Student seeking Kyoto flat told: No foreigners allowed

Campus cooperative says it is powerless to prevent landlords from discriminating


After spending 2½ years living the quiet life in buttoned-down Shiga Prefecture, Ryukoku University student Victor Rosenhoj was looking forward to moving into bustling central Kyoto, where things promised to be more lively and international. First, though, he needed to find a suitable apartment, so he picked up a copy of the student magazine, Ryudaisei No Sumai, from the cooperative store on campus.

Thumbing through it, Rosenhoj, originally from Belgium, came across an attractive and affordable place just a stone’s throw from Gojo Station in the downtown area. His heart set on the apartment, he made an appointment at the student co-op on the university’s Fukakusa campus, which arranges accommodation for students in the Kyoto area.

When he pointed to the apartment he was interested in, the shop manager told him that no foreigners were allowed to rent the place.

“Well, the very first moment I was told that, I thought I had misheard something. But it soon became clear that it wasn’t a misunderstanding,” Rosenhoj said. “I felt both hurt and angry at the same time, though it took a while for those feelings to really reach the surface.”

Rosenhoj said one of the things that surprised him the most was the “matter-of-fact way” the manager informed him that the apartment was off-limits to foreigners. After Rosehoj confronted the manager about the issue, he says he was somewhat apologetic about it, but at the same time dismissive of the idea that it could be construed as racial discrimination by a foreign customer.

In his five years living in Japan, 25-year-old Rosenhoj had heard plenty of stories about discrimination in the private rental sector, but he never imagined he would have to face it at the university where he was studying.

“I couldn’t believe that something like this was happening to me at the very school I was attending.” This, said Rosenhoj, “was more psychologically damaging to me than anything else, since I thought that people working for the school and those affiliated with the school were working in the students’ interests, including its foreign students.”

Ryukoku University is one Japan’s oldest institutions of higher education and grew out of a Buddhist seminary attached to Kyoto’s Nishi-Honwanji Temple that was established in 1639. It has approximately 20,000 students, of which 500 are foreigners, hailing from 37 countries. According to the Ryukoku International Center’s website, the university’s goal is to become a “Glocal (Global and Local) University seeking Symbiosis Harmony.”

Rosenhoj says he spoke with staff at Ryukoku University’s international office about the accommodation issue. They told him there was not much that could be done about the matter, and suggested instead that he look for real estate companies specifically catering to foreign students. Ryukoku University declined to comment on Rosenhoj’s case for this story.

Takashi Shimomura, the Fukakusa campus co-op shop manager who originally dealt with Rosenhoj, says he telephoned the property management company, JSB Kyoto, to check if it was possible for the property to be rented out to Rosenhoj after the student complained.

“They told me that foreign students were not able to rent the apartment as the property’s owner had prohibited it,” he said. “Of course, we would have liked Rosenhoj to have been able to rent the place, but the management company and the owner were opposed to it, so it would not have be possible for a contract to be written up.”

Shimomura adds that after the issue of discrimination came up, he also spoke directly with the manager of JSB Kyoto, discussed the problem and said the university wants to be able to offer more apartments that foreign students can rent.

“We are currently trying to improve the situation and are consulting with a range of property management companies to find out how many have apartments that allow foreign students,” he said. “We are directly requesting that, where possible, they offer apartments that accept foreign students. Now, almost all our apartments allow foreign students.”

Shimomura was not able to confirm how many of the properties advertised by the university refuse foreign students. “It is difficult to get that information,” he said. “Ultimately, it is not the co-op’s decision, so it is difficult. We feel it is regrettable this situation occurred and are sorry.”

Ryosuke Maruya, a spokesman for JSB Kyoto, says that in the case concerning Rosehoj, JSB was not acting in the role of property manager. “We were just the go-between company in that case. Our role was only to introduce the property. The decision about whether foreign students could or could not rent the place was not made by us, but by the owner.”

Although JSB does manage a large number of student apartments in the Kyoto area, this particular landlord had opted to retain responsibility for managing the property. “In this case, the tenancy agreement would have been directly between the landlord and the tenant. JSB would not have had any part in that,” the spokesman said.

In these sorts of cases, Maruya added, it is not possible for JSB to determine what kind of tenants can live in the apartments. “With properties we manage, foreign students are almost always accepted,” he said. “If we had been the management company, he [Rosenhoj] would have been welcome.”

Maruya says he doesn’t know for sure about properties administered by other companies, but he suspects there are still a considerable number of apartments in the Kyoto region where foreign students are not welcome. “I don’t really think is due to racial discrimination on the part of the landlords,” he explained. “Many have only had Japanese people living in their apartments in the past so they are not really accustomed to dealing with foreigners. Another reason may be that they lack the confidence or ability to speak a foreign language.”

Maruya says that JSB is working hard to help foreign students who come to Japan find a suitable apartment where they can live comfortably. “We have the opportunity to give advice to the landlords and we try to encourage them to accept a wide range of people as tenants. We are trying our best to get them to understand it is OK to have foreign students living in their apartments,” he said.

Victims of racial discrimination in Japan are in murky waters when it comes to seeking legal recourse. The Japanese Constitution prohibits discrimination, yet the degree to which this can be enforced in practice remains unclear.

To quote from Article 14: “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”

Yet according to Doshisha University law professor Colin Jones, it is unclear whether this constitutional right to equality extends to relations between private individuals or organizations under law, and even if it does, there is a lack of sound legislation to ensure these protections are upheld.

“The traditional view of a constitution is that it protects an individual against the government, but it doesn’t necessarily extend to discrimination by private individuals,” he said. “You have to do some fairly complicated legal gymnastics to get Article 14 to the point where it applies to private conduct.”

