JT: “Japan’s shared dwellings are evolving to meet diverse needs of tenants”: Basically NJ tenants on same level as pets


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Hi Blog.  I’ve heard that people are worried I’m getting more easygoing in my old age (just turned 52), and that I’m settling for less (cheering on the baby steps) while not spading the spades enough.  Well, in my defense, I’m generally doing more big-picture stuff these days — signs of the times that indicate future trends and policy directions.  But this time, let’s do some Classic Debito, where I’m taking an isolated incident (such as a single article by a journalist lacking in self-awareness) and parse the text to find hidden subtextual meanings.  I’d generally do this for government documents (since they more likely express official attitudes of a committee), but let’s have fun with the article below.  Maybe you will see that I haven’t lost the verve, and that even Bowie could rock well into his fifties.  Here goes.  Article follows, with my comments in nonboldface:


Japan’s shared dwellings are evolving to meet diverse needs of tenants
JAN 17, 2017, courtesy of JDG

PHOTO: Residents dine together at a Tokyo share house run by Borderless Japan, which ensures an equal number of Japanese and non-Japanese tenants. | KYODO

The face of share house living is changing in Japan as operators are stepping up efforts to meet a variety of needs among residents.

COMMENT:  From the opening line, we’re set up to see that we’re diversifying qualifications to rent an apartment, which is very welcome given how strict some landlords in Japan can be.  Fine, but… look how it’s contextualized in the very next sentence.

A two-story share house in a residential area in the western Tokyo city of Chofu allows residents to keep pets.

COMMENT:  Oh, pets.  Okay, so this is an article about allowing pets in with the paying humans?  The next paragraphs remain in that groove:

In late November, residents gathered in the 23-sq.-meter living area to share nabe hot pot fare, with their small pet dogs playing around them.

The home costs much less than other share houses for residents with pets, said Natsumi Yamada, 37, who moved there with her dog in March.

Yurina Wakatsuki, 25, began to live in the house in July to “interact with someone else because I used to only commute between my home and company.”

“I now enjoy going to a nearby cafe with my dog,” she said.

COMMENT:  Okay, but wait for the pivot:

The house is owned by House-Zoo, which was founded in 2016. The Tokyo-based company currently operates 12 share houses in the capital and Saitama Prefecture, allowing residents to keep up to two small pets, including dogs, cats, birds and rabbits, each.

COMMENT:  “House-Zoo”, eh?  So we’re talking about inter-species relationships, eh? Go on.

While share houses that permit residents to keep pets usually charge lease deposits equivalent to several months’ rent, House-Zoo demands a deposit of only ¥30,000. Some 70 people have lived in its share houses.

“It is costly to live in cities with pets,” said Muneki Tanaka, president of the company. “Share houses can lower costs and we will continue to provide environments where people can live with animals around them.”

COMMENT:  So far, so good.  About half the article has contextualized Japanese living with their pets.  But suddenly, the pivot:

Borderless Japan Corp. in Tokyo operates share houses where Japanese and foreign nationals live roughly on a 50-50 basis, accepting residents between 18 and 35 years of age.

COMMENT:  Huh?  We’ve gone from living with dogs and other pets to living with foreigners?  (And note the age cap.)

The operation began in 2008 as a spinoff from support services for foreign nationals unable to lease rooms partly due to the absence of guarantors.

COMMENT:  And also partly due to the issue of racist landlords simply unwilling to rent to a foreigner.  Because it’s not illegal to refuse accommodations (or entry in general) to foreigners on the basis of nationality or race in Japan.  According to the Asahi, 42% of foreign residents in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward alone encountered some form of discrimination, and nearly 52% of that was in finding apartments.  Racism, not a lack of guarantor, is generally the first slammed door a newcomer NJ faces.  How nice of this to be glossed over in the article.

The company has 70 “borderless houses” in Tokyo, Saitama, Osaka and Kyoto, having some 5,000 residents. People from the United States, France, Sweden and other Western countries account for a large portion of the residents.

