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No-bath apartments win over Japan's minimalist youth
Preference for simplicity and social interaction fuel trend

Arata Noguchi's apartment in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward does not have a bath, which fits well with his desire for a simple life. (Photo by Shihoko Nakaoka)

SAKI TANAKA, Nikkei staff writer
January 8, 2023 11:04 JST

TOKYO -- Apartments without a bathtub or shower, reminiscent of those common in Japan from the 1950s to the '70s, are becoming popular again with young renters as public baths, gyms and other facilities where people can shower and bathe become more common.

Some people embrace a minimalist lifestyle of not owning things and are instead eager for social interaction. The appeal of no-bath apartments goes beyond lower rent: They fit well with the on-the-go lifestyles of many young people.

Shin Noguchi, 27, who works for an architectural design company in Tokyo, moved into a 40-year-old property without a bath in Tokyo in January 2022. The layout is simple: It has a Japanese-style toilet, a kitchen the size of two tatami mats (about 3.3 sq. meters), and a Japanese-style room of six tatami mats. The rent is less than 40,000 yen ($300), including water and gas, despite its location near Tokyo's trendy Shibuya district. Noguchi can commute to his office by bicycle.

The idea is not so much to save money as to live simply. "My goal was to live in a space with as little waste as possible, and to choose only the things I like. The eight-mat space I have now is just right for me, and it's the most comfortable place to live," he said. When Noguchi was a student, he lived alone in a house with a bathroom. "I used to feel that cleaning around the bathroom was a hassle, but now I am free from that hassle."

There are two public bathhouses in his neighborhood. "I use the bathhouse after work, and it helps me switch between work and private life," he said.

During Japan's postwar economic boom, as gas service became more widely available, the number of properties without baths declined and they are now a rarity. But these days, more people in their 20s and 30s are opting for a living space without a bath. In addition to lower rent, this trend is in keeping with the minimalist aesthetic of many young people.

Tokyo Sento Fudosan, a housing information website that specializes in listing properties without baths, has received a number of inquiries from young people in their 20s and 30s who want to live in central Tokyo. Sixty percent of these inquiries come from men, according to the company.

It seems that users of the website are checking to see how close a public bathhouse or a gym with showers is to the property, said Natsuko Kashima, who manages the site. "Areas with a good sanitation environment tend to have convenient supermarkets and other amenities in the city. Properties without baths are like a little-known place where one can live in an area with a good environment and low rent."

The appeal of a property without a bath is that you can see the entire town as a single house, which allows your life to extend into the town and lets you to get in touch with the local community, said Yuichi Kato, president of Sento Gurashi, a company that develops residential properties without baths.

Sento Gurashi made a proposal to the owner of one no-bath apartment in Tokyo's Suginami Ward to turn one room of the apartment building into a shared space and offer a monthly rent of about 60,000 yen to tenants, including a book of 10 admission tickets to a nearby public bath equal to 450 yen each. The company came up seeing a bathhouse in the neighborhood called Kosugi-yu that is popular with young people for its selection of manga.

After putting out a call on social media, about 50 people in their 20s and 30s inquired about the three rooms available. "The concept of having a large bath in a public bathhouse, and also allowing tenants to connect with others in the building, was well received," Kato said.

Toshiaki Nakayama, chief analyst at LIFULL HOME'S Research Institute, which conducts surveys and research on housing, believes that "The decline in real-life interaction with friends and colleagues due to the pandemic has also made public bathhouses more popular among younger people." Properties without baths are attracting attention for the same reason.

Some owners are offering properties without baths to tourists. Showa Yu, a bathhouse in Osaka, renovated a nearby row house and is now operating a guesthouse. Guests can bathe at the bathhouse for free.

As the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, the company began operating as a guesthouse and a co-working space with a public bath. "Although the move was unplanned, the public bath and tenement became a place for interaction with the community," said Teruo Morikawa of Showa Yu.

Although not having a bath at home is inconvenient at times, some people seem to enjoy the challenge and the social opportunities that come with it.

Source: Nikkei Asia. (2023, January 8). No-bath apartments win over Japan's minimalist youth. Nikkei Asia. Retrieved from [URL]


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