If you are staying in Japan long term and are on a budget, a good alternative to renting an apartment (notorious for being expensive with many payments before you even move in and are often unfurnished) is to stay in a share house.
As the name suggests, a share house is a building in which you live with others, having a communal living area and facilities, which some liken to university accommodation. Each resident takes turns sorting and putting out the trash, and will be responsible for keeping their sleeping, if not communal area, clean.
The kitchen, living room and bathroom/toilet will be shared with your housemates
Before deciding on a place however, there are several things to keep in mind.
1. The Building Itself
Some share houses have individual rooms in which you can lock. Whilst secure and good for those who value privacy, they are more expensive than dormitory style, hostel like sleeping rooms which you share with 1-6 other people. If you do decide on an individual room, look at how large it is and what it contains - as a general rule, smaller is cheaper, and some rooms will have a futon instead of a bed, and rails to hang clothes instead of a wardrobe. Some may come with cutlery, bedding and clothes hangers, others will need you to provide them. The cold winter nights and humid, hot summers can be made more bearable if there’s an air conditioning unit or portable heater available.
The room itself may be very plain and could have a futon or a western bed
Personally, you will have different preferences and needs to others, so figuring out what you would prefer your living space to have will help tremendously.
Some places are foreigner only, but others have a mixture of foreigners and natives, which can be a good opportunity to meet new people and improve your Japanese language skills.
Older buildings may have run down facilities in need of a refurb and can be prone to pest problems, whilst newer buildings may have a more clinical feel with less personality.
Individual rooms or dormitory style is something to think about before choosing
2. Hidden Costs
Whilst you’re saved from paying the many fees of apartment living, the original price you see for a share house may not be what the total amount is. Depending on the housing company, the deposit may be non-returnable, there may be a maintenance cost each month that isn’t included in the rent price. Facilities such as a washer and dryer may also be coin operated and not part of the facility cost. Keep an eye out so that any hidden extras don’t take you out of your budget.
Garbage duty will affect everyone and penalties may occur if you do a shoddy job
Also look at the companies policy for fines if you are late to pay rent or do not sort the garbage properly; with any luck you won't ever need to pay them, but it’s still something to be aware of. Keeping in mind the rules for each building (no pets, smoking areas etc) can mean you won’t get any nasty surprises or repercussions later on.
Before looking at a place (a viewing is mandatory for some companies) think about what you want from the building (WiFi? One gender only? Smoking area?) and where you want to be. Those close to the centre of the town/city will of course be dearer, and cities like Tokyo and Osaka have a lot of districts to chose from. The area may be residential and quiet or commercial and boisterous. The neighbourhood can affect how pleasant your stay is.
I personally enjoy my current location – I'm a five minute walk away from the station, which is only two stops away from the metropolis of Shinjuku, and I love treating myself to a visit to the local bath house each week. Places which were important to me such as the supermarket, an ATM and a koban (Police Box) in case of emergencies are all within walking distance, and on pleasant days, I can even walk to Shibuya and Harajuku in under an hour. Whilst the room itself may not be grand, the cost is more reflective on the building's location to many places of interest.
Every share house is different, and there is a wide selection to suit your needs. Make sure you are well informed before you commit to renting a place and your accommodation doesn’t have to be something to worry about.