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Renting in Japan

Last updated on July 24, 2013

Many unfamiliar with Japan may believe that the nation is full of things cute and cool. Although there are many things that I personally love about Japan, especially after almost 18-years residing and working in the country during my span of 33-years in various parts of Asia, there are a few things that bother me. One thing in particular and a topic often discussed by “Black Tokyo – First in Urban Japan,” is institutionalized discrimination. Although certain practices in Japan have improved, discrimination in the workplace (particularly against Japanese women, the physically challenged, certain foreigners and even Japanese if they look or dress a certain way), employment in general (due to age, gender, ethnic or social background, etc.) and housing are common occurrences that are often overlooked or ignored.

To quote from Article 14: “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”

This particular post, as reported by the Japan Times, deals with the later, housing discrimination. In Simon Scott’s piece, “Student seeking Kyoto flat told: No foreigners allowed Campus cooperative says it is powerless to prevent landlords from discriminating,” the reader is provided interesting insight into life in Japan.

In a previous post dealing with my house-hunting experience in Tokyo, I too experienced much of what the student had to deal with. However, unlike the single student, during my home search, I had full-time employment, a very hefty deposit of almost $10K and was with my Japanese wife when my week of relocation hell kicked off.

“I don’t really think is due to racial discrimination on the part of the landlords,” he explained. “Many have only had Japanese people living in their apartments in the past so they are not really accustomed to dealing with foreigners. Another reason may be that they lack the confidence or ability to speak a foreign language.”

In December 2008, I commented on The Japan Times “Readers in Council” Opinion piece on how the story reminded me of my last Tokyo home search: “My wife got a close and personal observation of how gaijin is used in business. We visited a realtor to lease an apartment or a house. The agent made calls to numerous owners and most said no deal in renting to gaijin. Some homeowners would rent to gaijin if my wife (a.k.a. Japanese, safe, and a link to the parents if something went wrong) signed. I said, “NO!” to that. However, ONE homeowner said that it was okay to rent to foreign clients. The homeowner subsequently posed a question to the realtor after the realtor delivered the seemingly good new. Although, my wife and I did not hear the question, the realtor’s body language and his response to the question seemed like someone dropped a nuke on my wife. “Anooooooo kokujin desu!” Ahhh, he’s black (person)! Not American, not just gaijin, but “kokujin!” My wife was frickin’ livid!” You can read more on my plight my OpEd to the Japan Times here.

“In the United States there are the federal fair housing laws, which basically say you may not discriminate against people based on a long list of categories, and there are statutory remedies if that happens. Whereas in Japan, it is more just the idea of discrimination being bad, with not a lot of protections in place.”

With this in mind, what recourse does the student and even in my previous situation have?

“It is extremely difficult to prove discrimination in Japan,” she said, adding that the shakka-ho (renters’ law) and other anti-discrimination laws are weak and ill-enforced. Instead, virtually all discrimination suits are settled out of court, said a spokeswoman for the Tokyo Bar Association.

In my 2008 post I stated: “This may be what Mr. Gregory Clark believed when he wrote the piece, ”Antiforeigner discrimination is a right for Japanese.” In that article, Clark begins with the assumption that “Japan girai” — dislike of Japan — is an allergy that seems to afflict many Westerners here.”

As I commented, “I am not sure if being pigeon-holed in various “gaijin ghettoes,” as Clark calls the neighborhoods that those of another ilk (Westerners, Japanese, Zainichi, Chinese or those clinging to the lower-rungs of the socio-economic ladder) reside, can be part of the reason as to why “those people” have issues with landlords, substandard housing and discriminatory housing laws. I don’t know, just a thought! “It is time “we” admitted that at times the Japanese have the right to discriminate against “some” foreigners. If they do not, and Japan ends up like our padlocked, mutually suspicious Western societies, we will all be the losers. Now I am not sure who Clark is referring to when he uses “we” since “those people” in the gaijin ghettos may not clearly understand his rhetoric flowing from his seaside abode. Doesn’t Clark know that not all of “we” opened or went to war with Japan? If the Japanese are mutually suspicious, it could be for “other” reasons! So much for individualism, I guess collective racism is easier to promote. Read more here.

Overall, it seems that some things have remained the same, some foreigners still face hurdles in obtaining housing and fair treatment. I am interested in hearing how Ryukoku University student Victor Rosenhoj fared in his housing search. Wish him luck in fighting old ways!

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