One way to do this would be by invoking Article 90 of the Civil Code, which states that a juristic act with any purpose that is against public policy is void, Jones said. “Then you could argue that if the Constitution is an expression of public policy, then it applies.”

This is a far cry from the situation in some other countries, where it is explicitly spelled out in legislation that discrimination is illegal, said Jones. “In the United States there are the federal fair housing laws, which basically say you may not discriminate against people based on a long list of categories, and there are statutory remedies if that happens. Whereas in Japan, it is more just the idea of discrimination being bad, with not a lot of protections in place.”

Jones believes the lack of a statutory regime to enforce constitutional principles means Japan takes only a soft line when it comes to discouraging discrimination. “There is certainly an effort by the government to encourage people not to discriminate — it is almost badgering people and saying ‘discrimination is bad’ — but it has no teeth. There is no formal mechanism for challenging discrimination.

“While it may be possible to challenge a particular incident through the courts or by bringing a complaint with a human rights committee, neither may lead to a concrete result in terms of remedies.”

Send comments on this issue and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • montaigne1

    When I was looking for an apartment, I first went to a small local real estate agent in the area I wanted to live. I was told flat out that they had no apartments for foreigners, even though I went there with my soon-to-be Japanese wife and we were going to be living together. My wish is that people like this experience discrimination themselves to see how it feels.

  • Frank Thornton

    The scary thing that’s not mentioned above is that people are discriminated also by looks, not only nationality. Even if you are Japanese, but you “look” foreign, you fall into this “gaijin” category and are a possible target of discrimination. I’ve been living in Japan for over 25 years and I know for a fact, It’s going to take a loooong time to change.

  • http://www.sheldonthinks.com/ andrew Sheldon

    The secret is to attend with a Japanese person, then all of a sudden the gates open, and you smell like roses. You need someone to hold your hand to do anything official in Japan.

  • Steven Schroeder

    I just love how excuses are made for the landlord. “Many have only had Japanese people living in their apartments in the past so they are not really accustomed to dealing with foreigners. Another reason may be that they lack the confidence or ability to speak a foreign language.”

    In America it is just presumed you’re a bigoted redneck.

    • Ben Snyder

      I would go so far as to suggest that all they are doing by providing such an excuse is to lend discrimination a working definition.

    • Kelly Shiohira

      Yes, that was my FAVORITE part of the article. Let me translate:
      “It’s not racism, it’s only PART OF THE DEFINITION of racism…”

      You know, I lived in Japan for five years, in the countryside, and I don’t know if I’m just oblivious or what, but I never had any racial issues whatsoever. Plenty of micro-aggression, but honestly I felt like a lot of that was part of the process of acceptance…and after 5 years, no one blinked when I used chopsticks correctly or could speak Japanese.
      It’s insane to me that these problems are more often encountered in the cities than the countryside. You would think that the situation would improve with exposure.

    • Marian Hara

      And they can’t imagine that perhaps some foreign students can actually speak Japanese or have Japanese speaking friends….?????!!!!!

    • Franz Pichler

      i don’t think so, you got to understand the landlord. Being racist and being “cautious” is very different. It’s the landlord’s real estate not the other way round and he/she has to protect it. So jumping to conlcusions like “everybody not renting to foergners is a racists” is actyallu pretty stupid. And yes, language is an issue, what if problems arise and the student can’T communicate? don’t jump to conlcusions so quickly

      • Steven Schroeder

        People in America wouldn’t be given that same benefit of doubt, and that is all I really am saying. I’m not suggestion the landlord is a racist bigot.

      • leaf

        ”being racist and being cautious is very different”. I can’t agree more. I see how the foreign student would be offended but you really can’t blame the landlord for being cautious on his behalf as well as on the behalf of his other tenants.

      • Al O

        In this case though being racist and being “cautious” amount to the same thing. Your arguments remind me of the arguments that used to be used to keep African-Americans or Jews or people of other ethnicities or religions out of apartments and neighborhoods in the U.S. In the end, the entire reason for the landlord’s “caution” boils down to the race of the prospective tenant, since the landlord has never met the tenant and knows nothing else about him. A prospective Japanese tenant would almost certainly not be treated this same way. It’s an almost textbook definition of racism.

      • japporeactor Tokyo

        Language can be the issue if the foreigner can`t speak japanese. Language is not the issue if the foreigner speak fluently and is still discriminated. That`s fear, stereotypes, racism.

  • Max Erimo

    “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” is the basic English translation which when viewed in Japanese is a lot greyer, as we know the Japanese language allows a lo of leeway. Best read in English with the footnote
    “As long as you are Japanese, and not ‘burakumin’.

  • http://thehopefulmonster.wordpress.com/ Sublight

    Renting was always a mixed bag for me. The three different times I changed apartments around the Tokyo area I ended up meeting a minority of realtors who were very helpful and actually wanted my business (split evenly between locals and chains), and a smaller number who didn’t want me there at all (including one local realtor in Machida who specifically said he didn’t want foreigners moving into the neighborhood). The majority, though, were simply lazy sacks of mochi who’d toss out a few listings and say “go ahead and check these out. If you like anything, the fee for the work I just did is one month’s rent.”

    The realtors at JA (the agricultural cooperative) were exceptionally helpful and welcoming, and very professional. Since they operate throughout Japan, I’d recommend talking with them. Century 21, on the other hand, was pretty uniformly bad. Unhelpful the first two times I was apartment hunting (in Machida), and flat-out rude and obstructionist the third time (Komazawa-Daigaku branch). In that instance, they never said anything about me being a foreigner, but their helpful attitude on the phone with my Japanese then-fiancee vanished as soon as they saw me.