COMMENT:  This should not be news.  “Borderless” houses should be the norm.  The fact that they are not the norm should be one focus of this article.

Despite residents keeping the houses in order by rotating cleaning duties, problems occasionally occur due to differences in living practices and cultures.

COMMENT:  Ah yes, another box checked off on my “Japanese media BINGO card”:  No article or discussion on foreigners in Japan (including even those on business, corporate safety, immigration, and of course garbage sorting) is complete without mentioning intrinsic and allegedly inevitable J/NJ problems due to “cultural differences”.  Not because certain people as individuals are untidy or aren’t used to their mommies not doing their laundry for them…

Ah the joys of dorm life.  Except in many societies, dorm residents don’t put conflicts down to “culture”, and just accept that some individuals are dicks.

Nevertheless, non-Japanese residents said they feel welcome thanks to the presence of Japanese friends, while Japanese welcome opportunities to learn differences in values and to improve their foreign language ability.

COMMENT:  As written that sounds like quite a nice trade off.  NJ get put to work enlightening them about their “differences” and teaching them gaikokugo, while Japanese just honor them with their presence.  Sounds like a better deal for the Japanese resident.

Meanwhile, real estate company Oakhouse manages Social Residence share houses, promoting interaction among residents who offer skills and information in their specialty to other residents through regular events such as cooking lessons.

Oakhouse now owns 17 share houses in Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, some of which are equipped with studios for yoga, dance and music.

COMMENT:  Sounds like a lot of work just to be a resident.  Remember the age cap of 18-35 mentioned above?  Well, this is clearly not a place where people, especially middle-aged professionals, can just live and be left alone.  Come back home from a hard day’s work, and there’s still more work to be done?

Well, you might say, if you don’t like communal living, then don’t choose to live there.  But remember, Japanese have a lot more choice.  NJ don’t, in Japan.  So it sounds like NJ are being forced to be social in order to live there.  Kinda like camp counselors, in charge of keeping the camp kids entertained, except without the power to set the camp agenda.

“I have come to enjoy communal life through my experience of traveling abroad,” said Ikuya Yoshizawa, 23, who lives in Oakhouse’s residence in Kodaira, Tokyo.

“Events are enjoyable and opportunities to learn what I don’t know are stimulating,” he added. ENDS

COMMENT:  I wonder how a NJ resident feels.  Oh, we didn’t get a quote from them. The only residents who count, by the grace of their presence, are the Japanese who need to be stimulated.  An article written by a J reporter for a J audience, clearly, with NJ being treated as exotic animals being studied in their imported-native habitat.

CONCLUSION:  While I think we can assume that these places are run by well-meaning people just trying to put a roof over people’s heads, this article is written without much self-awareness.  Especially by couching NJ-friendly housing in the context of pet-friendly housing (“House-Zoo” is a dead giveaway), I think we can infer that the subconscious attitude of the reporter is that foreigners are entertainers there for the pleasure of the Japanese residents.  Like a pet cat or a dog.

But that’s, again, indicative of a bigger-picture trend.  Consider all the tokenism found in Japanese companies (especially during the Kokusaika Era, which I experienced first-hand) in hiring young, genki gaijin to “internationalize” their company, and then putting them to work in temporary, trite, and expendable jobs so that they could give the company smiles but never get promoted to a post with any power.

All this, and the reporter ignoring the fact that racist landlords (not the lack of a guarantor) are the primary reason why “no pets, no foreigners” apartments exist.  Dr. ARUDOU, Debito


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17 comments on “JT: “Japan’s shared dwellings are evolving to meet diverse needs of tenants”: Basically NJ tenants on same level as pets

  • I hope my comment on the JT about cheering on the LDP’s baby steps towards human rights wasn’t interpreted as a criticism–my point was to simply refute Ken’s empty arguments that we are not acknowledging good things when they come.

