The landlord’s an idol

This week the tabloid press is obsessed with Tomoko Nakajima, half of the comedy duo Othello. According to the scandal weekly Flash, Nakajima hasn’t paid rent on two apartments in Shibuya–one her residence, the other an office–since last August and is now being sued by the owners of the two properties, which together cost ¥1.1 million a month to rent. Nakajima hasn’t worked since April when she took sick leave, but show biz reporters are saying that she came under the spell of a “fortune teller.” Nakajima allowed the woman to move in with her and she has been directing Nakajima’s life ever since, presumably squeezing her for cash. The comedian’s parents and management company say they have not been able to contact her for months, but also assume that once Nakajima runs out of money the woman will lose interest and move out.

The story wouldn’t have normally interested us until we heard that the apartment Nakajima rents as a residence at ¥650,000 a month is owned by Masahiro Motoki, who starred in the Oscar-winning film “Departures” (“Okuribito”). We dug a little deeper and learned that Motoki is not the person who is suing Nakajima for back rent. The suit is being carried out by the guarantee company that manages the apartment. This is a common investment scheme. Guarantee companies broker deals between apartment sellers and buyers, convincing the potential landlords to purchase the property and leave all management to the guarantee company, which looks for tenants, sets rent rates, and acts as guarantor in exchange for a sizable fee that is paid by the tenant. Nakajima’s unit is 122 square meters, which partially explains why her rent is so high. Other factors include the location, Shibuya, and the fact that the building houses a number of other celebrity-owned units that we presume are also managed by guarantee companies, thus setting up an interesting show biz pecking order. Motoki, a former Johnny’s idol who made a successful transition to legitimate acting, can invest in properties that are then rented out to other show biz people who are successful but not successful enough to buy their own luxury condos. (We’re not entirely sure if Motoki didn’t live in the apartment at some time in the past, but at any rate he did hire the guarantee company) In fact, we would think that one of the advantages a star like Motoki would derive from such a business arrangement would be keeping his name out of the press if a lawsuit erupted with a tenant. How does it look for a former idol to be suing a civilian, or even a current comedian for that matter? Maybe it means nothing. In our research we found a number of celebrities who have made similar investments, including another comedy duo, Kyain. Othello is popular, but not as popular as Kyain. Are they popular enough to afford ¥1.1 million a month in rent? At the moment, apparently not.


  1. Slick Rick · February 2, 2012

    I fail to see why the guarantor company suing the tenant is an “investment scheme”. The guarantor is an insurance policy for the owner.

    The guarantor company, like a cosigner on a loan, is indemnifying the owner for exactly this type of scenario. The guarantor company should be paying the owner, Motoki, the unpaid rent and then has every right sue the tenant, Nakajima, for nonpayment. If the guarantor company is not paying Motoki, now we have a story.

    All this being said, as a non-Japanese I find the guarantor system distasteful. But if I were a landlord I would no doubt insist upon it.


    • catforehead · February 2, 2012

      The suit itself is not an investment scheme. Many guarantee companies act as real estate brokers, offering properties for investment. The investor buys the property and the guarantee company manages it as a rental, taking a cut for itself. Since the guarantee company is obligated to pay off on the investment, the company would file suit against a delinquent tenant, not the owner. From what we’ve read we can’t tell if Motoki bought the apartment in question as an investment or owned it previously and then decided to rent it out (perhaps because he couldn’t sell it at the price he wanted), but in any case it’s being managed by a guarantee company, and that is who is planning to file suit this month.


      • Zoe · February 10, 2012

        I have worked in the real estate industry in Japan and have also never heard of ‘guarantee’ companies offering “investment schemes.” Do you have any links with info on these companies?

        The news articles use the term 家賃保証会社 which means a guarantor company. Guarantor companies do not broker deals between buyers and sellers, nor do they set rent or look for tenants – that is the job for the landlord and real estate agent.

        Motoki purchased the apartment for his father-in-law to use. The father-in-law never ended up living in the apartment so it was rented out. It was by chance that the tenant also turned out to be in show business. If he was planning to become a landlord to the stars I would imagine he would use a company name on the title to retain some privacy.

        The apartment is being managed by a real estate agency, not a guarantor company as that also falls outside of their realm of services.

        Apparently Motoki and his wife had to co-sign documents to permit the guarantor company to go ahead and sue Nakajima, so he had no choice but to become involved in some way.


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