Sunday, September 30, 2007

Apartment Layout

Click the image to load a much larger one which is at a legible size.

Awhile back, I was asked in comments about the layout of our apartment. Most people either have a copy of their apartment's layout or would have had one at some time or another because you get a copy of it when you go to the real estate agency to inquire about a place. In our case, we had never actually seen the layout since our apartment was graciously handled for us before we came over by my husband's brother. This is no small deal in Japan, incidentally, and it was likely an even bigger deal 18 years ago when fewer places accepted foreign tenants. Needless to say, it can be time-consuming and frustrating to find a place and secure and agreement depending on how much you want to pay (cheaper places are harder to get) and where you want to live.

So, I certainly don't mean to imply that we aren't grateful for the effort he went to to find a place when I mention that we didn't get a layout diagram as part of the deal. Honestly, up until I started blogging, it never occurred to me that it'd be interesting to even have such a piece of paper around to show people the size and orientation of our place. Fortunately, and unsurprisingly, the landlord had the copy that they give to the real estate agent to advertise the place and graciously gave me a photocopy which I've scanned in. He also wrote the measurements in pencil at the top and sides. I added other notes in Photoshop to make it clearer.

One thing that the diagram made clear to me was that my impression that the apartment was nearly a perfect square is correct. This means that there is relatively little "wasted" space unlike most Japanese apartments which seem to have "tunnel" areas, particularly at the entrance which are only useful for limited storage areas and tend to make the place feel narrower. When all the access points between rooms in a square-shaped place like ours are open, the space feels relatively large and unified giving the illusion of a bigger place.

If you look at the other two places in the diagram which our neighbors occupy, you'll see that the place on our right is a perfect mirror image of ours. This apartment has been occupied by the same woman ever since we moved in. That's right, we're not the only ones who have remained here for nearly two decades! When we first moved in, I believe this woman was living with her sister but several years after we moved in, the sister moved out. This woman is quiet and never bothers us. She is mainly noteworthy as a neighbor because she seems to go to bed and rise extremely early. We know this because she is meticulous about closes the noisy metal shutters at her back windows (sliding glass doors leading to the balcony). We hear them scraping open between 4:00-5:00 am each morning and shut around 10:00 pm every night. When we are having problems sleeping, that dreaded sound always signals the time for us.

The apartment on the left is occupied at present by a single man. Up until I got this diagram 2 days ago, I didn't know that was a slightly bigger place than ours. This particular apartment has seen more of a rotation of tenants. At one point, a family with a 2-year old lived there. A couple also lived there at one time. The man that lives there now is notable for a variety of habits but primarily for smoking like a chimney. When our kitchen window is open and he come and goes, a breeze full of the odor of stale smoke wafts in. He carries the aroma of ashtray around him like Pig-pen's dust cloud. This fellow also is a bit odd in that he seems to be in and out of his apartment several times a day, everyday, at odd times as if he doesn't have a regular job. I've noticed he often is running in and out at 8:30, 10:00, 1:00, 3:00, etc. However, he must have a job because our apartment is 110,000 yen and his is bigger so it may be more expensive. Other than his odd hours and smoking, he sometimes plays music very loud but we can only hear it from the walkway in front of our place when we approach our front door. We never hear anything through the walls.

For those who don't know, the "DK" on the diagram is for "dining kitchen" and is supposed to indicate that room is to be used for both a kitchen and a dining room but our room is really too small for that considering there is so little built-in cabinet space. If we had overhead shelving built-in and didn't require extra cabinetry for dishes and food storage, we might be able to get a table in there. Doing so now though would require us to constantly walk around a smallish table in the middle of the room and it'd look awkward in addition to being a hassle to constantly circumnavigate.

Most apartments are advertised with "DK" as part of the information. Our apartment is a "2DK" meaning it is a "dining kitchen" plus 2 other rooms. When my husband lived in Kita-senju alone, he lived in a 1DK but it was also one of the aforementioned places with a tunnel-like hallway. In fact, it felt a bit like a barbell with two rectangular rooms at the end of a hall. His apartment there had what is called a "unit bath". It was a smallish western-style tub in the same room with his toilet and a sink. It's considered a "unit" because the plastic of the tub and the plastic floor were all from one huge molded piece of plastic.

Our apartment has a relatively old-style set-up with a water closet containing only a toilet and a separate Japanese-style tiled shower room with a very deep but completely square and short Japanese tub. You can immerse yourself up to nearly your shoulders but your legs are all cramped in. I guess it was designed for shorter people. We never use the tub but I do love the roomy shower area right next to it. I've watched some Japanese apartment tours on Youtube and our shower area is definitely one of the bigger ones among this particular style.

