Cost, location, networking opportunities and larger spaces are driving young Japanese in their 20s and 30s to settle for co-working and co-living spaces in central locations.
While ‘share-houses’ have existed in Japan for many years, and have been quite popular particularly since the 1990’s, their character is changing fast. While in the past, these residences were known as “Gaijin houses” (foreigner houses), and hosted mostly foreigners who were short on cash and had no access to guarantors, required for most normal property rentals – these days more than half of the residents are actually Japanese.
And while, in the past, the only Japanese who lived in these homes were those who wanted to study English or otherwise associate with foreigners, there are now all types of homes which fall under the “share house” category in most bigger cities in the country. These include strictly Japanese oriented ones, local Japanese language web portals where companies running these residential operations advertise their living spaces, and even themed guest houses to suit all tastes, focussed around common interests, such as art, design, music and even the love of animals.
The main advantages, aside from the obvious mingling opportunities, are cost and location. While a central Tokyo apartment for a single or couple can cost the same as a private room in a share-house, the move-in fees, which can often come up to several months of rent for normal properties, are far cheaper – and there are less securities and guarantees or guarantors required.
This suits mainly younger people, in their twenties and thirties, who are wary of committing to a rental lease and are reluctant to spend thousands of dollars (hundreds of thousands of yens) – without even being able to live where they really want or need to, and often compromising on long commutes and less than desirable suburbs.
Many Japanese who have studied or lived abroad find themselves stranded upon their return to Japan – while looking for a new job and having depleted their cash reserves, and having most likely already experienced co-living while overseas, often with foreigners – these arrangements suit them perfectly.
Last but not least, while Japanese apartments are notoriously small, often with just enough room to place a sleeping mat and some clothes in, these larger homes on the other hand often have gardens or back/front yards, large entertainment areas, and far better equipped kitchens. Hence, those who do not mind sharing the common areas with others, hopefully like-minded individuals, can enjoy a far more spacious living space.
From an investment perspective, these homes can generate far higher income than standard tenancy arrangements. And with the growing popularity of the co-living theme, there are now plenty of companies operating such spaces on behalf of investors and owners, making this a viable, relatively hassle-free property investment for owners as well.
MORE START-UPS CREATING DEMAND
While Japan has been long lagging in its start-up & entrepreneurial spirit compared to other countries around the world, the last five years have seen the rapid disintegration of the unwritten “lifelong employment” contract between Japanese company and their employees. This unwritten arrangement has long been the staple of the risk-averse Japanese psyche.
But things have changed drastically in recent years. As companies struggle with lack of efficiency and are often forced to let long-time employees go, the Japanese have become more accustomed and are willing to take bigger leaps of faith. This results in a budding start-up environment that, while not quite gripping the country by storm, is certainly taking shape, and is accelerating quite quickly across the country.
Two main locations for would-be entrepreneurs are Tokyo and Fukuoka cities, on opposite sides of the country. While Tokyo boasts huge international appeal and plenty of opportunities to connect with like-minded business-folks from all walks of life, Fukuoka, which enjoys a lower cost of living and advanced governance, is a close contender for the “start-up capital” crown.
Of the two, Tokyo has a larger number of coworking spaces and “hot-desk” offices, while Fukuoka is becoming more famous internationally, and also has better support – being the only place in Japan that has established special “entrepreneur visas” for foreigners who wish to try and set up a business in the city. The visas enable them to bypass required bureaucracy for up to six months – and also offers a number of government programmes offering to provide mentorship, advice and locations for both local and foreign business owners who wish to make their idea a reality.
There are now hundreds of co-working spaces all around the country, of varying styles, sizes and in many more or less central locations – as well as an ever-increasing presence of angel investors and business incubators active in the Japanese start-up market. The more daring Japanese out there are taking notice of this expanding infrastructure, and are taking a shot at their dream in lieu of standard employment in a large Japanese firm.
While both Fukuoka and Tokyo are still a far cry from the hub and hum of Silicone Valley or TelAviv, compared to the typical Japanese working environment of the past, something has definitely begun to stir in this regard here as well.