So I’m at a real estate agent the other day and I hear this:
“So what do you think of this? 2LDK, 60 sqm, East Tokyo, 50,000 yen a month. Just been renovated to have a nice new kitchen, it’s on the 6th floor, only one month deposit! It’s a three-minute walk to a station in a quiet residential area. This area has views of the mountains but it’s only 30 mins from Shinjuku on the Chuo Line. No pest problem. No loud neighbours and I’ll even knock it down to 40,000 yen for the first year and I’ll throw in a bike! No, you’re not sharing with anyone. It’s yours! I can get you the keys tomorrow and I’ll throw in a months free rent, because its unfurnished.”
Imagine that this is you, you’ve just moved here from the sticks and your first paycheck is in two months. You’re trying to find the cheapest apartment. NOW. I’m not spamming you. This. Is. Real.
OK, a big disclaimer here. Usually this site keeps things light, fun and friendly. What we’re going to talk about today isn’t. I’m not out to offend anyone’s sensibilities and beliefs, I’m just talking largely from experience and what I know on the subject. Others out there are far more qualified on a practical level and also you, dear reader, should be able to make up your mind whether you want to carry on scrolling. If this post does offend, please accept my apologies now—it’s definitely not my intention.
The reason your new potential living quarters are so cheap is that the property is stigmatized.
The reason your estate agent is reaching Saul Goodman-levels of enthusiasm is because he hasn’t been able to shift it for a year.
The reason that the kitchen is new is that a dead body was found on the floor of it.
This is the world of the jiko bukken (事故物件), the black property, or the “psychologically harmful property” (心理的瑕疵[かし]物件). As mentioned before, I don’t want this to get grim, so lets keep it super practical.
First up, when the property is classed as a jiko bukken, it is usually something that has resulted in a fatality. The law is a bit more specific about this—a jiko bukken follows this criteria:
- A property where a murder, suicide or a natural death occurred (including cases where the body wasn’t found for a while).
- A property near criminal gangs;
- A property constructed on top of a well
- A property by a waste treatment facility, or a graveyard/crematorium;
- A property made by, or on ground once owned by, a cult;
- A property with a history of fire, flooding or other things that caused death or injury (asbestos poisoning, gas leaks etc);
- A property with a complicated history regarding ownership, as shown in the registry listings— multiple owners over a short period of time inherently means something amiss with the property
It doesn’t matter which reason, the property is now stigmatised. If it is part of the UR housing scheme, or some other government housing scheme, chances are part of the property will have the room in question refitted. If it was a private rental, chances are the landlord will try to renovate it as much as possible, or even demolish and sell the land alone.
Secondly, YES, the estate agent HAS to tell you about it when asked and I hate the fact that it is when asked. There is a horrific loophole in which only the first tenant after the event needs to be told, so if say, there was a temporary one month rental after the event and then you show up, there is no obligation to be transparent about it. Most agents here do have some sort of soul, so they are usually OK about it when asked. However, in my case, when I pressed an agent showing me around a ridiculously huge open house in Ebisu, worthy of Tony Montana, she informed me that anything related to the history of the property had to be told via her manager. Whether this is a legal loophole, I don’t know, but it should set off an alarm bell. There is also the chance that the realtor doesn’t know as the landlord has failed to tell them.
If you think this has been a bit morbid, but you still want a cheapo apartment, there is always the 法律的瑕疵 (horitsu-teki-kashi) or legally flawed buildings. These are either not up to current safety standards, or in the case of one that I lived in, it was to be demolished for a new road to be put through it. These are harder to find, but a good realtor should be able to help you out.
But again, I’m digressing too much! You just want the apartment, right?
“All you gotta do is ask, slim.”
If you go to a realtor and say “I am specifically looking for a jiko bukken”, you might expect them to look at you like you’re some weirdo who watches horror films all day and trolls YouTube. However, chances are they’ll be fairly happy. These are properties that they really want to get rid of. So, just ask! You might be surprised at what turns up. It will also make any awkwardness disappear from the further conversations you’ll have at the properties.
Ol’ cyberspace has plenty of resources for the armchair researcher:
UR Housing has their own list of Kanto apartments (also covers other areas)
There’s a nice 1LDK going in Hachioji, I see….ooh and another in Mitaka, nice.
House rental giant SUUMO are surprisingly transparent about “accident properties” on their site. Perhaps too much. Last year, they tried to rebrand jiko-bukkens as perfect for the single person as you got to live with a ghost. They even put a picture of a cartoon ghost to emphasise that you’d be living with something along the lines of Casper the friendly ghost rather than Sadako from Ring. As you can imagine, this went down extremely well and didn’t at all look like exploiting a bad situation.
I’ve left the best until last and I’m about to take a deep breath before writing it—Oshima-Teru (The map defaults to New York, but you can change it to Tokyo). This site is the best resource you’ve ever seen if all you want to do is look for areas that could be host to cheap apartments. This will list (usually with photos), properties or areas where someone died and the reasons and method of that death. It’s not official, so you maybe shouldn’t take everything at face value, but there’s no denying it could prove useful when scouting areas. A side effect of this website is that after reading it, you can look in the mirror at yourself for a long time without blinking.
“Ruse of metacarpi, Caveat emptor….”
According to Oshima Teru and a few other resources, I found quite a few high-priced places that didn’t seem to be affected by a stigma attached to the building. Central Park Tower La Tour Shinjuku is listed as an accident property, yet rent for the floor in question is only a small fraction cheaper than the rest of the apartments in that building. Whether this is a sign of people being more practical and less spiritual is anyone’s guess, but it certainly shows that location can still be key, even with jiko bukken.
“…and all that remains is a desert.”
Ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to live in a property where someone has recently died, but when looking at these apartments its crucial to remain clinically practical. For example, in the case of a lonely death apartment where a body may have been present for some time, look to see if the body caused a pest or odour problem and if that’s liable to re-occur. Is there any structural damage to the room in the case of a suicide or arson?
Again, I say none of this to offend and you may find it a little inhuman to not think of the circumstances of the previous tenant and focus purely on the mega Amazon shopping spree you’ll be doing with the money save on rent. I’m not here to lecture, but when I was doing short-term rentals in jiko bukkens, I reminded myself that everywhere you walk in any city, chances are someone has died there years ago when everywhere here was a battlefield. As to whether that settles your mind on the matter is not for me to say, but I hope this helps you.
(If you’re looking to rent, but jiko bukken isn’t for you, check out our full guide on cheap apartment options.)
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