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Social Apartments – SNS in Real Life


“Eating rice out of the same pot” is a Japanese saying to explain camaraderie among a group of people. It is not easy to translate into English – the nearest might be “living under the same roof”, but that does not carry the same nuance – or “sharing meals in the same mess”, which is overly regimental.

Company Dormitory – Once the Norm

Japanese society has always expected a young person who enters employment to stay with the same company for the rest of his or her working life. Companies often supply dormitories for new employees, as they could come far from home and entry-level wages typically do not cover living costs in urban or industrial areas. For parents, companies with dormitories give a feeling of security as they expect their sons and daughters to live in a safe and regulated environment.

But with the rising cost of maintaining dormitories, recessions, and the decline of the working population in the late 1990s, many companies have been forced to sell properties. Instead, companies paid allowances to rent small rooms privately.

New Generations Avoid Being Tied In.

Companies believed that providing dormitories at entry level would promote communication channels between employees. By supplying rice out of the same pot, they hoped workers would develop a deeper understanding of each other’s jobs and personalities, even outside working hours.

It went totally out of fashion, as young people’s attitudes towards lifetime employment, once an envied standard in Japanese society, changed. Many did not feel comfortable being tied into the status-quo, to be a cog in a machine. The dormitories limited them into a closed society and restricted their expectations. In some cases, the environment could be toxic as some felt watched by their employers 24 hours a day.

They wanted the freedom to choose their own paths, and were prepared to develop different skills outside traditional office and factory jobs. The spread of social media widened the scope for young workers to look elsewhere, to socialise with people from various fields, and to pursue possibilities outside employment.

SNS in Real Life

For about the last five years, a new category of rental accommodations – namely social apartments – has quietly spread in urban areas. They are something between standard flats and house-sharing. Individual rooms are small, but the buildings boast ample shared spaces and facilities: kitchen, lounge, library, workspace, laundries, and in many cases, bathrooms.

The notable difference to sharing a house is that residents do not have to walk through a shared space to get to their rooms. Shared spaces in social apartments are somewhere they can drop in when they like (and they do not have to clean them!). The choice is with the residents, and nothing is forced upon them.

The newest and probably the most novel addition is the social apartment containing a cinema. There are 150-inch screen and 7.1 channel surround system. The rent per month is 650 dollars, including maintenance and utility costs. The shared space, including the cinema, is free to use.

Many apartments hold welcome parties for new residents, build up activity groups such as language groups, jogging groups, cooking clubs, yoga clubs, led independently by those who share similar interests. The shared cinema will host community projects and film editing workshops.

Return to Origins?

These started increasing in popularity around 2015, not only due to the demand for sophisticated individual living but the availability of relatively old ex-dormitory buildings in the real estate market.

Many companies and universities sold dormitories that had become redundant and were in need of repair. 80% of these managed social apartments are renovated ex-dormitories.

For example, the cinema used to be the manager’s office. Lounge, kitchen, and workspaces were already contained within the building’s layout, as dormitories always had such shared spaces for employees. These buildings are relatively large, so rooms to rent per building are usually over fifty, many over a hundred. This scale helps to minimise running costs and fulfill the needs of residence to have a variety of neighbours sharing the space.

The needs for independent living increased, which accelerated the decline of the company run dormitory. But the residents’ social yearnings needed to be filled. Online connections were not be sufficient for some to keep moving forward in life. They feel the benefit of having people around in apartments, to dispel loneliness.

It does not go quite as far as sharing rice from the same pot. The layout of the building makes it easier to maintain privacy when necessary, but it is not as easy as to un-friend in the social media. That is the reality, and the new form of shared living is providing the right balance required for current society.

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