Nikkei: Japan’s “Japanese Only” apartment rental market may adversely affect NJ worker retention during labor shortage


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Hi Blog. Earlier this year the GOJ released a nationwide survey of discrimination toward NJ in Japan (details on here and here). predicted that the results of this could be (and would be) something the media would cite, now that they had tangible statistics.   (Even though, as reported previously on, in the Nikkei Asian Review’s case, they would periodically still try to explain them away. But it would still be cited nonetheless.)  Here’s the latest example, again from the Nikkei Asian Review, with the shocking statistic, “Almost nine of 10 private housing units in Tokyo do not allow foreign tenants”.  Dr. Debito Arudou


As Japan looks for river of foreign talent, landlords erect a dam
Discrimination could hinder companies hiring more from overseas
Nikkei Asian Review, August 23, 2017
By TSUBASA SURUGA, Nikkei staff writer

TOKYOSamith Hilmy, a 26-year-old student from Sri Lanka, was waiting anxiously at a real estate office in Tokyo as an agent went through the procedure of ringing the Japanese landlord of an apartment the student was interested in renting.

Following a brief exchange, which lasted no more than 10 seconds, Hilmy said, the agent hung up the phone and uttered the same three-word phrase he had heard from a dozen or so agents over a month of home hunting: “Sorry, no foreigners.”

When Hilmy first arrived in Japan in April, his Japanese language school set him up in an apartment for six months in Shin-Okubo, a district in the capital’s Shinjuku Ward. But he has to leave the place soon, and time is short.

He said he has also encountered some real estate agents that demanded four to five months’ worth of rent up front — some want a year’s worth — as “insurance” in case he leaves the apartment or the country without notice.

“I felt,” he said, “like I was being treated like a criminal.”

Hilmy’s odyssey is not unlike the reality faced by many foreigners living in Japan. This year, the country released a first of its kind national survey that highlighted the extent of housing discrimination foreigners face.

According to the study, released by the Ministry of Justice in March, out of 2,044 foreign residents who had sought housing within the past five years, 39.3% reported being turned down because they were not Japanese.

The impact is now being felt by employers. In recent years, numerous Japanese manufacturers and services have been trying to make up for the country’s shrinking labor force by looking elsewhere for workers. They want to create an inflow of talent, but housing discrimination could become a dam.

As of last October, Japan had 1.08 million foreign workers, up 58% from five years earlier, accounting for around 2% of the total workforce, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

They have to endure the humiliating phone call that often ends with a “sorry, no foreigners” because some landlords worry about tenants from other countries flying the coop, so to speak.

A few years ago, a 63-year-old landlord from Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district who asked not to be named rented an apartment to a male Chinese student. After six months or so, he said, neighbors began reporting that two other men had moved into the same flat, “often making a racket late at night.”

When the neighbors confronted the student, the tenant pretended not to understand Japanese. “It made me more hesitant [to rent to foreigners],” the landlord said. “I just don’t want any more trouble.”

Hiroyuki Goto, CEO of Global Trust Networks, a Tokyo-based guarantor service provider for foreign tenants, said not many landlords have actually had these kinds of experiences but the stories “have spread across the country, causing fear among landlords.”

Other reasons include landlords who assume foreign tenants would trouble neighbors — from Brazilians throwing large home parties and firing up the barbecue to American college students who like partying into the night in their apartments.

Goto said even if prospective tenants are skilled workers with stable jobs at big-name Japanese companies, many housing units remain out of reach.

Total OA Systems — a Tokyo-based IT consultancy with 200 or so employees, including those in China and the Philippines — plans to expand the number of its foreign engineers working in Japan. It currently has only a handful.

The IT industry is suffering from a significant labor shortage, and the consultancy was acutely aware of the discrimination problem last year when it welcomed a systems engineer from the Philippines. To dodge any hassles, the company consulted a property agent that caters to foreigners, whom industry players describe as an “underwhelming minority” in Tokyo.

Even real estate agencies with experience helping foreigners run into the same problem: “Almost nine of 10 private housing units in Tokyo do not allow foreign tenants,” according to Masao Ogino, CEO of the Ichii Group. “It is still an extremely exclusive market.”

