Apartment Type in Japan : The Difference Between Apato & Mansion

Choosing Your Home in Japan: Apato vs Mansions

In the realm of Japanese housing, you'll encounter the terms "apato" and "mansion." Beyond mere linguistic variances, these words encapsulate different facets of living spaces. Let’s delve into the architectural and cultural disparities between "apato" and "mansion" to gain a deeper understanding of how these terms shape the residential experience in Japan. From city skyscrapers to suburban tranquility, we'll analyze the features that differentiate these two facets of Japanese living.

Apato - アパート

The History of Apato

The term "apato" in Japan is derived from the English word, as you might have guessed, "apartment." The history of apartments in Japan mirrors the impact of the country's post-war reconstruction and economic development. Following World War II, Japan witnessed rapid urbanization and industrialization, leading to a population surge and an increased demand for housing in urban areas. During this period, Japan embraced various Western concepts and lifestyles, including the idea of apartments.

The word "apartment" was introduced into Japanese as "apātomento" and was eventually shortened to "apato." The concept of apartments gained popularity as a more efficient and space-saving form of housing, particularly in densely populated urban areas. Previously, most residents lived in "nagaya," referring to single-story row houses. The first apartment in Japan was the Ueno Kurabu, a five-story wooden building with 70 units, constructed in 1910. The idea of living in an apartment did not gain widespread popularity in Japan until after World War II.

Features and Considerations for Apato in Japan

An apato in Japan is typically categorize as housing buildings built with 2 to 3 stories with construction from wood or a light steel frame. It's important to note that light steel frames refer to steel materials with a thickness of 6 mm or less, distinguishing them from heavy steel frames used in structures referred to as steel structures. The light materials used, the rooms will have good ventilation which makes it difficult for mold and condensation to form. Yet, it comes with a price. The room will have poor sound insulation due to thin walls. There are possibilities where you might be bothered by your neighbor or the other way around. Also, wood makes the room harder to cool or to warm, making apato has a poor thermal control. Furthermore, due to its light materials, apato is also more prone towards fire and earthquakes. Talking about security, apato doesn't come with secured doors and modern locks making it less safe. It is uncommon for apato to employ a building manager. As a result, management fees and common service fees can be kept quite low. On the flip side, there are no one responsible for cleaness of the building other than the tenant themselves.

Japanese Apato


The History of Mansion

The oldest tall-rise apartment or condominium was Gunkanjima from 1916. The building was located on Hashima Island. The reason for its construction was the need for housing for many employees without taking up much space. Therefore, the building became the home for Mitsubishi Mining employees, reaching a peak population of 5300 people.

Furthermore, in response to the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which caused severe damage to urban areas with densely packed wooden buildings and houses, concrete-reinforced buildings were constructed to provide safer housing to deal with fires and earthquakes and to have lasting structures. It also changed the way people live. Those who were staying in houses started to move to an apartment. Although the word “mansion” was still unheard of until 1950.

In 1950, Japanese developers came up with a marketing idea to differentiate the more recent, taller, and high-end apartment by calling it another English word — thus, “mansion” was born. The intention was to market luxurious apartments for the upper class. As you can see, the concept of a mansion in Japan is entirely different from any other country. When you say you live in a mansion, most of you will think of a massive, almost palace-like house with beautiful gardens and pools. That is not the case here, it’s (most of the time) a tall-rise apartment.

In 1981, the Japanese government revised its Building Standards Act due to the severe damage to buildings caused by the 1978 Miyagi Prefecture Earthquake. The new standard is much stricter, making high-rise mansions safer. This revision affected the pricing of the apartment itself. Buildings built before 1981 cost significantly less. It is also harder to get a loan from the bank to buy the property because it is seen as a higher risk.

Features and Considerations for Mansion in Japan

Mansions typically consist of three or more floors and are characterized by their construction material, steel-reinforced concrete. This robust material enhances safety by providing increased resistance to fire and earthquakes. Additionally, steel-reinforced concrete contributes to superior sound insulation, offering residents enhanced privacy and reducing disturbances from neighbors. Contemporary mansions feature security doors, requiring residents to use keycards or authorize visitor access before entering the building. Elevators are a standard amenity, simplifying daily life. Furthermore, dedicated building caretakers ensure the mansion's cleanliness and maintenance are consistently upheld.

Japanese Mansions

Price Comparison

Apato Mansion
Area Shibuya (4 mins from station) Shibuya (4 mins from station)
Year 2019 2022
Size 25.85m2 25.9m2
Type Studio Studio
Monthly Rent Fee ¥125,000 ¥150,000

Apato Mansion
Area Minato-Shirakanoe (4 mins from station) Minato Shirakanoe (7 mins from station)
Year 2022 2022
Size 26.12m2 28.64m2
Type Studio Studio
Monthly Rent Fee ¥119,000 ¥134,000


While price serves as a guiding factor, it's essential to note that affordability comes with drawbacks. Apato is an excellent choice for those prioritizing budget-friendly options and looking to make friends with their neighbors. However, always keep in mind the disadvantages and consider ways to address them on your own. Mansion, on the other hand, suits those with a higher budget, offering more comfort and security. You do not have to worry when it comes to safety, it needs a key or your permission for someone to enter the building. People who value privacy also fit perfectly into the mansion type. Again, you do need a bigger budget for this. If your budget is ¥ 200.000  and above, you should consider mansion as your new home in Japan. Both apato and mansion have their perks. Your needs and your budget come first when looking for your new place. Narrow down your search to find your perfect home faster because properties in Japan are taken quickly.



  • Lower rent price
  • Lower parking fees
  • Minimal to no building management fees
  • Good ventilation
  • Higher opportunity to meet other residents


  • No ones taking care of the building
  • Poor sound insulation due to thin walls.
  • More prone to earthquakes and fires.
  • Doesn’t have an advanced security system and locks.
  • No elevators



  • Excellent earthquake and fire resistance.
  • Higher sound insulation properties.
  • Building caretaker cleans the property.
  • Better security doors and locks.
  • Elevators included.


  • Higher rent and parking cost.
  • Extra cost for Caretaker, management and common service.
  • Prone to condensation due to its airtight structure.