The Japanese language is very good at taking fancy words from English and applying them to mundane things. マンション (‘manshon’) isn’t a mansion but a largish arpartment. サラリーマン (sarariman) isn’t the latest Marvel superhero that dispenses salads and salamis of justice but is a typical office worker.
So what’s a ‘LeoPalace’? It sounds nice doesn’t it, like the name of Richard the Lionheart’s holiday home in Cyprus. But no, a LeoPalace is in fact a brand of small-to-middling apartments in Japan.
Yes, small-to-middling, enough scoffing at the back. See, LeoPalace has something of a reputation, which I’ll get to in a minute, but one sticking point of this reputation amongst the non-Japanese community is that LeoPalace apartments are small. Well, they are – if you compare them to Western standards. A standard LeoPalace is about 23m2. Pretty compact to be sure, but to think that’s bad is to apply the thinking that bigger is better, which doesn’t apply in Japan. On the contrary, it’s quite common for Japanese folk to desire smaller spaces because they don’t feel comfortable in large spaces, which are also more expensive to keep lit and heated.
Why am I suddenly rushing to LeoPalace’s defense? Well as I touched on earlier, they do have a bad reputation. Why? Well, I couldn’t tell you. Neither could the people who bad mouth LeoPalace, I’d wager. It just seems to be a case of circular word of mouth: it’s bad because it’s bad. So it seems really undeserved.
Well, it could be down to the fact that folk turn their noses up at LeoPalace because it is the first rung on the accommodation ladder in Japan. It is essentially Japanese living with training wheels. Which is ridiculous, because it effectively answers itself: it is the first rung on the ladder! A LeoPalace is custom built to be your first living quarters in Japan. It’s not meant to be any more than that really: heck, all the hallmarks are there – the fact that they have the best English language support out of all of the apartment rental companies in Japan, that their website has a whole section about ‘Starting Your New Life In Japan’, and they have short-term stays that are as short as 30 days for business purposes, suggests that LeoPalace is completely aware and comfortable with being a stepping stone living quarters.
Not that I ever had much reason to feel uncomfortable or dissatisfied with my LeoPalace experience, having lived in one for two years. There’s the ease of use for one thing, with apartments being semi-furnished (you can expect there to be a TV, a bed frame, a small table, chairs, a small electric hob, a washing machine, microwave and a fridge-freezer ready to go from the moment you walk in), and your internet will be activated within 24 hours -WHICH IS INCLUDED IN THE PRICE OF THE RENT. Seriously, this is incredible: as you can typically expect an Internet service to set you back 7,000 to 10,000 yen per month, the fact that LeoPalace internet is essentially free is staggering. And it ain’t no slouch in terms of speed: I’ve had four different internet providers in Japan and LeoPalace was comfortably the fastest of them.
Utilities you do need to pay for separately, but again your water, electric and gas are ready-to-go, requiring none of the usual installations you’d need which would require further waiting and extra charges. And speaking of extra charges, nearly all LeoPalaces don’t require key money or deposits, meaning you don’t need to handover 2 to 3 months of money up front (and key money is something you’ll never get back).
I’m not saying LeoPalaces are perfect – they aren’t. The kitchen is tiny: I mean, living on my own I had no problem with only having two hobs, but I had no food preparation space at all. I’d have to resort to carrying my chopping board into the living room which was pretty cumbersome. In fact, if I could redesign my old LeoPalace the only significant change I would make would be to shrink down the surprisingly spacious main room to give the kitchen area more space. I hear some of the newer LeoPalaces are better in this regard, mind.
Oh, and the walls are wafer thin. But that’s pretty endemic of all Japanese abodes really: After all up until recently the standard interior wall was literally made of paper.
Look, are LeoPalaces the lap of luxury? Of course not. By they are convenient, functional and good value considering what’s included. After all, when you decide to move on from LeoPalace and see what else is on the market, you quickly realize that LeoPalace is higher up the living food chain than you initially thought. Other apartments give you four walls, a floor, a ceiling, a toilet and a shower. Everything else must be paid for and hauled in yourself. Do you really want to deal with buying a fridge and setting up running water when you’re just getting your head around the mere concept of living and working in Japan for the first time? If not, then the LeoPalace provides a great helping hand.