If you had reservations for one of Japan’s 60,000 Airbnb properties for after 15 June, 2018, you might have to find an alternative thanks to the new Minpaku Law: here’s what to do.

What is the Minpaku Law?

A home sharing law passed in 2017, it was aimed at providing a legal framework for the currently un-controlled private-sector accommodation market. Since Japan is in dire need of rooms for the upcoming 2020 Olympics, it was expected that the law would make it easier for short-term rentals to operate—but it is looking like it will actually make it more difficult.

Property owners who wish to continue operating are required to submit lengthy and complex registration documents which involve a series of potential barriers. Landlord permission, on-site inspections and strict health and safety requirements are just some of the requirements for approval which, if granted, results in a registration number.

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From midnight on June 15th, any property without this number will be de-listed and owners will be responsible for the cancellation payments (although many listings have already disappeared). While the requirements are reasonable, applications have only been available from mid-March, and the approvals are suffering significant delays.

But that’s not all. While getting the number means the property can still be listed, it will be capped at 180 nights a year and local restrictions will apply. For example, weekday rentals in Shinjuku will be prohibited and in Shibuya rentals will only be available during school holidays. In Kyoto, rentals are only allowed between January and March in residential areas, missing the most popular seasonal tourist times of the year.

What to do if you have an upcoming reservation

A good place to start is to check the Airbnb listings to see if your accommodation’s page has been updated, removed or remains unchanged. Many owners who have managed to successfully complete the registration are highlighting their new-found legality on their pages so as to assuage the fears of new-bookers (as the numbers won’t be automatically shown until June 15th).

If the page has no changes or has been removed, it is suggested you make contact with your host to confirm the status of the property. If your booking is pre-June 15th and the booking has been removed, it may just be pre-emptive and your reservation is still valid. And if it falls after, you may not be so lucky.

Airbnb statement: The Support Fund

Following the sudden removal of over 80% of unregistered Airbnb properties almost two weeks prior to the cut-off date, Airbnb have released a statement introducing a $10 million support fund aimed at helping any travelers to Japan who face issues and unexpected costs because of the changes.

Acknowledging that many guests will have to spend additional funds on securing new accommodation, changing plans or even altered flights, they have established a fund to cover extra costs. Here are the basics, as far as we understand:

  • If a guest receives a cancellation for a reservation on or after June 15th due to the listing not having a license number, Airbnb will provide a full refund and a coupon worth a least 100% of the booking value to use on a future Airbnb trip. In addition, these guests will receive a $100 coupon for an Airbnb Experience. Refunds and coupons will be processed within 10 days.
  • If a guest can’t find accommodations that meet their needs on Airbnb, JTB–a leading travel agency in Japan with access to other accommodation options throughout the country–is available to assist with finding a new place to stay. Guests can visit JAPANiCAN for assistance and more information.
  • Their support team is on hand 24/7 and can be contacted at the following email address:  japanguestsupport@airbnb.com.

For the unlucky: Airbnb Alternatives in Japan

For those affected by the new laws, especially those facing cancellations with little notice, this is a pretty disastrous development, but try not to panic. If your host has canceled or your listing has vanished, try the options provided by JTB or have a look yourself:

Listed Airbnb: Get back on that horse

While you may have fallen foul of the site once, there are still some reliable options thanks to this new registration system as (previously it was erring on the side of semi-illegality anyway). As many will be avoiding the site, it could be a good chance to scoop up an alternative listing which has been approved already—but be quick, as the reduced numbers mean there will be fierce competition. Plus you can put that voucher to use sharpish. Some properties are also taking advantage of the option to register as a hotel, which loosens restrictions on required room numbers, etc. Many of the hosts who have opted for this license still advertise on Airbnb, an option that eliminates time-caps restrictions too, offering more availability.

Stay Japan: A legal alternative

Stay Japan
Photo by Stay Japan

Offering a more limited choice but all legal, Stay Japan has around 2,000 apartments across Japan available for rent. They feature some properties also listed on Airbnb and offer a mix of regular apartments, countryside stays and traditional homes; most are non-central and prices are a little higher than on Airbnb. Many of the cheaper Tokyo options are hostels or hotels which you could book elsewhere, but if you’re traveling in a couple or group the apartment options can still be affordable.

Hostels: Private rooms and kitchens

Nui.Tokyo Central Hostel | Photo by Nui. Hostel and Bar

While hostels may not be your ideal scenario, in Japan they can be quite a different ball game, often much cleaner and smarter than those in Europe for example. They also often offer private rooms which are more like a hotel but without the budget, although many do still require you share a bathroom with others. They often have communal kitchens and this can help with your budget—especially if this was one of the reasons you went for an apartment in the first place.

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Since staying in hostels can add plenty of things to your stay including the chance to meet new people or attend events, it could even be a nice addition to your trip. We have a list of the most unusual hostels in Tokyo to choose from and there are plenty of others, so get exploring!

Hotels: Privacy over everything

Photo by Cotoha Hotel

If you were opting for the privacy of an Airbnb apartment and are keen to maintain this, a hotel is your best bet. You may have been avoiding them over concerns of expense, room size or lack of practical elements like kitchens, but they aren’t all bad and even have some perks. Late-night check-ins, luggage storage after you check-out and local guidance can be some of the best elements, as well as accessible locations. Affordable hotels aren’t too hard to find, and while you may have to sacrifice some space, the positives could make up for it!

Love and capsule hotels: Walk-in options

Sweets Hotel Chocolat Shibuya | Photo by Gregory Lane

If you’re left with very little time to sort out some new accommodation or are in Japan already, there are some short-term hotels which don’t require reservations. While love hotels seem seedy, they are often pretty decent and bigger than most regular hotels too. Some are themed and some are not, but they can all add an interesting twist to your stay and make for a great story.

The hotels are sometimes bookable (appearing on travel booking sites as regular hotels), but all accept walk-ins and you can choose to stay for a few hours or a whole night (“rest” or “stay”, respectively). Most popular areas have love hotels, like Kabukicho in Shinjuku and Love Hotel Hill in Shibuya—you’ll be able to see which are more respectable—some are like resorts, while dingy is the only word to describe others …

Capsule hotels are another walk-in option which accept both bookings and customers off the street, as they were originally used for drunk salarymen who missed their last train. Typically providing the minimum needs—a small sleeping space with showers and often vending machines—many are smartening up to attract tourists and travelers. While often male-only, many are also now adding women-only floors, so couples will have to sleep apart, but at least be in the same place.

Internet/manga cafes: A roof at least

tokyo manga cafes

More of a last-ditch option, internet cafes offer a place to sleep with a computer, manga and a chair—sometimes a sleeping space too. There is rarely any real privacy as you’ll be given a booth rather than a private room, but it’s better than the streets. This is actually a common issue known as the cyber homeless, a society of young and otherwise homeless Japanese men who live in these places, struggling with traditional rent on low wages or unemployment. But don’t let that put you off; cafes will put a roof over your head and if you’re not in the city for long, it can be a solution, if not a very comfortable one.

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