Tokyo’s ‘coffin apartments’ are more expensive than you’d think

How much do you want to live downtown? It’s an important question. Because young people in the world’s greatest cities are juggling unaffordable rents and sometimes working several jobs just to live in a glorified closet with four other people.

We often get the bulk of our nightmare apartment stories from places like New York City and Vancouver, where “micro suites” are now popping up everywhere, allotting people 350 sq. feet of living space for significantly more money than you’d imagine. If you can get a table a bed and a sofa in there, you’re pretty much a black-belt in efficiency.

But no matter how unpleasant you think our situation sounds, these micro suites are positively palatial compared to the way some people live in Tokyo and Hong Kong.

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In Tokyo there is something known as “coffin apartments”. These dwellings are essentially share houses that consist of communal bathrooms and locker-sized sleeping quarters stacked on top of one another.

These lockers, which in a disturbing way sort of resemble morgue refrigerators, run anywhere between 50 to 75 square feet, according to the New York Daily News.

Young professionals have long been willing to pay anywhere between $500 to $1000 just to rent a space that can hold little more than a few personal items and a sleeping body – provided you’re under 6 feet tall. Then you can kiss the feeling of stretching your legs out goodbye.

Oh – and if you want a window to provide a little light in your cubicle, that’ll drive up the price big time.

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Though these share houses have been around for a while, a recent feature on a Japanese news program has brought them far more global notoriety.

Kotaku notes that the news program interviewed several locker renters, including a young entrepreneur who said he simply didn’t have much money, which is why he was renting what looks like the top drawer of a giant filing cabinet.

Chisato, a 19-year-old aspiring actress, said she was willing to live in a space that measured 1.5 tatami mats just so she could be close to the popular Shibuya district in downtown Tokyo.

Both said the situation was alright, as they spent most of their time out of the home and only came back to sleep. Plus Chisato’s locker has pink wallpaper. Small mercies?

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But local reaction to the story had many Tokyo residents shaking their head, wondering why these people were shelling out so much money when they could get a much bigger place for a similar rent.

"If you look, you can find a two bedroom apartment for ¥55,000 ($613 CDN) a month," writes a commenter. "These people are being deceived."

As bad as this may sound, the Japanese still provide fairly humane living conditions compared to the cage apartments of Hong Kong.

CNN has disturbing images of the place some of the city’s poorest urban dwellers call home.

"No one wants to live here, but we need to survive," a janitor named Mak tells the news network. "It's a step up from being on the streets." Mak pays $150 per month just to sleep here. It costs almost his entire salary.

Still, as long as people are willing to pay good money for these claustrophobia breeding grounds, developers will only continue to build more, stuffing people on top of one another as they count their profits.