More young people try communal living in 'share houses'

TOKYO —

“Around the end of the 1990s, the sharing trend began, when people began posting notices for places to live on Internet bulletin boards,” Hiroyuki Kubota tells Sapio (March). A researcher at the Osaka University graduate school, Kubota has authored a book on the subject titled “Tanin to Kurasu Wakamono-tachi” (Young people who live with strangers).

“Then from around the beginning of the new century, realtors began offering space in unoccupied houses or refurbished company dormitories,” he continues. “One reason for the rapid increase is that people are getting married from a later age, or not marrying at all. After graduation from school, the time from which they start to make a family has been extended, and rather than spend a long period living alone, more young people are showing a preference to live with others.”

The trend is borne out by figures from Hitsuji Fudosan, a realtor that carries the largest number of “share houses” on its site. From 25 in 2000, the number of listed houses rose to 982 in 2011.

“In addition, above all else is the cost factor,” Kubota adds. “There’s an appeal to having more space at an inexpensive price by splitting up the rent. So the resistance by the younger generation to living with strangers has been declining.”

While it’s been common for those not wishing to live alone to marry at a younger age or cohabit with a lover, Kubota has observed that there are a certain number of people who feel it’s more comfortable to share with strangers than to live with a fiance or lover.

“If you’re living with a lover, you can’t be alone at times when you want, or you might feel bothered by having to remember things like a birthday,” he says. “With communal living, you get the best of both: you don’t lack company, but you don’t have to bother with the fine details of relationships.”

Of course, not everything can be expected to go smoothly all the time. A 25-year-old company worker gives one example of an awkward situation.

“I’m in a share house with two men and two women,” he relates. “One of the previous women, a university student, borrowed some money from the other guy. She got behind on repayment, and finally he demanded, ‘Start paying me back with your body.’ The girl immediately moved out, and I only found out why sometime afterward, but the story left a bad taste in my mouth.”

A 20-year-old female employee at a worker dispatch firm living in a share house in Yamanashi tells this story.

“I was sitting with my feet under the ‘kotatsu’ (a low table with a heating element) watching TV together with one of the guys in our house. Suddenly I felt his foot sliding up my inner thigh. Well it turned me on, so we got up and went to his room and had sex. Everybody’s doing it. I remember one night I was sleeping in the living room when a noise woke me up, and I was surprised to see two of my housemates getting it on. (Giggle).”

Another 20-year-old male resident told the reporter, “When I went to take a bath one evening, I heard moans from inside the bathroom. I couldn’t sleep that night and wasn’t in the mood to take a shower in there the next morning.”

Experimentation is leading to new variations on the theme. In Shibuya, Tokyo, an artists’ colony called “Shibu House,” accommodates more than 20 individuals—about one third of who are female—in a 150 square meter 4LDK house. The mostly 20-ish residents have no private space at all and at night people just flop in the living room and elsewhere.

“Some people don’t come home from work at night so there’s always enough room to sleep,” a 29-year-old resident relates. “Anyway the total cost for rent and utilities comes to about 800,000 yen per month, so split 20 ways, that’s only 40,000 yen per person. We’re planning to boost the number of residents to 32 from April, and that will bring the rent down to even less.”

Shibu House house has only three ironclad rules for its residents: 1) Smoking is prohibited; 2) The laws must be obeyed; and 3) Use contraceptives.

  • -4

    Yubaru

    The 21st century Japanese version of a commune.

  • 19

    gaijinfo

    In the west we call this "having room mates." It's very common, and people have been doing this for years. For example, a married couple may buy a big house, with hope of having a family in the future. But in the present, they'll rent out some rooms to help with the mortgage.

    Or groups of students, all who don't know each other, will rent rooms from a house. Maybe one or two people in the house are organizing it by renting from the owner. Then they put up flyers on campus looking for "room mates."

    And some incredibly clever students will live rent free, because they rent the house from the owner, and then cover their own rent by charging their "tenants" enough.

    Only in Japan does this take on a different name, and "renters" need some official "real estate agent" to organize everything. So they can give it a unique Japanese angle like they've invented something new.

  • -20

    T-Mack

    Sound's like the house of ill repute...What low self esteem and low pesonal value's...Not a good place to live...