  • ChairmanMaose says:

    We all know how deeply tribal Japanese people can be. I can’t help think when there are more Japanese than non-Japanese in one of these houses that someone who’s not fitting in for what ever reason, they don’t smoke or drink like a fish could be one. I’ve been there. Or is just a individual with their own opinions that differ from the tribes is going to be bullied. The Japanese don’t seem to grow out of bullying no matter how many campaigns the Government has.

  • Baudrillard says:

    Pet Caucasians, so sickening-“People from the United States, France, Sweden and other Western countries account for a large portion of the residents.” So the selection process must be racist and ageist, filter out the mass majority of NJs in Japan, that is Chinese, Koreans and other Asians.

    The J residents obviously want free English lessons from blonde, blue eyed young gaijin. Note “Sweden” accounting for a large proportion of the residents and yet Sweden isnt even mentioned in the top ten of foreign residents in Japan by nationality.

  • First of all, I agree that the article exhibited many of the flaws typical of Japan-related journalism:
    – Sweeping the issue of racial discrimination under the rug and claiming it’s because NJ can’t find guarantors
    – Treating “borderless houses” as a positive term (“Japan is globalizing!”) when in other countries, “borderless houses” are simply called “houses.”
    – Only interviewing Japanese people

    Yes, there were many faux pas in this article that are all too common in the media about Japan.


    I’m currently living at Oak House, one of the places mentioned in the article. I moved out of an Aizu-Wakamatsu City, Fukushima Prefecture school apartment in late July/early August (it was a long, drawn-out move) and into this share house as a temporary place to stay while sorting out a more permanent living situation in Tokyo. I expect to remain in Oak House until the early spring.

    I’m going to have to disagree with some of your comments.

    Quote from the article:

    “Meanwhile, real estate company Oakhouse manages Social Residence share houses, promoting interaction among residents who offer skills and information in their specialty to other residents through regular events such as cooking lessons.

    Oakhouse now owns 17 share houses in Tokyo, Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama, some of which are equipped with studios for yoga, dance and music.”

    Arudō Debito’s Comments and my rebuttals:
    “COMMENT: Sounds like a lot of work just to be a resident.”

    I think you are confusing Oak House with the other places in the article, such as Borderless. At Oak House, I have absolutely no duties besides cleaning up after myself. Professional cleaning staff clean the bathrooms and common areas everyday. There is no “duty roster” or other such nonsense.

    I _did_ see another foreigner-friendly share house in Tokyo that required the residents to take shifts cleaning up the common areas, and that is _precisely_ why I chose Oak House instead of that share house.

    The part of the article in which it says “who offer skills and information in their specialty to other residents through regular events such as cooking lessons”–let me tell you about that.

    First of all, no one has to do anything. I’ve never volunteered, nor do I ever plan to do so–I’m too busy, and in this greedy world where everyone else seems to nickel and dime me for everything, I see little point in working for free (unless it’s to help starving children in Africa or that kind of thing).

    Second of all, some of those people the article mentioned are _making money_. Some of them put up advertisements on the share house bulletin board for English lessons, computer lessons, beauty treatments, yoga lessons, etc. and charge whatever they want for it. They’re literally running small businesses within the share house, and they’re getting money directly from customers, usually also within the share house. Money made and goods/services offered without even having to leave the building–that’s a great deal for everyone.

    Oak House also has a system where if you give your time/expertise directly to Oak House, they reward you by reducing your rent or giving you the fruit of your labor (for example, if you work in the building’s garden, you get a bunch of free vegetables, or if you use your tech skills to help on their home page, they will reduce your rent). This is all completely voluntary–as a tenant, you are under no obligation to do these things. If you’re interested in these things, you have to actually go to the building manager and ask her. Furthermore, it is good for foreign nationals because unlike work paid in cash, work paid in vegetables/reduced rent is possibly not against immigration law regarding paid work. This is very important for foreigners in this building on student visas who just arrived and haven’t become eligible for work permits yet, or people on tourist visas, who need to conserve their money. The building has lots of both such people.

