophobic, and the only sink in the apartment is the tiny kitchen sink. Also, although internet is included, it is unreliable to the point of not really existing at all. Weekly Mansion Tokyo also charges more money for double occupancy rooms, but these rooms are usually not much bigger (around seventeen to twenty square meters), and the size of the bed is the same (ie, very small). Still, if you’re traveling alone and don’t plan on spending much time in your room, the properties of Weekly Mansion Tokyo are a convenient and affordable place to crash. If you’re traveling with a friend or partner, though, it makes more sense to look elsewhere.

Monthly Apartment Tokyo

The properties of Monthly Apartment Tokyo are clustered in two main areas: Roppongi/Azabu in southwest Tokyo, and Akasaka/Aoyama in center-southwest Tokyo. Unlike the properties of Weekly Mansion Tokyo, which are concentrated in east Tokyo, the apartments available from Monthly Apartment Tokyo are within easy access to the youth culture meccas of Shibuya and Harajuku. They’re also a bit bigger, more comfortable, and more reasonably priced for two people or people with families. Because greater discounts are offered for longer stays, I have known people who have spent entire years in Tokyo at one of these apartments. For obvious reasons, then, they tend to be reserved pretty far in advance (for which another discount is offered), so you’ll need to book an apartment here several months before you plan on moving in. The furnishings are rather basic, and I have heard that the internet comes and goes, but Monthly Apartment Tokyo seems to be the best value for a reasonable amount of comfort.

Furnished Apartment Tokyo

I don’t know much about these guys, actually. Their properties are all in center-southeast Tokyo next to landmarks like Tokyo Tower, Tokyo Disney, and Haneda Airport. The buildings are stark and unadorned, the furniture is like American college dorm room furniture, and the rooms are a bit bigger than they are at Monthly Apartment Tokyo. The bathrooms and kitchens seem to be a bit larger as well, with the kitchens having actual counters and the bathrooms having actual sinks. The real purpose of these places seems to be accommodating visits by the week, as the monthly rent (which starts at around 200,000 yen) could get you a much nicer and more conveniently located apartment elsewhere.

Space Design Serviced Apartments

These properties are beginning to toe the line of luxury, and really, they are fantastic. I learned about this realtor from a friend and her husband who spent a year in one of their apartments in central Tokyo, and their place was spacious, well-furnished, wifi-friendly, conveniently located, and in a really nice neighborhood. All of Space Design’s properties are non-smoking, and most of the rooms get gorgeous sunlight. Amenities include international cable television, linen service, and concierge service (which is important to someone like me, who likes to order used and out-of-print books in the mail). Unfortunately, the apartments tend to have shower rooms instead of baths, but most of them make up for it by including an in-room washing machine (which is rare elsewhere). Since the rate for these apartments is discounted according to the length of your stay, it makes more financial sense to stay here for at least two or three months. The staff is courteous and friendly, though, and they will make every effort to accommodate your preferences and budget.

Tokyo Apartments

The properties of Tokyo Apartments are about as good as it gets without renting a real luxury furnished apartment. They have apartment buildings all over Tokyo (although the properties in western Tokyo seem to be farther away from major train stations than those in eastern and central Tokyo). The apartments at these buildings are huge, gorgeous, and very nicely furnished. If you’re the sort of person who cares about such things, the bathrooms are particularly nice, and the kitchens are well-equipped. The customer service is impeccable, and I have heard nothing but nice things about them. Unfortunately, they’re also a bit out of my budget, with monthly rent starting at around 210,000 yen, which doesn’t include various fees for cleaning and excess utilities. I think that Tokyo Apartments, which is easily the most professional of all the realtors I’ve listed, is really geared towards business travelers; and, if you’re thinking of renting one of their apartments, it might be worth your while to ask about corporate discounts.

***

If you’re staying in Tokyo for longer than two or three months, you should probably consider renting a real apartment, which will be much cheaper and more comfortable in the long run. Unfortunately, doing this takes quite a bit of effort and usually a fair amount of time as well. If you’re planning on looking for an apartment yourself (instead of acquiring one through personal connections, which is the recommended route), it’s usually cheaper to book a week or two at a temporary apartment in the area instead of spending an indefinite number of nights in a hotel (or in a hostel, which can be just as expensive).

If you’re currently looking for housing in Tokyo, good luck! And please comment to let me know if you have any tips, or if I am missing anything important or misrepresenting any of these companies and their services.

Comments
  1. Juliet Carpenter says:

    Welcome to Japan and congratulations on finding a place. My son will be in Sendai for a few months and maybe this will give him some ideas. In the meantime, if you are
    ever come to Kyoto please drop by Doshisha Women’s College, Imadegawa campus, for a cup of coffee!

    • Kathryn says:

      Thank you so much for your comment! I would absolutely love to get coffee with you. I’m not planning on visiting Kyoto during the summer, but I will be spending a semester at Osaka University next spring. I will definitely get in touch with you then. And good luck to your son in Sendai!