    Buying, however, was a completely different story. When the developers are handling their own sales, they fall over themselves trying to attract anyone they can. My not being Japanese was never an issue with any of them.

  • UmiKaibutsu

    Corresponding situation: It is the right of the Japanese people to eat what seafood is desired, as has been done for many, many thousands of years. This includes Tridentiger, Amur Catfish, Whale, Snowlfake Moray, etc. It is not the right of anyone to infringe on this because they have emotions for what is on another mans dinner plate.

    In similar manner, it is wise to have rules regarding the types of people one allows to inhabit their property. The property owners worry is not the unkempt, whining outsider who wishes to complain about his host country and their ways. The student should go where he is more welcome.

    A large part of this eras problems are brought about by forcing ones own beliefs on other societies whom do not want it. Another new developing problem is a generation of pampered semi adults who break down when they don’t get their way because they have been raised that way, which is what it sounds like happened with this particular one.

    Japan is special because of many things. If it were up to people like the subject of this article, it would likely take a turn for the worse after several generations of kow towing to the desires of unkempt hippies from abroad. I hope they do not let him rent anywhere, until he learns some manners.

    I have previously been turned away from places in Japan as well. I apologized profusely for bothering them as I was not aware of their policy. I respected their wishes and went happily on to other places. Societies, groups and individuals need to have their own space sometimes, its called Privacy. People have their own choices as well. Respect these things.

  • Lidia

    Hi. I’ve been working for 2 years at a well-known Japanese real estate agency. It has more than 1000 franchised shops in the country. My job was to find a flat for my customer (foreign person, that’s why I was the only foreigner employee in the company) , but alas looking for a flat I was terrified to find out that 20% of all the empty flats did not allow foreigners. After trying to talk to the owner, the management company (kanri gaisha), and the Human Rights offices in Osaka (both OFIX and the Human Rights court in Tanimachi) , the sad true is that there is NOTHING I or any real estate agent in this country can do to force an owner into accepting to sign a contract with and let his flat to a foreign person. If they accept foreigners, keep asking, since you must be white (although if you are a young lady with no kids you may be allowed even if you are black or indian, lucky!). That is the shit we real estate agents have to deal with every day, struggling for our customers have the same rights as any other tax payer. And if the landlord says “yes”, there is always a bunch of requirements to meet -which are not the same as for Japanese people in many cases. First, the guarantor company that the owner chooses must allow foreigners and in 40% of these companies foreign people are required to have a Japanese person as a guarantor. Secondly your contact person in case of emergency must be Japanese. In many other guarantor companies your guarantor must be a 1st blood relative and -guess what?- Japanese born!
    What does the government and Human Rights about this?
    Absolutely NOTHING.
    If you want to join me running a Human Rights campaing for a foreign friendly law who only allows to makw business as a landlord if you respect HR principles, write to me!

  • Lidia

    Hi. I’ve been working for 2 years at a well-known Japanese real estate agency. It has more than 1000 franchised shops in the country. My job was to find a flat for my customer (foreign person, that’s why I was the only foreigner employee in the company) , but alas looking for a flat I was terrified to find out that 20% of all the empty flats did not allow foreigners. After trying to talk to the owner, the management company (kanri gaisha), and the Human Rights offices in Osaka (both OFIX and the Human Rights court in Tanimachi) , the sad true is that there is NOTHING I or any real estate agent in this country can do to force an owner into accepting to sign a contract with and let his flat to a foreign person. If they accept foreigners, keep asking, since you must be white (although if you are a young lady with no kids you may be allowed even if you are black or indian, lucky!). That is the shit we real estate agents have to deal with every day, struggling for our customers have the same rights as any other tax payer. And if the landlord says “yes”, there is always a bunch of requirements to meet -which are not the same as for Japanese people in many cases. First, the guarantor company that the owner chooses must allow foreigners and in 40% of these companies foreign people are required to have a Japanese person as a guarantor. Secondly your contact person in case of emergency must be Japanese. In many other guarantor companies your guarantor must be a 1st blood relative and -guess what?- Japanese born!
    What does the government and Human Rights about this?
    Absolutely NOTHING.
    If you want to join me running a Human Rights campaing for a foreign friendly law who only allows to makw business as a landlord if you respect HR principles, write to me!

    • Masa Chekov

      I am surprised it”s only 20%, honestly. I thought it would be more like 50% or so.

      I defend Japan on so many issues, but this is quite honestly completely shameful. There is no excuse for one of the world’s leading economies to allow such blatant discrimination.

    • kyushuphil

      But they do, indeed, do something. They say “shikata ga nai.”

      One of the places keeping this “shimaguni konjo” in place is the schools, where for English teaching, they don’t teach English but parade Japanese instructors to speak Japanese primarily. English is a disease, to be avoided.

      Worse, “gai-jin” are a disease. They are too often real, human individuals, and the purpose of school is to treat individuals as nails, which need pounding down.

      Then everyone can say, happily, “shikata ga nai.”

    • Franz Pichler

      20% of emtly flats a no no for foreigners, well, that leaves still 80% for foreigners, so what’&s the big deal? come on, 20% not liking foreigners is hardly ” a racist country” or is it??

    • Dadadavis

      I find it hard to believe that the landlord requires that you have a guarantor company, and then the guarantor company requires that you have another Japanese guarantor. Why do you need 2 guarantors? Isn’t that what you’re paying 1.5% to the guarantor company for, to be your guarantor? If you already have a Japanese guarantor then why do you need to pay a company to be your other guarantor? That’s like signing a lease for an apartment and then paying another company to make a photocopy of the lease so you can sign that too. Huh?