    “Remember the age cap of 18-35 mentioned above? Well, this is clearly not a place where people, especially middle-aged professionals, can just live and be left alone.”

    Wrong. You’re confusing Oak House’s policies with those of Borderless, the other share house mentioned in the article. On my floor in Oak House, there are definitely at least two over-35s. Once again, I think you are confusing Oak House with one of the other share houses mentioned in the article. On my floor, there is a British man with graying hair and a Japanese woman who looks like she’s at least in her late ’30s.

    While living here, I’ve been working around Tokyo as both a system engineer/Web developer and part-time English teacher. When I come home, I go up to my room, lock my door, and have all the privacy I need. I even teach lessons over Skype from the PC in my room, which works just fine–the walls are thick enough that I don’t bother my neighbors.

    “Come back home from a hard day’s work, and there’s still more work to be done?”

    Not at Oak House. At least not at the one I live in. No chores except the things you’d have to do anywhere–sorting and taking out your own garbage, cleaning up after yourself when you cook, that kind of thing. None of this “you have to sweep the floor of the common area every Thursday” or “you have to do everyone’s dishes this evening” nonsense, thank God.

    Some of the other tenants include an American engineer who works on Yokota Air Base, a Swedish journalist, etc. I know those people because they choose to hang out in the common area. I hung out there a lot too, before I remembered why I was an introvert in the first place.

    “Well, you might say, if you don’t like communal living, then don’t choose to live there. But remember, Japanese have a lot more choice. NJ don’t, in Japan. So it sounds like NJ are being forced to be social in order to live there. Kinda like camp counselors, in charge of keeping the camp kids entertained, except without the power to set the camp agenda.”

    At some share houses, definitely yes. Yes, it is a problem when NJ are herded into glorified college dorms where they have limited privacy and chores to do because landlords at legit apartments, the kind adults are supposed to live in, won’t touch them.

    The other share house I interviewed at in Tokyo was super annoying. The manager kept replying to me in English (even though I have JLPT N2 and was speaking to him in Japanese), which was one of the reasons I didn’t go with his building. I don’t want to be around a bunch of Japanese people who feel entitled to free English lessons. The second reason I passed on his share house was that we had a duty roster, and I thought “This is ridiculous, I refuse to pay in the ballpark of 70,000 yen per month and then have an obligation to clean up after other people.”

    And all this was after attempting to close a deal with Sakura House, which basically asked me to sign a contract stating that “any complaints of any shape or form will not be tolerated.” I refused to sign a contract like that.

    Oak House is a decent place to live, from what I can see. For 44,000 yen a month base rent, you have privacy in your four concrete walls and a door that locks (with a decent-sized room), a fridge and bed in every room, a balcony, broadband Internet in the room and WiFi in some of the common areas, a communal kitchen, a weight room/mini-gym that sometimes doubles as a yoga studio, a soundproofed music practice room, a lounge with a grand piano, and even a movie room with a projector and pull-down screen and theater-style seats where you can watch DVDs with your friends. Seriously, not a bad deal.

    Is it perfect? No–most of the foreigners living in this building have only been here for a short time, so most of them are still naive (and therefore trend towards apologism)–the main reason I no longer hang out in the common area is that I wish to avoid one of the other tenants–I had a very ugly argument with a Filipina tenant, who had lived in Japan for just over a year, which started when she basically told me that “You should just stop complaining about human rights in Japan and go with the flow because Japan is paying us so much money.” The house manager also sometimes replies to me in English, which I find annoying (I’m nobody’s free English teacher, except for my girlfriend), but when I voice annoyance, the building manager usually switches back to Japanese. I guess a distant third complaint would be U.S. Military Aircraft flying overhead–personally, I kind of enjoy getting nice up-close photographs of C-130s or Ospreys, but I guess the flyovers would annoy some people.

