Accommodation in Tokyo

housing in Tokyo
Updated 2024-03-28 10:17

If you're moving to Tokyo, you might be wondering where to stay. Capsule hotels and other one-day deals may be enough for a short stay. However, if you want to live in Tokyo, you will have to find permanent accommodation. Where to look? Life in Japan is notoriously expensive, and the cost of living in Tokyo is known to be even higher. Where are the most affordable places to live? Here is a practical guide to finding an apartment in the Japanese capital.

Rental housing options in Tokyo

Various housing options for rent are available in Tokyo, from luxury hotel rooms and detached houses to multi-story buildings known as “mansions” located in the city center. Depending on how long you plan to stay in Tokyo, you can consider staying in a hotel, Airbnb, or renting a house or an apartment for a long-term stay. 

The total cost of your accommodation in Tokyo will vary based on the facilities provided and how close the property is to the city center. If you plan to rent an apartment for the long term, you might need to bring your own furniture, although some luxury rentals may already have furniture included. Short-term rentals are usually furnished and are commonly used as vacation homes or temporary accommodations while searching for a permanent place. 

Another option is to rent a room within an apartment, which is a popular choice among Tokyo residents who live with roommates. If you're looking to save money, sharing an apartment might be a suitable option for you.

Accommodations for different stays in Tokyo

For short stays, you can rely on the many hotels in the capital. From unusual capsule hotels to luxury hotels to cheap inns, there is something for every budget. For more authenticity, opt for the ryokan, the traditional Japanese inn.

For short trips, think about bed and breakfasts, but beware of Airbnb. The authorities have tightened the rules since 2018. There are other room options, such as those in manga kissaten (or manga kissa), the manga cafés. It can be a good option if you missed the last train, but certainly not for the long term.

To get a good deal for a short or long stay, bet on guesthouses (sharehouses). However, you will have to forget about privacy. The lowest prices are those of dormitories. The kitchen and bathroom are also shared. Compromise: opt for a single room in the hostel.

Apartments range in size from 1R (1 bedroom) to 4LDK (4 bedrooms with living/dining/kitchen area). The division is the same for houses.

Best locations to live in Tokyo for expats

Tokyo and its 23 districts represent the most populated urban area in Japan. Therefore, choosing a district to live in is essential, as housing prices will vary from simple to triple. Actually, the best place to live in Tokyo depends much on the lifestyle you want.

The best place for you to live in Tokyo depends on the lifestyle you want. According to the local government ranking, Minato Ward, Musashino City, and Shibuya City are the first, second, and third best places to live in Tokyo in 2023, respectively.

In addition, you can also consider some other famous neighborhoods, such as:

  • Akasaka: A busy business area by day and a lively nightlife spot on weekends, suitable for families and young professionals;
  • Azabu: A luxurious neighborhood popular among foreign bankers, offering Western cuisine and boutique shops;
  • Shirokane/Shirokanedai: Ideal for those looking for more space in their rental, with options for entire homes instead of just apartments;
  • Yoyogi Uehara: A quieter, more suburban neighborhood with larger apartments and affordable rent prices.

The 23 wards of Tokyo

Hereafter are the 23 wards of the Japanese megalopolis:

  • Shinjuku-ku;
  • Shibuya-ku;
  • Nakano-ku; 
  • Toshima-ku; 
  • Bunkyo-ku;
  • Chiyoda-ku; 
  • Chuo-ku; 
  • Minato-ku; 
  • Koto-ku; 
  • Sumida-ku; 
  • Taito-ku; 
  • Arakawa-ku; 
  • Kita-ku; 
  • Itabashi-ku;
  • Nerima-ku; 
  • Suginami-ku; 
  • Setagaya-ku; 
  • Meguro-ku; 
  • Shinagawa-ku;
  • Ota-ku; 
  • Adachi-ku; 
  • Katsushika-ku; 
  • Edogawa-ku.

Tokyo's most expensive and attractive districts

Shinjuku, Shibuya, Chiyoda, Chûô, and Minato are the most expensive districts in Tokyo. Located in the center of the capital, they concentrate the business districts. As the economic heart of the city, they are a strategic choice for those who want to settle in the heart of Tokyo, but the prices can be quite stinging. Count up to 1,400,000 yen (approx. $9228) per month to rent one of the luxurious apartments in the Phoenix Nishisando Tower in the center of Shinjuku. 

Is cheap accommodation available in Tokyo?

Rent prices in Tokyo depend mainly on the geographical location, the size of the accommodation, the number of rooms, the year of construction of the building, etc.

The closer you are to the city center, the higher the prices are, even for small areas. The farther away you are, the more accessible are larger apartments, less expensive than the small 15m² overpriced apartments in the hyper center. It is, therefore, possible to live affordably in Tokyo as long as you do your homework.

