2014.05.25 hotels

With Japan’s population steadily decreasing, the country is finding itself with a bigger and bigger surplus of vacant houses—7.75 million of them, according to a 2008 survey. That makes more than 10% of all housing units in Japan unoccupied and that is set to increase to 30% by 2030.

But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic reforms, lovingly dubbed “Abenomics,” hopes to turn this vacancy problem into a cash cow for property owners by changing hotel laws and loosening restrictions on renting out your home to tourists planning their ultimate Japanese vacation. And to jumpstart the initiative, a Japanese real estate giant has teamed up with a home rental website to match up homeowners to prospective overseas tourists who want to experience a more authentic Japan.

Japanese real estate giant Able Inc., which manages about 120,000 properties, announced last week that it will begin working with the vacation home rental website Tomareru to start this new vacation home rental service. The new site will launch this fall and unlike the American website Airbnb, where people can rent out extra rooms for just one night, this new venture will focus on foreign tourists wanting to rent out whole houses for about a week at a time.

▼ What better way to “feel local” than living in a stranger’s home for a week?

2014.05.24 tomareru engImage: Tomareru

The key to this new venture are the special economic zones where certain businesses can skip some regulations that normal hotels or Japanese inns must follow. For example, under current law a hotel must have a physical reception desk where customers can pay for the room, but obviously a private home wouldn’t ever be able to abide by such rules.

However, there will still be some regulations on what kind of homes can participate. The rentable homes will have to be at least 25 square meters (269 square feet), available for stays of 7-10 days and have an air conditioner and a bathroom. It also seems like only foreign tourists would be able to take advantage of the private hotels.

According to Tomareru, the Japanese government set up the special economic zones on May 1. Major cities in the Kanto and Kansai regions of Japan, such as Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, and other places like Okinawa Prefecture qualified for the classification. The company hopes to have 3,000 homes registered on the site by March 2015.

While there might be cheaper (and sketchier) options out there, it’s expected that this new kind of “private home” hotel will be a good budget option for tourists who can’t afford a week’s stay in a nice hotel in Tokyo. Another big advantage is the opportunity to experience a part of Japan that you would never see staying at a hotel. And since some in the tourism industry have voiced their concerns about a lack of hotel rooms as they prepare for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, this seems like a win-win for all sides.

Video: Vimeo (TOMARERU.Inc)

Beyond helping out property owners in the special economic zones, opening up the hotel industry might give a little boost to the local economy when the new “hotels” have to be furnished, cleaned and decorated. Also, with an influx of foreign tourists using Japanese homes, the company will probably need to set up some kind of hot line for visitors needing help adjusting to their temporary Japanese life.

Most Japanese netizens were pretty thrilled with the idea of renting out real homes to tourists, giving a more authentic view into life in Japan. Although many were left a little jealous that this program is only open to foreigners. One concern brought up was the possibility that older homes, which should be protected and preserved, will just get turned into cheap hotels by owners who value money over tradition.

Would you forego the typical hotel experience to try out a Japanese home for a week? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Source: Naver Matome
Feature Image: Flickr (Lynn Friedman)