I've asked several of my students about what they believe a place like ours should cost and, since they are taking their lessons in the place, they can gauge its size, age, and amenities accurately. Most of them feel that it is appropriately priced for its size and location. A few said it's slightly expensive and a few said it's slightly cheap. I will note that our rent was 93,000 yen when we first moved in and progressively raised to the point where it is now though it hasn't been changed for at least the last ten years.


Miko said...

I just love these dinky little Japanese apartments, I don't think I could ever go back to living in a large space again. In fact, sometimes I feel my place (3LDK) is too big for us, and will only get bigger when my son leaves home.

Your rent seems high to anybody living outside of Tokyo, but is probably standard there.

Because I live in municipal housing, I'm paying only 30,000 yen a month, and it's about 10 minutes from the centre of Kobe via monorail.

The people next door all smoke like chimneys, which is a bit annoying because it wafts over the balcony and sometimes contaminates my laundry. But I will never complain to them. My naughty (and illegal) cat has killed all their windowbox plants!!!

CMUwriter said...

I don't know if this is any of my business, but do you have much to do with any of your neighbors after living in the place for 13 years?

Shari said...

Miko: It's funny that you consider it "dinky" when it's on the larger side for central Tokyo though by no means big. ;-) It's a good thing that my husband and I like togetherness because you can't get away from each other in such places.

The price is pretty much where it should be for central Tokyo (we're 8 minutes out of Shinjuku by subway). As a point of comparison, one of my students lives in a similarly-sized place which is older with somewhat bigger rooms and pays 130,000 yen a month. She lives in Kichijoji. Apparently, her place is bigger because it is older. She said standard tatami mat sizes were shrunk at one point but hers uses the larger old measurements.

cmuwriter: You can ask anything you like whether it's "your business" or not! :-) I'm not a shrinking or closed off sort. ;-)

The truth is that the neighbor who has been here with us all along (the single woman) has such different hours that I have never encountered her around the outside of our building. She is 10:00 pm-4:00 am and we're 12:30 pm-8:30 pm in our sleep. I'm guessing she's out the door before we wake up and asleep before my husband gets home.

Mainly, our interactions with our neighbors come with the ones upstairs (there are 3 units upstairs) and the extent to that is saying 'hello' or 'good day'. Our main neighborly interaction is with the landlord (who is also a neighbor in that his house is next door). We have conversations with them and have exchanged gifts.

The people upstairs seem to move in and out more often than those of us on the first floor. Mainly, they give us gifts when they move in (food, towels) as a greeting and we rarely see each other again. To be honest, I wouldn't recognize them if I met them on the street away from the building as our face-to-face time is so brief.

Thanks for both of your comments!

Roy said...

Having the door open up into a room is generally considered bad feng shui in a small apartment, especially if you can see the window at the back of the house from the front door, but as you know this is common in apartment design in Japan. In your case, it might be good to keep the door between the kitchen and living room closed most of the time so that good chi energy stays in the room rather than escaping through the rear window.

Chinese believe ghosts can only make right turns (don't remember where I heard that) so many houses are designed that when you enter the front door you have to make a left turn to enter the main room. I don't know if Japanese are aware of this or not but I notice many houses designed this way. My house is like this too so I'm safe from ghosts.

Emsk said...

Oh, I know that tunnel hall situation! I'm in a Leopalace which I do like very much, apart from the hall could've been better planned and I have a fairy-sized kitchenette.

When I first arrived in Japan my co-worker and I were in even smaller flats. I really liked that too, but I then again had nothing to compare it with. They moved us on Christmas day last year and I couldn't believe my luck.

It's good to see the floorplan of your apartment though, Shari, because now the story about students turning up early and hubbi having to camp out in the bedroom till he goes makes perfect sense.

Shari said...

Roy: I feel a lot better with the whole apartment open and don't actually embrace feng shui. While I can respect it's something that other people believe in, in my perceptions of the way reality works, energy cannot be contained or released by the constructs of this camoflauge reality. There's energy everywhere and in everything and it's held together by ourselves and the items and entities which are responsible for them. I don't think it "escapes" unless we believe it will.

Ghosts is an interesting topic and some day I should blog about them. I don't actually believe in ghosts as they are conceptualized by most people though I do believe they are absolutely a reality to those who perceive them.

