When you think of someone with a studio apartment, usually a young, new university graduate, it is the image that frequently comes to mind. In the West, a studio apartment, condo, or flat is simply a self-contained room that serves multiple purposes as a living room, bedroom, and kitchen.
It is the ultimate “efficiency apartment” that is often an excellent choice for those who are just starting out and are on a tight budget.
Is there an equivalent in Japan? Well, yes, but it’s a little complicated. Let’s explain.
In Japan, the classification of single-room apartments is quite detailed, reflecting a preference for precision. These apartments are categorized as 1R, 1K, 1DK, and 1LDK.
Here’s what the terminology means:
The term ‘1R’ refers to the simplest studio apartment layout, denoting ‘one room.’ This is distinct from the smallest traditional Japanese-style room, which is equipped with 4-1/2 tatami mats and often does not include a bathroom. A 1R, on the other hand, provides a private bath but typically omits a full kitchen.
Instead, it may feature a small alcove serving as a kitchenette, equipped with a single-burner stove and a compact sink. This minimalist setup is ideal for individuals who prefer dining out to cooking at home.
Spanning roughly 15 square meters (160 square feet), a 1R apartment is designed to accommodate the essentials: a single bed and a modest table with chairs. In keeping with Japanese customs, residents might opt for a more floor-oriented setup, using a foldable low table that can be used for both dining and as a workspace. Some 1R units are even more compact, offering less than 10 square meters (108 square feet) of living space.
1R apartments do not normally include a closet, although there may be a very shallow closet-like, open indention along one wall. Thus, you’ll probably end up storing most of your clothes underneath your bed. While it would be best simply to do laundry at a nearby coin laundromat, if you need to let your clothes drip dry, then your entire apartment is likely going to look like a war zone strewn with hanging laundry after every wash.
A 1R usually also includes a “unit bath,” which is a self-contained room with a small shower/tube, sink with mirror, and toilet. They are often so small that it can often be challenging to keep from getting the entire room wet when taking a shower.
Although you won’t have much space in which to move around, by living in a 1R apartment, you may have a little extra money in your pocket with which you can use to go out. While rent will, naturally, be determined by location, size, age of the dwelling, etc, 1R apartments tend to be quite inexpensive.
Recently, there was a listing for a 12.48 square meter (134 square feet) 1R apartment only a 12-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo, which is popular with students and young adults, that was quoted at 60,000 yen + 4,000 yen (management fees) = 64,000 yen (US $426) per month.
Another recent listing for a relatively spacious 20 square meter (215 square feet) 1R apartment 12 minutes on foot from Umeda Station in central Osaka was only 43,000 yen + 5,000 yen (management fees) = 48,000 yen ($319) per month.
In Fukuoka, there was a listing for a second-floor walk-up 1R of 24.84 square meters (267 square feet) that is a 13-minute walk from Hakata Station, which was going for only 43,000 yen + 1,000 yen (management fees) = 44,000 yen ($293) per month.
While a 1R apartment may be sufficient and provide the illusion of more space, you may find that you might prefer to separate the kitchen (or “kitchenette” space) from the rest of the apartment.
In that case, one option would be to search for a 1K apartment. While the floor plans may seem very similar, the subtle difference between a 1R and 1K apartment is a wall with a door in between the kitchen and a single room.
If you’re lucky, there may be just enough space to eat your meals while sitting on a small stool next to the cooking area. In that sense, it may be possible to segregate where you eat from where you sleep and watch TV, for example.
1K apartments do not necessarily cost more than studio apartments with the open plan of a 1R layout, but they may command a slight premium.
Recently, there was a listing for a 34.44 square meter (371 square feet) 1K apartment only an 8-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo that was quoted at 124,000 yen + 8,000 yen (management fees) = 132,000 yen (US $880) per month.
Another recent listing for a 22.23 square meter (239 square feet) 1K apartment 15 minutes on foot from Umeda Station in central Osaka was only 63,100 yen + 8,400 yen (management fees) = 71,500 yen ($476) per month.
In Fukuoka, there was a listing for an 18.12 square meter (195 square feet) 1K apartment that is a 17-minute walk from Hakata Station, which was going for only 40,000 yen + 3,000 yen (management fees) = 43,000 yen ($286) per month.
While some 1K apartments may have a small alcove or shallow counter adjacent to the kitchen that can be used to eat—either standing up or sitting on a small stool—you may want enough space in which to put a small dining table and one or two chairs.
In that case, an option would be to search for a 1DK (1 room with a separate “room” for a combined “dining/kitchen” area).
Recently, there was a listing for a spacious 40.83 square meter (440 square feet) 1DK apartment only a 4-minute walk from Ikebukuro Station in Tokyo that listed at 135,000 yen + 10,000 yen (management fees) = 145,000 yen (US $966) per month.
Another recent listing for a large 30.59 square meter (329 square feet) 1DK apartment 11 minutes on foot from Osaka Station in central Osaka was only 90,000 yen + 10,000 yen (management fees) = 100,000 yen ($666) per month.
In Fukuoka there was a listing for a 30 square meter (323 square feet) 1DK apartment that is a 26 minute walk from Hakata Station which was going for only 53,000 yen + 3,500 yen (management fees) = 56,500 yen ($376) per month.
If you can afford it, you might want to search for a 1LDK apartment, essentially a 1DK with an extra room that can be used as a small bedroom.
Although the extra room will come at a slight premium, it can make a massive difference in terms of keeping everything organized. At a minimum, having an extra room in which to temporarily hide certain items (e.g., dirty laundry) can come in handy when having guests over.
Recently, there was a listing for a spacious 43.8 square meter (471 square feet) 1LDK apartment only a 7-minute walk from Shibuya Station in Tokyo that was on the market for 239,000 yen + no management fee = 239,000 yen (US $1,590) per month.
Another recent listing for a large 42.98 square meter (463 square feet) 1LDK apartment 8 minutes on foot from Tenoji Station in central Osaka was only 79,500 yen + 7,600 yen (management fees) = 87,100 yen ($579) per month.
In Fukuoka, there was a listing for a 32.83 square meter (353 square feet) 1LDK apartment that is a 7-minute walk from Yakuin Station, which was going for only 70,000 yen + 5,000 yen (management fees) = 75,000 yen ($499) per month.
1R, 1K, 1DK, and 1LDK apartments all tend to be small but functional. The decision will most likely depend on a combination of location, budget, and personal preference.
The good thing is that—particularly in the big cities—there are always many options for apartments in this size range, and rents tend to be reasonable.