The availability of information via the media and Internet is rapidly changing Japanese culture, with Americans having a large influence. Japan’s residents dream and long for space and privacy similar to what people in Australia, Canada and the United States and other countries enjoy.
There is a large opportunity to capitalize on this mindset by selling freedom of space. But we should “think small” for the Japanese market. Housing and real estate in general are small. Automobiles are smaller. The items people keep in their homes are smaller. Many people suffer from limited space but have learned how to live with and enjoy small things out of necessity. As such, a small American self-storage facility would seem large by Japanese standards.
Japan, a country smaller than the state of California, is home to 127 million people and approximately 49 million households. Almost half of the housings are built as complexes, such as apartments and condos. The average number of rooms in typical Japanese home is 4.65, and the average living space is 92.7 square meters (998 square feet).
There are only approximately 100,000 self-storage units available for rent in Japan, less than 0.2 percent of the total households. Needless to say, the country is hurting for storage space.
In the United States, the average per-capita square footage of storage space is 6. Self-storage demand in Japan―specifically Tokyo―is not this strong, but even if it is only 25 percent of the U.S. demand, we’d still need a total of 20 million square feet of self-storage in Tokyo alone. It’s far more in areas outside of the city.
The biggest self-storage market is central Tokyo, with the trend spreading to dense cities of surrounding suburb area such as the Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures. The Japanese recognize storage facilities as “trunk room,” and rarely call them “self-storage.”
There are only a few companies operating American-style self-storage in Japan. The largest is Quraz, which has 36 facilities totaling approximately 500,000 square feet. The largest player in trunk storage (or the like) is Arealink Co. Ltd., which markets under the name “Hello Storage,” with more than 600 locations. However, most of its facilities consist of few units. The whole Hello Storage portfolio is approximately 33,000 units.
Most Japanese self-storage facilities are operated by real estate companies and traditional warehouse companies. Many real estate companies started by renting ocean containers stacked up on unused land.
Arealink also started its self-storage business in 1999 by setting up and renting ocean containers. In 2001, it began its “trunk room” operation by converting part or all of existing buildings and custom-building new facilities. It went public in 2003 and listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Another popular brand in the Japanese storage industry is Reise Box, developed by Reise Co. Ltd. in 1991. It has approximately 350 locations in Tokyo and Osaka. The company doesn’t operate any container-style storage, but has developed an interesting concept called “Reise Garage” as well as trunk rooms.
This concept is well-accepted among people with higher incomes and owners of expensive automobiles. Reise Box offers the lifestyle and idea of owning private garages, which are generally hard to obtain.
Differences From U.S. Self-Storage
Available land is limited in Japan. Most properties are leased. Some companies set up franchise systems to share a percent of profit with property owners.
Almost all Japanese trunk-room facilities are unmanned. There are no onsite managers or offices attached to the facility. Because sites are small, with fewer than 100 units, it’s not economically feasible to have offices with managers.
There are no computer-controlled access gates or high fences protecting outdoor facilities. Access to indoor trunk room requires a key to the main entrance as well as individual door locks. Renters can access units 24/7.
When tenants want to rent a unit, they visit the facility’s website or call to a reserve. They can visit a central office or regional offices for faster service. Each company can send a contract and other information by mail. Many companies require security deposits or automatic bank debit. It’s almost impossible to rent units the same day.
Most operators never deal with auctioning contents for unpaid or delinquent units. It’s costly and time-consuming to deal with delinquencies legally.
Arealink reports a good mix of residential and commercial customers, with an average ratio of 70 percent residential and 30 percent commercial. Some commercial customers, such as small contractors, prefer container-type units for easier access and better prices.
However, these units are often in undesirable areas and lack climate control. The typical items people store in trunk rooms include seasonal clothing, sporting goods, leisure items, books, collections, hobby items and furniture.
Today, self-storage in Japan is not considered an investment-grade asset. This will provide tremendous opportunity for early developers who invest to build a brand, platform and tremendous product that Japanese and institutional investors will soon view as a viable alternative to other commercial real estate assets in the country.
It might take more time to gain recognition for self-storage in Japan, but it will surely gain at a steady pace.
Tatsuya Saji, president of Trade Winds International, has been consulting with real estate companies in the development of self-storage businesses in Japan since 2004.
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