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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.