As is regularly reported in the media, Japan has a large and growing problem with unoccupied houses, the total number of which are said to be in excess of 9 million.
Many of these residences are bequeathed to heirs who have no use for them, as they have moved to major cities and purchased homes of their own. The heirs, moreover, have no desire to pay the property taxes and cost of upkeep. A law was passed in 2015 to smooth the way for local governments to work out solutions with heirs, but many such homes are in poor condition from long disuse and have practically no market value.
But for some at least, a solution -- and a fairly lucrative one -- may be at hand. Flash (March 16) reports that some owners have started to rent them out on a short-term basis.
Rieko Aoyama, who inherited her grandparents' 50-year-old one-story house in Nishi Tokyo City, tells the magazine, "I hadn't thought to take out a loan and build an apartment on the land, and new regulations controlling minpaku (vacation homes) seemed too strict, so I gave up on the idea."
But then Aoyama found out about a service company called Space Market, which operates a website enabling people to reserve spaces for short-term usage. "We receive 30% of the charges as a service fee," says a spokesperson for Space Market. "So if the charge is 10,000 yen, the owner receives 7,000 and our take is 3,000 yen."
Only a portion of the entire house is used -- two tatami rooms and a small kitchen. A naga-hibachi (large charcoal brazier), a rarity today, conveys the sensation of the bygone Showa era.
"What seems so obvious to me is different for young people," says Aoyama. "A girl who stayed over said to me, 'I really love the sight of a tatami room with a kotatsu (low table with a foot heater). It's like going back in time."
Aoyama's house can be rented at an hourly rate of 3,000 yen. Customer options include grilling rice crackers over the hibachi, making kakigori (a shaved ice confection) and kimono rentals.
"Quite a few YouTubers have come here to shoot videos," Aoyama smiles.
In a good month, she clears 300,000 yen. "That easily covers the property tax and repairs, although I like fixing up things on my own. The rest is mine to keep."
Eight minutes by car from Sakado Station on the Tobu Tojo Line is Shunkoen, a farm owned by Yasuhiro Machida. The farmhouse alone spans 1,000 tsubo (3,305 square meters), and behind it are another 3,000 tsubo of rice fields.
"It's a bit far from central Tokyo, so you'd best come by car," Machida advises.
Shunkoen was initially set up as a minpaku appealing to visitors from overseas who wanted to experience staying in a real Japanese farmhouse.
"The first floor has sleeping facilities, and upstairs is a family living space," Machida explains. "At first there seemed to be some reluctance, so about two and a half years ago we switched to space rentals."
The spacious 50-mat room on the first floor can also be partitioned into smaller sections rented separately. Machida requires that space be booked for a minimum of three hours, at the rate of 2,000 yen per hour.
"Recently we've been getting a lot of cosplay customers who come to act out scenes from the 'Demon Slayer' comic," he says. "And we've had repeat customers coming from all over the country. Females, mainly in their 20s and 30s, make up about 70% of the business.
"Some local people have also rented out the space to hold various events," Machida adds. "Sometimes they come with their own mobile kitchen or barbecue equipment."
Machida works at a salaried job and only makes his property available on weekends, but even then it's been generating over 300,000 yen a month. Financial planner Akiko Izumi has some advice for those who might be considering opening up their properties in a similar manner.
"With smartphone applications and so on, it's become easier to match up these places with customers," she says. "Before people get into this kind of business, though, they need to be aware of the potential pitfalls, such as disputes with users and possibility of operating at a deficit."© Japan Today