Along with the endless applications you need to submit for university admission, a student visa in Japan, a bank account, health insurance, and so on, housing or accommodation for the duration of your studies in Japan is one of the tedious work you will need to figure out before and probably during your stay here. Deciding where to live is tricky since most of the time it’s before you move to Japan. Here we’ve compiled personal stories and tips on how current and past international students have found their home away from home.

Things to consider

There is a list of questions you have to go through to narrow down your options and decide on what kind of accommodation will suit your student life best and give you the comfort of living away from home.

The first question you will encounter is are you going to live off-campus, or on-campus? Some universities provide student housing especially for international students. However, some of these school dorms are outside of campus, and some are within the campus.

University-provided student housing

An example of university-provided student housing outside campus is Waseda University’s Waseda International Student House (WISH) dormitory. It is located in Nakano-ku, a ten-minute walk from Nakano station and on the direct train line to Waseda station. Rungroj Liu, a Waseda University student currently living in WISH shares, “I [am] currently living in the dormitory managed directly under the university called Waseda International Student House, or WISH, for short. It is located 10-minutes walk away from Nakano Station. Four students share one unit in this dorm: one living room with four private rooms. The dorm consists of 70% Japanese students and 30% International students. The dormitory also has its own gym, music room, convenience store, event halls, and a public bathing area, where students of all nationalities can have a chat there while bathing leisurely.”

Waseda University’s WISH dormitory

Similarly, Sophia University also offers accommodation to its students. For Marco Christian, ” I live in Sophia Soshigaya International House, one of Sophia University’s student dorms in Setagaya ward of Tokyo city. The neighborhood of Soshigaya is a quiet residential area which is very comfortable to live in, although it is located quite far from campus. It takes 20 minutes by walk or around 8 minutes by bus to Seijo-gakuen Mae Station (Odakyu Line), the closest train station. It takes another 30 minutes by train to the Yotsuya campus. Though it is a bit far, I really like living here since the community in the dorm is amazing. A mix of Japanese and international Sophia University students live in the dorm, and the common areas allow you to make many friends and opportunities for cultural exchange. There are also many facilities you can use for free: gym, training room, music room, and a big kitchen. Adding to that is the Triangle Festa, a lively neighborhood festival held every Autumn that involves the dorm.”

He also recommends living in the dorm, saying ” I personally recommend to those who are considering coming to Sophia University to consider living in the International House. It is a very good experience and can really help you make good friends and gain a support system during your study here. It is also a very affordable accommodation, with monthly rent below 50000 yen, which is very cheap for Setagaya ward and Tokyo in general. The neighborhood is also very convenient, with everything you need (supermarket, home center) located just nearby.”

Sophia Soshigaya International House

If you’ve never lived in Japan before and are easily overwhelmed by the rush hour commute by train, living on campus might be a better option for you. With fewer responsibilities to worry about such as paying the bills or getting in touch with a landlord, university-provided on-campus housing has a lot of perks that many international students describe as a vital part of their student life experience.

So what’s it like to live on campus? Hannah Wiltshier, former International Christian University (ICU) student shares “I live in Maple House, a student dorm out of the ten dormitories on campus. Living on the fifth floor with 25 other girls, it is a ‘home’ away from home I look forward to coming back at the end of each day. Having a single room for the second half of my university life has allowed me to have the perfect balance in gaining a sense of independence whilst belonging to a community. I have a different set of faces to engage in conversation, the majority of whom are April students, having mostly bought up in Japan. The dorm has been a backbone to my university life; diving into Japanese culture, receiving information and advice on which classes to take as well as help for the Japanese language, especially during job hunting seasons – there’s always been support. I transferred to this dorm in March 2017, just after it was newly built with facilities such as the social area, where I have studied with friends until the early hours to reach essay deadlines, a public bath and a Japanese tatami room on the first floor.”

If you’re planning to study at a university that is outside Tokyo, you may be what dorm life will be like there too. Ying Han is currently an undergraduate student at Osaka University and is living in one of the international dorms. “I live in the Osaka University Tsukumodai International Dorm in Suita. Fortunately, I was placed on the first floor, in a hallway with nine other girls in single rooms, with the shared facilities of the toilets, restroom, shower, and kitchen. It’s a large building with five floors in total, co-ed, split in half. The lobby area leads into a sort of recreational room, equipped with groups of tables, a TV, sofa, and large kitchen. Seemingly constantly occupied with residents meandering in and out, this area is always lively, even into the early morn – which is especially nice when you’ve forgotten your key card after the building locks and need someone to save the day.

Tsukumodai International Student House

In the halls, it’s a lot quieter, but there are always happy coincidences when you bump into someone at the microwave, in the kitchen, or brushing their teeth at the sink with you. I’ll be a little sad to leave the dorm when I move out to my own apartment at the end of this month; I can already imagine how lonely it might get and the imminent ~ real adulting ~ I’ll have to do to survive on my own (electricity/gas bill? internet bill? water bill? what are those). It was nice to relive the quintessential college dorm life while I’ve been here though.”

Independent Living

If you seek more freedom or a change of environment, opting to live independently outside your university’s campus is an option, albeit not an easy one. There are pros and cons to this as well, from budgeting your time and money to deciding whether to live alone or share your space with other people.

Elizabeth Signo, an undergraduate student from Waseda University, had the opportunity to live on her own and just 10-minutes away from Waseda University. What she’s learned through this lifestyle, she shares, “Living alone and taking care of myself is a task I had to face to study in Japan. Growing up with my parents gave me the immediate comfort I needed with them being there if I needed the necessities in life, like food, shelter and especially a ride back home. Everything had to change since I am now living alone.”

Sharing space with fellow students can be a fun and budget-friendly experience for some too. Pongadisorn Jamerbsin tells us his experience of sharing living space.

“I now live in a shared apartment in a quiet residential area along the Yamanote Line. I share this spacious apartment with four Thai friends who study at the same university. It is within walking distance of the main campus and just one train line to the second biggest campus.

By sharing apartments like this, you can live in spacious places in nice areas with reasonable rents like this. Normally if you live alone you live in small rooms far from train stations with hefty rents. Welcome to Tokyo.”

Switching options

It’s also quite common for university student housing to have a limit of two years of stay, and students then have to choose a different accommodation. Some opt to move into an apartment by themselves, some apply for a different school dorm, some try sharehouses as a different experience.

So what’s the difference in living in a dorm and living by your own?

“I lived in the university dormitory for 8 months. Living in the dormitory for the first couple months or the first year is a good choice for foreign students. Because we can learn about live in Japan and adapt to the environment without worrying about house related stuff. Looking for a place to live in Japan is really difficult especially when you are a foreigner and don’t know how to speak Japanese. My dormitory is like any other dormitory, I have my own room and bathroom, the kitchen is shared and there is common room or lounge in each floor.

Now I am living in a 1K apartment, a single apartment with a separate kitchen and living area (bedroom), which located 15 minutes from Ikebukuro. I love my apartment, because the neighborhood is quiet and there are some vegetable farms nearby. In fact, there is a vegetable farm right across my building! So whenever I open my window I have the view of green vegetables and trees. Also, my room facing south so I have lots of sunlight. It is really important to me as I like waking up with sunlight pouring through my window in the morning. There are no high rises building and the people are nice.”- Yulia Rahmawati, a graduate student from the University of Tokyo.

Your living environment while you spend your days studying in Japan can also make or break your experience, so its best to do your research and inquire at your university. Also, getting tips from other international students on how they handled apartment-hunting or dorm applications can be a way for you to make friends and learn from their experience.