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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
BY ANNA MASUI, KYODO NEWS/JAPAN TIMES
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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