Last October the Japanese edition of the magazine The Big Issue addressed the youth housing problem in Japan, conducting a survey of young Japanese in Tokyo and Osaka and interviewing several experts on the topic. Kobe University Professor of Human Development and Environmental Studies Yosuke Hirayama noted that changing demographics have caused housing problems for Japan’s youth. Most housing benefits came from “groups” that people joined – notably companies and families. Participation in these groups, however, is declining. People are waiting longer to get married, and the number of people with regular employment is falling. Housing subsidies and cheap company housing provided by companies for full-time employees enabled young people to save money, which they could put toward a house in the future.
Options for youth now are limited. Young singles are not usually eligible for cheap public housing, and while post-bubble deflation affected most of the economy, rents continued to rise. This has lead to “parasite singles” (youth who live rent-free with parents, draining their resources) and “net cafe refugees” (people who, not being able to make rent, turn to cheap options at net cafes for a place to turn in for the night).
Hitsuji Real Estate is a Web site that is doing its best to promote collective housing as a solution to the problem. The site, which started in 2005, maintains an extensive list of apartment shares across Japan, most of which are in the Kanto area. In exchange for listings on the site, which include professional photographs, apartments must meet the standards of the site. This is in contrast to the looser atmosphere of roomshare.jp, a message board where those with rooms to rent and those looking for rooms can freely post messages and search text listings.
In the survey conducted by The Big Issue, however, 60 percent of respondents stated that they did not want to live in shared housing because “it would be troublesome to live with strangers.” While cash-strapped foreigners in Japan have long opted for guest houses and shared housing, such as the English-friendly Sakura House, Japanese have been more hesitant to use the same techniques, perhaps with the exception of university dormitories. In order to help, Hitsuji Real Estate provides a detailed FAQ on the site with answers to questions like “Who lives there?” “What is it like to live there?” “Do problems ever happen?” and “What does dormitory-style mean?”
Some young Japanese are even working on their own to combat the housing problem, which I can attest from personal experience. I currently share an apartment with five Japanese and one Korean. Teppei Ohashi, one of my roommates, incorporated himself into the company G Place and rented the apartment. Initially all the roommates were Japanese. They lived together at a guesthouse in Gotanda and decided to move somewhere smaller. My roommate Ayako noted that it was, to a certain extent, easier to live in the guesthouse, as there was less responsibility, beyond paying your own rent and keeping the place clean. The apartment does have its perks – more space and privacy. Teppei rents another apartment as well, which he then lets out as a women-only apartment share. Currently three women from Myanmar are living there while they work at a bento company. As is evident from his site, he has other apartments and is looking for other real estate to rent out.
He is also interested in collective housing as a solution to Japan’s aging population – if young and old could share together, he believes, the young could help care for the old as part of their daily life. He works as a caretaker, spending some nights on call.
The media coverage in Japan treats shared housing as exceptional cases, which is easy when you find a group of geeks living together, but it’s clear that, despite hesitancy, collective housing is becoming more natural for the natives.
Read more about the benefits of shared housing in Japan on Yen for Living.