    • Lee

      Isn’t it a fact that under Japanese law any building financed with a loan from the Japanese Housing Finance Authority (Jutakukinyukoko) can not be rented or sold to a foreigner until a period of five years has passed since contruction was completed?
      I believe that this law was enacted by the US Military during the occupation of Japan after WWII in order to ‘control’ the non-Japanese residents in Japan at the time.

  • YourMessageHere

    I may have missed something, but: the real estate firms are the ones providing a service to landlords, yes? And the landlords sign a contract, yes? So all that has to happen is that real estate firms make it a condition of service that the landlord not restrict tenants on the basis of nationality or ethnicity…right?

    “You want us to market your property, you must make it available for everyone, or you can go elsewhere.” – like that.

    Costs for inserting a clause into contracts would be small. They can shout from the rooftops about how inclusive and foreigner-friendly they are, which constitutes good publicity.

  • cryptnotic

    In America, as a potential tenant you could visit dozens of apartments, fill out dozens of applications, make friendly chit-chat with the landlords, and have absolutely no idea why your application is rejected because it’s illegal for the landlord to tell you ahead of time that they’re looking to rent to someone quiet and single or older or female or whatever.

  • Arne Driessen

    When I was studying at Kyoto University I had the same experience a couple of times when trying to look through the co-op’s office for flats.. In the end I was able to find a good, cheap apartment with a friendly owner who was welcoming towards foreigners. However, indeed there’s nothing you can do when flat owners do not accept you. Seems to me like a hole in the law.

  • martine

    I never had a problem.

    Well, before shouting out racist I would ask why and I believe the landlord had some experience with foreigner….

    Two bad experience is one to much, at least it would be for me. No third chance if I had bad experience with foreigners.

    In Germany we can’t even kick people out of an apartment if they don’t pay the rent. Only after a long long battle in court. I like the law much more here in Japan.

    Japanese are more used to proper groomed people, maybe it was the greasy hair or his unkempt appearance. In Germany landlords also say no to certain people and really students are not really know for their wealth … more for their parties… so maybe it wasn’t racist, it was more for a quit environment….

  • Ben

    think of how much worse it’d be if we didn’t have any debito arudous around.

  • Bill

    “After Rosehoj confronted the manager about the issue, he says he was
    somewhat apologetic about it, but at the same time dismissive of the
    idea that it could be construed as racial discrimination by a foreign

    I will never understand the denial mentality that is so prevalent here. Even with racial discrimination staring this manager in the face, he still was “dismissive of the idea that it could be construed as racial discrimination” of a non-Japanese person. Truly baffling.

  • Hannes Pretorius

    Everyone is so sensitive, so you are being discriminated against! So the apartment you want to live in doesn’t allow foreigners, so what! I am sure IF you actually force your way in there (legally) you won’t be happy living there knowing that the landlord doesn’t want you there. Feel unwanted? Even hurt in your tiny little heart? Grow up.

  • gakusei

    This is a tough one. Yes it’s easy to cry “discrimination!” and I’d be shocked and hurt to hear “no foreigners” myself…but I can see where the owner is coming from. As an exchange student, I lived in a dorm with lots of other international students. Some of them were terrible: smoking in the rooms, Skyping (arguing loudly!) at 3am, playing really loud music, loud parties, girls over every night, not throwing trash away correctly…I mean, Japanese people are so sensitive about what neighbors think and not causing “meiwaku”, even if Japanese young people are party animals they do it elsewhere than at home. Also Japanese in general have a desire to “kouki wo yomu” and “ki wo tsukau” but I don’t think many other low-context cultures have the same social custom. The owner might fear that international students could suddenly disappear back to their home countries with rent unpaid, the apartment trashed, etc. Probably other Japanese residents would have the same narrow mindset and complain about the foreign resident, especially if the resident is a non-white male foreigner, making more problems for the owner. Unfortunately, a foreign resident is considered “mendokusai” with potential costs outweighing the benefits.

    Not all of us are rude noisy incomprehensible crime-attracting “kouki yomenai” foreigners. Some of us speak decent Japanese and live unobtrusively in a way that doesn’t ruffle Japanese feathers, and not all of us have connections to some organized crime underworld. I was really annoyed by many international students I knew who just went around strengthening the stereotypes…they must be part of the reason for discrimination like this.

  • Daniel Hale

    Also unmentioned are the number of non-refundable monetary gifts and deposits that are usually required for renting a flat in Japan. For example, a $600 flat will cost you a few thousand dollars to initially move in…and some of that money you’ll just be giving away as a gift to the landlord.

  • disqus_pkrRDJU42M

    Several years ago when looking for an apartment in Saitama, I was going into different estate agents. One estate agent just looked at me and said “no foreigners”. Another was more open-minded, but some of the information sheets showing properties that they represented clearly stated “no mizushobai* and no foriegners”.

    * Japanese term describing the late-night bar/lounge industry and the workers in that industry.

    Unfortunately, there is currently no regulation in Japan to prevent such discrimination. The only practical (and legal) option currently available to victims of discrimination is to walk away, find a more open-minded owner to rent from and be glad that your money isn’t going into the pocket of someone who discriminates.

    I think one of the problems is that in a lot of the cases, such attitude isn’t considered as “discrimination”. It’s just considered normal and ‘practical’ (preemptively avoiding potential difficulties stemming from culture, language, etc.). There are many possible solutions to overcoming any such problems should they arise that allow a non-Japanese person to stay in a Japanese-owned building, but until the government takes responsibility and drafts laws to protect people from discrimination, discriminatory owners will continue to take the easy option when dealing with non-Japanese people.

  • ume

    Im sorry but, I think this is over-sensationalist news, and the student is taking it WAY too personally. I find this story slightly cringe-worthy, to be honest.

