Tokyo’s micro-apartments are growing in popularity: the secret to living in a “shoebox”


So-called “three-carpet apartments” are popping up all over Tokyo, with rents as low as 50,000 a month. These apartments are attractive to many younger tenants who tolerate the surprisingly small living space, favoring a convenient location and low rent.

April is a time of transition in Japan – the start of the financial year, the start of the academic year, and the time when new graduates start working. As these new beginnings approach, many people move to prepare for their new lives. Those looking for new accommodation undoubtedly consider rent and location, but the size of the apartment is also a deciding factor. Recently, young people have turned to a new lifestyle: surprisingly small apartments.

A typical house with “three mats” in an apartment building of the Ququri brand.

Real estate developer Spilytus operates apartment buildings under the Ququri brand. Each apartment has a shower room, separate toilet, and kitchenette, with a living space measuring just three tatami mats (a standard way to measure the size of a room in Japan) on the floor area. (One rug is 1.62 square meters, which makes a three-rug room of less than 5 square meters). Depending on the tenant’s furniture, these may be standing places only. Even with the addition of a loft measuring approximately 6.5 square meters, these units offer a total of just over 11 square meters of living space. The photo above illustrates the cramped living conditions.

A one story floor plan in a Ququri apartment complex.  The figure of 9 square meters includes the hallway and the kitchenette space in the count.
A one story floor plan in a Ququri apartment complex. The figure of 9 square meters includes the hallway and the kitchenette space in the count.

The past two years have shown no signs of a decline in the popularity of Ququri Apartments. The company has approximately 1,200 units in Ebisu, Nakameguro, Shinjuku, Shibuya and other carefully chosen trendy areas of Tokyo. The rooms are permanently occupied and the company constructs new buildings every year. Breaking with tradition, the firm does not ask for a deposit, reikin (“Key money”, a non-refundable bonus paid to the landlord) or the cost of renewing the lease. This, coupled with free internet access, makes these mini apartments very attractive to young people.

What kind of person would choose to live in such a small apartment and what factors do they take into consideration? We asked a representative of Spilytus for a better understanding.

Most renters in their 20s or 30s

The idea for Ququri arose out of the experiences of the company’s president, Nakama Keisuke. When Spilytus had just been established, Nakama worked day and night, taking the first train to work and the last train home. He planned to live near the office, which was then in Shinjuku, but rents in this bustling Tokyo area were mostly over 100,000 a month. Cheaper rooms existed, but tended to be decades old, with moldy tatami floors and combined bathrooms / toilets, a lowering from the standard Japanese layout, which places the toilet in a separate room in the bathroom. the swimming area.

All he wanted was a modern, inexpensive apartment, close to work, regardless of its size. It was the seed that became Ququri.

Apartments attract more male than female tenants, with a ratio of 6: 4. Most tenants are between twenty and thirty years old: around 60% are employees of the company and students represent an additional 30%. Only 10% of the occupants are over 40, some of whom rent a mini-apartment in addition to their usual accommodation. Rents vary by location, but range from around 50,000 to 80,000 per month, with trendy neighborhoods like Ebisu at the higher end of the scale.

Location and location of key factors

Without exception, potential tenants are primarily concerned with affordability and rent. These days, with all the entertainment you need in a single smartphone, more and more people are prioritizing convenient location over floor space.

One occupant, who has lived in an apartment in Ququri for four years, says having few possessions means not hesitating to run out of floor space. Although otherwise very satisfied, this person noted a few drawbacks: the occasional noise from other occupants and the lack of a balcony.

Another long-term resident said when he moved in three years ago he was surprised at how small it was. But because it’s so busy, the apartment is mostly used only for sleeping, so size doesn’t really matter.

The company installs fiberglass for sound and thermal insulation, sandwiched between double panel walls. The company now builds concrete buildings in addition to the wooden buildings that were the norm until now.

“The convenience store is my refrigerator”

Of course, there are also advantages for the real estate company. More spacious accommodations provide more flexibility in the design of the room, kitchen, bathroom, and storage space, but it all comes at a cost. The size and floor plan of Ququri units keep planning time to a minimum.

The recent minimalist and decluttering movements may be another reason some people have decided to choose Ququri. Many residents do not even own a television, but instead use their smartphones or laptops to watch programs.

The Spilytus rep recounted some memorable anecdotes from tenants, including one resident who didn’t even own a refrigerator, saying, “The convenience store is my refrigerator. Another said he lost 15 kilograms after moving in, thanks to a drastically reduced commute, which gave him time to run each morning.

Demand for apartments shows no signs of slowing down, with the company turning down applicants or placing them on waiting lists every day due to a lack of vacancies. The trend looks set to continue.

Tales from a second-year resident

To hear the other side of the story, we interviewed a resident, Aiko (not her real name), who has lived in an apartment in Ququri for two years. Originally from the Kansai region, she found the apartment following a professional transfer which brought her to the capital. Passionate about travel, Aiko has visited 35 countries and currently works for an organization that strives to attract tourists to Japan.

Aiko first chose the small apartment because it corresponded perfectly to her requirements: “a loft, separate rooms for the toilet and the shower, and no need for a bathtub”, whatever the floor space.

Still, her first impression upon moving in was how small it was.

Aiko is outspoken about the pros and cons of living in such cramped conditions. On the positive side, she doesn’t pile things up and has used her ingenuity to create a relaxed living space. However, she complains that shoe storage is limited, a drawback for her as a vintage sneaker collector.

Despite the very limited space in the kitchen, Aiko has found that she can use her dining table for many prep tasks. Another example of her innovation is cleaning products: by purchasing smaller formats, she puts them all in a single box for document filing.

Aiko's bedroom is tiny, but perfectly organized and quite habitable.
Aiko’s bedroom is tiny, but perfectly organized and quite habitable.

Is bigger really better?

Aiko’s daily life centers around the dining table, for reading and studying, as well as for meal preparation and meals. She says she only uses the attic for sleeping.

Aiko does not own a television and says she has no plans to buy one. “I want to value this space and my time,” she notes.

When asked if she always wanted a more spacious place, Aiko says that in her old bigger place, she “just stacked things up.” She also found that there were areas of dead space and it was difficult to heat properly in the winter. “Since moving here, I never thought I would prefer a bigger place.

Aiko is adamant about her intention to stay in her small apartment. “The living conditions correspond perfectly to my requirements. I also like the matching white walls and floor – I can pick furniture in any color and be sure it will fit in my place. Glad to live somewhere with such a smart design.

What advice would she give to future mini-apartment dwellers? Aiko says that with a little ingenuity, anyone can make a small apartment feel right at home. She particularly recommends them to people looking for a minimalist lifestyle. Aiko’s bedroom is indeed sparse and tidy – she certainly hasn’t accumulated anything unnecessary.

The view from the loft.
The view from the loft.

The spread of minimalist lifestyle concepts, with their detachment from materialism, has undoubtedly boosted the popularity of “three carpet” apartments. The trend looks set to continue for now.

(Originally published in Japanese on FNN Online bonus on February 11, 2020. Translated and edited by All photos courtesy of Spylitus.)

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