  • 12

    Okinawamike

    T-Mack, would it be better to stay at Dad's house until your 40+?

    Get out and visit the real world would be a better option.

  • -4

    T-Mack

    I don't think that would be better, But I get yout point. Surviving... the so called real world...Okinawamike...

  • 1

    GW

    Yep, room mates, been going on for many many decades elsewhere, better late than never here though.

    I have often thought a similar approach might be good for families, elderly, and it has been happening a bit of late, whereby people of like mind set up mutually beneficial living situations WHERE & HOW they want to live.

    Given that there is basically no old age care systems in place here hopefully similar ideas will catch on & hopefully work!

  • -7

    Yubaru

    In the west we call this "having room mates." It's very common, and people have been doing this for years.

    Not quite even close to being the same. In the "west" people had their own rooms, and you didn't have 20 or 30 people living together in a house that is better fit to 5 or 10 at the most.

    For example, a married couple may buy a big house, with hope of having a family in the future. But in the present, they'll rent out some rooms to help with the mortgage.

    But they don't expect that their guests are going to be screwing the owner's wife or husband. Come on, get real here, sharing is one thing, but the numbers involved and the space is TOTALLY different.

    If you have ever seen some of these "shared" places the limited amount of space should shock anyone. Only space equal to one tatami, that's it, no more no less, and 5 o 6 people living in a space meant for 1.

    There should also be serious concerns about these places in terms of health and fire laws as well.

    If done right, I agree it could be a great thing for some people, but so far the overwehlming majority of places that I have seen are way too small. Plus these types of places are getting a boom kind of kick due to a recent TV show with Kimura-Takuya so people think it's easy.

  • 2

    corner-of-my-eye

    there are more house shares now because people have less money.this is also why less people are deciding to have children. i guess the younger japanese of today are far less well-off than their parent's generation. me too !lol

  • -1

    Kimokekahuna Hawaii

    This is a great idea.. what is the old way works. Everyone has to do something however to support the community.. some people do not like to cook.. others like to garden, other like to fish or hunt and everyone does not have to do everything.. old people are not thrown out and elderly care for the children with patience and understanding where young parents do not sometimes take or have the time. This is not an experiment.. it is actually something that would work well in a culture like Japan where people respect each other private space.. are not loud or abusive.. share what they have and learn to give unconditional love and live in peace.

  • 4

    ChibaChick

    Like many westerners I left home at 18 to go to university and never went back permanently. I had been living alone for about 7 years and was 29 when I finally came over to Japan and moved in with my then Japanese boyfriend. I was blown away when people here seemed really shocked asked me if my parents had given me permission to move in with him! WTF??!

  • 3

    smithinjapan

    There's nothing wrong with this, so long as you can find suitable roommates. In fact, it is preferential for many people to living alone or with a romantic partner, and the benefits are immense. Of course, there are downfalls if it turns out the 'ideal' roommate turns out to be less so, but that's part of the experience as well. The gains far outweigh the costs, and while Japan may be newer to this than its Western counterparts, I think it's a good thing -- so long as each person has his/her own bedroom. Aside from a couple of problems over the years -- usually kitchen/food related -- I LOVED living with roommates; you go out together sometimes, watch TV/movies together (hopefully have the same tastes), dinner parties, etc.

    Having a roommate or roommates can teach you all sorts of interpersonal skills and cooperation.

  • 1

    WA4TKG

    The last Gaiji House I stayed in, there was more JAPANESE in it then Gaiji's !

  • 5

    Stephen Knight

    A lot of the newer places are actually pretty nice, individual rooms, often with private baths or showers, plus a shared living/communal room and large shared kitchen, and sometimes other amenities (I've seen a few with game rooms, etc.). They often renovate older apartment buildings or dormitories, so the rooms are usually at least 20-30 sq. meters each. There is also shared housing specifically for women, and for elderly singles. Despite some of the above comments, I don't think anyone in the business thinks they've invented something new, but it's certainly a different trend for Japan's real estate market. At least one of the companies playing a big role in this business in Tokyo is run by people with extensive experience living overseas, and that exposure is largely what has motivated them to find new ways to meet the housing needs of younger people in a more affordable, environmentally responsible way by converting and renovating existing housing stock.

