“Deflation” continues to be the word on everyone’s lips when they talk about Japan’s economic problems, but so far one area has resisted the price-reduction trend: apartment rents. That may be finally changing. According to a recent article in the Tokyo Shimbun, it is now possible to find a one-room apartment with bath and toilet in the 23 wards of Tokyo for less than ¥50,000 a month. Generally speaking, since the mid-’80s the only units in the center of the city that were less than ¥50,000 were those in old wooden apartment buildings with communal toilets and no bath, meaning you had to patronize the local sento (public bath). Tokyo Shimbun credits the rise of the Internet with the reduction in rent, since more real estate companies are publicizing properties on the net and, as a result, apartment-seekers have more of an opportunity to compare prices. Before the Internet, you had to basically visit every real estate office in the area where you wanted to live, which is a time-consuming endeavor.
One young entrepreneur, Kenji Yoshioka, is already profiting from the trend. A former employee for an investment fund who handled real estate, the 33-year-old set up a company called A Power Home last April and launched a website called Yachin Go-man-en Ika that advertises only apartments which are ¥50,000 a month or less. He was responding to the reality that younger full-time workers were less well off than their predecessors, who had bigger benefit packages, more assured salaries and, most importantly, the use of company housing. Young people wanted cheap apartments near their workplaces but didn’t want to give up basic amenities, like a private toilet and bath. Yoshioka decided to collect this information in one easy-to-navigate website. It was an immediate hit and in October he even set up his own real estate company.
In most cases, the cheap apartments that Yoshioka publicizes are “sleeping,” meaning that they’ve been vacant for some time. Normally when people go to realtors and specifically ask for apartments that are less than ¥50,000, the agents turn them away because the commission isn’t really worth the time and effort. Landlords, however, are desperate to rent such places and many have remodeled them to make them more attractive while keeping prices affordable, adding things like sound-proofing and even elevators. Many attempt to attract women tenants (who make up more than 50 percent of single apartment-seekers looking for cheaper units) by allowing pets. Tokyo Shimbun mentions a one-room apartment with a loft, kitchen, unit bath-with-toilet, and even a window only ten minutes walk from Itabashi Station that costs ¥48,000 a month. There are even some properties listed for as low as ¥30,000 that have baths and toilets.
According to the real estate research company Home’s, the average rent for a one-room apartment in Tokyo has decreased by 5.3 percent in the last year alone. In addition, security deposits on such units have decreased by 8 percent and gift money by 11 percent. Since the vacancy rate for apartments in general in Tokyo is more than 10 percent (undoubtedly higher for cheap one-rooms) it’s not likely that rents will go up in the near future.