Ja­pan lat­est bat­tle­ground in Airbnb home­shar­ing war

The Myanmar Times - - The Pulse -

SARAH Takeda thought she had a good lit­tle busi­ness rent­ing a tra­di­tional tatami-mat room in her house on Airbnb.

But she and other hosts in Ja­pan are learn­ing the hard way that the home-shar­ing site’s fastest­grow­ing mar­ket is also be­com­ing the next flash­point in a global bat­tle over the shar­ing econ­omy.

Hote­liers are up in arms, lo­cal res­i­dents com­plain that out­siders are in­vad­ing their neigh­bour­hoods and Ja­panese of­fi­cials say rent­ing out pri­vate homes is il­le­gal.

Calls for change have reached the high­est lev­els of gov­ern­ment, which is mulling a re­vi­sion to the rules, as Ja­pan’s tourist num­bers hit fresh records and Tokyo scram­bles to build enough ac­com­mo­da­tion to host the 2020 Olympics.

But Takeda’s host­ing days are over, after lo­cal of­fi­cials knocked on the door of her home in a quaint sea­side town near the cap­i­tal.

They quizzed her on minute de­tails of the busi­ness, such as ask­ing how she cleaned sheets for guest fu­tons, Takeda said.

She was later threat­ened with a 30,000 yen (US$280) fine or six months in jail if she kept rent­ing.

“I had no idea Airbnb was against the law when I was run­ning it,” said Takeda, a pseu­do­nym, who has since stopped rent­ing the straw mat room for about 3000 yen a night.

“They said some of the neigh­bours had com­mented that many for­eign­ers were com­ing to our house.”

Ja­pan isn’t alone. Fights over Airbnb have erupted in Spain, France, Ger­many and even in San Francisco, where the com­pany is based, largely over ris­ing real es­tate prices and noise com­plaints.

Still, Ja­pan is par­tic­u­larly fer­tile ter­ri­tory for home shar­ing, with vis­i­tor num­bers soar­ing as a drop in the yen makes a on­ceno­to­ri­ously ex­pen­sive coun­try a bit more af­ford­able.

Last year Ja­pan drew some 19.7 mil­lion vis­i­tors, up 47 per­cent from a year ear­lier, strain­ing ho­tel oc­cu­pancy rates and high­light­ing Tokyo’s ac­com­mo­da­tion prob­lem.

The ho­tel in­dus­try, how­ever, has been cool on the idea of un­reg­u­lated play­ers fill­ing the gap.

“If ryokans [tra­di­tional inns] and ho­tels op­er­ate un­der the same reg­u­la­tions [as Airbnb hosts] and then we lose, I could ac­cept it,” said Sa­toru Har­i­tani, chair of the Ja­pan Ryokan and Ho­tel As­so­ci­a­tion.

“But if one in­dus­try is reg­u­lated and the other is not, and we have to com­pete un­der dif­fer­ent rules, then that kind of sit­u­a­tion would be noth­ing but un­fair.”

The health min­istry, which over­sees the hos­pi­tal­ity sec­tor, in­sists for-profit home shar­ing is still il­le­gal un­der a nearly 70-yearold law – al­though en­force­ment can be patchy.

“Nat­u­rally, if there are signs of il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity … there could be penal­ties,” said a min­istry of­fi­cial who asked not to be named.

For its part, Airbnb said it tells hosts to check lo­cal laws, but pointed to a clash be­tween the old and new econ­omy.

“We of­ten hear from many hosts that the cur­rent laws gov­ern­ing home shar­ing are un­clear and dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand. In fact, in some cases, they were writ­ten long be­fore the in­ter­net even ex­isted,” it said in a writ­ten re­sponse to questions.

Clar­ity may come from above as the gov­ern­ment mulls let­ting home­own­ers rent out their place for up to 180 days a year, and in ex­clu­sively res­i­den­tial ar­eas, lo­cal me­dia said.

The record num­bers have cre­ated an un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion for bustling Tokyo, said Lau­ren, who rents out a pair of apart­ments at a fam­ily-owned build­ing in a posh neigh­bour­hood.

There are “lots of peo­ple who want to come to Ja­pan”, she said of the ac­com­mo­da­tion squeeze.

“Where should those peo­ple stay? What sort of stan­dard should be put in place?”

Some hosts are not wait­ing on the leg­is­la­ture. In­stead, they are tak­ing mat­ters into their own hands by sug­gest­ing trav­ellers, such as 27-year-old Aus­tralian tourist Thomas Jurkiewicz, be cre­ative with the truth.

There was a “lit­tle plac­ard on the wall near the en­trance that says if some­one knocks on your door, do not say it’s an Airbnb. Say you are stay­ing with your friend,” Jurkiewicz said of a re­cent Tokyo rental. –

Photo: Sup­plied

Airbnb host Takahiro dis­plays his guest room at his room in Tokyo on April 7.

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