Tsuyoshi Yamada, a human resources manager at Total OA Systems, said a lack of sufficient support for non-Japanese employees, including in regard to housing, could throw a hurdle up in front of the company’s plan to bring in overseas talent.

This concern is particularly strong for smaller IT companies like Yamada’s. “Even if we finally find a promising engineer,” he said, “retention could become a problem.”

Some companies are taking the matter into their own hands. YKK recently opened a small serviced apartment complex for its foreign-born employees in Kurobe, Toyama Prefecture, central Japan. Its flagship plant is a 10-minute drive away.

The world’s leading zipper maker is getting ready to expand into the low-end segments in China and other parts of Asia. To get a head start, it is training more foreign employees who could go on to become managers at these plants and elsewhere. These trainees work stints of up to three years in Kurobe.

The 10 apartments are close to full with engineers from Indonesia and other countries, and YKK is already considering whether it needs more housing for the more than 30 overseas engineers it plans to welcome every year.

YKK’s foreign employees used to live in other company dormitories or in private housing rented by the company. YKK said it has not experienced landlords rejecting its foreign-born employees but feels its serviced apartments help these workers avoid cultural quibbles with would-be neighbors.

More serviced apartment units would “allow [the foreign employees] to concentrate on their training from the day after they arrive to Japan,” a representative said.

Japan has no law prohibiting landlords from refusing applicants based on ethnicity or nationality.

“Judicially, the only way to resolve such a rejection is through civil lawsuits, which is an extremely high hurdle for foreigners,” said Yumi Itakura, an attorney with the Tokyo Public Law Office, citing costly trial fees and a lack of law firms with enough capacity to help non-Japanese clients.

But there have been efforts by industry players to tackle the issue. The Japan Property Management Association, a group of over 1,300 companies handling some 5 million properties, in 2003 created guidelines that include advice for landlords and real estate agencies in dealing with prospective foreign tenants.

“In some countries, a rental contract doesn’t require a guarantor [which is common in Japan],” one piece of advice says. “Housing rules differ by country and region, therefore you should carefully explain the values and customs that are behind Japan’s housing rules.”

For foreign tenants, the association created an “Apartment Search Guidebook,” which describes the country’s common housing rules in six languages. An example: “Living with people other than those stated in the rental agreement or sub-leasing the property are violations of the rental agreement.”

At the local government level, Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward is a forerunner in trying to tackle housing rental rejections. In 1991, the ward specifically stated in an ordinance that it will “strive to resolve [tenant] discrimination” based on nationality.

The issue is particularly important for Shinjuku, which has the highest proportion of foreign residents in Tokyo. As of Aug. 1, of 341,979 residents, 42,613 were not Japanese, more than 12% of the total. People from 130 or so countries live in the ward.

The ward office provides a weekly consultation session on real estate transactions for foreign residents who are having trouble finding a place to stay. In addition, it has set up a mechanism that offers help to residents in Chinese, Korean, English, Thai, Nepalese and Burmese.

Shinjuku periodically holds liaisons with property agents for better collaboration and smoother information exchanges, according to Shinjuku’s housing division. The effort is, in part, to support the elderly, disabled and foreigners, “who tend to be the most vulnerable when it comes to securing housing,” said Osamu Kaneko, the division’s manager.

According to a survey that Shinjuku conducted in 2015, separate from the justice ministry’s study, of 1,275 foreign residents, 42.3% said they had experienced discrimination in Japan. Of those, 51.9% felt discriminated against when looking for housing.

The justice ministry study underscores just how widespread discrimination is in Japan’s housing market. But the problem could be about to swell. At least the number of foreign residents in the country is trending up. At the end of 2016, it reached an all-time high, 2.38 million, 77% more than 20 years earlier.

Experts say access to housing in Japan is becoming ever more important as the third largest economy takes steps — though small ones — to open its door to more foreigners.

Chizuko Kawamura, a professor emeritus at Tokyo’s Daito Bunka University and an immigration policy expert, has proposed that the government set up a specialized body on multicultural initiatives that would make way for foreign resident support systems — from housing, education, medical access and fair employment.

This is “not limited to housing,” Kawamura said. “If our government cannot address the social needs of [foreigners] already living in Japan, we won’t be able to support those coming into the country in the future.”