  2. Lady Lazarus says:

    This is a wonderful, detailed and very useful post. I only wish I was traveling to Tokyo and could make use of your tips. Happy Travels!

  3. mali says:

    I’m curious – which one did you end up renting from?

    Interestingly enough (to me), a good friend of mine visited Japan for 3 months at a time twice when I was last living there. He’s a freelance Web designer (well, he has his own company (I think) but it’s only him), so he needed internet at home since there is practically no wi-fi in Japan. Here’s where he ended up staying: Taito Ryokan in Asakusa. (Then he stayed in another ryokan that’s full of longer-term tourists near Osaki.) I found this kind of weird but not as weird as I do now, having read this. I had no idea that these realtors were out there in such force – I always though of weekly mansions as both sucking and being really expensive. I lucked out with my place the last time I lived in Japan and decided on it quickly, but it would have been good to know these were out there.

    I also think my Swedish friend would have liked to know! Although he seemed happy enough (as much as you can be) with the “rustic” (ahem) Tokyo ryokan experience and it was possibly much cheaper than a nicer place.

  4. mali says:

    Ooookay… I posted my first comment too soon! I almost passed out looking at the rent for these apartments. o_o; I’m glad I happened to know someone leaving a stupidly cheap apartment on the admittedly uncool part of the Yamanote (but ON a Yamanote station!). And hey, I got to chill on the banks of the Sumida River whenever I wanted, or ride on the Arakawa tram, easily the best mode of transportation in Tokyo. ^_- v

    I wonder if finding a hostel with reliable internet is going to be the way I go if I end up on a research trip to Japan again? Then again, the daily rate seems low but it adds up FAST! I guess for short-term you really are stuck paying these insane rates. What really surprised me was that the out of the way, uncool areas that some of the buildings are in didn’t have cheaper rent. Seriously, over $2k/month to live in Ningyo-cho (billed as ‘historic Tokyo’ (my new favorite translation for 下町) with opportunities to eat ‘Japanese home cooking’?). Crazy. I have a lot of respect for you braving this!

    • Kathryn says:

      I thought you lived in Ikebukuro! That’s the very coolest part of Tokyo! But yeah, connections help with finding apartments. If you have them, you’re set. If not…

      I guess the price you pay depends on what you’re willing to put up with. For example, on a previous research trip to Tokyo, I thought I could handle not having a reliable internet connection by spending lots of time in internet cafés. To make a long story short, it didn’t turn out quite the way I wanted it to, and I got almost no work done. Also, you pay dearly for more space; and, since I have a traveling partner, I’m paying a bit more money than is strictly necessary for enough square meters to accommodate two people. If you can put up with a small, grungy dorm room with shared facilities, you can get by for much less money. Personally, I think an arrangement like that would drive me crazy after about two weeks, but I have known people who have made it work.

      As for the more expensive places, there are always good deals floating around, and my experience has been that realtors are open to negotiation when it comes to the initial deposit and monthly rent. Which is good, because seriously, with an exchange rate of 80 yen to the dollar, you can’t afford not to bargain…

      • molly says:

        Naw, I was in Arakawa-ku – I made friends with a guy who ran the museum meetup (awesome!) half on the basis that he lived in the only ku less cool than me. Adachi.

        I was only a tram ride away from Ikebukuro~~

      • molly says:

        And you’re going to kill me when I tell you where I was living last year. I thought you had already knew about it for some reason (like me talking about it). 3LDK (yes, 3) for 10万円 a month. It may have been at 田端駅 but that’s still on the Yamanote, it’s not some hole like Okachimachi, and … yeah, it’s a deal that you only get a year at a time, through someone who knows someone. Old fixtures but the newest I’d ever lived with (seriously, a bath that doesn’t have a pilot light?? and a shower!). Sigh, to know I will never have a place like that in Japan again!

  5. Ann says:

    If I rent a room for one person at a weekly mansion and then have a friend come over and stay with me, do you think they would know and charge me for double occupancy rate?

    • Kathryn says:

      In my experience, they won’t know unless you tell them. It therefore follows that if you tell them, they will know – and thus more than likely charge you the double occupancy rate. To me, it feels dishonest to not tell them that you’re having someone over for a week (as I would gladly pay a higher rent for a week), but I recently ended up having to give up a good apartment because the realtor insisted on charging the double occupancy rate for two full months when I was only going to have a friend visit for nine days towards the beginning of my stay.

      I hope this helps. Good luck!

  6. Amanda says:

    Hi there! Thank god I found your post, because I was having real trouble finding some ‘user reviews’ of those short-term leasing sites. I’m thinking of doing an elective in Japan so would be staying probably around 3 months. Looks like Sakura is probably the best choice at this stage, but do you know anything about any other leasing sites around that same price range? In any case, thank you very much for writing this!

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