Halfway through my month-long trip to Tokyo in December, the weather was pretty lousy, so after passing a rainy night with pachinko slot, we found more indoor activities like the game center (my fiance’s favourite) and shopping (my favourite!). In this diary, I talk about Japanese apartments.
The weather was pretty lousy again, so while my fiance went to the gym I cleaned up the apartment and did laundry, as well as goofing off and watching some DVDs I rented. I also took some photos of the apartment, and I wanted to share them here because I think it’s important to know what a Japanese apartment really is like (not the anime or drama apartments, although they are sometimes pretty close) before you move there for study abroad, work, or whatever.
Japanese apartments are small compared to US apartments, because space is at a premium. Tokyo apartments are small, but so are apartments in rural areas. Japan is an island, and to fit the entire population, apartments and homes tend to be more compact when compared to American homes.
To give you an idea of what a Japanese apartment is like, here are some photos of where my fiance lived. Most Japanese couples start out in a one bedroom like this, and even after they have their first child the baby sleeps in the room with them for a few years. Many people have a futon 布団 that can be put away into the closet or oshi’ire 押入れ when you are not sleeping, but my fiance’s father recommends a bed to avoid chronic back pain. I (and many of my friends) had a futon in my apartment during study abroad, but my fiance has always used a Western style bed.
Most Japanese apartments are LDK – Living room Dining room Kitchen, where all three of these rooms are combined. Thus, this apartment is a 1LDK – one bedroom, with the living room, dining room, and kitchen combined. Japanese usually have a stovetop range (renji レンジ) for cooking, but not an oven. There is often a microwave oven (denshi renji 電子レンジ), however, and the new models have very minutely customizable controls for whatever you’re heating up. I haven’t seen a dishwasher in an apartment, and the dishwashers that I’ve seen in houses are often unused, except as drying racks. Energy and water are expensive, and conservation wins over convenience in Japan.
A kotatsu (炬燵) is a common installation in a Japanese apartment. In the winter, there is poor insulation and no central heating, and of course there is conservation of energy bills to think of. Thus, the kotatsu – a table with a heater attached to the bottom, and blankets that drape over it to stick your legs under in the cold of winter. Another important accessory is the space heater or sutoobu (ストーブ), which can heat about one room at a time.
Japanese apartment bathrooms are different than American bathrooms. There is usually a separate sink room (senmenjo 洗面所), shower/bath room (ofuro お風呂), and toilet room (toire トイレ). Japanese apartments usually come with a washing machine or sentakuki (洗濯機) in the sink room, but the location can vary depending on the layout of the apartment.
Japanese bathrooms are designed so that you can shower first, and then enter the bath. Both are contained within a room that is designed to get wet and to drain water. Most Japanese people think it’s dirty to enter a bath straightaway, and the American system seems backwards. I even think it seems dirty after becoming accustomed to the Japanese way of bathing. Often, Japanese families share one bath, and keep it from getting dirty by washing thoroughly in the shower first. This reduces hot water expenses, and is also done at hot springs or onsen 温泉. There is sometimes a cover to keep the bath warm in between uses. The traditional way is for the father to use the bath first, then the mother, and then the children.
Japanese bathtubs are narrower but deeper than Western ones. When you get in the bath you usually sit up and draw your knees towards your chest. There is often a thermostat outside the shower and bath room where you can adjust the temperature of the hot water. My fiance’s energy bill went up during the month I was there because he had never used the bath once, but I took one every night…
Toilets are in their own small, separate room, and most toilets in Japanese apartments are Western style. On the back of the toilet is a small faucet with no controls, that runs when you flush the toilet. It does not contain the flushed water, but rather new water to refill the tank. It can be used to wash your hands, but keep in mind that in the winter it is ice cold. There are several brands of air fresheners you can put under the faucet, so that the room will be refreshed when you flush the toilet and the water runs.
I would love to get a fancy toilet with a bidet and a seat warmer, even here in America, because once you start using them you really get used to the comfortable features. My fiance’s toilet was not electric and had no seat warmer, so instead we bought a benza kabaa (便座カバー) – a fabric toilet seat cover. Japanese apartments are not well insulated, have no central heating, and are expensive to heat in their entirety. Therefore, the bath/shower room, the sink room, and especially the toilet room get very cold in the winter.
Japanese do not wear shoes inside, because this makes things dirty. So instead, shoes are stored in the foyer, entryway, or genkan (玄関). This is usually a step down from the main apartment, to prevent dirt and things from getting into the living space. Shoes, umbrellas, and things you take outside can be stored here. The mail slot is also located here, on the door.
Even if you live alone in an apartment, it’s really best to take your shoes off when you get home. You will most likely not live in that apartment forever, and later residents most likely will be Japanese and remove their shoes to walk around the floors. I’m really not sure how people who live in Japan can ignore this important societal norm, since they must have at least a little bit of interest in the culture, but I’ve heard of students who didn’t take their shoes off and were discovered by the apartment management. The school was held responsible for this trouble, and although this is quite unfair, the school naturally accepted the blame.
After a day of goofing off, cleaning up, and goofing off some more, we finally made it to the game center and the shopping centre near my fiance’s apartment. I love that even in suburban Tokyo, the shopping centers can look like those spaceship capsules in Akihabara.
Have you lived in a Japanese apartment? In a big city, in the country? What was your apartment like compared to your home country?
Next Up: Japan Diaries Day 18 – Movie Date