Singles in Japan live it up under one roof

Wider social circle: Many choose shared housing to meet people. — The Straits Times

Wider social circle: Many choose shared housing to meet people. — The Straits Times

FOR rent: Fully furnished rooms with shared kitchens, chandeliers, soundproof music rooms and parties galore.

Plus, the chance of finding the love of your life.

Shared houses in Tokyo as well as in major cities such as Kyoto offer these and more as an upmarket and a trendy lifestyle choice for singles who like the convenience and sense of community.

While the concept is not new – the first shared houses in Japan emerged about 20 years ago – it is gaining popularity as the number of singles grows.

One in five men and one in 10 women had never been married by the age of 50, according to the latest government data published in 2010. The figures are expected to rise to one in three men and one in five women over the next 20 years.

Ai Hasegawa, a media art designer in her 30s, is one happy camper after moving into a luxurious 41-room shared house in suburban Tokyo called Ryozan Park.

“As an artist, there are days when I don’t leave the house at all, working on my projects. When I was living in London, I went into a kind of depression because of that lifestyle,” Hasegawa, who worked as an art and design researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “So when I moved back to Japan, I wanted to avoid that.”

Living at Ryozan Park, she said, means almost every night is party time, with spontaneous drinking sessions in the kitchen or lounge for anyone in the mood for it.

The number of shared housing properties in Japan has tripled to nearly 3,000 over the past three years, offering a total of some 40,000 rooms, according to the Japan Shared Housing Organisation.

Hituji Incubation Square, which runs an online portal listing available shared housing in Japan, said the number of properties on its site has increased by 20 times since the website was started nearly 10 years ago.

In the past three years, the number of inquiries for shared housing has doubled to about 200,000 a year, the company said, mainly from women in their 20s to 30s looking to widen their social circle.

Shared housing used to be seen as less than ideal as residents had to share the kitchen, bathrooms and toilets, which were likely to be furnished very simply.

But, in the past five years, they have been transformed into a coveted mode of living by operators hoping to tap the growing pool of singles.

Rooms in shared houses mostly cost between 50,000 yen (RM1,939) and about 150,000 yen (RM5,805) a month, including the cost of utilities, Wi-Fi and maintenance. Cleaning services for common areas are also included.

It is not cheaper but more expensive than renting a private home.

Residents, however, are happy to exchange privacy for a larger living space. They see it as an affordable way to live in a chic environment with facilities that look like they are from an interior design magazine.

Ryozan Park, for example, has chandeliers in the kitchen and leather sofas in the lounge and reading room. It also has a gym, soundproof music room and sun terrace.

Nanako Otake, a Hituji spokesman, said the market was also boosted by the increasing number of foreigners living in Japan and Japanese who return from overseas.Expanding their social circle was another main reason cited. That, after all, is the spark for romance.

Ryozan Park, for one, has had 24 residents couple up and marry since it opened nearly five years ago.

But, for some, the convivial atmosphere of shared houses can get too much.

Keiko Tamura, a customer service executive in her late 20s, left a shared house after six months as she was overwhelmed by the “pressure to socialise”.

“If you don’t take part in the events, you may be seen as rude or unfriendly. In Japanese society, one is expected to ‘show face’ at these events, and it took a toll,” she said.

“I also found myself spending more money on buying drinks or food for parties.”

Youth , single in japan