Choose affordable accommodation in Tokyo

Don't panic, though. To find a cheaper place and save money, you can share a house with others, choose a place outside the city center like Setagaya, Nerima, Ota, Nakano, Toshima, and Bunkyo, opt for the more affordable northern wards of Tokyo, or find apartments without key money, deposit, or agency fees to reduce moving costs. 

Rent a sharehouse in Tokyo

When renting an apartment in Japan, you may have to pay a deposit, key money, a guarantor fee, and more upfront. This could amount to two to three months' worth of rent before you even move in! However, most sharehouses only require minimal deposits. Of course, always confirm your initial costs with the property agency beforehand. 

You can search for sharehouse options in Tokyo on many websites, such as Oakhouse, Tokyosharehouse, or Borderless-house. Prices vary, starting from above 47,000 yen per month.

Move outside the city center

It is quite possible to find affordable accommodation in Shinjuku, Shibuya, or Chiyoda. If you avoid the city center, you can find cheap apartments. Count 62,000 yen per month for a 24m² apartment near Shinjuku Gyôenmae station (Shinjuku park), 69,000 yen per month for an approximate 16m² apartment in Shiba, in Minato. 

You can find even cheaper by moving further away to Nakano or Suginami areas. For example, a 12.82m² apartment can be rented for 45,500 yen per month in Nogata, Nakano; or 57,000 yen per month for 10m² in Suginami – a little cheaper, but tiny, indeed.

If you're looking for something bigger, head further to Edogawa, Katsushika and Adachi, which are the most affordable areas. In the northeast of Tokyo, Adachi-ku is known for its cheap housing options. One can easily find an 32.23m² apartment at 51,000 yen.

Apartments without key money, deposits, or agency fees in Tokyo

When you want to find an apartment with no key money, no brokerage fee, no guarantor, and no guarantee fee in Tokyo, UR housing is helpful. You can also find these options on Suumo, Realestate, or other websites.

Understanding the districts of Tokyo

Everybody will tell you that each district of the Japanese capital is a world of its own. Which universe will you dive into?

Ochanomizu (Bunkyo-ku and Chiyoda-ku)

Ochanomizu is the office and student district. Meiji University is nearby. Ochanomizu is also the music district known for its Guitar Street. Dozens of stores dedicated to the world of music supply amateurs and professionals.

Akihabara (Chiyoda-ku and Taito-ku)

This is Tokyo's historical district of electronics, now the land of manga. Akihabara is still at the forefront of electronics, with good deals on computer equipment, but among expatriates, the district seems to be better known for its numerous stores selling manga, video games and other goodies related to Japanese animation.

Asakusa (Taitô-ku)

The great Buddhist temple of Tokyo, Senso ji, is impossible to miss. In front of it lies a long shopping avenue known before COVID as a major tourist attraction. Tourists and locals were even more numerous during festivals and other celebrations (matsuri).

Kappabashi (Taitô-ku)

The district became famous thanks to its avenue entirely dedicated to the cooking world. Professionals and individuals come here to do their shopping. You can find everything at a good price.

Ueno (Taito-ku)

Ueno district is built around its huge park. Many Tokyo families come to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere of Ueno. Museum, playgrounds, and walks – the district of old Tokyo offers a well-deserved break.

Tsukiji (Chûô-ku)

What is Tsukiji becoming? The district was home to the world's largest fish market between 1935 and 2018. The indoor market moved to the modern infrastructure of Toyosu (not without controversy), but the outdoor market is still open to day-trippers and residents alike. The area is still as lively as ever and concentrates more than 400 shops.

Ginza (Chûô-ku)

Ginza is Japan's luxury district by excellence, with clothes stores, jewelry stores, leather goods stores, restaurants, etc. You can find all kinds of luxury brands in the district. However, you will need a considerable budget for shopping there. Needless to say, the rents in Ginza are not cheap.

Harajuku (Shibuya-ku)

This is the district of young and trendy fashion with a touch of eccentricity. Takeshita Avenue is always crowded (even in rainy weather). Young Japanese flock there to get a cheap makeover while tasting the latest pancake specialties, one of the district's particularities. Next door, Omotesando offers quiet luxury. On the other hand, you will experience a radical change of atmosphere with the free gardens of Meiji-Jingu and its temple and Yoyogi. Witnessing these two radically different identities in the same district can be quite an amazing experience.

Omotesando (Shibuya-ku)

Next to Harajuku, Omotesando also has its own avenue dedicated to clothing. Big brands are well represented there. If luxury is present, the prices are, according to the brands, a little cheaper than in Ginza, but we are still in the luxury business – a modern and trendy luxury. The most affordable places will certainly be restaurants and candy stores.

