Issues | JUST BE CAUSE

Know your rights when checking in at an Airbnb

by Debito Arudou

Contributing Writer

Last year, the government passed a law covering minpaku, which is when people rent out space on their properties to travelers (a la Airbnb). The law is part of an effort to regulate accommodations amid a tourism boom ahead of the 2020 Olympics.

One issue for non-Japanese travelers, though, has been whether they must show ID such as a passports at check-in.

For hotels, which fall under the Hotel Business Law, the regulation has always been this: For any adult, Japanese or non-Japanese, who has an address in Japan, ID is not required. You just write your contact details in the guest registry. However, for guests who don’t reside in this country, displaying ID (i.e., your passport) is required.

Seems straightforward so far, right? But as has been reported several times over more than 10 years of this column, the police (and occasionally the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) have confused things.

Some hotels have been instructed that all “foreign guests” must show ID, specifically their passports. There have even been cases in which police have demanded hotels photocopy those passports and keep them on record for later inspection.

This is a deliberate misinterpretation of the law, however, and I say “deliberate” because it has been repeated despite official clarifications and corrections.

Nowhere does the law require that passports be photocopied. Moreover, in this age of identity theft, surrendering that information beyond mere inspection can be dangerous.

Since all “foreign guests” are not required to carry passports (that’s why non-Japanese residents have residence cards instead), this has caused many a disruption in good customer service, as well as the threat of being turned away at check-in.

Some residents have even resorted to carrying a copy of the law to correct misled management. Especially since the Hotel Business Law expressly forbids hotels to refuse customers for any reason beyond 1) a health issue involving a contagious disease, 2) a clear endangerment of “public morals” or 3) no rooms being available. Thus not showing ID is not legal grounds for refusing someone a room.

So now we have the new minpaku law, which expands hosteling to individual property owners. Is check-in any different?

Alas, the authorities are once again stretching the law in that regard. The tourism ministry has officially said on its website that a guest register still must be kept, of course, but if the guests do not have a Japanese address, then nationality and passport number must be recorded.

However, the ministry then goes on to say that “foreign guests who do not have an address in Japan” must present passports and have them photocopied. If the guest does not comply, the ministry explicitly instructs the hotelier to call the police.

The problem is (and this has indeed happened) that if the hotelier misinterprets this directive to mean all “foreign guests,” full stop, and demands a passport from a non-Japanese resident (who is not required to carry one), then there is great potential for misunderstandings and even arrest (which should be avoided, given how long and unpleasant detention can be).

The bigger issue is that this is, once again, a misinterpretation of the law. Nowhere in the actual text of the new minpaku law does it say anything about passports or, for that matter, photocopying.

Instead, the places where the new minpaku law mentions “foreign tourists” require lodgings to aim for their “comfort and convenience,” such as offering information and transit instructions in a foreign language. (In other words, no refusing non-Japanese guests by saying “we don’t speak English” or “we only have futons.”)

The bottom line is this: Nothing at check-in has changed with the new minpaku law. If you have an address in Japan, you write that in the guest book like any other Japanese traveler because, as a resident of Japan, you are not required to show ID. That goes for all lodging, be they hotels or Airbnb.

If you do not have an address in Japan, you display your passport, like you would as a foreign traveler in any country. But you do not have to allow it to be photocopied.

Happy traveling!

For more information, visit www.debito.org/?p=15559.

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