Committing to an apartment in Japan can be nerve-wracking. On the plus side, there’s no penalty for breaking your lease, but on the other hand, you can expect to pay somewhere between four to six months’ worth of fees and deposits to your real estate agent and landlord. This being Japan, they’d like that in cash, and before you move in, of course.
Long story short, bouncing around from one apartment to another is cost prohibitive, so you want to make sure you choose a location you like. For everyone who’s looking for a place to live in Japan’s capital, we asked a real estate agency for the three best, most affordable neighborhoods in which to live in downtown Tokyo.
Central Tokyo’s narrow streets and lack of parking mean that residents spend most of their time getting around by train and subway, and one of the most convenient rail lines is the Yamanote, which loops around the city center. It takes an hour to complete the full circuit, meaning that if you live near the Yamanote Line, you’re never much more than 30 minutes away from any other point in the heart of the metropolis.
▼ The Yamanote Line, shown in green
However, housing at the most famous stops on the line commands a huge premium, as districts such as Shibuya, Harajuku, and Shinjuku are also where you’ll find the country’s most desirable commercial real estate.
▼ Shibuya also gets just a teensy bit crowded.
Instead, our agent filled us in on his picks for the stations along the Yamanote Line that provide the best balance of convenience and affordability. Here’s what he had to say.
Sugamo often gets called “Harajuku for grandmas,” and the neighborhood is every bit the mecca for the elderly that Harajuku is for fashion conscious youths. Our consultant even pointed out how the main street leading to the station is nice and flat, perfect for seniors with a bad knee or hip.
Of course, the lack of cool-factor means lower prices. Also, the station is just a short train ride away from the glitzier locales of Ikebukuro and Shinjuku if you feel like going out to sample the nightlife, after which you can return home to Sugamo, whose silver-haired residents are generally peaceful and well-behaved (and particularly easy to subdue should any start causing trouble).
If you’re cruising for some cheap eats to go with your cheap apartment, our agent had several suggestions, including the pork cutlet restaurant Tonpei, ramen joint Senzoku Jiman Ramen, and the sweet manju dumpling specialist Fukubuku Manju. Or if you feel like whipping up dinner by yourself, you can grab groceries at the Atre Vie or Seiyu shopping centers, both near the station.
The next recommendation was Tabata, also home to an Atre Vie, which sells both groceries and apparel, so living here makes it easy to check off your food, clothing, and shelter boxes. Tabata is a great station for those who want to live in Tokyo but need to often travel north to Omiya in Saitama prefecture or south to Yokohama in Kanagawa, as all three stations are connected by the Keihin Tohoku Line.
The area has an abundance of studio apartments, making it a great choice for singles. Unlike many other stops on the Yamanote, Tabata Station isn’t surrounded by an entertainment district, which means a thankful lack of noise from the loudspeakers outside shops and pachinko parlors. Unfortunately, this also means a dearth of places to eat, but our agent highly recommended the revolving sushi restaurant Morii, located in front of the station, which he tells us has great fish for just 150 yen a plate.
Our advisor’s highest praise, though, went to Komagome. One stop east of Sugamo, Komagome attracts a mix of both well-heeled celebrities and ordinary working folks as residents. For would-be chefs, there’s a 24-hour grocery store (a rarity in Japan) right next to the station, and those in the know say the area is also home to a number of good fish markets. There’s also the shopping arcade called Shimafuri Ginza, which has been supplying locals for years and on the special days when you want to splurge, the upscale specialty grocer Sakagami is within walking distance.
The station building itself houses a bookshop, which might not be the most useful thing if you’ve recently arrived in Japan and not up to reading something written in kanji characters yet. Of more universal appeal is the station’s bakery, although if you’re looking for something more filling than a quick pastry, our agent comes through once again with the recommendation of Chinese restaurant Hermitage Hong Kong, which he tells us has the best dumplings around.
So, as long as you’re willing to put up with having an address that doesn’t immediately announce your status as a hip and suave Tokyoite, you’ve got three choices for a place where you can live in Japan’s biggest city without having to sell a kidney for rent money.
▼ If you do have to resort to selling your young, healthy organs though, Sugamo is probably a good place to look for a buyer.