  • 1

    Wakarimasen

    Nice stories. although given the pernicketiness of Japanese neighbours, hope the younger generation is more forgiving. Otherwise house share would be awful.

  • 3

    Jaymann

    really.... flatting is such a big deal?

  • 3

    Cos

    more than 20 individuals—about one third of who are female—in a 150 square meter 4LDK house Shibu House house has only three ironclad rules for its residents:... and 3) Use contraceptives.

    What kind of "shops" are those ? Run away. I'd pay to not enter there.

  • -4

    tmarie

    I think it is about time the locals have clued into this. I have no idea why mommy and daddy agree to pay for their children to live alone when in uni with all the costs they are already paying. Room up and learn to live with others. I have always wondered if the whole living at home until marriage wasn't part of the communication issues people face here with their marriages. Too set in their own ways and "shocked" at the way their spouse behaves. Living with others is a mind opener. I for one learned that I never wanted to have roommates ever again (and didn't until marriage) and that women are far worse roommates that guys.

    The sex thing makes me laugh. I lived with three guys and certainly has zero interest in bumping uglies with them. Mind you, I was raised to be friends with the opposite sex which is something that doesn't really happen here.

  • 0

    ReformedBasher

    Only in Japan does this take on a different name, and "renters" need some official "real estate agent" to organize everything. So they can give it a unique Japanese angle like they've invented something new.

    Where in the article does it say it's a Japanse idea and it's new?

    From 25 in 2000, the number of listed houses rose to 982 in 2011.

    13 years ago and you call that "new"? You seem to have a reading comprehension disorder.

    I knew Japanese students who were sharing accomodation in the 80's In fact, all of the Japanese studets I knew were sharing accomodation, and with other nationalities as well. And there were lots of East Asian kids backpacking before trendy Western people started it.

  • 5

    wanderlust

    Sharing a flat or house when at University was very common, and would often continue until you found a partner you want to be with; then you moved out somewhere else together. It also taught you how to cook, clean, manage a budget, undertake basic repairs, how to shop, respect for other people, etc.; the kind of things that young people here seem incapable of doing as they go straight from their parents to dormitories to married life.

  • 3

    Yubaru

    My complaint is the type of places, there was one on TV just the other night, where the people are paying outlandish amounts of cash for space the size of one tatami, in a house overflowing with 25 or 30 people.

    Room share is one thing, sharing the neighborhood in one house is another.

    I've room shared in a frat house I know what it's like, but some of these places that are renting out space are literally putting 4 or 5 people in a 6 tatami room. That's insane.

  • 3

    Cos

    Well that's a kuchikomi story...

    these places that are renting out space are literally putting 4 or 5 people in a 6 tatami room. That's insane.

    Yes. That's the level of the dorms for the day workers in Nishinari-ku, but the rate is 8000 to 10 000 yen per month. As a backpacker, I have stayed in (very cheap) crowded places like that. They were way less creepy, all had some no promiscuity rules which is necessary to distinguish a dorm from a... ahem. If some want to play, they go out and find an individual room somewhere, there are love-hotels. For the "comfort", it's OK when you travel. No way you can live in such conditions when you have to get up in the morning to go to work over a long period. 20 Japanese OL grooming themselves in one bathroom in the morning ?

    that’s only 40,000 yen per person.

    At 20 in a 4 LDK. Really someone is making big money. Here, it's a 4 LDK gaijin house for 4 at 50 000 yen each and they have one room per person (with cardboard walls and transparent sliding doors, sharing the tiny Japanese bath and kitchen with 3 total strangers, it is already challenging). And the neighbors say it's a rip off as they rent the twin of the house for 70 000 yen. Even if Tokyo is more expensise, is anybody on this board renting a house for 800 000 yen per month ?

  • 0

    bokuwamo

    When I was a teenager, this was called a Hippie comune. The 60's and 70's in America. Story has a lot in common with a hippie comune, group of strangers living together for different reasons. Differences, happening in Japan.