    Anyhow, overall, I think Oak House is a good place to live, definitely not a place with mandatory chores. I don’t think the ages 18-35 restriction applies to Oak House, either. Lots of professionals live here and except for having to share the showers/bathrooms with others, it is just like living in a regular apartment, for all intents and purposes. I wanted to bring both of these things to your attention, which is why I’m writing this response. I agree there are lots of problems with the real estate situation in Japan regarding foreigners, and many share houses for foreigners treat them like a bunch of teenagers, but Oak House is actually pretty good.

    — We got it. You like Oak House (you even say so twice for good measure in the last paragraph). Thank you for the clarifications as a resident. But your repeated (and unfathomable) defensiveness over my confusing Oak House with Borderless et al. is unwarranted. Making that clear is the reporter’s job, not mine. So please direct your criticism where it belongs — at the source of the information, not its (not unreasonable) interpretation.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    This crapily-tailored article appears in “National” news category. That means it is located somewhere within the first 5 pages of JT newspapers. Embarrassing.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Meh, Japan still can’t get its head around the idea of ‘people’ who are ‘adults’ living by themselves without it descending into chaos;
    They need agents, companies, rules, schedules and rotas to make it happen. It’s not an organic experience of adults house-sharing, it’s a marketing gimmick, and the NJ are just are part of that.
    As Dr. Debito says, in no other G7 country is housesharing front page news. The fact that it is in Japan speaks volumes not only about Japan’s absurd insularity and parochialism, but also about the poor quality of editorial standards at Japan Times; a publication that devotes about half of its content to overseas news (mainly the US).
    I don’t need to read JT for news about Trump, why would I? Give me Japan news!

  • @ JDG

    Ugh, I’ll second that. So tired of seeing/hearing U.S. news when I’m looking for news about Japan. Even worse is when I hear and read news stories about police misconduct or other racial conflicts in the U.S., but when the same stuff happens here in Japan, it is quietly swept under the rug.

    • Thats because in Communist China criticism of overseas countries is allowed, but not of the domestic govt. Oh wait, we are talking about Abe’s Japan.
      Same difference.

    • Anti nuke is a brave guy, but has to keep his face covered, because of all the anti Abe art he does. At least in the time immediately after Fukushima (thats his main thing).
      However, as Abe wants to best friends with Trump, I suppose criticism of Trump is indirect criticism of Abe…..
      Kinda like Hideki Tojo. Oh, you know, Hitler’s mate. (the one liner I always utilize to shut down all J imperialist war apolo-jizzum).

  • @JDG

    Thanks for the share. Curiously, I found the following quote in the article:

    “The artist said the more political a placard — such as his work that criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — the faster it is taken down.”

    I sure would’ve liked to know more about that.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Thank you very much HJ, interesting.
    But I think that there’s a broader point that I want to make here, and it’s this;
    In the same way that the Japanese present Hiroshima as the ‘trump card’ that oblivates their own war crimes and any discussion thereof, the election of Trump now gives them the ultimate ‘B, b, but America!’ ‘Trump Card’ with which they are already deflecting and evading any responsibility and discussion of their own right-wing human rights abusing behavior.
    We shouldn’t let them off the hook.
    That’s a JBC right there!

  • @JDG

    You’re right. I’m not sure this particular artist’s work is an example of that behavior, but absolutely, that is the only perspective that comes to mind when I hear Japanese criticism of Trump. I can only inquire, “But what about ol’ Abe and his clique of wackjobs?” The double-standard is nauseating. It’s right up there with the BS of how racial problems (police brutality, for example) from America are widely publicized, but when immigration murdered a man during the deportation process, not a word was uttered. It’s just a sick degree of self-serving bias.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @HJ and JDG, Japan is like China (oh the irony) as criticism of America, external “foes” are allowed but “his work that criticized Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — the faster it is taken down.”
    No internal dissent (or even critical thinking) allowed.
    Only the “signs” are different, i.e. Japan claims to be a “western democracy” and China claims to be “socialist”- neither are true descriptions of their reality, but hush hush, Japan is “safety” country, believe the propaganda.


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