• Kyodo News


Low-cost rental homes with communal rooms have become a godsend for some women struggling to start a career in Tokyo.

Although people living in these kinds of accommodations often have to put up with cramped conditions, women who come from outside Tokyo looking for work can avoid finding themselves completely on their own. They can enjoy some camaraderie and get inspiration watching their roommates strive hard to achieve their goals.

“If I lived elsewhere, I would have felt so lonely and might have gone back to my hometown in Ehime Prefecture after just one month,” said Chiharu Ito, 27, who lives in a communal setting in Suginami Ward.

After graduating from college, Ito did a stint as a nonregular Ehime prefectural worker. But she wanted to see the world outside her native city, so she set out for Tokyo three years ago with all her possessions packed in a roller bag.

She rents a room on the second floor of an old single-family house in an upscale residential area. Her only private space is the lower bed of one of three double bunks inside the room. The house is shared with some 10 tenants.

The monthly rent is just ¥45,000 with utility charges included, about half the going rate charged for modest apartments available nearby.

After arriving in Tokyo, she worked as an office clerk, earning money necessary to enroll in an aromatherapy school, something she could not find in her hometown. After qualifying as an instructor, she now works at a parlor in the fashionable Aoyama district in central Tokyo.

“I was able to afford the school tuition because my room rent was cheap. I’ll continue to live here for a while so that I can spend my money on things I want to do,” she said.

Miyuki Watanabe, 30, who comes from Fukushima Prefecture, was thrilled as soon as she entered a newly opened room in a Setagaya Ward high rise. “What a magnificent view! I want to live here,” she said to herself.

The three-bedroom abode can accommodate up to six people. The monthly rent is ¥57,000 including utility costs. A roommate, an English-language instructor, gives lessons for ¥15,000 per month. All this sounded irresistible to her.

Watanabe once lived in unisex communal housing. “All I ever did there was party,” she says. “But here I live only with hardworking girls, and it’s quite stimulating.”

Before leaving Fukushima, she worked as a clerk at a medical organization and also at a factory. Then she decided to open a coffeehouse in her hometown. She is now attending a school in Tokyo to become a food coordinator in a quest to follow her dream career.

These rental homes are run by a Tokyo firm called Tulip Estate. Founding President Norie Mizutani, 40, who comes from Aichi Prefecture, lived in similar accommodations during her student days in London, and her encounters with people from different backgrounds became important moments in her life.

She used to work for a group firm of a major real estate company. There she tried to take maternal leave, but her boss disapproved. That made her decide to go into business on her own, taking advantage of the expertise she had acquired about property at her former employer. She chose her new profession because she is fully aware of the harsh realities facing working women.

To rent an apartment in a relatively safe setting in Tokyo, tenants often have to make an upfront payment of several hundred thousand yen, enough to deplete a young woman’s savings. The financial concerns often combine with the dreary monotony of life spent commuting between home and work.

Mizutani saw many young women who moved to Tokyo “get beaten” by the city after falling into this kind of rut and losing hope of following the career they desired.

“Tokyo is a city where people can start to do anything they want free of things that happened in their past,” Mizutani said. “I want women trying to fulfill their ambitions to be part of new communities in our rental homes and hope they will support their efforts to make a new start.”

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