Specialized apartments designed to accommodate particular hobbies and lifestyles have been attracting attention in recent years, providing a new alternative for those searching for a place to live, whether they want to pound out a tune on the piano without angering the neighbors, or live with a beloved feline pet.
Located around five minutes' walk from Sangen-jaya Station in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward is a complex of apartments designed for musicians. I visited a model apartment.
"Right now music is playing in the adjacent room. Can you hear anything?" asked Masakatsu Yoshii, who heads the planning and development section of Tokyo-based Koshino Corp., which built the apartment.
I strained my ears but couldn't hear a thing. Even after turning off a fan, the sound of a grand piano was just barely audible. The volume of the music playing in the other room at this time was around 90 decibels, the same as playing a grand piano forcefully, or the racket you'd hear inside a pachinko parlor, Yoshii says. But a single wall lowers the sound to around 30 to 40 decibels, the same as in a residential neighborhood at night. Aiming to create a soundproof yet cozy environment, the designers have put double-paned glass in the windows out to the balconies and soundproofed doors within the rooms.
Koshino Corp. has so far built 17 such apartment complexes in Tokyo. They say they are popular not only among professional musicians and students at music universities, but among amateur performers as well.
Yoshii says, "Many people (who don't live in these apartments) rent studios in order to practice their instruments. The ability to practice easily at home is probably a big draw." He says the apartments usually rent at rates about 10 percent higher than regular counterparts in the area.
Yoichi Ikemoto, chief editor of SUUMO, a real-estate site run by Recruit Sumai Company, comments, "Market prices of rentals have been falling since the global financial crisis and the Great East Japan Earthquake, but lenders want to maintain their rental prices while filling empty rooms, and this has given rise to them finding ways to add value to their rooms."
There are also apartments with motorcycle-parking spaces for motorcycle-lovers, and apartments with wine-storage areas for wine lovers. The rent varies, but Ikemoto says, "I think in many cases they are around 10 percent more expensive than the market price (for an equivalent non-specialized apartment.)"
One 43-year-old woman in Setagaya Ward lives with her pet cats in an apartment. To find the apartment, she used the website http://neko-beya.com, a site managed by Tokyo real-estate company Rix Japan, through which people can search for apartments that allow occupants to keep cats. (Many apartment buildings in the metropolitan areas ban pets.)
"My cats are like family to me. I liked that I could live in fun and happiness with my cats here," she says.
Rix Japan does not just introduce its customers to apartments where cats are allowed; it also shows them apartments with cat-geared amenities like cat towers, mounted platforms for cats to walk around on, and special, scratch-resistant wallpaper. Staff members go to inspect all the apartments before introducing them to customers, checking how well shared facilities at the apartment complexes are managed and pinpointing problems, such as designs that would make it easy for cats to escape.
To prevent tenants from being charged large cleaning bills by landlords when they leave the apartment, the company has set the cleaning bills at the price that would be paid by an owner who doesn't keep cats, on top of one or two months' rent as a deposit.
Rix Japan's president Jun Sekiguchi is a cat-lover himself. "I want to introduce as many properties as possible where people and their cats can live comfortably among the restrictions of rented apartments," Sekiguchi says.
SUUMO chief editor Ikemoto says that specialized apartments are notable "not just for their equipment, but because people with the same likes and lifestyles gather there." If the residents interact more, this will lead to fondness for the apartments and a tendency to live there longer -- which from the view of the landlord means keeping more rooms filled. (By Aya Shiota, Lifestyle News Department)