No place like home-stay

A foundation called AFS, which arranges for student exchange programs in Japan, recently released some startling news with regard to the number of home-stay students in Japan. Apparently, there is a huge gap between the number of foreign high school students who want to come to Japan and study and the number of Japanese families willing to put them up for at least six months. In Tokyo, where most foreign students want to stay, only 17 families are presently on the list to accept them. And throughout Japan, the number is only 295.

The number of willing host families has remained more or less constant over the years while the number of exchange students has increased. In 2007, 1,114 students came to Japan, a threefold increase from 1998. However, the pickings has become even slimmer. Next year, 354 students from Thailand alone want to come to Japan, and so far only 20 have found places to live.

You can blame this circumstance on two things; or one thing if you make the logical connection. Japanese families aren’t normally comfortable bringing strangers into their homes to stay. This reluctance is a combination of  natural reticence and an acknowledgement that Japanese homes are not designed for guests in the first place. People know that and they probably think that foreign students, even fellow Asians who often live in homes that are just as cramped, wouldn’t be comfortable here.

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This land is not your land

We get a lot of flyers in our mailbox for condominium and new house sales in the vicinity. One caught my eye yesterday. It was for a small housing development near Machiya station on the Chiyoda subway line and the going prices were between ¥29 and ¥32 million for single family houses of about 100 square meters, which is pretty chaep for that area of Tokyo.

The fine print revealed why: that’s only for the structure. The land on which the structures will stand (they haven’t been built yet) will be rented. This isn’t particularly unusual. A lot of people own houses and even condominiums but not the land under them. However, the fine print also said something about a “20-year law.” My experience has told me that leases for land in this sort of circumstance are usually about 50 years, but these houses haven’t even been built yet. Does that mean the potential home owner only gets a 20-year lease? It doesn’t sound very secure and, in fact, makes no sense considering that the ad also points out that potential buyers are eligible for the government’s Flat 35 mortgage guarantee program. Read More

No place like homeless

As with last year’s impromptu tent city in Hibiya Park, this New Years saw another attempt to give the newly destitute a chance to get through the holidays in one piece, though in this case the government actually initiated the plan. The national government, that is, which let 831 homeless, jobless men stay at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Sendagaya from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4, during which the tenants were supposed to receive job counseling. About a half dozen actually left with references, according to reports.

It was no skin off the nose of the facility, since it is officially closed during the holidays. And while the charitable gesture was paid for by the federal government (Prime Minister Hatoyama even showed up for a sympathetic show of commiseration), the place had to be staffed by municipal employees. After everyone was kicked out on the 4th and some were moved to other facilities, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara commented that the prime minister shouldn’t have visited. “I wouldn’t have gone,” he said. Apparently, he was pissed that the government had strong-armed Tokyo into participating in what he saw as a useless and ill-advised PR gambit. Read More

The lowdown on resort condos

Some of the surest bargains on the real estate market are so-called besso manshon, or resort condos. When most people in Tokyo think of second homes or weekend homes, they think of Karuizawa or the Izu peninsula or maybe the five lakes area around Mt. Fuji, where prices tend to be uniformly expensive. The thing is, second homes almost anywhere else are quite affordable, and I often check resort-net.com, which is run by Recruit, to see what’s available, and one of the most intriguing areas is actually the Boso peninsula, meaning Chiba Prefecture. A few weeks ago on the site I found 73 properties on the Boso peninsula that were priced at less than 5 million. Though Chiba has a reputation as a bedroom region it’s got lots of hills and forests and Kujukuri sea coast is cleaner and less crowded than the stretch of beach that leads from Shonan in Kanagawa to the tip of Izu. In fact, diehard surfers say Kujukuri has the best waves on the Pacific side of Honshu. More significantly, it’s cooler than Tokyo in the summer and warmer in the winter, sometimes by as much as three degrees.

Consequently, there are a lot of second homes and resort condos on sale in seaside towns like Onjuku and Katsuura for as little as 2 million yen for about 40 square meters. These two resort towns are quaint but large enough to supply all the amenities you’d want in walking distance to wherever you happen to live. Many of the resort condos are close to the main train stations, and both towns are less than 90 minutes from central Tokyo by express. If you don’t have a car this is important, since most second homes tend to be far from central business area and train lines. Read More

The housing tax exemption lives!

The government wants to increase the tax exemption on gifts that parents give to their children, so if your folks were inspired by the largesse of Yasuko Hatoyama to her three kids–one of whom is the prime minster and got into hot water because of that largesse–they’ll be able to give you up to ¥20 million tax free, if land minister Seiji Maehara gets his way. Read More

Upside of deflation

Deflation isn’t necessarily supposed to affect housing or transportation, but the Japanese media keeps harping on how the prices of condominiums in the major cities are dropping along with the number of housing starts. Obviously, now is the time to buy, though experts always say that if you wait until others start buying in a so-called buyers market, then you’re already too late.

According to a recent article in Shukan Asahi, many condo developers are stuck with inventory that they can’t get rid of, no matter how much they lower the price. Many of these companies are selling their unsold condos to outside agents for as little as 70 percent off. In many cases, these agencies have to sell the units for even less money than what they paid for them, basically “dumping” these units onto the housing market. Needless to say there are many people who may be interested in such cheap housing but finding these units takes more time and effort than a lot of people have. Read More

Unsolid ground

One of the lesser known customs related to housing in Japan is the idea of owning a house on rented land. It’s less common today than it used to be but nevertheless common enough. Traditionally, leases on lots are about 50 years. A person can build a house on this land and have title to the structure, but the land is still owned by somebody else and the homeowner has to pay rent on it. Read More