Shibuya (Shibuya-ku)

Shibuya is known as the fashion district. We know its 109 Tower, a building entirely dedicated to women's clothing. The tower has its male version, the 109 Men. All of Tokyo's youth rush to this district that never sleeps. They wait in front of the statue of Hachiko, at the exit of the station and often pose at the square. Many fashion photographers walk around the district in search of new models. Shibuya is also the flagship zone for Tokyo's nightclubbers and Japanese partygoers, but there are also quieter streets, where it is even possible to find affordable housing.

Shimokitazawa (Setagaya-ku)

Shimokitazawa is even quieter. The hipster district attracts young adults and music lovers. Numerous thrift shops make the happiness of passers-by. In the evening, the district is transformed into a life-size theater. Amateurs and professionals perform in rock bars, jazz bars, and other theaters.

Ikebukuro (Toshima-ku)

Located in “modern Tokyo”, Ikebukuro is known for its Sunshine City (at Ikebukuro East station), a shopping and entertainment mall. Ikebukuro East is the other district of Japanese pop culture fans: manga, webtoons, video games, cosplay, etc. Enthusiasts flock to Animate, Mangarake, or K Books stores. Ikebukuro South, North, and West are quieter, but even the East (except for these shopping streets) is rather quiet.

Sugamo (Toshima-ku)

This is the district for older adults, with a lot of affordable shopping. Sugamo is a very lively traditional area, especially during the matsuri (festivals). It is also a place of gastronomy, appreciated for its local specialties: fried sweet potatoes (daigaku imo), salted red bean-filled bites (shio daifuku), skewers (yakitori), etc.

Kabukichô (Shinjuku-ku)

Is Kabukichô so dangerous? The sultry Japanese district has, in fact, two faces. During the day, it is a quiet district with shops, cinemas, restaurants, etc. At night, love hotels and other adult entertainment places transform the district's landscape. Kabukichô has come a long way. A haven for yakuzas (Japanese mafia) in the 1980s and 1990s, the district transformed in the 2000s. The government has invested a lot in transforming the place into a tourist area. The bet was partly won, but the 2020 lockdown has brought back skepticism. The dark side of Kabukichô remains.

Public transportation in Tokyo

The different types of transportation

Tokyo has a developed transportation network. It is easy to do without a car. Finding a parking space can be really challenging. The train, the subway, and the bus are the main types of public transport in Tokyo. Don't hesitate to take a guidebook to find your way around. Tokyo's network is sprawling. Depending on your needs, you can find your way around the stations to choose your accommodation. Some people choose an apartment near a JR Yamanote station, the line that serves the main districts of Tokyo. Others prefer to stay on the Marunouchi subway line, which goes from Ikebukuro to Ogikubo, passing through Tokyo, Ginza, Shinjuku Gyôenmae, or Shin Nakano and Shin Kôenji.

The cost of transportation

Japanese transportation is known for its accessibility, cleanliness, comfort, and punctuality. All this has a cost. Make sure you budget for transportation. Renting cheap accommodation but spending more than an hour commuting will weigh heavily on your budget. If you are an employee, your company may cover all or part of the transportation costs. If you are an international student in Tokyo, the school will give you a discount, but be careful: this discount is only valid for the trip between your home and the school.

In Tokyo, you pay according to the distance, and the company used. Several companies manage the network (JR Yamanote, Tobu, Tokyo metro, etc.) – no need to calculate. Your transport card (Suica or Pasmo) will be automatically debited at each passage on a terminal.

To save money, use a bicycle, but beware of illegal parking. Your bike must be registered with a professional and parked in a bike park. Don't try to cheat. The Japanese police are very careful to ensure that the law is respected and the fines are high.

Tips for choosing accommodation in Tokyo

To find a place to stay in Tokyo and make a good deal, take the time to tour the different neighborhoods, even online. Many articles detail the pros and cons of each district. You will surely find a place that will suit your needs – Japanese- or Western-style housing, size, furnishing, etc. Most accommodation units in Tokyo are unfurnished, but here again, budget accordingly.

Social media can also help you find accommodation in Tokyo. Many expatriates post ads about accommodation and/or furniture for sale. However, avoid sticking to the ads in your language. Consider Japanese real estate agencies as well. You might find some good deals (provided you speak Japanese).

Take your time, especially if you want to buy property in Tokyo. Walk around your future place at different times of the day. If in doubt, don't hesitate to ask for more information.

Useful links:


Tokyo Best Realtors

Century 21

Hikari Homes

Gaijin pot Apartments

Sharehouses and apartments:

Tokyo Sharehouse (in Japanese)

OAK house


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