A recent fantasy of mine involved hosting an Airbnb in Tokyo. Airbnb is an online marketplace that lets you rent out a room for a short stay. I know that real estate agencies often have cheap rooms for rent, so I thought about getting one, doing it up and putting it on the Airbnb app to make a bit of money. I know several folks who do this and are making the service work for them. So, I thought, why not me?
In the end I didn’t, and that was probably a good idea. In early June, nearly 80 percent of listings in Japan vanished from Airbnb. This was because the government brought in a new law for minpaku (private lodging services) in mid-June. Ironically, the new law actually makes it easier to get a minpaku licence, but because many of the listings on Airbnb were already unlicenced, Airbnb took them off the market.
The news shocked many across the world. Airbnb has become one of the most popular services in recent memory, and people turn to the app to find somewhere to stay on trips instead of booking a hotel. They do so because they can usually get a nice place to stay that feels more authentic. It helps that Airbnb can be quite affordable compared to other options.
Many of my friends visiting Japan in recent years have stayed in Airbnbs. Sometimes that’s because they come in a big group, and getting a house on the outskirts of the Sobu Line works well for their budget. Others enjoy the feeling of being more like a local by staying in an apartment. On the other hand, I know some visitors who booked a Pikachu-themed room. I’m not sure how “real” that experience was.
After the wave of listings were taken down, many people took to Twitter to complain about how backward the government’s approach to Airbnb was. A lot of people said the service had been a big benefit to the tourism industry, as it allowed for cheaper options for visitors. Plenty of others just made up reasons for why it happened, because that’s social media.
Still, I see where officials are coming from. Airbnb is largely unregulated, and for all the good experiences, there are also horror stories involving apartments in poor condition or sketchy hosts. I also sympathize with residents in neighborhoods with Airbnbs — they didn’t sign up to have a lodging business set up where they live.
Ultimately, I think Airbnb will be OK in Japan. People wanting to rent out spaces will just have to adjust to more regulation, but it isn’t that tough to deal with.
Then again, I’m already dreaming up alternative ways to capitalize on the tourism boom. Who wants to clean an extra apartment, anyway? (Patrick St. Michel)