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A significant number of foreigners experience housing discrimination in Japan

21 Comments
By Luke Mahoney, grape Japan
Photo: pexels.com

It’s not uncommon for Japan to be described as some kind of utopia. The temptation is certainly understandable. Violent crime is exceptionally rare here, the majority of citizens are hard-working and polite, trains run on time, and by and large, Japanese society is tidy and efficient.

However, Japan’s harmonious facade does belie underlying issues. In the wake of Hana Kimura’s suicide, online harassment is increasingly considered unregulated and out-of-control. Hate speech is another issue that many feel needs to be reigned in, and women's position in the country is sadly subjugate. In short, there remains work to be done.

Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Japan was experiencing a record influx of foreign residents and tourists. Expat employees were also growing in number in several industries. Nevertheless, several find it difficult to assimilate as they face housing discrimination and outright racism in certain situations.

40% of Foreign Residents Have Experienced Housing Discrimination

In response to a 2016 survey commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, 40 percent of foreign respondents reported they had experienced housing discrimination. In addition to this figure, 27 percent admitted giving up on a residence after learning of "no foreigners allowed" policies. In some cases, individuals born in the country to foreign parents also experience the same problem.

One Filipino woman related her experience to the Nikkei Asian Review. “The landlord told [me and my husband] that the house is not for foreigners.” She continued, “We visited a different real estate agent, but they said a Japanese guarantor was required. We explained that we were both permanent residents, only to be declined because we did not meet the conditions.”

Japanese real estate companies often operate under a guarantor system. A guarantor is a person or entity that essentially insures the rental contract. They cover unpaid rent or damages in the case that the renter is unable to or has fled the country. Nevertheless, numerous foreign residents have trouble finding a Japanese guarantor and thereby difficulty renting.

Why Landlords Reject Foreigners

Although such results are problematic, they point to a situation more complicated than mere racism. Landlords likely feel anxious about needing to provide English services in order to explain sometimes particularly complex housing policies.

While 40 percent of foreign residents experience the ramification, property managers are likely more anxious than the figure lets on. In a survey of Japan Property Management Association members, 60 percent reported they were reluctant to accept foreigners. Unsurprisingly, most cite concerns over communication.

According to Toshiyuki Nagai, a spokesman for a real estate company, “Communication issues between tenants and landlords or with neighbors often lead to deeper problems.” Landlords typically assume foreign nationals are unable to understand Japanese.

Others have different concerns. Although perhaps misguided, they may entertain ideas that a foreigner's attitude will cause problems. There is concern that foreign renters will disobey local garbage rules or household rules like taking off shoes or not pouring oil down the sink.

Contractual and financial concerns are also a problem. According to an article in The Japan Times, many landlords complain of foreign tenants violating contracts, suddenly vacating the property, or late rent payments. Ironically, foreign residents are no more likely than their Japanese counterparts to pay rent late, according to Japanese immigration lawyer Shoichi Ibuski.

Although these perceptions are discouraging, and there are some efforts underway to help foreign tenants and Japanese landlords understand each other better, the situation is unlikely to change anytime soon. Property owners in Japan are allowed free rein to reject applicants, even based on discriminatory criteria such as an applicant's nationality. As such, openly denying foreign residents in property advertisements is also permitted by the law. Additional documentation and fees are even a possibility.

Nevertheless, housing discrimination is unaligned with the ideals of Japan's constitution. Should the influx of foreign nationals seeking employment return in a post-corona world, the issue will likely need to be addressed.

Read more stories from grape Japan.

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-- Japanese shipping company staff use their lunch break to make another company’s day

-- Video illustrator revives Akihabara’s ghost town streets with cyberpunk digital art

© grape Japan

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

21 Comments
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When I was looking for an apartment i remember some real estate flyers stating piano, dogs and foreigners OK. Nice to be grouped together with the dogs.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

they point to a situation more complicated than mere racism.

No, it's not more complicated than racism. Let's not sugar coat this - it's just plain racism.

The article mentions several problems: that landlords assume that non-Japanese can't speak Japanese, believe they won't obey rules such as putting out trash correctly, won't be able to communicate with neighbors, and won't pay rent on time. The key words here are "assume" and "believe" - why would they believe that about a person before even learning anything about that person?

Making negative assumptions about a person based only on their race that then results in discrimination towards that person is the very definition of racism.

