Stay at home

In the late 90s there was a social phenomenon that made a big impression on the media called parasite singles. These were mostly young women who held full-time jobs but still lived at home with the folks because it was more comfortable–mom cooked and cleaned, and while many of these singles contributed to the household funds, it wasn’t nearly as much as they would have spent had they lived on their own, renting their own apartments. Consequently, they had lots of disposable income to spend on clothing and travel. Many got married, but many didn’t, because they basically had it pretty good, especially women. Who wanted to pick up after and cook for a husband? Read More

Where they go to die

Several weeks ago in Shibukawa, a town about 100 kilometers north of Tokyo, ten bedridden residents of a private nursing home died in a fire that was probably caused by a cigarette. The idea that one of the elderly men who lived in the facility was smoking proved to be less of a media scandal than the social circumstances surrounding the facility and how these particular people ended up there. Though it’s no secret that older people basically go to nursing homes to die, in this case they just did it a little sooner. Read More

Ghost towns & empty nests

dscf0619According to the weekly magazine Aera, there are now about 7 million vacant housing units in Japan. That includes both condominiums and single-family homes, but not rental units. This number is apparently increasing at the same time that developers are busy building more new houses and condos. Many of these empty houses are for sale and many are not, but in any event the magazine predicts that both vacant houses and new houses will increase in a kind of weird lockstep. Read More

Slumdog millionaire

There are several grades of public housing in Japan. Most are really no different in terms of rent and quality from commercial housing, but local governments also provide low-rent public housing to people with low incomes. Obviously, getting into a low-rent public apartment unit is difficult: the criteria is strict and the waiting list usually long. However, once you’re in you’re in for good, regardless of any change in income over the years. This has something to do with Japanese housing laws, which, as explained elsewhere in this blog, make it very difficult for landlords and authorities to kick somebody out of a rental unit, even if they are delinquent in their payments. However, as shown by a recent case in Aichi Prefecture, it also has to do with the basic laziness of public officials.

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Zero-Zero tolerance

When you rent a non-public residence in Japan, you normally need from three to seven months worth of rent to move in. First, of course, you need the first month’s rent. Then you have to pay a security deposit that’s the equivalent of one to three months’ rent. Japanese landlords also demand something unique called key money or gift money, which is basically a non-refundable bonus. This, too, can be the equivalent of one to three months’ rent. And then there’s the realtor’s fee, which is usually one month’s rent. On top of all that, you also need a guarantor. In Japan, the guarantor is either the company you work for or a parent. In the case of the former, it has to be a full-time employer who usually also pays the rent; and while the latter is self-explanatory, it makes no difference if your father, say, is bankrupt and living on the street. If you have neither a full-time job nor a parent (either because your parents are dead or you’re a resident alien or you just don’t talk to the folks any more), then you have to hire a guarantor company, which will guarantee your rent for a fee, usually about half a month’s rent every time you renew your rental agreement, which in Japan is usually every two years.

Obviously, if you work part-time or are sporadically employed, as are an increasing number of people in today’s Japan, there’s no way you can accumulate enough money to rent an apartment, but there’s a new business that’s emerged in the past ten years called “zero-zero bukken,” which is shorthand for “zero deposit, zero gift money.” To move into these rental units you only need the first month’s/week’s rent. The apartment management provides the guarantor, and there lies the rub. Read More

Safety valves without safety nets

In what some are calling the Japanese cognate of the American subprime fiasco, poorer residents of Japan have recently started defaulting on their mortgage payments, prompting banks to foreclose and put their homes up for auction. As in the U.S., a large portion of these unfortunates are immigrants who were simply trying to buy into the Japanese dream, as it were. They were mostly lured into coming here to fill low-paying blue collar jobs that Japanese people no longer wanted to fill. Now they’ve been dumped without a safety net.

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The instant homeless


State of things to come?

Shape of things to come?

One of the enduring peculiarities of Japan’s employment situation is the idea of company housing. Though since the bubble era and the subsequent erosion of the lifetime employment system most large companies have scaled down their housing benefits, dormitories and company apartments still exist, especially for those in the public sector. And one of the more important features of the growth of nonregular employment over the past decade is company housing for part-time and contract workers. This housing is either owned by the temporary employment agencies that contract with employers, or by employers for use by contract workers. So when these workers are let go, they also have to vacate their company residences, and because they are nonregular workers–meaning they have no job security or guarantor–they have nowhere to go. This situation has given rise to a new phrase, “housing poor.”

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And don’t forget to say, “Arigato”

If, like me, you don’t appreciate those real estate salespeople interrupting your dinner with cold calls trying to push new condominiums (“mansions”) being built in your neighborhood, you may occasionally feel inclined to hang up on them. Though I know they’re just doing their job, often their refusal to take my disinterest in their product is just downright annoying. I’ll sometimes try to explain my disinterest, but they always have something prepared to keep me on the line, and eventually I just get frustrated and hang up. Because I’m a foreigner I can sort of get away with this.

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No down

A research group attached to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Residential Land Committee took up the subject of housing loans on Mar. 12. The main concern of the committee was increasing the funding for the Flat 35 plan, a long-term fixed loan provided by the government to home buyers that links housing support financing organizations with banks and other financial institutions.

At present, Flat 35 provides loans for up to 90% of a house’s value, but the new proposal would increase the elegible value to 100%, which would essentially mean that home buyers who are approved for the plan do not have to pay a down payment on their home. The plan has yet to be approved, but it’s obvious the government is desperate to get home sales moving. Read More

Packrat fever

In Japan there is a phenomenon called gomi-yashiki, which is probably not limited to Japan. The phrase literally means “garbage residence,” and describes a house and its property overflowing with refuse. What makes the situation special is that the refuse is there on purpose. The owners of the property tend to have a packrat mentality–they pick up stuff everywhere, especially from other people’s garbage, and just scatter it both inside their houses and outside. Tabloid TV news shows are always on the lookout for such houses because they and their usually eccentric owners make for such amusing stories. But according to a recent article in the Asahi Shimbun, this sort of packrat mentality may point to more than just eccentricity.

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