    I hope he does not challenge it through the courts – how incredibly embarrassing. He should take it in his stride, consider it a lesson learnt, and walk away with dignity.

    It was not the estate agents fault – they did all they could. And lets not forget that Japanese people ARE often discriminated against too – for example buildings with “no pets” or “no children” are very common, as are “no mizushobai”when wanting to rent an apartment. “No tattoos” when they want to enter an onsen.

    The real estate agency can not, nor should they be able to, force people to rent to everyone, if the landlord has retained responsibility for the apartment.

    Whether a redneck bigot or otherwise, I believe it is well within his rights to refuse who lives in his property, regardless of how much a foreigner gets his knickers in a twist over it.

    If anything, this guy is making the issue worse. If landlords have to worry that, every time they do something the “gaijin” don’t like, we are going to run to the national press, less of them will rent to us!

    There are good people, and there are “rednecked bigots” in every country in the world, and we should not be giving this grumpy old ossan this amount of attention. Let him have his empty flat, not making money – we don’t care. Take your business elsewhere, to one of the other great landlords around, who will welcome you with open arms.

    Fighting this just for the sake of fighting it, just makes the foreign community in Japan look kind of pathetic.

  • http://twitter.com/curiouscheetahs curiouscheetahs

    Japan as a society needs to open up in every aspect if they want to survive. Not just putting more effort to English education or inviting more foreign students – how can they contribute to Japan if they are not even allow to live independent and free? Basic human rights are still at the same level or even worse than developing countries if you are a foreigner…been in Japan more than a decade, certain things never change.

  • Sarah Hallgren

    I used to work as a real estate agent in Japan, am fluent in Japanese and held down a steady job. despite that, 80% of property owners in Japan refuse to rent to any foreigners, even if they’re like me and have a guarantor, money, and speak Japanese fluently. and yes, that’s in Tokyo and Osaka too. Not even in the country. You’ll have even less luck if you’re Chinese!

  • Oliver Charles Lardner

    I lived in Japan as a foreigner (Australian) for many years and sometimes came up against this. Renting a place is sometimes very difficult. But to be honest, after witnessing how foreigners act in Japan, I wouldn’t rent my Japanese apartment to a foreigner either. Simple cultural differences such as no soap in the bath (that sometimes with expensive heating and filtration systems) and taking your shoes off inside are not observed and a house can become ruined.

  • Yoshimi

    I understand how this foreign student felt, since I faced a similar issue when my husband and I were looking for an apartment in Japan. Some places turned down our application because my husband is “gaikokujin,” even though I’m native Japanese.

    But let’s face it; more or less similar issues exist in other parts of the world as well, not just in Japan. For example, I had hard times finding apartment in the US as well, not because I was a foreigner but because I didn’t have SSN. I couldn’t even open an account to get electricity without SSN. I was lucky because I had an American boyfriend who open an account under his name for me, but otherwise I don’t know what I could have done. This system technically deprives foreign students of opportunities to find housing, since foreign students cannot get SSN with student visa unless they obtain employment on campus. Foreigners are disadvantaged in the US in employment as well, since employers are required to support their foreign employees’ visa, which costs them a lot of money. It’s a good incentive for employers to say “we don’t offer visa support,” meaning that they don’t hire foreigners (unless they have Greencard).

    Those kinds of inconvenience is not labeled as “racial discrimination,” but no matter how differently you name it, the situations in which foreigners are put into are the same. I don’t think Japan is unique in that sense.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003959572675 Wanderer Odinsson

    He’s hurt and angry that the Japanese want Japan for the Japanese.

    Cluebat: The United States doesn’t have immigration reciprocity. We may have an open-door policy to everyone and their uncle from Bangladesh, but other countries don’t necessarily share it. Their governments have the best interests of the indigenous populations at heart, not the interests of foreign tourists. I do realize that’s a bitter pill for a great many people to swallow but the rest of the world doesn’t care what you find bitter. Personally, I would love to see Sweden, Norway, Britain and the rest of Europe follow suit, and for that matter to undo some of the damage they’ve done to the inheritances of their own indigenous populations.

    We’re all very concerned about the welfare of indigenous populations, right?

  • antony

    It is hard to prove that the owner of the accommodation is prohibiting letting to foreigners purely on racial prejudice motives. It is not a hotel or hostel providing a public service.

  • http://getironic.blogspot.com/ getironic

    That guy is is a the worst kind of bigot, the angelically ignorant kind. He should be shamed, his name and the names of those with similar opinions should be exposed and made light of, so people can judge them and treat them accordingly.

    However, it is his mind, and he is not dangerous — what is dangerous is a government who can trample all over his property rights (and yours) in the name of enforcing someone else’s moral sensibilities.

    Bigots have a right to be bigots. This is a cultural problem, and should have nothing to do with government.

  • WithMalice

    “I don’t really think is due to racial discrimination on the part of the landlord”
    Well… how would it be described then?

    I can’t even imagine someone attempting this in Australia (where I hail from originally). But then… another part of me isn’t even surprised that this still occurs in Japan.

  • Amy Bold

    I would have been more surprised if the whole real estate sector of Japan was discriminating against the foreigners. I have been racially discriminated and also being a woman didnt really help in that situation. But I think we make big deal out of discrimination. I am not saying it is good thing or harmless. What I am trying to say is that discrimination is there when you look for it. The landlord may prefer Japanese people over Foreigners. I mean come on can we blame him? so what he doesnt really like to deal with people whom he thinks are foreigners. But really it is his choice as a owner of an apartment. He makes the decisions of renting the house i think he should be allowed to choose the tenant too.
    I understand that it hurts, I have been there.
    But it is same with every choice that we have ever made. We choose the people we hang out, people we love, countries to visit, ideas to consider. I mean can anyone tell me that any of their choices were divine? we all have reasons to have and act in different way. if we think about it more discrimination is everywhere and it is within everything. What we need to understand is that we all are different and hope that next landlord will be someone who is willing to have foreign company in the house. (I mean people who prefer foreigners over Japanese are then discrimination Japanese people right. Guessing they are turning down many japanese applicants too)

  • http://www.facebook.com/thmishler Thomas Herrera-Mishler

    We invite ANYONE to come and live in Buffalo, New York and enjoy a high quality education at any number of excellent colleges and universities AND LIVE ANYWHERE THEY LIKE AND CAN AFFORD.