Besides, I like the air to blow and I hate feeling boxed into a little room. I sit at my desk now right by the door to the kitchen and having it shut next to me is always irritating and stifling in the summer when we keep it closed for the air conditioning to remain in one room. Having that door closed makes me feel like I live in a largish cubicle. ;-)

Emsk: I couldn't bear one of those tiny kitchenettes! I must say they're a serious disincentive to cook with so little prep. space. I think they only suffice for people who aren't very ambitious in the kitchen (or who are very patient).

One thing about my husband leaving when they are here is that the last thing he does is go to the bathroom (as many of us do before heading out the door) and it's even more awkward for me to be teaching in the living room and him to be in the toilet about 8 feet away while a lesson may be starting!

Thanks to both of you for your comments!

Tristan said...

I can't imagine living in an apartment like yours, (couldn't get by with out a dinning room and separate study, the room size would be a problem too if you have a few people over). Did you come from a large house or apparent before moving to Japan? If so do you miss it. Out of curiosity is your apartment the typical size that a couple would get if living in Tokyo.

Shari said...

Hi, Tristan, and thanks for taking the time to comment.

Before I came to Japan, I spent all but one year of my time in the U.S. living in my family home. Our house was not small but not big. It had two bedrooms (my parents had theirs and my sister and I shared one until she moved out), one bathroom, a living room, a dining room, "kitchen, and an extra room at the entrance which was like a second extension of the kitchen that we just tended to store stuff in.

I can't say that I adjust better because I grew up in a cramped space. I think it's easier though because all the space is "mine" whereas the house I grew up in was my parents and I couldn't do what I wanted with the environment.

I think the space we have is considered more than adequate for couples. The student I mentioned in the post (who lives in a similar configuration with slightly bigger rooms) lives in her place with two kids. She shares a room with her 10 year-old son and her teenage daughter has her own room. They do all their "living" in the LDK room (living dining kitchen). Also, we did have neighbors for some time who were a couple with a kid so I think it's no unusual for 3 people to occupy this size place.

If you're interested, you may want to go to YouTube and search for "Japanese apartment" and look at some of the tours there. That gives you a good idea of sizes for most people. Most people have one 6-mat room, a kitchenette, bath and water closet, and a loft for sleeping if they live alone. The tours can be very interesting.

Overthinker said...

There are about five different sizes of tatami mats: kyoma, the Kyoto-Kanasai size, Rokuichi, more common in Western Japan, Edo-ma (the Tokyo/East Japan size) Chuukyoma from Nagoya and the Chubu/Hokuriku, and the more recent "Municipal Housing" size which is much smaller (so they can claim a room is six mats when it's not any six mats you might be familiar with. Kyoma are the largest, since the Kyoto-style 'ma' are measured from the inner edge of the pillar to the inner edge of the next pillar, vs the Edo ones which use the midpoint of each pillar.

The sizes are:
Kyoma: 191cm (6'3" - this is six 'shaku' 3 'sun', but close enough to feet and inches)
Rokuichi: 185cm (6'1" - hence the name)
Chukyoma: 182cm
Edoma: 176cm
Municipal (danchi): 170cm.

So as you can see there is a good deal of difference regionally.

Having seen your apartment layout, I'm amazed how much bigger it looked in the photos.

Shari said...

I must say, all the mat size variations are a pretty cheap way of getting away with making people think they're getting more space than they actually are. I'm not sure that all Japanese folks know that there are that many different size variations (I'm sure many I've spoken with don't know as much about it as you do), so it'd be easy to trick them. Most folks trust that there are regulations in place to protect them against any sort of manipulation in this fashion.

Regarding the layout of our place, I think that the layout is what makes it look bigger. Long, narrow spaces make things feel cramped. When you walk in the front door, the feeling is one of a large, complete space rather than a tunnel leading into small boxy spaces.

I've watched apartment tours in various places around Japan and some of them are appalling in how they waste the space. Some of them also have fixtures in awfully inelegant places (like a wash basin in the hallway leading to the first room or right at the end of the hallway - it feels like part of the bathroom is stuck in the hall).

At the risk of being immodest, I do use the space we have pretty well though it has taken a lot of changes to get it to the place it is now, including what is now 4 years of paring down possessions and decluttering.

A Joe said...

Your apartment is 19.2 * 18 = 345.6 sqft = 32.11 square meter.

32.11 square meter = 9.73 tsubo

1 tsubo usually = 2 tatamis

So in my calculation you should have roughly 19.4 tatamis.

You have 6 + 6 + 4.5 = 16.5 tatamis shown.

BUT factor in hall way and bathrooms etc. usually 15% of total space that comes in line with 19.4 tatamis as total.

To be able to get one bedroom and kitchen space out of 345.6 square foot is probably something that can only be done in Japan.