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19 comments on “Nikkei: Japan’s “Japanese Only” apartment rental market may adversely affect NJ worker retention during labor shortage

    • Japan’s internal contradictions have always threatened to unravel it’s society with disastrous results from WW2 (Kwantung army vs civilian govt) to the contradictory beliefs of everyday folk at the microcosm.

      Consider that classic case a few years back, the J police in Kawaguchi who detained a woman for looking foreign but not having her passport or gaijin card…because she was in fact Japanese!!

      Why didnt she say so? Because she was afraid/reluctant/timid to the point of mental illness of “speaking to strangers”.Thus, Xenophobia Vs. Racial profiling and the Japanese waste each other’s time,

      Only by holding two opposing ideas in one’s mind, as in Orwell’s 1984, can J society continue to function on its current course. Though the mental health cost will continue to be high.

  • Does YKK really believe that opening “a small serviced apartment complex for its foreign-born employees” will make a difference when it comes to retention? What happens when the foreign employees want to move off-site? What happens when they face any of the other many forms of discrimination against foreigners in Japan?

    What is needed are not makeshift stop-gap measures. What is needed is a change in societal thinking, and that has to happen at all levels of society – from the family to the schools to the workplace to the media to the government – all of it. The Japanese have to change their perception of foreigners and start respecting them on equal footing or no significant number of foreigners will ever really want to remain in Japan and be a contributing part of Japanese society and the Japanese economy.

    It’s funny. I hear a lot of ideas from Japanese about what is needed to internationalize Japan, but I never really hear the Japanese asking foreigners what they need to want to make a life here. I suppose the recent government questionnaire was a start, but I am not convinced that any real, substantive changes will be made based on those results since many in the government probably believe that there are no real problems that need addressing. I imagine most of them are reacting the same way most Japanese respond to criticism from foreigners – “If you don’t like it, you can go back to your home country.”

    The big push to use English at Rakuten and other companies is, I think, emblematic of the myopic thinking about what it will take for Japan to internationalize. Mikitani and his ilk believe that learning English and communicating with foreigners in English will make Japan more global, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Only a change in heart will make Japan global. The Japanese have to start believing that we are, in all material respects, the same people and worthy of the same treatment and respect. If they can’t accept that basic truth, then no amount of English ability in the world will save Japan. If they continue to believe that they can really only trust their own, they will also earn no trust, and foreigners will flee Japanese companies in Japan and abroad.

    This problem is widespread and infects the thinking of Japanese companies around the world. A few years back, I remember looking for a Japanese-speaking job in the US. I carefully tailored my LinkedIn profile to showcase my Japanese language skills and scoured the Internet for ads everyday, but alas, it appeared as if no Japanese companies were hiring – period. This seemed odd to me, so I brought the conversation up with a haafu (or daburu) friend of mine in the US. Her features are distinctly Japanese and she has a Japanese last name. Anyway, according to her, she was receiving constant calls from recruiters about jobs for Japanese speakers in the US. After speaking with her for a while, I learned that these recruiters were specifically seeking out Japanese only candidates based on instructions from their Japanese clients. The companies had apparently instructed them specifically to only approach candidates with Japanese features and Japanese names. No wonder I never received as much as a peep from recruiters.

    Again, the rabbit hole runs deep.

    • Actually, I have heard from a Rakuten insider that managers spend inordinate amounts of time translating the information they wish to present at meetings into ‘Japlish’, which of course, other attendees cannot understand, necessitating all meetings then be repeated in Japanese so that no one has to be embarrassed by thier inability to speak, write, or understand English.
      At the lower level, a refusal to use real English serves to hinder everything. For example, Rakuten staff canteen could label pork ‘katsu’ as ‘pork cutlet’, but Japanese prefer ‘fried pork covered in bread crumbs’.
      It’s all for show to the domestic audience so that Japanese people think Rakuten is ‘cool’.

    • Grudgingly, I was once hired for a couple of Japanese speaking jobs outside Japan, because the salary was low so a “real” Japanese wasnt interested. Also, neither of the hirers were Japanese, except my predecessor who just couldnt wait to leave the company so the NJ would have to do.

