These days, stories on micro-apartments both trendy (see New York City) and not-so-trendy-at-all (see Hong Kong) are pretty much unavoidable, so I was intrigued when a post from Kotaku, Gawker Media’s video game-centric site, detailing tiny apartments in Tokyo’s crazy dense Shibuya District started to blow up around the interwebs. After all, Japan exceeds at both trendiness and compact, often cutesy, minimalist living (and population density and exorbitant living costs).
However on the trendy scale, I’m going to have to say these so-called “apartments” err more on the Hong Kong side of things: Not trendy or aspirational but oppressive and supremely claustrophobic. One key words in the Kotaku headline — “coffin” — pretty much sums up what we’re dealing with here.
Recently investigated by a Japanese news program, Shibuya’s “share houses” or “geki-sema” offer a communal living set-up — shared bathrooms and kitchens — for a monthly rent of ¥55,000 ($586) or less. Utilities are included. The catch, of course, is that the rooms themselves are oversized storage lockers where standing upright is certainly not an option. Unable to accommodate much more than bedding, shelving, a small TV, and clothing, these apartments are nothing more than cramped sleeping cabinets. Some have windows but that will cost you extra.
Shibuya’s cubby hole flats are, of course, reminiscent of Japan’s super-budget capsule hotels which pretty much function as close-to-railway station crash pads for businessmen who have missed the last commuter train home or partiers too drunk to make it back to the ‘burbs after a wild night on the town. The key difference here is that these impossibly petite geki-sema rent by the month and not by the night (capsule hotels did, however, serve as a temporary home to those hit hard by Japan’s recession). The units in both Shibuya’s geki-sema and traditional capsule hotels are stacked, not much unlike modular cat kennels.
The aforementioned news program chats with two geki-sema dwellers: a 19-year-old aspiring actress and a 24-year-old aspiring entrepreneur who estimates that his windowless, $480/month unit "might be as big as two tatami mats." In Japan, tatami mats are traditionally used to measure a room's floor area and run about 1.6 square meters.
Small rooms are usually four to six tatami mats big.
One thing that's occured to me: What if you're head over heels for a young lady or gentleman and they're insistent on "going back to your place" after a particularly romantic date? Would the fact that you sleep in a coffin with your favorite stuffed animal be a deal-breaker?