Having lived in Tokyo for a decade before moving to the US, my wife and I were fairly used to small spaces. This allowed our family of 4, then 5, to live in a one bedroom apartment in the center of Seattle for $2000 a month. It was big for a one bedroom though, at 900 square feet (that’s roughly 90 square meters). Our kids are still very young, and we were sleeping in the same room as them back in Tokyo (this is fairly common in Japan), so living in a 1 bedroom condo in the US did not disrupt any of our habits.
Ultimately, with a 3rd kid born this year, we would have moved to a bigger place, probably in the suburbs. Instead, we chose to come back to Tokyo.
We’re in some luxury furnished apartment right now, provided by my employer while we look for a more permanent place. The temporary condo is a luxurious 110 square meters close to one of the most popular stations in Tokyo. The last time I’ve lived in a place bigger than this was when I was a kid in my parents’ huge house in the countryside of France.
Given our monthly rent target, the places we are looking at average 80 square meters (800 square feet). Those are 3 bedroom apartments, by the way. If we push the envelope a little bit, we can look at 100 square meters (1000 square feet). At 100 square meters, we are typically looking at houses rather than condos, further from public transportation, although a few condos match the bill.
So far, (almost) independently of the price we’re willing to pay, anything bigger than 100~120 square meters in a convenient location is impossible to find in Tokyo. Then, if you think about it, a family of 5 is also pretty rare here.
We’re probably going to have to settle for 80~ish square meters. I would have liked somewhere between 100 and 120, but for that we’d have to move pretty far away in the countryside (or dramatically push the envelope).
By comparison, the average house in the US is 250 square meters. (The average’s a bit smaller than that in Seattle)
I’m not pretending I feel overwhelmed with space when the 5 of us have to fit in a third of that. Still, I think it’s safe to say the majority of people in the US could settle for a house twice as small as what they have, and still be comfortable. Their wallets would thank them too, obviously.
Hunting for a house also reminds me of the scale difference of Tokyo and Seattle. If we find a place in Tokyo that’s 45 minutes away from my office by public transportation, I’ll basically be “within” Tokyo (or maybe Yokohama). In Seattle, a 45 minutes commute would have one very far out in the suburbs.
I’ll be trading a 25 minutes walk to the office in Seattle, with a 45 minutes train commute in Tokyo. I’m not looking forward to it, but I also know this will be temporary until I leave the corporate job, which I expect to happen within 12 to 18 months.