New regulations concerning private home rental services began Friday under a law covering minpaku (private lodging) businesses, a move that coincides with Japan’s efforts to cope with hotel shortages ahead of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020.
The rules are expected to attract more foreign visitors to rural areas while helping municipalities tighten control over unauthorized lodging facilities.
The new law allows property owners in Japan to rent out vacant homes or rooms to tourists for up to 180 days per year after notifying their municipality. But municipal governments can set their own restrictions by ordinance if deemed necessary.
Masatada Suemitsu, 72, of Nishitokyo, a western suburb of the capital, welcomed five Malaysian tourists to three rooms of his house on Friday, with he and his wife starting a private lodging business the day of the law’s implementation.
“We can earn extra income in addition to meeting new people, which spices up our life. I think minpaku is a business suitable for healthy elderly people,” said Suemitsu.
Offering accommodation in private homes has been allowed in Japan, but under the Hotel Business Law a license was necessary. The new law requires the maintenance of a guest registry, hygienic conditions and a prompt response to any complaints from neighbors.
Concerned about potential violations of noise and garbage disposal rules, Tokyo’s Meguro Ward banned private lodging businesses on weekdays across the ward.
As of June 1, more than one third of 150 municipalities in Japan had set their own restrictions, such as on the area or duration of rental services, according to a tally by the Japan Tourism Agency and Kyodo News.
A record 28.69 million foreigners visited Japan in 2017, and the figure is expected to rise further this year. An increasing number of foreign tourists are also visiting and staying in rural areas.
In 2020, when Tokyo hosts the Olympics and the Paralympics, the government is aiming to attract 40 million foreign visitors, up 40 percent from 2017.
An economics expert says the private lodging service is an effective way to address serious hotel shortages expected only in July and August in the Olympic year.
Takayuki Miyajima, an economist at Mizuho Research Institute, said, “It is inefficient to build hotels just for a short span of time. Private lodging would be a good service to meet a temporary rise in accommodation demand.”
The law is also designed to aid crackdowns on unauthorized lodging businesses, now prevalent in cities. The cities of Kyoto and Osaka have set up response units and plan to shut illicit accommodations and instruct owners to operate legally by collaborating with the police.
Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa instructed a city unit of some 50 officials to aim at “eradicating illegal minpaku businesses” in a speech on Friday.