  • Darren Campeau

    A sad statement about the collective state of mind in Japan.

  • KenjiAd

    I’m Japanese but I’ve got to say most Japanese people do not really know what the racial discrimination is. They think that, as long as they are not ‘looking down’ on someone based on his/her race, they are not discriminating. I, too, used to think that way before I went to America and spent over 25 years there.

    I suspect that there might be something in the Japanese culture (or perhaps Asian culture as a whole) that encourages the differentiation between Japanese and non Japanese – the idea that these two groups are fundamentally different. Once someone takes this position, then it’s natural for this person to start thinking that certain discrimination is justifiable, regardless of what the law says.

    Is this what’s happening? I don’t know.

    On the other hand, I do know that Japanese society is very strongly ethnocentric, judging other cultures solely by the values and standards of its own culture.

    So I agree with someone who said it’s going to take a looooong time for Japan to eradicate this type of discrimination, if ever. Public awareness campaign would be a good start.

  • Franz Pichler

    don’t know how things work now but when I was a student (exchange) at Osaka University years ago it was easy to find a flat – as long as you could pay and had a guarantor. I cam across many people (really many) when getting drunk (in the past students did that…) told me either they hadn’t paid the rent and just left, or “messed up” the place and left ecc. I can understand private landlords that because it is notoriously difficult (actually impossible) to start legal procedures against a foreigner that does not paying his/her rent they choose just not to rent it to them. I must say, I would be very very cautious myself. If the University is serious about this they should sign a contract with the landlord and the University should be responsible for the rent ecc – I think if that can be ararnged there’ll be plenty of landlord renting to foreigners, the ones that still don’t want to rent are of course racists, and nothing will change their view of the world….

  • Ronald

    As a Belgian citizen I propose that all Japanese students in Belgium are refused flats. I have been living many years in Japan but also in many other countries in the world, Japan is the most racist country I ever encountered.

  • Guest

    Cmon, really ? The whole issue here is actually, that previously stayed foreigners had actually damaged the property and some owners now dont allow any more foreigners. While I was looking for my apartment, sure some problems did come up, but nothing that could not be solved with a discussion with the owner! My owner right now, had a pretty bad experience earlier with a foreign resident, but now I’m living in the same apartment!!! Its not about feeling ‘discrimination’ and making an issue out of things; just talk with the person and theres always some sort of solution!!

  • Carney3

    I think a policy of preventing governments from discriminating while letting the voluntary sector (including business, charity, etc.) remain actually voluntary is the right balance. After all, the alternative is FORCING unwilling owners of private property to do business with or allow people onto their property that they don’t want. Regardless of whether you disapprove of their real or imagined motives, that’s still violating their freedom. Also, what kind of person would go running to the government to have the government FORCE someone to do business with him, or FORCE someone to let him into a place he knows he is not welcome?

  • http://www.facebook.com/lcarim Lautrec Carim

    On the other hand some Japanese people will like you solely because you are a foreigner. My land lady was a nice Japanese obaasan (grandmother or old woman) and she even brought me vegetables from her garden once or twice a month. I say Victor should look some more, he’ll definitely find a place where people like him.

    Another thing is, make sure you go and talk to the land lord in person. The worst case will be to rent an apartment from someone who doesn’t like foreigners but didn’t know you’re not Japanese.

  • upstairsforthinking

    I last looked for an apartment in 2008. A realtor, who was very helpful, once said my income/guarantor etc met the required standards, and all that was needed was the landlord’s final approval. I was then told that the landlord’s nephew was living in a house that had just burnt down in a fire, and so the landlord wanted his nephew to take the place. Gutted, but fair enough – or so I thought. I ended up moving into a place about 200 meters from my first pick, walked past it every day and it’s been empty ever since. Go figure…

  • Rockne O’Bannon

    Well, I might as well chime in.
    The problems with renting to foreigners are not just getting people to take off their shoes in the genkan. Whatever the law says, maybe people should see it from the landlord’s point of view.
    I live in a place affected by the 3/11 earthquake, and foreigners just packed up and left without bothering to take their stuff or pay the rent. A lot of them did not even notify the landlord, so the landlord was left able to do nothing for months. No rent coming in. No idea when or if someone was returning. What a nightmare. As if they did not have enough to worry about. One landlord I know had to pack up all of the renter’s belongings and put them in storage at his own expense. He was a lucky one who got a phone call from his tenant from Malaysia.

    Japanese people did not do this.

    But it wasn’t just the earthquake. During my years in Japan, time after time I have run into situations where a foreign renter just skips on the rent. Yonige. Or they want to bargain and haggle on key money and things like that.

    Japanese people don’t do this.

    Looking at it from the landlord’s point of view, foreigners are a pain. They cost more, but you can’t charge them more. Loud parties? Problems with neighbors? Foreigners are like a box of chocolates… you never know what you are going to get. Their plans change. Their friends visit.