Japanese people are just as likely to be lazy about the trash, be bad neighbors, or pay the rent late. As for those non-Japanese who do not speak Japanese very well, what is the real problem with that, when it's not that difficult to get a friend, co-worker, company representative, or professional to translate? Is a lack of langauge skills really a good reason to refuse someone a place to live? Not being fluent isn't criminal. Everyone has to start from somewhere, so do they expect people to just live on the streets until they can get their Japanese up to speed? What kind of inhumane attitude is that?

I'd also like to point out that often times language skills or lack of a guarantor are not the reason foreign residents are rejected. I speak Japanese well, have permanent residency, and I have Japanese friends who are willing to be my guarantor, but I've still run into problems. I have even been waved away or told "no foreigners" as soon as I enter a real estate agency, especially when I'm by myself, before I've even had the chance to demonstrate my language skills or explain my long-term residency in Japan. Another time my former landlord gave me his business card to use as a reference - but the agent just took one look at me and waved me out, saying in Japanese "We have nothing here for you." Emphasis on "you."

This makes apartment hunting extremely disheartening, stressful, and infuriating. It takes twice as long to look for a place, and your choices become quite limited. Often times foreigners are even forced to pay to use a guarantor company even if they have a guarantor or to pay a "member's fee" to the agency - this is blatant exploitation of a person's immigrant status.

I've often heard people try to contradict claims of racism by saying that the reason NJ are rejected must not be due to race, but for some other reason. That is simply apologisim. Real estate agents will freely let you know that landlords reject you because you are not Japanese, and if you can understand Japanese and are paying attention when the estate agent makes the call to the landlord, you can hear them saying "the person is a foreigner" and then hear the rejection.

There is no excuse here other than racism, pure and simple, and the Japanese government has got to start dealing with this problem. It's pathetic that one of the biggest cities in the world, in a modern capital city, in a first-world country, with large international corporations, and a thriving foreign population, that real estate agents and landlords are so hostile to "outsiders".

13 ( +17 / -4 )

If they don't want your money then don't give it to them. Do you really want to give racist your money. There are plenty of other companies that will take your money.

I've experienced it as well. I still found a place to live.

-1 ( +5 / -6 )

"If they don't want your money then don't give it to them."

This is where all the arguments pro deregulation and letting the magical, invisible hand of the marketplace work it out fall apart. Yes in a market I can choose, or rather am forced to patronize another seller of a product that does not discriminate.

But what if I want to live close to work? Simplify my commute? Keep a pet? Live close to a park? My choices can be severely limited depending to what extent discrimination is rampant in a society. This is why the authority of the government is necessary to regulate these key markets.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

girl_in_tokyo

best post I've read in a LONG TIME. Well said.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I wouldn’t be surprised if the same real estate people who wouldn’t rent to you would be happy to chat away with you in the pub and compliment your Japanese.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Typical JP level, this is the definition of racism.

You presuppose something based on people's ethnics group, in this case language. Nothing complicated or "so unique" to that.

Although such results are problematic, they point to a situation more complicated than mere racism. Landlords likely feel anxious about needing to provide English services in order to explain sometimes particularly complex housing policies.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Securing housing, good housing and good rents remains a major problem for non Japanese.

I had a Japanese landlord refuse us because he didn't think we could afford the ¥30,000 rent.

On a national level, 40% of rented properties are empty.

10 ( +11 / -1 )

It’s not uncommon for Japan to be described as some kind of utopia.

I'd say it's fairly uncommon. Especially based on the reactions of friends and family in Canada when I post on Facebook photos of my Tokyo commute or the summer weather forecast ("Saturday: Warning - Extreme heat, stay indoors. Sunday: Warning - Extreme heat, stay indoors.").

To mention just a couple of things of a fairly long list. LOL.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

How about the rest of the world? If I move to China, Indonesia, Kenya, Russia, no problem about me not knowing the language or culture and renting anywhere I like?

-7 ( +2 / -9 )

Shame on you, Japan! Don't you know that in every other country, functionally illiterate immigrants can just walk into any apartment they choose, no questions asked?

-9 ( +1 / -10 )

rformingMonkeyToday  03:55 pm JST

Shame on you, Japan! Don't you know that in every other country, functionally illiterate immigrants can just walk into any apartment they choose

Right, because newcomers who haven’t yet become fluent don’t deserve a place to live.

