How to setup a work-from-home office in a small Japanese apartment

ByJason Gatewood
Apr 28, 2020

How to setup a work-from-home office in a small Japanese apartment

In the future, one of the most significant byproducts of the months-long pandemic saga will be how the business world was teleported from open office plan spaces and stuffy conference rooms into digital chat rooms and video conferencing apps, seemingly overnight. Here in Japan, where the concept of teleworking in most industries was as foreign as driving a Chevy Suburban while eating a burrito here in Tokyo a few weeks ago, is now being hastily implemented by the country’s industrial titans like Toyota and Panasonic. The art of zaitaku kinmu (在宅勤務); telework is being taken up by millions and around the world but the difficulty level is kicked up a notch when practicing work-from-home here because of the size of homes.

Space Case

Your humble author is perhaps one of the more knowledgeable on this particular subject over here; I’ve been working from home as a part-time freelance reporter in Asia for over 15 years. Even though I’m good at turning a corner booth in my local Starbucks or even a park bench in a nearby city park into a workstation, I always find a way to create a workspace in the various abodes I’ve lived in over the years here. And yes, that does include the times where I lived in a sharehouse, company dormitory, and small efficiency 1R apartment. I’m the Marie Kondo of home office space at this point. So here are my bare essentials for setting up a corner of a room to be dedicated to working:

  1. Power: You can’t work for very long if you don’t have a place to plug in your gear. This may sound like a no-brainer, but unlike many domiciles outside of Japan, most rooms in the average home have only one or two power outlets; and, in my case, almost always covered by furniture.
  2. Climate Control: Again, it seems easy enough, but remember there’s no central HVAC in Japanese homes and the onset of the rainy season followed by summer is something to consider right now! I have a small space heater for the winter and a USB powered fan for the summer months to keep the air flowing while I tap away on my PC.
  3. Seating: Will you have enough room for that comfy office chair, or can your bottom make do with the bare necessities (which in some cases is the floor!) for long hours? Investing in some extra comfy throw pillows and zabuton (座布団) is a good idea.
  4. Table Room: If you’re using an ultrabook, then you might not need to worry, but if you wanna spread out, then consider your physical desktop. If you don’t have space for a table or desk (hey I’ve been there before) then consider getting a lap desk to set up anywhere you can.
  5. Internet: These days, wifi in the home is as standard as running water is in most cases, but make sure you have a full signal where you’ll be working in your home.
  6. Quietness: Japanese offices are usually so quiet, you can hear the hum from the florescent lighting most of the time, but how about your home? Paper-thin walls, busy streets, and clanging train lines are a commonality (and banality) for many a Tokyoite! If it just yourself needing some peace and quiet to get through a workday, you can either invest in some decent headphones or perhaps use my little trick of filling the space with some tracks from YouTube’s work at home playlists. And if you’re pining for the sounds of idle chatter and the hum of office appliances, check out this ambient office sounds generator
  7. Lights, Camera, Action: One of the main features of work-from-home life are the streams of video meetings you will likely be taking part in. While you don’t need a TV studio in your 1DK apartment, you should be aware of keeping a free wall or another decent background clear, so your workmates don’t make jokes on Slack afterward about the level of clutter or the insane amount of Pokémon collectibles you have on display. Just sayin’.

These are trying times to be sure, and we are all chugging into uncharted territory here, but one thing is for sure: the great telework experiment will likely result in the ability to become digital nomads even after the coronavirus beast has been tamed.


Photo by Jason L Gatewood,

About the author

Jason Gatewood subscriber

Our Tokyo based collaborator is a tech nerd, Japanophile, train nut, and a veritable fountain of information on Japan. His current goal is to watch Evangelion and actually "get it", sing every permutation of "Hotel California" at any karaoke gathering, ride every bullet train line, and sample all varieties of ramen throughout Japan. Catch more of his musings at ·