  • 2

    ThonTaddeo

    Cos, I was just about to make that point. Y800,000 for a 150-square-meter house (presumably the 150 is split among multiple floors) is absolutely outrageous. It sounds like the owner of Shibu House is making a bundle off these cramped tenants.

  • 2

    kringis

    Unfortunately this article is trying to sell these house shares as places where you can meet and have sex with random strangers. That's all fun and games until a) someone gets an STD, b) someone gets jealous and uses a knife in an incorrect manner, c) a dead baby turns up in the garbage. This article is irresponsible writing at its best.

  • 0

    Fadamor

    COMMUNAL ORGIES! Boom chika WOW WOW... Of course, there will always be at least ONE resident who doesn't want to "get DOWN with your bad thing!" There needs to be a way to "vote those people off the island" so to speak.

    "Hilda Spinsterforlife, the Commune has spoken. You have been voted out. Pack your bags."

  • 0

    Yubaru

    When I was a teenager, this was called a Hippie comune. The 60's and 70's in America. Story has a lot in common with a hippie comune, group of strangers living together for different reasons. Differences, happening in Japan.

    Hence a previous comment, you get, I get it, and it seems some others do as well, but hey there are folks here that don't remember or even know about that part of America's history.

    Yes. That's the level of the dorms for the day workers in Nishinari-ku, but the rate is 8000 to 10 000 yen per month. As a backpacker, I have stayed in (very cheap) crowded places like that.

    For a one or two night stay, hey I agree great way to save money and to meet folks on a trip, but to live? No thank you. But I suppose that there are some that are used to the cramped environment from when they were kids, like a family of 4 or 5 (or maybe more) living in a 2LDK or maybe less.

  • 0

    Himajin

    It's not a commune, and it's not to have orgies...ever been to one? Didn't think so...just more JT armchair experts on everything going on about something they've never seen or experienced, again.

  • 2

    bruinfan

    There are some good ideas. I know some of the "gaijin houses" charge almost as much for a shared room as you could pay for an apartment though (but you don't need a guarantor so they can get away with this).

  • 0

    25psot

    This type of share accommodation is a good concept but unfortunately often people with bat habits and psychological problems end up living with easy going and hard working individuals . Usually good people fade away from such house and more bad once come to replace them. At the end police may be needed to regulate some problems between tenants. If several people know and or trust each other they may rent independent apartment and share it. This way they may live free of trouble for several years and more than ten years .

  • 1

    Fadamor

    It's not a commune, and it's not to have orgies...ever been to one?

    Sure, I've been to MANY orgies. But that's besides the point. The point is you should lighten up, Francis. Nobody REALLY cares whether or not these "share houses" are operated as communes or whether orgies happen in them. Oh wait... the people trying to sell rooms in such houses would care because it affects their profit margin. That wouldn't happen to describe YOU, would it?

  • 0

    TheQuestion

    In my area of the US we call them Boarding Houses and there's nothing new or trendy about them. Most of my friends have lived as such before and some prefer it because it's cheaper than living alone. I personally have way to much stuff to entertain the idea, plus most people's shower heads only come up to my chest and the years of me having to hunch over just to wash my hair are far behind me, thankfully.

  • 0

    rydangel

    after living in a college dorm , i never wanted another roommate again. my first one stole everything that wasn't nailed down and i was a poor scholarship student. i worked 2 jobs to pay for school, i'm steal paying off the student loans.my second would have guys sleeping over every night and we lived in a girls dorm. living in a boarding house where you have your own room is one thing, but sharing a single room with multiple people is madness and i grew up sharing a bedroom with 2 sisters!

  • 1

    SwissToni

    I shared as a student and when I started working. Always had our own rooms but shared the chores and paid the rent on time. One of my (still) best friends is from that period......30 years ago now.

  • 0

    Elbuda Mexicano

    One awful thing about these room-mates, bring a gal "home" you need to ask your body to leave for a while, etc..not enough privacy, or are some people here into being watched?? I mean like watched while doing the nasty??

  • -1

    misstiatokyo

    I think sharing with room mates might teach Japanese better social skills than they currently have. Alot of people seem to exist in their own tech bubble and having to come out of it and interact with another human scares them to death! At least if they live together and learn to share and get a long they might act a little more maturely when it comes to personal relationships and dating in the future.

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