      • Interesting Baudrillard, I feel that’s the situation in my country of origin. Either low wage, short-term jobs with Japanese skills required, or the odd job with a decent salary that asks for a “Japanese skill: native” secretary, where the native probably applies more to ethnicity than language.

        @JP, you’re right on the mark:
        “Only a change in heart will make Japan global. The Japanese have to start believing that we are, in all material respects, the same people and worthy of the same treatment and respect. If they can’t accept that basic truth, then no amount of English ability in the world will save Japan.”

        But I’m not holding my breath, because distrust of the outsiders happens even between Japanese. People who move from out of town, or in the case of my ‘home’ country, between Japanese who like it and live there long term, and businessmen posted there for 2-5 years.

        “If they continue to believe that they can really only trust their own, they will also earn no trust, and foreigners will flee Japanese companies in Japan and abroad.”
        I never thought foreigners actually fleeing Japan would happen on an important scale, but with time I’m starting to believe it does. Just met the BFF of my BFF and I’m actively discouraging him from moving to Japan. Very nice guy, I want to make sure he understands the huge investment needed to learn high-level Japanese would not pay off.

    • JP – I agree with your sentiment. But I think I understand how Japanese people think / feel.
      Rakuten’s “internationalization” push is as you said – speaking English to each other, and their non Japanese staff. And that is it. Because anything more would make them, and the average Japanese person, uncomfortable. And therein lies the problem – they don’t want to live next to you, sit next to you on the train, let you into their nightclubs, etc. They don’t want to compete with NJ on a daily basis.
      These are the same people who frown on Japanese children who have grown up overseas, and did not want Japanese orphans abandoned in China after WW2 to be allowed to move to Japan – because they did not speak Japanese…
      This is a big part of Japanese culture, and who they think they are. They just aren’t willing to make the changes needed.

  • Gee, surprise surprise, how could anyone have POSSSSSSSIBLY predicted this would be a problem!

    Sarcasm aside, it’s pressure like this that may lead to some sort of resolution or more awareness of this sort of bullshit. However, it needs to lead to a serious law to prevent this sort of discrimination LEGALLY. Otherwise, you aren’t going to be seeing people stay. Keep in mind, the apartment discrimination is only one of many layers in Japan that NJ have to put up with and stress over. It wears on you, and unlike most Japanese, many CAN leave if they are fed up. I know several who have, for their own personal reasons, and I can completely understand those feelings.

  • I should clarify one part of my last comment. The Japanese-speaking job I was looking for in the US was not a run-of-the mill administrative job (not that there is anything wrong with those jobs) – it was a job in the legal group/department of one of the many Japanese companies in the US. Japanese-speaking positions for translators, interpreters and other staff-level employees are regularly posted on the Internet, but candidates for more substantive/senior-level positions appear to be sourced through recruiters who are given very specific instructions regarding who to reach out to, as I mention in my comment.

  • Why does this entire article reek of racist Wajin pandering? Ah, the author appears to be a Wajin.

    The major assumptions underlying the entire discussion of this housing discrimination problem, which the author completely and utterly fails to even slightly attempt to criticize or examine are:

    1) All “foreigners” are the same, and simultaneously different from all “Japanese” (Wajin)
    2) “Japanese” (Wajin) never break the rules
    3) “Foreigners” necessarily need habits, expectations, and customs associated with living in Japan explained to them, regardless of all personal characteristics (length of residency in Japan, fluency, education, etc.) (see #1)
    4) The housing discrimination problem is merely the result of (presumed factual) #3, i.e. it is largely the fault of the “foreigners” for being so different (blaming the victim, a very popular strategy here)
    5) Even though “Japanese” (Wajin), who a priori never break rules, are (supposedly) subject to the same rules that “foreigners” are, the rules are nevertheless still inadequate to punish or mitigate infractions committed by “foreigners,” thus necessitating an additional, different set of rules for dealing with “foreigners”

    I should mention that assumption #4, which here Suruga is parroting, is precisely the published, stated opinion of the Japanese government. When I challenged them during my own housing problem to explain on what basis they made that claim (in other words, according to what factual data did they assert that the problem is not simply racism), they were completely unable or unwilling to provide any supporting evidence or point me to any research done on the subject. I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions why.