And if you’ve been here a while and have yet to achieve fluency? Why, that’s criminal - they shouldn’t be allowed to live in a perfectly nice place that would otherwise be rented by a Japanese speaker, preferably a native.

/s

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Sorry to hear these stories, seriously. This is why I bought land and built a house to avoid all that nonsense, that’s just stress I don’t need or want.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

How about the rest of the world? If I move to China, Indonesia, Kenya, Russia, no problem about me not knowing the language or culture and renting anywhere I like?

Nice try. None of those are G7 countries. You want to be part of G7, then there are certain human rights standards. Can you imagine a Japanese being turned away in UK or US simply because of their race? We wouldn't hear the end of it on Japanese TV.

I remember, years back, I, my Indian colleague and his wife were walking the streets of that respectable place called Kawasaki, and my colleague's wife was interested in having her fortune told by a palm reader on the street. The palm reader was an elderly lady, and we all had a pleasant conversation and finally she said she couldn't give her services because we needed to understand Japanese. Somehow, I knew she didn't want to accept our dirty money right from the get-go but she needed time to think up of an excuse. I walked away in disgust because we'd all been chatting in Japanese. These sort have a habit of being overtly racist with a polite smile on their faces.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

"Shame on you, Japan! Don't you know that in every other country, functionally illiterate immigrants can just walk into any apartment they choose, no questions asked?"

You're right on the money.

Landlords in the UK are legally required to check on the prospective tenant or lodger's immigration status; lots of foreigners are denied rentals because ignorant landlords are now in charge of immigration checks.

Just imagine Japanese landlords acting as immigration officials; we wouldn't hear the end of it, here on JT.

Keep up the good work and ignore "experts" who don't know that the language of the Law (Legalese) actually exists.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

On a national level, 40% of rented properties are empty.

Vacancy for all houses is 13% (mostly in rural areas because of the older people dying or moving in with family) and at an all time low of 4% for rental apartments.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Vacancy for all houses is 13% (mostly in rural areas because of the older people dying or moving in with family) and at an all time low of 4% for rental apartments.

I can't find supporting information for this.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

https://japanpropertycentral.com/tag/residential-housing-vacancy-rates-in-japan/

The better question is where is the information supporting the zichi claim of 40% vacancy? 40%? Unbelievable.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

girl_in_tokyo July 6  04:35 pm JST

And if you’ve been here a while and have yet to achieve fluency? Why, that’s criminal - they shouldn’t be allowed to live in a perfectly nice place that would otherwise be rented by a Japanese speaker, preferably a native.

Yesterday I overheard a conversation (if you could call it that) where a person who has been in the country for 25+ years did not know the Japanese word for "doctor". Language acquisition might not be everyone's cup of tea, but a little bit of effort wouldn't go astray.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

AussiePeteJuly 9 11:08 am JST

Yesterday I overheard a conversation (if you could call it that) where a person who has been in the country for 25+ years did not know the Japanese word for "doctor". Language acquisition might not be everyone's cup of tea, but a little bit of effort wouldn't go astray.

No one should be refused housing for not speaking Japanese, whether they are a newcomer or someone who's just been lazy or who is just disinterested in learning. It's still discrimination. Everyone deserves a place to live. IMO housing is a human right.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Peter Neil

Vacancy for all houses is 13% (mostly in rural areas because of the older people dying or moving in with family) and at an all time low of 4% for rental apartments.

Interesting data. I thought the situation was far more dire.

From the link you provided https://japanpropertycentral.com/tag/residential-housing-vacancy-rates-in-japan/

"The average occupancy rate of rental apartment buildings acquired by J-REITs has been steadily improving since 2010 and has exceeded levels last seen during the peak in 2008. In the second half of 2016 the average occupancy rate was 96%, a record high."

I'm not sure that the vacancy rate for Japanese real estate investment trusts is the same as vacancy rate for Japanese rental apartments, although it is perhaps a reasonable indicator.

The egregious spelling and grammar mistakes notwithstanding, this page appears to have some interesting info https://en.sekaiproperty.com/article/93/condominium-vacancy-rate-in-5-majour-cities-in-japan

J govt data available here

https://www.e-stat.go.jp/en/stat-search/files?page=1&layout=datalist&toukei=00200522&tstat=000001127155&cycle=0&tclass1=000001140366

The data here supports the 13.6% figure for the national vacancy rate for all housing in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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