  • Frank Thornton

    Many things happen here in Japan in everyday life that would be considered discriminaition in many western countries. Much of it doesn’t even involve foreigners. Single mothers, senior citizens and married couples with small children are many times refused by landlords. I’ve even heard of a family that was refused an aprartment because the father worked the graveyard shift. The landlord said that the father going to work in the middle of the night would be “meiwaku” (an annoyance) to the neighbors. Thats just the way it is…

  • 思德

    Moving to Japan, I had the good fortune of a company helping me find a place. They told us up front places were hard to find because landlords will refuse foreigners. It’s such utter garbage. Someone here mentioned a public awareness campaign- how about, “How inhospitable and laughably bigoted should we like our country to appear to outsiders by our behavior?”

  • nadrew

    simple. the university as a matter of principle will not list ANY properties that have restrictions based on nationality or race. problem solved.

  • Wm. Edwards

    The way I see it is I am only a guest in somebody’s country. When it’s their country, it’s their rules…when it’s my country…it’s my rules.

  • http://rick.cogley.info RickCogley

    I’ve been in Japan 25 years, and have experienced a little of this sort of unpleasantness first hand, being refused for being gaijin, and so on. On the other side of it, my family owns an apartment here, and we have continual trouble with tenants not paying, not separating their trash properly, noisily partying, leaving the apartment in a total mess when they vacate, and a whole litany of little things. Thing is, our tenants are all Japanese, born and bred.

    So I think it’s a general skittishness by the landlord, about the potential tenant perhaps not being able to communicate (or vice versa) or follow the rules, or understand the culture. If even some of the Japanese can’t follow the rules as is the case with our apartment, then I can see some landlords being reluctant.

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    Victor (if you see his photo at the bottom) looks a lot like John Lennon. I bet if they met him face to face he’d have agents throwing themselves at him. We all know how much they love The Beatles in Japan! Just play The Beatles card…

  • http://twitter.com/tokyo_0 Tokyo Outsider

    1. “not really accustomed to dealing with foreigners”… who are different to human beings born in this country in which way, exactly?

    2. “They lack the confidence or ability to speak a foreign language” – so require all tenants to have conversational fluency in Japanese. Perfectly reasonable. JLPT exists for a reason.

    3. JSB could very easily choose to be “no part in this,” and “improve the situation” by declining to work with companies that do not accept foreign tenants. In fact, I think that is the only acceptable outcome of this embarrassing debarcle.

  • leaf

    Most likely the landlord isn’t just saying no to foreigners solely based on his own discomfort. What if his current tenants had chosen the apartment and the “no foreigners” policy had been a factor? Accepting foreign tenants means opening up a very wide window to every culture out there. Whether it’s fair or not, I think it’s all about wanting to know what to expect. It’s a big part of Japanese culture: saying the “appropriate” things at the “appropriate” time and acting an “appropriate” way. Having foreign people living with them that might not understand what’s appropriate is just scary for them and I think many people just wouldn’t know how to deal. I can’t say it’s not discrimination, but I don’t think it’s a “we’re better than you” or “we don’t like you” type of thing. I’m not saying it’s a good thing, but given Japan’s cultural background it’s pretty understandable.

  • Yuki

    It is likely that the landlord was just afraid of foreigners because of the lack of comprehension about another culture, rather than ‘racism’ as a belief. This kind of horror caused by the afraidness seems common in particular among older people in Japan.

  • Peter White

    With Japan’s population in a steady decline and the present government’s intention to increase the number of foreign workers allowed into Japan, I think this problem will solve itself. Those landlords and companies who continue to discriminate will find themselves being bypassed for more forward thinking companies; and there is no motivation like falling profits to end discrimination.

    Furthermore, foreigners are not likely to sit meekly back and take this kind of treatment without comment. I think the prospect of vocal and visible demonstrations of opposition is not one that those who practice discrimination of this sort would relish, and foreigners – especially those from liberal democracies – are not exactly backward in coming forward about such things. When these companies and individuals are publicly named-and-shamed, as they will be in the future, I’m sure they will begin to change their attitudes.

  • Parr Embarr

    Alright, had to come back to this article just because I’ve been hearing so much about this.

    I met this kid personally at a international camp a year ago and have nothing but nice things to say about him. He’s hyper intelligent, smart, and a good guy.

    The fact that this apartment complex does not want to lease to someone based simply on their nationality is discrimination through and through. The weak, half-assed excuses this article tries to give to explain the possible rational behind this type of behavior are appalling. This is immoral, offensive, unacceptable, and (if my sources are correct) illegal.

    It doesn’t even mention the fact that this guy is FLUENT IN JAPANESE. If it weren’t for his name and appearance, these nihonjin owners would never even know the difference between him and your regular Taro.

    These owners, and everyone else making concessions for them, should be ashamed of their behavior and, quiet honestly, should publicly answer for their behavior. Discrimination is uncool.

  • xexex

    Don’t really see a problem with this – I see it as the landlords responsibility to not take on tenants who he thinks might cause problems and/or disturb existing tenants. I’m always surprised how people can go to a foreign country and expect to be fully accepted/treated the same way as natives – especially an extremely homogeneous country like Japan. Such entitled behavior…

  • http://www.hard-graft.net/ Prestwick

    Japan needs a stern shock to the system similar to what the UK forced itself to go through back in the 1970s with the discrimination acts and the equality acts. Before that period it was okay to rent a room with a sign saying: “no dogs, no blacks, no Irish” which was absolutely horrible.

    Today Britain is a far fairer and more tolerant place thanks to the shock therapy forced upon itself in the 70s and 80s. It isn’t perfection but it is much better than how it used to be. Japan needs to follow the same line.

