What’s it like in a student dormitory in Japan?

Two female iCLA students chatting in a dorm room

It may sound obvious, but you’ll need somewhere to live while you’re studying in Japan.

To study in Japan, you’ll need to find accommodation once you’ve enrolled in your chosen school. Dorms are the most common option, yet it is difficult to imagine how life in a foreign country will be. Japan, also known as the land of the rising sun, is unique compared to other nations because of how it has largely managed to maintain its cultural heritage despite the pressures of globalization, which has changed the culture of so many nations. Japan is well known for producing innovative technological advances in several industries and this makes many people want to either come to work or study in Japan. A country of 127 million people, Japan receives hundreds of thousands of international students and millions of tourists on a yearly basis. Japan is a small and mountainous country however, and due to its limited available land, the Japanese have had to be more conservative with how they use their resources. You can see evidence of this from how they build their houses to how they’ve planned entire cities. So, while you may have a smaller living space while living in Japan than you may have been used to, we’re sure you’ll enjoy the unique experience of living here. Perhaps it will also give you a new perspective on consumer culture as well. This article aims to give you an idea of what living in a student dorm life in Japan will be like, as well as introducing some other accommodation options. We’d also like to give you a brief introduction to the Japanese real estate industry and what you can expect to encounter when searching for an apartment.

Student Dorm Life in Japan

Two male iCLA students playing guitar and chatting in a dorm room

Life in a student dorm is full of opportunities no matter which country you’re studying in. You will be living with students from around the world, and through socializing, you will get to know different cultures, languages, ways of living, etc. Because a dorm is a place where students live together, it is easy to get close to each other and spend time together. Living with friends in a foreign country makes your everyday life an extra bit special.

Rooms in Japanese dormitories are smaller than what many international students may be used to. So, it may take some time to adjust to. They are, however, designed in a way that makes efficient use of space. So, there’s enough room for all your necessary accessories. Unlike some other countries, like the United States, campus dormitories are not usually located within the campus grounds, meaning most students would have to walk, cycle or commute to and from the campus to attend their classes. iCLA’s dormitories are unique in that they are attached to its main building. There are different types of dormitories, such as school dorms, dorms for students from specific prefectures, and dorms run by private companies or non-governmental organizations. Excluding school dorms, which are limited to the students of the school or university they’re attending, both local and international students from different universities may be living together since many cities in Japan have multiple universities and language schools. Each dorm has its unique characteristics, so you may want to choose one based on your needs. Another difference is that many residents of dorms in Japan are strictly separated by gender.

One very convenient aspect of living in a dorm is that you don’t have to buy furniture. Many dorm rooms come with basic furniture, and rental services for small appliances like fridges. There’s also much less paperwork and upfront cost when moving into a dorm compared to renting an apartment.

Do’s and Don’ts in a Dorm

5 iCLA students hanging over a railing

Japan is one of the many nations that takes recycling seriously and has made it part of its customs. It’s common to see recycling signs all over the country and the dorms are no exception. Students will always find that there are several bins in every dorm unit that are used for specific types of trash. The way garbage is separated often varies by country, so you may get confused by the rules here. Also, there are often slight differences in the recycling rules between Japanese municipalities.

Another key thing you may notice in the dorms are rulebooks that show what students are allowed to do and what they cannot. Just like most facilities all over the world it’s standard stuff that you would expect any person to accept and understand. Always remember that you are living with someone else, so be responsible, thoughtful, and respect others.

Japanese dorms give students the chance to socialize and interact with their fellow dorm mates as often as they like, as well as give them their own spaces where they can have their own privacy. Don’t hesitate to socialize and make the most of your dorm life. Compared to other accommodation options, it’s easier to make friends in a dorm. It is always nice to have friends whose door you knock on and say hi to when you need them.

Other Accommodation Options

An empty Japanese one room apartment


Apartments in Japan are easily accessible and those students who desire to have more space and privacy than dorms offer tend to pick this option. In smaller Japanese cities apartments are affordable for most students whether international or local. You don’t only get a bit more space, living by yourself can give you some extra skills and confidence. If you’ve never lived by yourself, it’s not an easy thing to do, especially in a foreign country, but through juggling chores and your assignments, you will gain the necessary skills to live by yourself.