    I also want to point out that this hard allegiance to government propaganda masqueraded as free thought is shockingly similar to what many Chinese are up to these days. Link here about how it’s causing problems for Australians, if you’re interested. This article from Suruga is not journalism; it is no more than government propaganda from an 英語が上手な和人. Whatever iota of credibility Asian Nikkei Review had is now gone.

    On a final note, one thing that I absolutely must point out, as sometimes I hear other minorities in Japan advocating this same thing.

    “To dodge any hassles, the company consulted a property agent that caters to foreigners…Some companies are taking the matter into their own hands. YKK recently opened a small serviced apartment complex for its foreign-born employees…”

    Do not give these types of organizations your money. In supporting a business whose business model only exists because of systemic racism, you are encouraging de facto segregation and economic apartheid. The solution to lack of access caused by racism is not to build a separate system for those excluded; it is to reform the exclusionary system in the first place. We do not need special, separate businesses for minorities; we need those currently in existence to stop being racist. We cannot overlook this crucial point.

  • So in present dayJapan it’s ok to sexually harass refugees;
    And it’s ok to say they should be shot (see above links), and yet I’m supposed to believe that the Japanese didn’t commit mass murder in Nanking, nor did they abduct women to use as sex-slaves.
    Japan has not changed.

    — This all really isn’t related to this blog entry. Please migrate these topics under Newsletter comments. I’ll delete them from here shortly. Thanks.

    • I’d like to Dr. Debito, but I don’t know how to do that. Just copy and paste?

      But let’s be real clear here, besides us NO ONE cares that a first world white boy can rent a apartment in Tokyo. Back home they all think we’re over-privileged candy-asses living the good life anyway.
      No, sexually harassing the meager number of asylum seekers they accept, and starting a debate on shooting the rest IS something the west would get angry about if you could get the news past the influence Abe’s increased propaganda budget is buying. That’s an issue with opportunities for NJ in Japan.

      — Yes, just copy and paste. But I f you connect the issues like that, OK.

  • RealityCheck says:

    Japanese society gets what it wants. I do not mean that this has or will have a positive outcome for Japanese society in the near future or 10 plus years down the track.
    This article shows up the ingrained double-think of much of this society and its structures which facilitate and endorse such dysfunction.
    Housing and other discrimination against workers that Japan needs? Check. The result will be more skilled people will leave or refuse to come. Yes there will always be workers who are desperate to live in Japan from less developed countries.
    But at the same time Japan proclaims in a number of govt papers, policy so called ‘think tanks’ etc that it needs skilled foreign workers to support Japanese society’s ever rapidly ageing demographic.
    It won’t happen, not until the ingrained dysfunctional attitudes stop receiving aid and comfort. And that is not likely to happen unless there is some real change at political levels.
    Remember the hoo ha about foreign nurses and elderly care workers coming to live in Japan and take care of the elderly?
    I’ve heard that since the year 2,000 yet not one genuine program has been enacted to bring in, genuinely train, give free and intensive Japanese language classes to, and genuinely support with non discriminatory measures a foreign population of nursing care workers who will invest their future in Japan.
    This is all part of the same problem. ‘We need you but we want you to understand that you are 3rd class residents of our Japan.’ We want your taxes and we will even class you as a ‘citizen’ w/out any of the rights when it comes to paying them but never forget you are nowhere near real permanent residents, most of you, let alone citizens.
    Most skilled people will go to greener pastures where their skills such as elderly care ones will provide a decent life with equality in housing and services. Many developed societies will require more elderly nurses/nursing assistants/carers.
    This is what Japanese decision makers and a lot of the society want and they are getting it. Japanese elderly people are some of the poorest and sickest looking people I have ever seen.
    The increase in murders of and injuries to the elderly by family members who resent taking care of them and the ever-present inadequate public pension problems are the future now.
    This and the other issues raised by this housing discrimination article are what Japan gets because of its dysfunctional double-think.
    It might be wise for most foreigners to leave Japan within a certain timeframe as the problems will only get worse and Japanese society will be seeking to blame others for its own stubborn hurtle towards irrelevance and upheaval.


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