  • savorywill

    I recommended an Australian once to the real estate agent who actually sold us the house we bought. I knew this guy from a local pub and he seemed nice enough so I introduced him to the real estate agent, who found him a nice big house to rent at a reasonable, for the size, rate. The agent mentioned about the guy needing an guarantor, but he managed to move in without ever having one. Well, after a few months, the real estate agent called my wife and I to say that the guy had not been paying the rent. It ended up that this Australian never paid the rent for two years and the owner had to take him to court to get him out of the house. The agent had been renting the house for a friend of his and actually got an ulcer from the worry of it all.

    I tried to get him to pay the rent but he wouldn’t answer the phone when I called. After this experience, I can understand why some landlords would be reticent to have foreign tenants. I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone after this terrible experience.

  • http://www.facebook.com/julian.garrett Julian Garrett


    (The name of the government run housing scheme you should try)

    -No ridiculous bribe (ie. key money)

    -No pesky Guarantor fee
    -No agency fee

    I had the case where one landlord wanted to keep half the deposit as a cleaning fee. That was like $2000 when I moved out.

    Guess how that conversation ended.

  • Familygirl

    While I disagree with the landlord’s decision on the matter of renting to foreign students, I don’t necessarily think it’s wrong. It’s not as if s/he is breaking any laws and, through the lens of the Japanese culture, this might not be a case of discrimination, but rather a result of values too deeply ingrained in the culture to separate and analyze.

    What I take issue with, however, is the university itself. Correct me if I’m wrong here but from what I can see, many companies in Japan laud their desire and willingness to bring in more foreigners, all the while knowing that many people treat foreigners differently and doing nothing to stop it. It’s the same thing with the university; there’s no way they couldn’t have known that the landlord didn’t accept foreigners. But, instead of doing the smart thing and removing the apartment from their listings, they chose to pretend nothing was wrong. A “global” university indeed…

    Speaking from the perspective of an outsider looking in, this seems to be one of the most prevalent and easily preventable problems with the Japanese society on a whole. Rather than confronting a problem, the people ignore it, as if hoping that their fairy godmothers will fix everything. Honestly, if they accepted problems and tried to identify solutions or, at the very least, alerted other people of the issues, things would run a whole lot smoother and I wouldn’t have to be reading this type of article over and over.

  • Glen Douglas Brügge

    I never had issues with renting in Japan, as I had Japanese friends vouching for me; but whether you want to find ways of defending those who discriminate in Japan based on nothing more than you being a gaijin, it is wrong. If I told someone in the U.S. – “I am sorry, we don’t allow foreigners” – how terrible does that sound? It would certainly offend anyone with any sense of common decency. So I do not buy the excuse “well, you know, in Japan it’s different…” I shared a home with Japanese guys, and they were by far the messiest (ruined the shoji and tatami (which I had to help pay for), and I, the gaijin, was by far the cleanest (not tooting my own horn, but I keep things clean and respect others property).

  • Bradley Fried

    If you have lived in Japan for any length of time, you know the first question to ask a real estate agent is if the places you are interested in are comfortable with foreigners. Get over yourself and don’t try to impose your own standards on a country that is not and will never be your own. You can still find a great place and you won’t waste your time tilting at windmills and making trouble for the rest of us.

  • Denzo

    Sounds like a lot of school yard issues. Racism is strong everywhere in the world. Japan is actually strong enough to say no to others and their bullshit.

    In Australia for example, our family came from overseas and integrated well, similar values etc. others come here, believe different things and then complain when they get paid well fare. It’s a joke.

    Look at the Boston bomber. Muslim Russian, given access to a new start- then blows up some people because funnily enough their new home has people with alternative beliefs. It’s a joke.

    Sometimes you have to accept people, but also be realistic as well. Otherwise it’s going to take a lot of work just to be happy.

  • Joan inja

    Unfortunately the article tells a very typical episode of many foreigners living in Japan. In any other OECD country, the landlords/real state agency would be sued. That’s why Japan on the bottom down of OECD migration integration index.

  • Mike42

    I think Debito has done a world of good for us NJ here. There are those apologist or folks who say debito does more harmthan good. For those people, I say, ask yourself, are you doing anything to address these issues? Have you put your personal life on the line, for everybody to see/attack? Microaggressions are a very real and grinding part of life in Japan for NJ. Being denied an apartment or job simply for being NJ is a grinding and humiliating part of life here also. Until somebody else stands up to this crap, you have no room to judge Debito. There is nobody else doing it, he is doing it for us.

  • Jud Mag

    In Fukuoka I had no problems with renting apartments etc. Although they did require that I sign the contract with my index finger’s prints instead of a Western style signature or a Japanese inkan (custom carved as I have it). I was told that none of these are reliable. :-)))
    In Tokyo the landlord (contacted via agent) initially said it was OK for foreigners to rent his place but after signing the contract and having pushed through the paperwork at Waseda as my guarantor, the landlord retracted. Reason: he thought I was a zainichi Korean or a longtime Chinese resident in Japan. Apparently, as a European I would not be able to separate garbage or fit into the community (according to his reasoning). Now, after having spent 5 years in the country and writing my PhD dissertation in Japanese History at Waseda I am still considered an exotic monkey here…

  • https://www.icloud.com/photostream/#AH5n8hH4JHtYAg 龍誉紫暮

    10 years in Japan and never had a problem finding an apartment. What I find funny is people think only the Japanese do this to foreigners, the same thing sort of happens in Australia, but instead of saying no to foreigners, Aussie instead changed double in rent to foreigners. A $100 week apartment for an Aussie becames close to $200 a week to foreign student, that is why now only the rich can study in Australia because no one else can afford it .

    Japanese say NO to foreigners because of the risk that the property will be damaged and the foreigner takes flight and leaves the damage bill to the owner.

    Aussie say YES to foreigners but charge double in rent to cover the risk that the property will be damaged and the foreigner takes off.