Renting a one or two-room apartment could range between ¥20,000 to ¥60,000 per month depending on the location. In some instances, the prefecture itself plays a key role in the cost. Major cities like Tokyo and Osaka are significantly more expensive than smaller regional cities like Kofu. This rental affordability and overall lower cost of living is one reason studying outside of Tokyo is attractive to many international students.

The process of finding an apartment and getting a rental agreement signed, however, can be very tedious if a student is not familiar with the local language, or lacks the assistance of a local resident.

There are several documents you require to rent an apartment in Japan. You’ll need forms of identification, such as your passport, residence card or Japanese driver’s license. You’ll need an account with a Japanese bank so the rent can be debited every month. You may need documents outlining the purpose of your stay in Japan such as a Certificate of Eligibility or letter of employment. You may have to show proof of income using recent pay stubs, annual tax withholding slips, or a bank statement. If you are a student, you might also need your student ID and admission letter. Once your application has been accepted, you will need to find a guarantor, and this will almost certainly need to be a Japanese person. As a foreigner, you will usually need to pay a guarantor company to overcome this hurdle.

In many cases, you will be asked for shikikin and reikin in the initial payment. Shikikin is the collateral or bond, and it will be refunded when you leave the apartment, assuming you have not damaged it. Reikin, or “key money” is a fee paid to the owner of the apartment to show your gratitude. Some real estate agents will also include a cleaning fee in the initial payment or require it when vacating the apartment. In total, you can expect to pay 2-3 months’ worth of rent in initial fees.

You will also need a Japanese mobile phone number and an emergency contact in Japan. You will then need to set up all the utilities such as gas, water, and internet by yourself by phoning those companies. For the reasons above, and particularly because real estate agents will require your residency card, it can be almost impossible to secure an apartment before arriving in Japan. For this reason, most universities in Japan have guaranteed accommodation for all first-year international students.

Just like living in the dorm, you’ll still need to be mindful of your neighbors since the walls in some apartments and homes are not soundproof. Unfortunately, it is easy to irritate the residents living around you if you make too much noise after 9 pm. The reason there’s so many restaurants and bars in Japan is that Japanese people don’t do house parties. Unless you really want to be unpopular with your neighbors, neither should you!


Japanese country houses and a rice paddy near Mt Fuji

Due to the lack of land in Japan, the Japanese may be way ahead of the recent trend towards smaller houses in many western countries, but their homes are built for comfort. While Japan often faces natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, and volcanic eruptions, its architects have come up with a variety of technological advancements that make their homes durable and able to withstand such events.

If you get the chance to experience a homestay with a Japanese family, you will get to know what the Japanese lifestyle really looks like. It might turn out different from your expectations (and hopefully it will exceed them!), but it is a wonderful opportunity to experience life in Japan. As you get closer to your host family, you will get to know more and more about Japan and its people.

However, homestay does not seem to be a common thing for university students. Some universities or associations provide homestay programs, but in many cases, a homestay is a short-term option, at a maximum of less than a semester. For international students who are degree-seeking and will be staying in Japan for the long term, homestay might not be a great option. Unlike dorms or apartments where you can keep a comfortable distance from others when you wish to, homestay tends to build very close relationships. It can be uncomfortable at times, although it can build strong bonds and will be an irreplaceable experience.

The cost of doing homestay mainly depends on your host family but prices range from 80,000 to 100,000 yen per month. It is possible to get places that are cheaper but that would entirely depend on what your top priorities are when looking for a homestay.


In conclusion, living in Japan is a unique experience and an opportunity that we would of course wholeheartedly recommend to both international and local students. It gives you the opportunity to learn about its heritage and customs which are unlike anywhere else. Japanese people are also very welcoming to all visitors. At iCLA we make the process of moving to Japan very simple as all first-year students must live in our on-campus dormitories for their first 12 months in Japan. We hope this article helped to give you some insights into student life in Japan and got you excited about living here!

About the Authors
Calvin - iCLA Student Ambassador
Calvin is a second year iCLA student from Kenya majoring in political science who also enjoys studying business. He likes getting involved in student life and engaging in new experiences, meeting new people to discuss sports, academics, past experiences, philosophy and psychology with.
Nanaho - iCLA Student Ambassador
Nanaho is a 4th-year iCLA student majoring in Interdisciplinary Arts with a focus on Literature. She is from Japan, but started studying English at a young age. Outside of studying, Nanaho loves to read books, listen to music, and travel. Her main academic interest is Literature, but also has a great interest in Political Science.